Fear of Fat

Gabi Gregg of Young, Fat, & Fabulous

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘fat’? Do you think of Nutrition Facts labels and the first column you look at before deciding whether to buy the crackers? Or maybe you think of elementary school, when the best insult little boys could come up with for girls was “well… you’re fat!” (Good for you, little boys. You’re… dumb.)

Well, I don’t think of anything – or I try not to. To my editor’s dismay, I generally refuse to use the word, except when referring to this blog post. (“What are you working on right now?” “The ‘Fear of Fat’ blog post… Social networking…” “Hey, you said it! You said ‘fat’!”) She thinks “fat” should be used as an adjective, just like “thin,” or “tall,” or “short.” It shouldn’t be a negative thing – not if it’s true. I have a hard time agreeing with her. Nobody wants to be called “fat,” is my rebuttal.

But why not?

It’s not that I have memories of being called “fat” as a kid. In fact, despite being technically – or pretty close to – a “plus-size” (even though I refuse to buy plus-sized clothing, but that’s just a whole other story) for most of my life, I don’t ever remember being described that way. I still have friends who call themselves fat to get others to argue that they aren’t – something else I refuse to do. Be warned: if you call yourself fat, I’ll probably just agree with you, even if you’re a size 4. Because, what’s fat, anyway?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across Gabi Gregg’s blog, Young, Fat, & Fabulous. “She’s almost the same size as me,” I thought. And she is. And she calls herself fat without cringing. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Can you tell me what you think of the word “fat”?
I think the word fat is unfortunately extremely stigmatized in our society, and that needs to change. Just because someone is fat does not mean that they’re lazy, unhealthy, unworthy, ugly, sloppy, or any of the other things that many people unfortunately associate with the word.

The word seems to have several negative connotations – many people I’ve talked to have said this is because “nobody wants to be called fat.” Why do you think that is?
We grow up in a society that tells us that being fat is a bad thing. We are constantly inundated with messages and images that portray thinness as the ideal and fatness as this “evil” thing to avoid at all costs. That’s why many people don’t want to be called fat, even when they are fat. It’s understandable because of what we are taught, yet that does not mean it’s okay. People should reevaluate the word! Being fat is simply a description of someone’s body type.

What do you think of the common association of “fat” with poor health?
I think that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy fat people, just like there are healthy skinny people and unhealthy skinny people. I don’t think anyone is arguing that it’s good to sit around all day and eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, it’s important not to assume anything about anyone’s health based solely on their weight. A size 16 woman might well be healthier than a size 6 woman. It depends, and it’s important to realize that other people’s bodies and health are not anyone’s business but their own.

My editor thinks that the word should be used as a descriptor, just like you would call someone thin. Nobody would get mad at you for calling them thin, but some people would definitely be offended if you called them fat. What do you think about that?
I agree 100%. It would be nice if the word fat could be de-stigmatized and used simply as a way to describe people. That is how I use it.

With your blog, you refer to yourself and other plus-sized girls as fat. Clearly you are working to change the meanings or associations the word possesses. Why do you think it’s important to embrace the word “fat”?
I think that giving other people power over the word does no good. Once fat people embrace the word “fat” and stop fearing it, they don’t have to walk around wondering if other people think they are fat or not, or be afraid someone will use the word against them. When someone calls me fat now, I just nod. It’s not an insult to me. I use the word in my blog, because too often fat people are thought to be ugly and unfashionable. I wanted to juxtapose the word fat with fabulous and show people that it’s possible to be stylish at any size.

- Stephanie Fereiro. Photos from YoungFatAndFabulous.com.