Live in our fatphobic world long enough and you’ll hear a thin person say that they “feel fat.” This can come from a few places, but the bottom line is the same.
Fat is not a feeling, it’s a physical trait. Just like you can’t “feel” brunette, you can’t “feel” fat. The problem with people who aren’t fat saying that they “feel” fat is that, while it may not be malicious, it’s still rooted in, and perpetuates, fatphobia in a variety of ways:
Reinforcing a Fatphobic Stereotype of Beauty
When someone says that they “feel fat” because they don’t feel beautiful in some way (a mistake made by Ashley Graham, a model who owes her fame to modeling plus size clothes but does not want to be called a plus size model,) they are saying that fat isn’t beautiful, and that’s just 100% pure fatphobic bullshit.
Temporarily being ever-so-slightly less thin
If someone says they “feel fat” because they had a big lunch, or they’re a little bloated, they aren’t engaging in the realities of thin privilege. Nobody is refusing them medical care because they ate a big burrito for lunch.
A woman in line ahead of me at a grocery store held up the 2 pints of ice cream she was buying and said to her friend “I feel so fat!” Because I am physically incapable of keeping my mouth shut in situations like this I interjected: “Really, cause it looks like you just feel like some ice cream.”
When thin people say that they “feel fat” because they are doing things that they associate with fat people, even though people of all sizes do them (which we know because they are literally doing them when they say it) it perpetuates stereotypes about fat people.
But it goes deeper than that. We have to be careful because fighting stereotypes can actually perpetuate oppression. The truth is that the existence of stereotypes is the problem – not whether or not fat people conform to them. The actual issue here is that a thin person saying that they “feel fat” while engaging in behaviors that they associate with fat people also allows them to hold onto their stereotypes about fat people, without engaging in their hypocrisy. Thin people engage in all the same behaviors that fat people do, but if they admit that, then they have to examine their fatphobia – why they think that behaviors that are fine for them should be the impetus for bullying people who look different than they do. Claiming temporary “fatness” can help them to avoid engaging.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
This is a condition in which a person becomes obsessed with a perceived physical flaw. While it occurs in people of all sizes and can be focused around a variety of parts of the body, a common expression is that a person who is thin believes that they (or some specific body part(s)) are too heavy/large/fat. This is a real condition and it can have serious negative impacts on people’s lives. Still, to say that they “feel fat” is wrong – they believe that they are, in fact, fat and, because of the effects of a fatphobic culture, they believe that being fat is bad.
Confusing Being Afraid of Being Fat with Being Fat
I recently read an article in which someone said that, despite being thin, they “feel fat” because they are always dieting and “watching their weight.”
They don’t “feel fat” they feel the fear of being fat, and being treated like fat people are treated (or perhaps like they treat fat people?) That’s a real fear in a culture where being fat comes with a ton of shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression.
Or it may be that they feel the pressure to be even more thin so that they can be the recipient of even more of the thin privilege that a fatphobic society offers.
These are both ways that weight stigma affects people of all sizes, but conflating these things with the actual experiences of being fat creates harm by conflating a fear of being oppressed with actually being oppressed and centering thin people in discussions of weight stigma.
The solution to all of this, of course, is to end weight stigma and embrace the full diversity of body sizes. People who aren’t fat saying that they “feel fat” will never help get that done.
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