I have a friend that I work with regularly whom is an amazingly talented communicator. I don’t remember how the subject arose, but we found ourselves talking today about fat.
My friend noted she had a problem with the word fat, which many people do.
It’s not that she has a problem with people who are large, she explained, as much as it is a problem with the societal context of the word fat. Which makes sense. Most people, even children in pre-school, equate being fat with being lazy, gluttonous and selfish. It’s not surprising then that “fat” has become an insult.
I replied that I don’t have an issue with it. Fat is just a description, in my case an apt description. I know that I’m not lazy or gluttonous or selfish and to try and imply any of those things from the way I look is just frankly, stupid.
Reclaiming the word fat as a descriptor rather than a declaration of character is one of the most basic underlying ideas of the fat acceptance movement. You cannot tell anything about a person from the way they look other than their physical characteristics. You cannot tell health, emotional intelligence or character from a person’s outward appearance, at least not without making a huge amount of assumptions.
I am fat. I don’t shy away from it, I don’t try and hide it or myself and slink away. I am fat.
I still have a problem my friend replies. The problem is that you’re conflating being fat with being who you are.
Huh? There’s a lot of complex ideas in that sentence.
After a short but intense conversation to both define conflating and what she meant, I grasped the concept and what a light-bulb moment.
I am Lisa Rutland.
I have big breasts, and wobbly arms and a big ole belly.
I have fat, but I am not fat. It does not define who I am. I am Lisa.
When you get a job or accumulate some skills you start identifying yourself by profession. I was an Office Manager. I am now a body corporate record searcher. But again, I’m using that as a definition of me. I work as a search agent, but that is not the definition of who I am.
Who I am is me, Lisa, this complex person with relationships and experiences and likes and dislikes.
I think I’ve been identifying myself as fat for such a lot of my life.
I remember doing a weigh-in at high school and weighing 160 pounds or 73 kilograms. I remember that weigh-in because I dreaded it. I was absolutely terrified. It was in front of the whole classroom and each person individually got up and got on the scales. I was so desperate to not be heavy that I moved as far forward as I could on the scales and cracked the display, which made a loud noise and attracted lots of jokes and comments about being too heavy for the scales. Its burned in my memory.
I would have been 13 or 14 when that happened and by then I’d so identified myself as fat, and so internalised that this was a bad thing, that I was incredibly stressed about a public weigh-in.
I am Lisa. I have fat and it occupies my mind considerably. It is not who I am though.
That feels really good.
The other thing I realise from this discussion; I think of other people as “thin” and that has a whole lot of negative connections in my mind.
Do you identify as fat or thin? What connections are made in your mind when you think of fat people and thin people?