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Fat Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

fat girl

Me, bein’ fat with my fat self. Or am I chubby? Or cute? Or all of the above?

Two weeks ago, this blog post, “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat,” was being shared pretty widely on Facebook. I’d been meaning to read it, but it kept getting buried at the bottom of the big queue of things I had to read, and I kept letting it stay buried because I knew it was going to make me angry, no matter how well-meaning and well-written it was. See, I could tell right from the title and the beach photo and the twee opening paragraphs that this was going to be another story about relatively thin women thinking they were fat, “feeling” fat, and all of their body image shit. And you know what? As an actual fat person, I have been surrounded by women like this my whole life. Women saying in front of me, to me, someone fatter than them, that they were “so fat.”

Fuck. That.

I don’t know if the women referenced in the aforelinked blog post are actually fat or not. It’s hard to tell, but I don’t think so. It’s an an excerpt from Dear Mum: a collection of letters from Australian sporting stars, musicians, models, cooks and authors, and the author looks quite thin and blonde, like a tennis star. Besides, actual fat people don’t talk about “feeling” fat. They know they’re fat. When I was younger, I wasn’t fat. I was not thin like most of the other girls, and I “felt” fat even though my biggest size in high school was an 8, but I wasn’t an actual fat person the way I am now. Yet when I was told by girls who were thinner than me that they were “so fat,” I knew that meant I was fat in their eyes, a fat friend they could lean on for support. Someone who would understand why they felt fat because I was fatter than them so I must get it. But I didn’t get it. I hated it. This happened even into my early 20’s, after college graduation, when I started doing summer stock and theatre tours. Once a whole dressing room of girls thinner than me complained that they were fat and then realized all at once that I was there and that I was the fattest one, maybe a size 12 at that point. They all looked at me, and one of them even said sorry. It was awful.

But I don’t want to be insensitive, either. Sometimes I wonder how fat you have to be to get to claim the word fat without being an asshole. The way lesbians claim dyke, you know? Is any plus size enough? Does 14/16 count? That’s that grey area fat that’s sold in both some “regular” retail stores and Lane Bryant. What if you’re a formerly fat person like Margaret Cho? Does she get to stay in the club for life, or is she like a college girl who dated women but ended up being a L.U.G.? (Lesbian Until Graduation. I can say that. Some of my best friends are L.U.G.s.) None of them are fat, though. Interesting.

I’m a size 18/20 (squeezing into the occasional Midwestern-generously-cut JC Penney 16 or XL if I’m lucky), so I feel pretty confident in the fact that I’m fat. I do the bulk (heh) of my shopping in the “Women’s” section, if that tells you anything. My stomach is fat. I’ve got a huge ass. But luckily I wear my fat in mostly all the right ways just by nature, and if I dress it well, it looks hot as shit. I realized at some point a few years ago that there are fat women much fatter than me (perhaps thanks to America’s obesity epidemic, but for now that’s neither here nor there), and I honestly wanted to respect their fat as “real” fat and therefore usually refer to myself as “chubby” in comparison. I don’t do it just to make myself feel better, though I guess it does make me feel a little better – not that I felt bad to begin with – but I know it probably sounds better on stage and makes those who might look at me as a perspective person they might want to know feel more comfortable. Chubby is cute. Fat is gross. You’re not supposed to think of yourself as fat. And if you admit that you are fat, then you must really be fat, you know? Instead of any of the nice words we use to avoid saying fat like voluptuous. Juicy. Thick. Pleasantly plump. Zaftig. Rubenesque, which I like to spell Reubenesque, because I’m delicious like a corned beef sandwich. Mmm.

Listen, what I said about fat being gross … I don’t think fat is gross. As a state of being or a word. And I don’t even know why I don’t. Probably because I’m from a fat family, and we all loved to eat without shame. No one in my house felt ugly with a plate full of lasagna in our mouths. I mean, maybe my mother did, because she is always worried about how good she looks, but she never gave me any kind of indication that it was her fat in particular that would make her ugly. She felt she had to present her entire being well (hair, makeup, clothes, etc.), but never hinted that being fat would stop her from doing that. Only that one had to learn to make their fat work for them, so I guess that’s been my attitude about it the whole time. Fortunately I moved to Harlem when I was in my 20’s, where I quickly learned that my fat worked for a lot of other people, too. I’m sure that’s helped.

I guess if I had my druthers, I’d just call myself “fat” all the time and have other people understand the word as a neutral descriptor. Maybe even a positive one. After all, fatness is equated with jolliness, and people who are fat – even though some of us may be gluttons – well, at least we’re not Puritans starving and denying ourselves, right? We’re fun. Fat people are fun. Unless we’re morbidly obese. And then we’re no longer human in anyone’s eyes. Not even other fat people’s.

Of course not all fat people are jolly and not all fat people enjoy body acceptance, and morbidly obese people need and deserve love and understanding, and sometimes fat is an awful, ugly word when it’s used to be mean. But it doesn’t have to be. What I don’t think it should be is another word filled with all kinds of shame, a forbidden word, a word you can’t use to describe yourself in front of your daughter EVEN IF YOU ARE FAT because that will sentence her to a lifetime of body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

I’m fat and happy with my figure, and my daughter knows it. Yes, I should lose some of my stomach fat, and my daughter knows that, too, because it’s better for my health. But I don’t obsess about weight at all (I don’t even know how much I weigh exactly), and when I do occasionally mention being fat, it’s with a smile on my face. Not any kind of grimace or frown. (That would make my double chin pop out.)

So I’ve been thinking for two weeks about all that, and then today I came across this video on Upworthy of Meghan Tonjes, a singer and vlogger, who just kind of puts all of this out there in the most concise, cute way possible. So, enjoy. (BOOBS!)

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Follow Carolyn Castiglia on TwitterFacebook and Pinterest

More from Carolyn on Babble:

‘Don’t Be That Girl’ Posters Prove We Need to Talk About Coercion and Consent

Another Hero Rises in Texas Next to Wendy Davis: Sarah Slamen

Women’s Tennis Has a Model Problem

Hundreds of Female Prisoners Sterilized in CA Without Approval

This 12-Year-Old Perfectly Captures the Situation in Egypt (Video)

Amazing Spoken-Word Poem About Breastfeeding Embarrassment

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