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Is Fat a Bad Word?

Earlier this week, I wrote about a retail store in the UK that recently introduced a line of plus-sized clothing for kids as young as three.  In describing this larger toddler attire, I used various adjectives including  “expanded,” “husky” and “fat.”   While plenty of commenters took issue with my views in general, at least one took issue with my choice of words.  Isn’t it rude, she asked, to call people, especially children, fat?

For the record, I was calling the clothes fat, not the kids who wear them.  But I get her point and think her question is a good one.  Is fat really a bad word?  And if so, why should this be?

According to Anne Milton, a former nurse and current public health minister in the UK, the word fat has become verboten and this, she says, is contributing to the obesity epidemic.  She believes that doctors who avoid the F word in favor of obese are are letting overweight people off the hook by giving them the impression that their condition is something that happened to them, not something they’ve done to themselves.  She believes bringing fat back into the conversation will encourage personal responsibility.

Of course, not everybody agrees with her.  Professor Lindsey Davies, of the Faculty of Public Health, points out that the word obesity is used because it helps patients think about their condition as just that – a condition, not a personal indictment.  “Obesity is something that happens to people rather than something they are,” she says.

But Professor Steve Field, of the Royal College of GPs, thinks Milton is on to something.  He says using the term obese medicalizes the condition and makes it a third-person issue.  While it may be painful to hear, he believes that a conversation about weight should include the word fat.

As a writer, I fully appreciate that words are more than just letters strung together.  Words have power – both positive and negative.  But I honestly don’t know where fat belongs.  Clearly, there are many who find it offensive and perhaps that’s enough to make it bad word.  What do you think?  Is fat a bad word and is it worse when used to describe a child?

Image: I Don’t Know, Maybe./Flickr

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