When Bad Euphemisms Happen to Good Fat People

Small - Things you can tell by looking at a fat personI see a lot of mistaken euphemisms for being thin or, said another way, being “not fat”. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being thin, just like there’s nothing wrong with being fat.  There are no bad bodies.  There is something wrong with making assumptions based on body size. Let’s take a minute to clear some of this up:

Fit:  This one is personally annoying to me as a fathlete.  The idea that “fit” is a body size is ludicrous.  Obviously there are people of all sizes who are involved in movement, athletics, etc and there are people of all sizes who aren’t and all of that is fine.  We each get to choose how and if we engage in movement, our choices don’t make us better or worse than anyone else, and it’s nobody else’s business.

Takes Pride in Their Appearance: I’m told by reliable sources that this one turns up on want ads and job descriptions as a way to say they want someone thin and stereotypically attractive which almost made my head explode.  As if the only way to take pride in our appearance is to adhere to a social stereotype of beauty.

Height Weight Proportionate:  This is just annoying.  Proportionate to what?  This is one of those online personal ad euphemisms for people who lack the intestinal fortitude to be clear that they they only want to date someone who is not fat. Sometimes it’s helpful though, since it rules out people for those of us who would never want to date anyone with so narrow a view of beauty not to mention lacking the guts to at least be honest about it.

Takes Care of Themselves: Another charming personal ad euphemism (charming here having the meaning of “bullshit”), this one plays on the oh-so-tired stereotype that you can tell everything about a person’s habits by looking at them.  It also perpetuates the myth that taking care of yourself leads to thinness for every person and that’s just not true.

Healthy:  Perhaps the most common and the most damaging.  Individual health is not a body size, is not completely within our control, is not a barometer of worthiness, is not up for public discussion, and can be a moving target. This one does a disservice to fat people by giving them the idea that the only way to be healthy is to become thin, and does a disservice to thin people by giving them the idea that they are healthy simply because of their weight, neither of which is true based on the evidence.

The theme here should be pretty clear – you can’t and shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their size.  As the brilliant Marilyn Wann has said, the only things that we can tell from someone’s body size is what size they are, and what our prejudices and preconceived notions about people that size are.

Whenever you see or hear one of these it’s an opportunity for activism.  Many people don’t even realize that they are engaging in fat bigotry when they say these things and I’m a big fan of doing people the courtesy of giving them the opportunity to realize and change their prejudices.

One way that you can address this is by asking a global question, something like “I always wonder why people say fit when they mean thin, especially when there are plenty of fat athletes and plenty of thin couch potatoes.” or try some humor “Isn’t everyone’s height and weight in a proportion?”

Regardless, we don’t have to internalize these messages of stereotypes, ignorance and bigotry.

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21 thoughts on “When Bad Euphemisms Happen to Good Fat People

  1. I saw all these and variations thereon for years when I was doing online dating. It was like guys wanted to make it clear that they didn’t want the fat chicks hitting on them, but they wanted to appear ‘nice’, just in case the thin chicks rejected them and they had to make do with a fat one. Sadly for them, women on dating sites become expert at spotting this kind of bullshit, and they very rarely got off with any women.

    I did try on one site, as a public service, to point this out – ‘guys, the more you tie yourselves in knots trying to say nicely ‘No Fatties’, the more obvious it becomes that you’re looks-obsessed, and even the thin women won’t want to know’. It didn’t seem to sink in.

    When phrases like these appear on job advertisements, that’s when the shit really hits the fan. Because, of course, clothing retail only ever wants to employ skinny pretties to make the store look good. Well, they lose out BIGtime with the majority of shoppers that I know – who’d waste time looking around a shop where you feel unwelcome and alien?

    1. I’ve discovered that about all retail too. They want only the “hottest” to work there, to attract men in, and also so that the male boss can get a boner.

  2. The “fit” euphemism for “thin” is a relatively new one. I’ve only really heard it over the past few years. The first time I heard it I was like “What..!?” – it was some teen boy checking out a girl walking by and he just nonchalantly said to his buddy “wow, she’s FIT” and pointed at her. Now, he only saw her for a few seconds before she turned the corner. She was fully clothed in jeans and a long sleeved shirt so you couldn’t see “six pack abs” or muscle definition or anything that would lead you to think that maybe someone might be fit. There was no way he could know if she’s fit. I realized he meant “thin” and my head nearly exploded at the ridiculousness of that.

    1. And of course, fat people can be fit. When I said ““six pack abs” or muscle definition or anything that would lead you to think that maybe someone might be fit” – I said that as those are USUAL makers of a thin person like her being “fit”. Of course one doesn’t have to have six pack abs or really pronounced muscle definition to be fit.

      1. I saw it in a movie review, of all places, in which a reviewer complained that the supposed female lead wasn’t in many scenes and didn’t contribute much, and then right after that complaint, said something like, “But at least she’s fit.” I had the same reaction you did. “Wait, you just said she *didn’t do anything.* How can she be… *rereads in context* I… think you’re trying to say she’s thin and nice for you to look at?”

        On a related but wackier note, which you may have already seen, about a week ago, a young guy came to TITP and tried to convince the mods there hadn’t been any fat people before now. His “proof?” He watched a movie made in the 80’s and someone called a thin character fat, which he interpreted to mean that’s what was considered fat back then, and therefore everyone was thin.

        Um, what? *I* was fat in the 80’s. BBW magazine ran in the 1980’s There are people posting here- hell, there are visible celebrities- who were fat in the 80’s. And 70’s. And 60’s. And 50’s. As far back as you go, you are going to find fat people.

        These two things are part of a related problem. Fat people are as fat as we’ve always been, as numerous as we’ve always been, and as varied in lifestyle as we’ve always been. Fat *hate,* on the other hand, has gotten increasingly nasty, and it seems to have really taken a turn for the militant in the ’90’s, when Dr. Paul Ernsberger, the last pre-MetLife holdout, essentially got shouted out of Washington by weight loss lobbyists. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve always been seen as something Other, but in just a few decades, big pharma, led by the diet industry, have led a revisionist campaign worthy of Winston Smith and have managed to convince the world at large that there were never fat people before fast food, that ever since the first fatty was spontaneously generated in a dumpster behind the first McDonald’s we’ve been getting fatter, eviler, and more numerous by the day, and if they don’t stamp us out, we will overwhelm the world and build a debauched hedonistic dystopia around our fat. And how did they manage this? *Our culture has the attention span of a weasel, that’s how.* Just like you can remake a movie you made five years ago and get the same audience to pay full price to see it, you get the right man in the right suit to say there were no fat people in the 1980’s, and the populace will forget their own fat aunt, the basic math that will tell them she was their age in the 1980’s, and the photos showing she was just as fat then. Likewise, they don’t remember “fit” wasn’t used casually as a synonym for thin until a few years ago.

        1. Yup. Hitchcock was active in the 1930s, and he was fat even then. One of the larger fats too. I think John Candy was smaller.

          They seem to forget about Queen Victoria, Stalin, King Henry VIII, and Victoria’s grandfather who was one of the fattest men to have lived, with a 54 inch waist.

          I didn’t know that Ernsberger got ousted, that seems the height of stupidity. But then medicine is more based on dictatorship now than it was in the past.

          1. Oops, he didn’t get ousted, and I didn’t mean to word it so it sounded like that. What happened to him was just (or “just”) the same thing that happened to the DSMV’s medical board when they advised them *against classifying obesity as disease (seeing how it doesn’t actually fit the definition); he was one of the doctors arguing against the use of fen-phen as a weight loss drug, and instead of actually listening to what he was saying, they basically paraded him in front of the pro-revision lobbyists so they could hurl abuse at him. One of them even said he should be “shot” for denying “the obese” this “life-saving drug.” Well, we all know how many people that “life-saving drug” ended up killing, but that’s what you get when your “hearing” is actually an episode of Ricki Lake and the only reason you consulted a doctor was because you needed a heel.

            1. Um, pro-release, not pro-revision. That was a different clown show, so I don’t know why my brain went there.

      2. All bodies are fit. The fact that they are a living organism is beautiful, amazing, and (most importantly) fit!

    2. There was a time when “Fit” was a euphemism for “fat.” Still is in underfed parts of this world. A friend of mine from South Africa was visiting, and commented on our plush, well fed house cats, “How do you get those cats so FIT?” Most of the one she’d seen were skin and bones.

      1. This is why euphemisms DO NOT WORK. They just don’t.

        I’ve always been one of those people who take things literally, and quite often just miss the meaning, entirely, when people use euphemisms.

        For example: “Take care of yourself” means to be self-sufficient, as you are in charge of all your self-care. “Take pride in your appearance” means that you like your appearance, and it makes you feel good to look the way you do. That is not specific to body size, fashion choices, make-up, etc. It just means that you like the way you look.

        And publicly accepted meanings for euphemisms (rather than the literal meanings) vary by culture and time period. Heck, two hundred years ago, “knocked up” meant that you were exhausted, and had nothing to do with procreation.

        And what kind of fool trusts Hollywood, anyway? These are the same people who tell us that a woman with her hair up and glasses is “ugly,” but that if she just takes her hair down (with the accompanying fluffy-head-shake) and takes off her glasses, she’ll be gorgeous, and the leading man will immediately love her, and finally notice all those wonderful qualities she’s always had, but he never cared about, because that’s what really matters in a long-term relationship. Oh, yeah, and poor people in New York City live in apartments with living rooms big enough to park two cars in, with separate bedrooms, bathrooms large enough to jump rope in, and kitchens that are dirty, to signify that they are too poor to afford a sponge, despite the fact that they CAN afford a refrigerator, stove, microwave, and to fix or replace anything that is broken or stolen in a previous scene, unless it is vital to the plot that it stay broken or gone. Hollywood is not a reliable source. Wikipedia is a more reliable source.

        1. (“bathrooms large enough to jump rope in, and kitchens that are dirty, to signify that they are too poor to afford a sponge”

          I just had to tell you that that made my morning! Of course the “poor” people on TV never live like it, but you’re right–that’s the cue they use most, and it’s the most ludicrous. I needed that laugh! :))

          1. This was always my problem with “Friends” (remember that series, anyone?) These 20-somethings were supposed to be poor, for the most part — Joey a mostly-out-of-work actor, Rachel a waitress, Monica an aspiring chef without a job, etc.; Ross, as an assistant professor, was the only one with a full-time job but assist. profs. don’t make enough to live on in style, believe me. And yet they lived in these palatial apartments … in NYC. Riiiiiigghhht.

  3. I read a of a study a few years ago that attempted to measure how body size of elderly people effected how long they lived.They divided
    a large sample into four groups based on body size. I forget the exact names of the groups but they were thin, medium, overweight and obese. They followed all these people until they died and then averaged the age of each group.The thin group died the youngest and the overweight group lived the longest. The obese and medium groups were in between in average age. This study contradicts what
    the medical quacks have been saying, namely that if your thin you will
    live much longer than if your overweight or obese.Among the elderly, to be overweight or obese is an advantage.

    1. Gee, it’s as if our bodies and the millions of years of evolutionary experience they represent might actually know more about survival and health than people involved in the modern diet culture of the last ~100 years. Amazing! 🙂

      1. Yes, that is what always gets me. They think that we’ve been waiting 4 billion yrs (the age of our planet) for them to find the magic cure to everything, but all this time our bodies and nature have taken care of us pretty well, otherwise there would be no one and nothing living if it was such a failure.

        The only things that have had a measurable improvement on us are vaccines and antibiotics. Now we’re not dying of polio or cholera.

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