I hear fat activists say that they prefer “fat” to terms like overweight and obese, but I don’t get it. What’s better about fat than obese or overweight?
Well Lissa, I’m glad that you asked! As always people are allowed to identify themselves using whatever terms they prefer, and I can only speak for myself, but here’s what I’ve got.
My issue with the word “obese” is with how it’s used to pathologize a height/weight ratio. The idea that our weight in pounds times 703 divided by our height in inches squared gives a health professional tons of information about our health and treatment options is pretty messed up, and that’s before you take into account the fact that the “obese” definition includes Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). In addition to being an annoyingly useless abuse of mathematics, it’s dangerous to those of us who fall under its numerical construct,, causing healthcare professionals to focus on height weight ratio instead of their actual patients, even making them believe that they can diagnose mental and physical health issues from a picture of someone they’ve never met.
Overweight, to me, is offensive because it suggests that someone’s body is wrong. It’s body shaming. Over what weight? Saying that someone is “overweight” is saying that:
- There is a weight that they should be.
- They are more than that weight.
- It’s somehow our job to decide how much other people should weigh
And that’s crap. People are lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and it’s not our job to tell them that who they are is somehow too much person. People come in different sizes and unless they ask us for an assessment of their body against some measure, then it’s not our place to say that they are “over [some arbitrary] weight.”
Finally, I talk about my use of fat in great detail here, but the (relatively) short answer is that I like the term fat basically because it is descriptive of my situation – I’m short, I’m brunette, I’m fat – I’m not over [some arbitrary] weight, I’m not (as The Fat Chick says) medically under-tall. I’m just fat, and there’s nothing wrong with being fat. To me the idea that I need another word suggests that the fact that I’m fat is a bad thing – something that I should be ashamed of and need euphemisms and verbal gymnastics for (like that whole “I’m not fat, I have fat.” Right, just like I insist “I’m not brunette, I have brown hair.”) It’s also a reclaiming word – it’s a a word that people use against me, and my use of it is one way of telling the bullies that they can’t have my lunch money – and that I won’t stand for people heaping their prejudice onto my adjective.
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