Stomachs

What We Talk About When We Talk About Fat

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You guys know when I talk about being fat, I mean it affectionately. But in this post I briefly touched on the connotations of “fat” and I was really surprised by how many people said to me afterwards how much they’ve been affected by the negative things our society associates with being fat. I’ve always played up to the stereotype and been the bouncy, bubbly fat girl who openly declares her adoration for all things pizza, and as a result I’ve perpetuated it further – which may or may not be a good thing. I honestly couldn’t call it.

Because I’ve been genuinely amazed at how common this is – with men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes admitting after that post that they feel like they’re constantly wearing a mask to match themselves up to the personality that their weight demands they have. In other words, they’re denying themselves their own personal freedom because of their body shape and the way they feel it defines them.

And this isn’t just overweight people – it’s pervasive across all levels. Ask any girl – or boy – and they’ll probably tell you they have fat days, weeks, or years. This won’t be the first time I tell you guys it’s a state of mind. And it won’t be the last. I ‘m going to drill this one in if it kills me.

So when we say the word fat, what do we mean?

Do we mean lazy? Ugly? Maybe we mean lacking in self-control or self-awareness. Or perhaps we mean just anything above 110lbs. Who bloody knows.

Either way, I don’t buy it, and neither should you. When I was 290lbs, I worked damn hard – a full-time job and a full-time MPhil don’t come easy, you know. And I’m not alone in that – so many people I talk to gain weight because they just don’t have the time to spend preparing meals and working out that they need to lose weight. That’s why the “quick fix” idea is so pervasive – because we just don’t have time for slow and steady.

So lazy ain’t it.

Ugly? Pfft. Don’t even get me started on that. Beauty, eye, beholder, yadda yadda yadda. You’re not ugly. Stop thinking it, and get away from me with those toxic thoughts.

As for the apparent lack of self-control and self-awareness – well, for the former, I refer you back to my earlier statement vis the job and MPhil. And I was painfully, painfully self-aware. I knew, when I was struggling to find clothes to fit, when I was making yet another phone call to Pizza Hut (before I discovered the anonymity of online ordering – although facing the same delivery boy two days in a row brought that indignity right home) – even when I was being rejected for jobs, I knew that people would think a certain thing about me. I thought it about myself. Fat-shaming central was right here.

So no – when we talk about fat, we shouldn’t be talking about any of those things. Those things have been constructed around a stereotype, and stereotypes are something we disapprove of round these parts. And it’s not like they mean anything anyway – check out this article, which describes how some Olympic frickin’ athletes have been called fat. I give up.

When I was bigger, I was buying into the stereotype of what it means to be a fat girl because I didn’t feel as though I had any other option. And it worries me that the more we perpetuate these stereotypes, and the more we try to pigeon-hole ‘fat’ people as having to have a certain identity and certain negative characteristics, the worse it’s going to get – because when I had a day where I felt ashamed of being overweight, the last thing in the entire world I was going to do was join a gym full of skinny people for an extra helping of guilt. No way. I’d be far more likely to go home and comfort eat, which I’m pretty sure is the very definition of a vicious cycle.

What’s amazed me about my tentative steps into the world of health and fitness – through my interactions with other bloggers, fitness professionals, and the like – is that it’s not these super-healthy-types that are the ones spreading the shame around. This is all coming from the trashy magazines and snarky websites – which, unfortunately, have a much wider audience available to them. And because they don’t understand fat, and because they’ve desperately bought into the impossible ideal, what we talk about when we talk about fat is… Bullshit.

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes – and while now, I wouldn’t advocate being morbidly obese as a healthy way to live, I’d say we don’t focus anywhere near enough on health as a goal, and a reasonable bit of fat as a good thing. Think of it this way – on Matt’s programme, we’re still aiming for between 21-32% fat. So even science says that having some fat on you is ok. Not just ok, in fact – good.

Culturally, for all of our sakes, we have to stop demonising fat, and perpetuating stereotypes of fat-ness – because it doesn’t help anyone, especially when we can’t, as a society, work out exactly what fat actually is. It’s okay not to be a size 0, but equally, if that’s just the way you’re built and you’re healthy at that size, then it’s fine to be that too. What matters is being healthy and happy- your own body has its own rules as to what qualifies as a booty storage area, and no amount of crazy diets or self-flagellation are going to change that.

After all, looks can be pretty deceiving – I’m still not a size 10 (not even close) and I’ve still got plenty of bits that jiggle where they shouldn’t. But, I can lift heavier weights than a lot of men, and I can run up a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t do that a year ago, and now I can, my body feels better inside. Stand me next to most people, though, and I’m still fat – and therefore, presumably, all of the things I mentioned above. It’s as possible to be thin and unfit as it is to be fat and fit – which is why we should all be striving for individual health goals, rather than conforming to an impossible ideal.

We need to readjust what we mean when we talk about fat. And not only that, we need to rethink what we say when we talk about each other. We can continue to be negative, and end up trapped in a world of miserable diets doomed to failure – or we can give this whole healthy, positive, supportive thing a shot.

Your call.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Stephen 7 August, 2012

    Another excellent post. Getting fit is the main thing, everything else, especially respect for yourself will follow together with the motivation for education and so on.

    I truly believe the mantra that fitness is not just a tool for weight loss, for me, it has become a way to structure the day. Especially when researching. Anyway my fitness routine has been interrupted by reading this interesting Blog. Bad blogger.

    Stephen

    • comment avatar fatgirlphd 7 August, 2012

      Haha, thanks Stephen – I’ll try to be more boring in future! But you’re absolutely right, integrating fitness into your routine so that it becomes just a part of your life is good for your all-round wellbeing… And for writing too! :)

  • comment avatar Lily 7 August, 2012

    The thinnest I’ve ever been was a 2 month gap between full time jobs. Fitness is fun for me…if I didn’t have lupus, I’d probably be a lady bodybuilder because I LOVE it.

    While that’s true, I don’t have time for being a bodybuilder BUT it doesn’t matter cos it’s about 85% what you eat, not the working out (whether you’re a bodybuilder or somebody who only walks to the busstop).

    I never thought about calling somebody fat — I’ve had too many feelings of not being fit enough my entire life to do that but one thing that shocked me several years ago was the “taking it back” fad of fat people calling themselves “fat,” PROUDLY. The truth is you can be very strong and have wonderful cardio-pulmonary levels and weight 350lb (as a woman). I’ve known women who did/ do! I wish it were easy enough to use words that are simply descriptive and not derogatory. I do not feel okay calling somebody fat, even if they LIKE being called that. I suppose because I don’t want to be called it (having been called it).

  • comment avatar unreformed chocoholic 7 August, 2012

    I love your perspective. This really helps, setting a new goal of healthier than right now and feeling good to let some of the ‘fat’ issues go.

    • comment avatar fatgirlphd 8 August, 2012

      Thank you! At the end of the day, your health and wellbeing are much more important than the number on the scale, or anything like that :)

  • comment avatar Girls Run Faster 14 August, 2012

    Lovely post- and I COMPLETELY agree with you on the importance of being FIT. It’s not about being skinny, it’s about being strong. And my friend, you sound like you are very strong!

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