What’s in a Name?

by Rachel on May 20, 2010

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m really into the Healthy at Any Size movement. I discovered HAES back in the winter of 2009 via Kate Harding’s blog and it had a really strong influence on how I thought about health, diet, weight loss, and how I — and our society — treat other people.

Kate Harding is one of the most vocal leaders of the fat acceptance movement. The fat acceptance movement is all about saying that — gasp! — fat people are people too! People who don’t need to change or be punished or shamed! I seriously read pages and pages of her old entries (she does not play and it’s so inspiring how she holds her own), but one of the things I found most interesting was her discussion on the idea that it’s OK to call people fat.

“HOLD UP, Rachel,” I’m sure you’re thinking. “You don’t believe in talking shit about women’s bodies. So how could you call a woman fat?”

Well, I wouldn’t call a woman fat because I know she’d be offended and hurt. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about this question: What if we just decided that “fat” is…just an adjective?

Here’s the thing: in American society, the word “fat” is associated with “bad.” A woman is offended when you call her fat because when we hear fat, we think it means…

  • Being ugly.
  • Being unhealthy.
  • Being lazy.
  • Eating all the time.
  • Being out of control.
  • Being single.
  • Being depressed.
  • Being unlovable.
  • Being a joke.

But it actually doesn’t mean that. It just means having more of a certain type of tissue on your body. And describing body tissue actually isn’t an accurate way to describe a person’s personality or being.

Kate Harding actually wrote an awesome article for Salon last year about why fat is not a dirty word. She wrote that when a friend says, “You’re not fat!” they really mean…

“‘You’re not a dozen nasty things I associate with the word fat.’ The size of your body is not what’s in question; a tape measure or a mirror could solve that dispute. What’s in question is your goodness, your lovability, your intelligence, your kindness, your attractiveness. And your friends, not surprisingly, are inclined to believe you get high marks in all those categories. Ergo, you couldn’t possibly be fat.

And I am fat — just like I’m also short, also American, also blonde (with a little chemical assistance). It is just one fucking word that describes me, out of hundreds that could. Those three little letters do not actually cancel out all of my good qualities….Telling me I’m not fat is a goddamn lie.”

So really, when we talk about women and body image, it’s not about saying, “You’re not fat!” I guess we all say that because we “have” to. But that’s something I think we could change at the root. We need to say that no matter what your physical characteristics are, they are just that — physical characteristics. Being fat doesn’t mean you’re any less lovable, beautiful, wonderful, worthy, healthy, or happy than having brown hair or blue eyes does. And not being fat doesn’t mean you’re any more of those things.

You are who you are. You feel what you feel. You deserve what you have and probably more. And really, adjectives have nothing to do with it.