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Size Matters: Fat Acceptance and You

We've spent time discussing the media's portrayals of fat people and society at large's reactions to such portrayals, now let's get meta and talk about your reactions to portrayals of fat people in the media. Specifically the reaction to my last post about Donna Simpson and her fantasy of gaining 300-odd pounds. It appears there's still a question as to what fat acceptance means and how we apply it. I'm not the spokesperson for fat acceptance, so what I say isn't gospel, but this is the FA I practice and since I'm the writer of this here blog, it's the FA that is applied to this space.

It seems that we have a lot of commenters who feel they can confidently diagnose various psychiatric illnesses in people who they know little about. Having some experience with mental health diagnoses, I know that there are a lot of diagnostic criteria that you have to meet to be diagnosed with a mental illness. From reading the articles linked in the post, I only learned a few things about Ms. Simpson besides the main point that she fantasizes about being 1000 lbs. 1) She likes to eat. 2) She makes money off her eating. 3) She is not dissatisfied with her body, and in fact enjoys her body. None of that indicates that she has binge eating disorder, or that she's suicidal, or that she has body dysmorphic disorder. These aren't even markers for any kind of mental illness, unless you consider love of fat a mental illness—which many people apparently do.

There's also a misconception among many commenters that when I say "acceptance" I mean "approval" or even "support." I'm not asking you to approve of fat people's choices or fat itself. I'm not asking you to lend your support to say, Donna Simpson's eating habits. I'm telling you that you need to accept fat people as human beings, treat us with respect, respect our personal choices (and by respect I don't mean "admiration") and keep your judgments to yourself while not allowing your personal biases to distort how you treat fat people. It's pretty simple. It doesn't matter if the fat person is a size 1X or a size 10X. You can apply these same principles of acceptance to any size of fat person. And hey, if a fat person ever asks you your opinion of their fat, it's your lucky day! Feel free to tell them your opinion at that time. But until then, and at least in this space, no one wants to know how negatively you view fat, whether it's your fat or someone else's. There are many other spaces dedicated to talking about fat negatively, and they're not hard to find.

It's kind of sad that this constantly needs repeating, but I'm not writing about health here. This is about analyzing pop cultural representations of fatness and society's attitudes towards fat—NOT about reinforcing society's negative attitudes towards fat or expressing your confidence in your skills at remote diagnosis. Let's try to keep that in mind as we hit the home stretch for this blog.

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Comments

32 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Amen! Thank you so much for

Amen! Thank you so much for writing this series, which is definitely needed and necessary.

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Just wanted to second how

Just wanted to second how great reading this series has been. I've enjoyed every post thus far immensely.

It's a pity you had to write this clarification (I'd have hoped that everything you're saying here would be obvious), but it's extremely well-written nonetheless, and something I might link people to in future.

While I appreciate the fact

While I appreciate the fact that Bitch magazine is acknowledging that not everyone who is "overweight" hates themselves and is looking to lose weight. And I realize that there is a movement of FA (Fat Acceptance) except the way it is coming across (especially in this article) is still using FAT as a negative term...perhaps using terms like "Plus size" or "Larger" would be more appropriate. Saying "Fat People" just continues to push the societal and media driven "Fat people hate themselves" tone. As someone who embraces her curves (I'm a size 28) I never call myself "FAT" as that word is just too full of negative connotations. Perhaps expand your vocab a bit and start outreaching to your Plus Size audience.

On fat...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. When it comes to using the word fat, the fat acceptance movement (as far as I understand it) is all about the f-word. For a bit more info, check out some of Tasha's other posts in this series, especially this one: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/size-matters-im-not-fat-im-big-boned
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I'm a Size 24, and will

I'm a Size 24, and will continue to call myself "fat." Calling myself "plus size" would be an attempt to make my weight more comfortable for other people. It's a concession: It acknowledges the social norm that "fat" isn't an acceptable thing to be. But I AM fat. That's descriptive and completely appropriate.

Well, I see what you're saying, but...

The negative connotations surrounding the word "fat" will never go away unless us fat people (I'm a size 24, myself) embrace the term and use it for exactly what it is--the state of having more adipose tissue on one's body. I say that I'm fat the in the same sense that I say the sky is blue. The word "fat" is simply a descriptor that some assholes have co-opted. Euphemisms like "larger" or "curvy" or (ugh, my least favorite) "fluffy" skirt around the issue and make it sound like we, as large women, are afraid to see and embrace our bodies for what they actually are. I'm fat, I'm tall, I have brown eyes, and I'm also sexy and beautiful. These are all true facts. Perpetuating the societal standard that saying "I'm fat" is a bad thing and an insult to one's self stands directly in the path of fat acceptance. We've got to own the word to move forward.

arg!

I hate fluffy. Hair is fluffy. If you are a fluffy person I'm expecting some lovely hirsuteness when the clothes come off.

Fluffy seems

Fluffy seems infantilizing.

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Fat is not a negative word

A tree is a tree because we look at that thing over there with bark and leaves and tiny little birdies sweetly nesting in its branches and we *agree* that it is a tree. That's what we have decided it is called. Language is a social contract, and we have all agreed to apply the same meaning to the same word in the hopes of better understanding each other. In this way, society grants power to language and a word takes on its literal meaning.

In much the same way, society grants and revokes figurative and metaphorical meaning to words. These, too, are social contracts.

Using the word fat in only its most literal sense and refusing to accept any of its negative implications is an effective way to break the social contracts around this word that we don't agree with. Fat is:

1.
a. The ester of glycerol and one, two, or three fatty acids.
b. Any of various soft, solid, or semisolid organic compounds constituting the esters of glycerol and fatty acids and their associated organic groups.
c. A mixture of such compounds occurring widely in organic tissue, especially in the adipose tissue of animals and in the seeds, nuts, and fruits of plants.
d. Animal tissue containing such substances.
e. A solidified animal or vegetable oil.

Any other definition is subjective and arbitrary.

The terms Plus-Size and Overweight immediately imply that there is a norm, and that the person to whom the term is applied falls outside of it. Plus-Size -- plus whose size? Overweight -- over *which* weight? I am the size that I am. I am the weight that I am. Using comparative language only harms and coddles.
That said, I do think there is a time and place for gentler language. Not everyone is ready to accept the word fat as part of their identity, and some well-intentioned allies who have accepted the negative meanings of fat would seek to shield others by using veiled language.

However, the more frequently this happens, the less quickly we move forward.

"The terms Plus-Size and

"The terms Plus-Size and Overweight immediately imply that there is a norm, and that the person to whom the term is applied falls outside of it" --yes! i think this is a very important part of reclaiming and using the word "fat". euphemisms reinforce the status quo by making bodies & issues that lie outside the statistical norm unspeakable; the words become taboo and the issues around these words are no longer discussable in a direct way.

I'm glad those euphemisms

I'm glad those euphemisms work for you, but personally I tend to be more direct. I embrace my size and my curves and am not interested in couching them in terms that make other people more comfortable with my fat. Fat describes my body. 'Plus sized' sounds silly and 'Larger' describes my body in relation to someone else's, which I'm far too self centered to endorse.
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'Plus sized' sounds silly

'Plus sized' sounds silly and 'Larger' describes my body in relation to someone else's, which I'm far too self centered to endorse.

Hahaha. I am a fan of the word fat myself. I know that there was some time not too long ago that I lived in fear of the word "fat" being attributed to me, but that's such a distant memory. It's certainly been a lot easier to accept myself as "fat" than to stop *being* fat.

self-centered

'Plus sized' sounds silly and 'Larger' describes my body in relation to someone else's, which I'm far too self centered to endorse.

Hee, I like it.

I've never felt "larger" or "plus size" and why should I call myself that just because someone else wants me to?

Great post and I'm enjoying the comments too!

self-identifying

Anonymous:

I want to join others who say I see your points but I respect and support those who self-identify as "fat" as a descriptor either to be subversive or, like the word "thin" or "tall", to be a darn good descriptor.

I don't feel "fluffy", "curvy", "voluptuous", or "plus size" and I'm not sure I'm big enough to be called "plus size". But I do feel a little bit fat, that is the phrase that suits me best. If it offends other people I use that word I am sorry for this but I don't think I'm coming off as hating myself through and through, probably because my tone and words and life demonstrates I don't.

Words

Plus Size is a category of clothing, like Petites or Misses.

(Not everyone who is fat (or who identifies as fat) wears Plus Size and there are people who aren't fat who do wear Plus Size. I use this term the most because I tend to refer to my body size mainly in reference to clothing, ie. "I hate being Plus Size because there's nothing to pick from and I can't find a decent damn dress to wear to my brother's wedding.")

Fluffy refers to hair, hairy things and frosting. Not human bodies. My long haired cat is fluffy.

Curvy and voluptuous women come in all sizes. Not all fat women are curvy or voluptuous. We come in many shape variations just like thin women do.

I would describe my body as fat. I am also curvy but not especially voluptuous and my hair is very fluffy. I wear plus size clothes. I am comfortable using these descriptions.

Yes!

Now THAT is an excellent example of how to put it in a nutshell.

I still have questions

I asked some questions on the last post on the comment section on fb which were not answered and I would be really happy if someone could answer them for me please. I see the point about going 'off topic' as a bad thing, but I really think I had valid questions and would like some answers to them. I kind of feel like they were just really hard questions to answer and that is why they have not been answered. I have enjoyed your writing a lot, but I do think you need to realize that just because some people don't understand certain things right away doesn't mean that you have to automatically group them with people who have been writing rude comments that don't have any point.
It's nice to stay on the point; of accepting fatness period. I also feel like if someone wants to ask a question then they should be able to, even if it has nothing to do with fatness but is related to the story. I just wanted to know if a similar article would have been written about someone trying to be the lightest person on Earth. I asked another question that I cannot remember at the moment but if you could please look at the comments and get back to me I would really appreciate it, if you have time. I just think that some people myself included have felt like your tone in your replies were perhaps a bit condescending, and if you are trying to educate people into a new way of thinking that goes against a shameful part of their culture, that is not always helpful.

Questions

I think Helene brings up a good point. I've enjoyed this blog and think that it's very well-written, and I appreciate all the hard work that the comment moderators are doing, but a lot of the responses to criticisms have been totally unhelpful and occasionally condescending. I don't want to fault the comment moderators here - this blog has been getting a lot of comments that bring up the same questions, and after a while it's hard to be patient about answering them, especially because so many are questions about pretty basic tenets of fat acceptance. The question of whether the term "fat" is offensive or just a neutral descriptor, for example, has come up in virtually every single Size Matters post, even though Tasha has already written an entire post (http://bitchmagazine.org/post/size-matters-im-not-fat-im-big-boned) explicitly about this issue. It gets old. But at the same time, many people are also bringing up totally legitimate criticisms and questions about the fat acceptance movement, and that doesn't ALWAYS mean they're attacking or rejecting it - it can mean they're trying to learn more about it and form a basis for a new way of thinking. As Helene says, "just because some people don't understand certain things right away doesn't mean that you have to automatically group them with people who have been writing rude comments that don't have any point." Not every question is an attack, and the people who are asking these questions deserve respect. If we're trying to engage people in critical thinking and response to pop culture, that should apply to things like the fat acceptance movement as well.

To Helene and other commenters who have lots of questions, I urge you to check out the many other fat acceptance resources available on the Internet. This is just one guest blog by one contributor who really can't personally respond to every single question (I mean, have you seen how long these comment threads are?), but there are plenty of fat acceptance blogs with archives that will probably help you out a lot, especially if you're new to the whole idea. Here are just a few:
http://www.bigfatblog.com/
http://www.naafaonline.com/dev2/index2.html
http://kateharding.net/faq/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/

And, of course, there's the book list that Tasha posted last month:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/size-matters-your-big-fat-reading-list

Thanks for this!

Thanks Sara, for your thoughtful response. As the web editor here, I want to say that Sara's right, at least about me personally: Sometimes I can get a little snippy with people who don't necessarily deserve it because I've been in the comment-moderating trenches for too long without a break. A lot of the responses here (OK almost all of them) are subjective, which means it makes a big difference whether you're hearing from us at 1:00 am on Saturday or at 11:00 am on Tuesday after we've had our coffee. (These Internets are 24/7 whether we like it or not...)

That being said, we do moderate the comments closely on these threads for a reason, and that reason is because we want this to be a safer space for people to discuss representations of fatness in pop culture (or whatever other topic is at hand) without unnecessary pushback or rudeness, and without commenters derailing the thread to discuss something unrelated.

When it comes to asking questions, it is helpful to do a little research beforehand to see if the blogger in question has answered those questions already in a previous post. It makes things easier for you (you don't have to comment and wait for a response) and it makes us less cranky.

We really appreciate reader feedback, so thanks to everyone who is giving it!
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this might help

About the lightest person in the world thing... When not dealing with legitimate mental or physical illness (which can and should only be diagnosed with certain standards by those specializing in that field) what you are left with is body modification. When done well even heavy mods like tongue splitting or eyeball body tattoos are relatively safe. If we apply that principle to thinness you have people trying to carefully manage their weight to get it as low as possible before the severe effects of malnourishment occur. While it may not be the healthiest practice it's not exactly an uncommon in our culture for a person to find their lowest point and do everything in their power to stay on it. It's not uncommon for people to drop underweight without really caring about the long term effects even without an eating disorder.

Tasha has made it pretty clear that she supports people of all sizes including the thin ones. If a person was trying to obtain the record for lightest human and was doing so with full knowledge of what they were doing to their body and what could happen then that's their choice.

FAT

I think that reclaiming the word fat is fabulous..

Thank You

Thank you for your quick reply on the fb comments section!

Acceptance

You've framed this beautifully, thank you. It reminds me of various reproductive rights discussions I've had over the years--you don't have to have an abortion, but you need to accept that other people need to, want to, and will have them. Trust women.

Just want to say thanks, I

Just want to say thanks, I have really enjoyed reading this series. I'm a skinny girl and you have introduced me to FA and made me question my assumptions (and yes, prejudices).

I can not tell you how valuable it has been to have someone break the connection between fat and lazy/ugly/whatever. I would never have thought that way based on anything else (ethnicity, sexuality, religion etc.) and I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't make the connection before.

Thank you.

honest question time

I like the idea of "fat" being a neutral term. I believe it is (like "tall" or "ginger"), but I have a slight apprehension when using it publicly. For many people "fat" is a term that they have heard in a hurtful manner and have come to associate it with being inherently hurtful. I feel especially awkward using it because I'm not fat, and I don't want to hurt someone's feelings. I usually stick to "big" or "round," which are the least euphemistic words I can think of that aren't "fat," but are still sort of beating-around-the-bush. Any advice?

Even though I use the word

Even though I use the word fat in reference to myself, I try to abstain from using it about women (and men) whose feelings about the subject I don't know. So, for example, if I were asking someone at a party for the name of a woman I'd just met in the hallway (who happened to be fat), "fat" isn't one of the words I'd use to describe her. The reason is because I don't know how she would feel about it, and odds are good that my use of the word would be construed as an insult. So instead, I use words like "large" or sometimes I even use approximate weights (in the same way I use approximate heights). I often use the phrase "smaller/larger than average."

That's just what I do, but I am not an FA expert or activist.

Yeah, that's pretty much

Yeah, that's pretty much what I do, but it doesn't do much for making the word "fat" less negative-feeling. Then again, I don't really like bringing up anyone's physicality unless absolutely necessary because people are sensitive about all kinds of things.

As a fat woman myself, the

As a fat woman myself, the biggest issue I have with how fat is portrayed in pop culture and media is the assumption that all fat people need / want to change. The examples of this are too many to mention here -- from popular magazines, sitcoms and dramas, and reality tv. I'm not a project that needs a personal trainer or a nutritionist. I work really hard on a daily basis to accept who I am, inside and out, and it would be truly wonderful to live in a world where others would do the same, for themselves and for the people around them.

And I also think the term plus-size is vile -- in fact, I think we should begin a movement to have the term abolished. Clothing is sized already, whether it's 8 or 28; do we really need to apply another label to it? Not to mention, it must create more work to divide a store into "regular" and plus-sized sections. Even if it doesn't, it certainly doesn't help my self esteem when I wander over to the plus-size area, feeling everyone's eyes on me and feeling like I'm being banished and punished for my weight. I don't see any issue with simply grouping styles together and then looking for a particular size in that style.

Thank you, Ms Fierce, for giving my inner monologue a voice!

Fat! So?

I read a wonderful book on fat acceptance called Fat! So? that among other things points out that fat is genetic. It's available at the Bitch library, too.
There is a growing body of literature (so to speak) on fat studies, including The Fat Studies Reader, Unbearable Weight, and Invisible Women.

I've enjoyed these posts a

I've enjoyed these posts a lot. They have challenged me and my thinking about fat people and FA, especially as I go about my day. One thing I see a lot of and it makes me think back to these posts is the term "obesity epidemic". I hear this on the news, read about it, see it on the sides of buses, and Michelle Obama is personally 'tackling this issue'. What do you think about it and is it possible to have fat both accepted and described as epidemic?

Perception is Huge!

I have grown up around plus sized women all my life. My mom was big, and all my friends' moms were big. My thinking when I was little, was that after a few years passed and after having a few kids, I was going to look just like them. If I managed to stay slim, it was because I was one of the lucky ones, and I got more of my dad's genes. I do think people are getting fatter, because the food is so full of chemicals and preservatives....I don't think weight has anything to do with it. Instead of an "obesity epidemic" I would argue that we are in the middle of a "bad food epidemic" and big people are the victims; topped with a few bad genes.

size matters: Fat acceptance and you

Hey, great topic and loved your take on the subject. you know I don't think people get it yet that, being fat or over weight is not something that a person who is dealing with it is saying is okay or even healthy. but that they have come to terms with the fact that they are overweight and are not depressed about it like so many can become. A person can embrace the fact that they are fat and still feel good about themselves whlile working on being healthy and fit. Just because a person is thin doesn't make them healthy or fit or happy and not even cute.You have to be happy with yourself and embrace who you are until you become who YOU want to be. Thanks!