Why I don’t mind the word “fat” (Guest Post)

I am out of the country this week, so a fellow blogger has kindly lent me two of her excellent blog posts—the second of which will be published here at Living Rhetorically this Thursday—regarding the labels we give ourselves and others. Hanlie blogs at Fertile Healthy. This post was originally published at her website on July 10th.

My friend Tony, The Anti-Jared, doesn’t like the word “fat.” Who does? I don’t like the word “recession” either, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re smack bang in the middle of one. Similarly, I’m fat.

Before you go any further, please read Tony’s post about the word “fat” before reading why I respectfully disagree.

the word fat

I realize that we’re from vastly different backgrounds. I’m always shocked at the amount of teasing and name-calling that occurs in America. To be unique or different there is to paint a target on your back and get shot day in and day out (although, given the latest obesity figures, being fat in America is no longer unique or different—so teasing should have decreased, right?).

Not only does that type of climate not encourage individuality, but it seems as if parents aren’t teaching their children tolerance or even basic good manners. Here in South Africa, diversity is embraced much more freely. I’ve never been called names, and believe me, I do stand out, since obesity is much less prevalent and I’m the usually the fattest person in any group. We may kill and rape one another on a wholesale basis over here, but we don’t insult one another. That would be wrong.

So yes, I get that “fat” might be a slur for many people, but there is no other word that describes the condition as accurately.

Fat is measurable

Fat is measurable—a man should have no more than half an inch of pinchable fat around his waist and a woman no more than an inch. Any more than that and you’re, well, fat. And you are at an increased risk of developing certain lifestyle related diseases.

The term “overweight” implies that there is some perfect weight for all of us, which is not true. Tony himself is a case in point here. His weight dropped below 200 pounds a few months ago and he reached “goal.” Since then he’s been gaining lots of muscle and is once again over 200 pounds. He’s leaner than before, definitely not fat, but according to the weight charts and the bogus BMI scale, he’s overweight. I envision the same thing happening to me—to have the body I want, I will be carrying a lot of muscle, which will put me in the “overweight” category. The only way I can be a “normal” weight would be to have very little muscle mass. So the term “overweight” is meaningless, since most of us are striving to be lean and heavy.

That puts paid to the term “heavy.” Heavy compared to what? I’m heavy compared to most other people, but even when I have the body I want, I will be heavy compared to a lot of people.

Tony suggested we use the term “determined to get healthy.” Well that may be true for some of us, but a lot of dieters and weight loss bloggers are only interested in losing weight. Health is something they’re not really bothered with. I see it every day, over and over again. They’re not interested in proper nutrition, can’t be bothered with verifiable scientific data, and allow the media to confuse them with junk science to the point where they throw their hands up the air and say, “I just don’t know anymore, so I’ll just do what feels good to me. It should be okay!”

And then they can’t understand why they have raging PMS every month, come down with every bug around, suffer from headaches, fatigue, depression, insomnia, digestive woes, hormone imbalances and skin conditions, and develop a variety of degenerative and auto-immune diseases over time. Health is only attained through healthy living, so don’t for one minute think that losing a bunch of weight absolves you from health problems. Yes, it helps to a certain degree, but look around the heart and cancer units of hospitals—there are plenty of “normal” people who succumb to those diseases.

Furthermore, a large number of (fat) people don’t care about getting healthy or thin. They just want to continue eating junk and sit on the couch. What shall we call them?

I quite like the word zaftig, but it only really works for women. It means “deliciously plump, or carrying your extra weight very well.” I don’t know about that…

Similarly, “plump” can work for someone who has a few pounds to lose, but not for me!

“Chunky” and “tubby” seem less than polite.

“Chubby” once again doesn’t work for the obese (apart from the fact that it can also mean a “half-erect penis”! The things you can learn on the Internet!). It’s for those who have only a few pounds to lose.

Marilyn Monroe was “curvy” and “voluptuous.” Me, not so much right now, although I’m sure I’ll get there again.

The truth is I’m fat. I’m also tall. The one is no more an insult than the other. It’s just a statement of fact.

How do the labels that you use—or hear used about yourself and others—affect the way you see yourself and other people?

Thank you to Hanlie for this guest post!


  1. Thank you for having me over… It was actually interesting reading this again.

  2. How well you write, Hanlie! This was very fluent and entertaining. I looked at Tony’s blog, as you suggested, and I find something a bit bizarre about the implicit notion that an adjective could need some kind of scientificaly verifiable criteria before it could be used. When I was five, ‘grown up’ meant anyone over 10. When I was 13, that changed to meaning a) me and my friends and b) most definitely not my bratty little brothers and their friends. Now I’m in my 40s, I think ‘grown up’ is something quite rare. You probably have different definitions, and Sagan may have different ones again. But who cares? Broadly speaking, we all know what we mean, and we all understand it if some stick-thin girl complains about being ‘fat’ or if someone who is clearly morbidly obese does. I have no problem with people using the same adjectives from different standpoints because there’s a common thread, and becuase the context always makes it clear.

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