I used to be fat. Clinically obese to be exact. If you had asked me during that time in my life to describe myself, I wouldn’t have used either of those words. I probably would’ve stuck with “plus size”. Those are the words that the stores I had to shop in used for their merchandise and somehow softens the blow of being overweight. I was definitely in denial about how bad my weight problem really was. I also had very low self esteem about the whole thing. There are some people who have much worse self esteem and they absolutely hate and despise themselves. Then there is the other end of the spectrum. People who are overweight and have just as much confidence as some of the body builders I know. Those people would have no problem at all referring to themselves a “fat”. But how about referring to someone else as fat? What if someone was asked to describe you and the word they chose was chubby? Would that offend you?
I heard about an Edmonton woman, Connie Levitsky, who worked at Addition Elle, which is a plus size fashion store, who got fired because of a FaceBook post she made. She is an overweight individual herself and is very comfortable about her size and enjoyed her job. Her FaceBook post went like this: “Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time.” The store didn’t like that descriptor for their clientele. So they ended up firing her. Getting fired over the post was pretty rash, A simple “Please don’t call the customers fat” would’ve done it I think. They eventually offered her the job back and she declined. Her position on her social media post is that the word “fat” shouldn’t have a stigma around it. No offense, but a TON of words SHOULDN’T have stigmas around them. Like, feminist for example.
Like it or not a stigma does, and will remain, attached to the word “fat”. It’s great that she feels so confident to use the word to describe herself, but I can absolutely understand how other people, might not appreciate it so much. Depending on the context, that word can cut like a dagger. I get that trying to use it more often, and by an overweight person themselves, might take away the sting of it. But as long as there are rude, hateful and insulting people using the word “fat” as means to hurt someone, it will always carry a stigma. However, using it in that way says a great deal more about the person using it than the person they are trying to hurt.
The idea shouldn’t be to force your relaxed, carefree attitude towards the “fat word” onto others. The aim instead should be one of empowerment. There are many ways to feel empowered to a point where no matter what word might get thrown at you, you have the self confidence to handle it. It is naive to think we live in a world where people will eventually stop using words to hurt others. Trust me, if “fat” somehow loses its stigma, those jerks will just find another word to use.
The inside jokes, snickers and size discrimination tends to be one that is still socially acceptable. Start making racial jokes at your next family gathering and I guarantee you won’t get the same reaction from everyone in the room. Yet watching fat people trip and fall on America’s Funniest Home Videos or sharing in a snide comment your friend makes when you see an overweight family enter a McDonalds is pretty common place. Many workplaces won’t even hire obese people in fear that they will be lazy and incompetent at their job. You are absolutely able to have your own thoughts and opinions about others. Free speech is a cool thing. But it is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted especially when those opinions are hurled at others in an attempt to make them feel less of a human being…or trying to destigmatize a word for an entire group of people publicly. Might not be embraced by everyone – case and point.)
I wonder how many of you reading this are feeling pretty good about yourselves because you know that you aren’t the kind of person to make judgments upon others? You can say you are non discriminatory, but not one person could ever say that they didn’t form an initial opinion about someone based off their appearance. It happens all the time. It is human nature. Not just size discrimination either. If you are grocery shopping and see a teenager, pants half way down their ass, 10 facial piercings with multi-coloured hair, there will likely be some conclusions about who they are formed in your mind. Doesn’t make you a bad person. (Shooting them dirty looks or muttering rude comments about them under your breath does.) You just don’t know their story, that’s all.
I have the unique pleasure of getting to live my life knowing both sides of that fence – being obese and being fit. I carry extra compassion and empathy for those individuals struggling with their weight. You have no idea if the 400 lb person you see in front of you has just lost 5 lbs today and is feeling really great about themselves. You don’t know if a medical condition put them in that state or 1000 bags of Cheetos. You don’t know. You don’t know if they are in denial about their health or if they make jokes at their own expense and have a lighthearted approach to their situation or if the rude stare that you just gave them is going to worsen an already low self esteem. Just some food for thought.