“You’re Not Fat”? You’re Not Helping.

Content Notice for Ableist Insult, Body Image and Discussion of Weight

After getting my body fat hydrostatically measured, I made the decision to stop obsessing over every little weight fluctuation and no longer use a scale. It’s been quite a boon to my sense of well-being to not start almost every day in tears over a few ounces gained or in fearful, tentative victory over a few ounces lost.

Of course, what would talking about a self-care victory be without a well-meaning person telling me that I’m not fat and shouldn’t care about it?

The tweet read “You aren’t fat at all dummy! Stop worrying!”
The person who said that claimed that the “dummy” part was an attempt to be playful. The worst part of that wasn’t “dummy”, anyway. It was the idea that

  1. Their personal opinion overrode all of my life’s experiences, and
  2. the onus is on me rather than on society to eradicate fatphobia.

They’re hardly the first person to engage in this well-meaning but ultimately condescending and dismissive form of “encouragement.”

I’ve written numerous times about the awfulness I’ve experienced as a lifelong fat person. From the personal, where doctors unfavorably compare child-me to themselves and I’m mocked for not facing the same kinds of harassment as other female-perceived types, to the societal, where fat people experience all kinds of discrimination, it’s not fun to be fat and boy howdy, do I know it.

Even less fun than the bad treatment I get is the adamant denialism I face when I try to talk about my life and my experiences as a fat person. I can’t talk about how BMI has been used as a tool to harm me without being told that it’s just a tool. I can’t talk about the fatphobia I and others face without being told that I need to fix my self-esteem. I can’t talk about how my experiences are different from other female-perceived people without being told that I’m doing it wrong. And, now, it appears that I can’t talk about what was a triumph, a veritable victory in self-care, without the assumption that I need encouragement that ignores my life, my experiences, my history, and my reality.

Unless you think that there is something inherently wrong or evil or immoral about being fat, there is no need to deny it. I am fat and always will be fat by societal standards and really, that is okay with me (most of the time). This is my body, as it is, and this is my life, also as it is. My fat body is not a problem. That it is seen as a problem is something I have always faced and, lately, something I will fight against.

If you want to help, to encourage, to bolster, or even to fight with me, denying that I am fat doesn’t actually do anything positive for me. In fact, it pulls the rug out from under me. Let me own my body and all that has come with it. Acknowledgement is the premise on which I hope to build more compassionate and scientific arguments leading to a less fat-hate-filled future.

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“You’re Not Fat”? You’re Not Helping.
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10 thoughts on ““You’re Not Fat”? You’re Not Helping.

  1. 1

    I so much agree. I don’t like that calling myself “fat” in a neutral/positive matter-of-fact manner results in a chorus of, “You’re not fat!”. Yes. I am. It’s okay. I’m okay. Being “fat” isn’t an inherently bad thing, and it’s taken me a lot of work to get to where I can say that.

  2. 4

    It really is unfortunate that in our culture the simple word “fat” comes with soooo much baggage. It’s simply a word–one teeny word–that as an adjective is merely descriptive and as a noun is a very particular substance that we all have in our bodies.

    Not long ago I was at a workshop working with an older (and fairly rounded) Egyptian woman. At one point in trying to match people to costumes a very petite gal held one up and Madame said, ” No, that one needs some one who is a little fat (gesturing to a woman of similar size to herself) not very fat like us, a little fat–you!” I thought the woman she called over to take the dress was going to cry–Madame had called her a fat! But, she didn’t mean it with the baggage it comes with in American society. She meant it descriptively–the woman she called over *did* have more flesh–bigger boobs, a little more softness in her form–than the first girl. That didn’t mean Madame thought she was unhealthy or unattractive or bad–likely quite the opposite given the body standard in Egypt. But to this American woman, this was a painful insult. (Fortunately, the gal she’d called “very fat like me” both understood the cultural difference and is fairly comfortable in her own skin/body shape. Though she found the statement a little startlingly matter-of-fact by comparison to what she’s used to in America, She was not upset in the same way.)

    It wasn’t that long ago in the greater historical scheme if things that, to be kind of “fat” was, in our own culture, a sign of health, a sign of means, something to be desired. But I have seen a lot of the type of behavior you are talking about–any use of the word “fat” is followed by knee-jerk “no you’re not” whether it’s true or not.

    Perhaps a better approach overall is to let people define their own experiences. Fat/not fat is not a binary state. It also isn’t a character flaw nor a virtue. It can be relative, even time and situationally variable. So…let people feel what they do about their own bodies–one can be supportive and appreciative of another’s exterior and interior beauty without having to negate the individual’s experience and self-perception.

    Ok, long rambling way to get to: Thanks for this post…I think it’s a good reminder to people that the knee-jerk denial is not really helpful. We’ve all done it, but being conscious of it can help us stop.

    1. 5.1

      I did link to my post about getting my body fat measured in that way. Here is a link with more information: http://www.fitnesswave.com/portal/portal/getdunked/services/underwater

      I had to exhale forcibly as I was underwater. We did a few dunks where I practiced doing so in the correct way and the varying measurements were taken into account. It’s not perfect but is still, far and away, a more accurate way to measure body fat than BMI or calipers.

  3. 6

    1. I am fat.
    2. I have always been fat.
    3. Number 2 is absolutely not true. When I look at pictures of 10 year old me I’m a bit chubby, but not fat. But I was fat-shamed all the time (and you#d be so pretty if you could just lose that weight!) and this actually contributed a lot to me finally really becoming fat, because since I was a fat and ugly cow anyway I could have that piece of cake.
    I also had several years when I fit the “conventionally attractive” slot even though I was never “skinny”. But in my eyes I was still too big.
    4. I’ll never be a size 10 again. This was such a relief when I finally made my peace with this. It doesn’t mean I’m not actually trying to slowly lose some weight, exercise more and eat more healthily, but I’ve given up the hamster race to fit societal expectations. Now I can simply do things because they are good for me and occasionally pizza is what is really good for me.
    5. My children will sometimes, still innocently, remark upon the fact that I’m fat. I’ve come to take it as a declaration of fact. If i want them to grow up not thinking that being fat is a moral failure*, I must not act as if they insulted me by stating a rather obvious fact.
    *Who am I kidding? I’ll only be able to soften their views somewhat because I’m one voice in an ocean of people.

  4. 7

    Thanx, Heina, for that link. I don’t know if I will be able to take such a test anytime soon, given where I live. But my physique is what a gay man would call a “bear”, and I seem a bit overweight. It would be nice to know what’s what in my body. I also hope that the test would not be very expensive.

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