“I feel fat.”

Speaking of word choices, I heard a family member recently say, “I feel fat,” after a big meal and I responded with, “I think you’re actually feeling bloated – which sucks. I also think using the word ‘fat’ as a negative experience contributes to the problem our society has with fatphobia.”

I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of the diet industry on perpetuating fatphobia in our country and it’s really made me notice how much fear of being fat is woven into every part of our culture and our language. We try on outfits and say, “Does this make me look fat?” We eat too much at dinner and we say, “Uggg…now I feel so fat.” We go on vacation and eat and sleep and say, “We need to go on a walk because I feel myself getting fat.”

We use the word “fat” constantly as the negative side of many experiences and therefore it ingrains this understanding in all of us that FAT=BAD.

I’ve been trying to talk to my daughter a lot about this, about how being fat is not something that is inherently bad. Being fat is simply a characteristic along with many others that can make up a body and a lot of it relies on genetics and lifestyle and it’s not inherently unhealthy. I spent a lifetime worrying, “Does this make me look fat?” So when I gained 40lbs when I stopped endurance training I suddenly suffered a mental health breakdown because I suddenly was what I had feared for so long. I spent 40 years using “fat” as a bad word so when I finally had the muffin top and the rolls and the belly I hated everything about myself.

Now I’m very deliberate in my language choices so that I don’t ever…EVER…use the word “fat” as a derogative. When I’m trying on clothes, something making me look “fat” is not a bad thing. Instead I look at preferable shapes of clothes. Instead I talk about how I’m short so I don’t want things that make me look boxy. I like squishing my fat into a curvy silhouette instead. I talk a lot about comfort and fabric. When I’m retaining water I talk about being bloated, not feeling fat. When I feel like I’ve over-indulged on food and not doing a great job fueling my body in the way it needs and wants, I talk about that specifically. I’ll say, “Uggg…that food is going to just sit in my intestines and not inspire me to move at all. I need to force myself to go for a walk just to help breakdown all of that grease I just ate.” I don’t talk about things making me fat, like fat is the bad destination we’re all avoiding. A LOT OF US GET FAT AS WE GET OLDER. We don’t need to automatically assuming that’s a bad thing.

I don’t try to deny my fat exists, but I talk about it practically like I do any other part of my physical self. I use it to talk to other non-lean women about my struggles with some parts of yoga. I hate the triangle pose because it squeeze my fat at my waist and when I try to adjust, I lose my proper form. I talk about it how I dress it, not that I want to lose it, but that I want to find the right fabric and shape and styles that make me feel good about it. “This squeeze my fat rolls,” is a practical complaint about an article of clothing, not a request for my daughter to say, “You’re not fat!” which is something I had to break her of early on.

“Hon,” I would say squeeze my belly, “this is fat and it is okay. When I call it “fat” I’m not sad or ashamed, I’m just using a word to describe what it is. I love this body and I’m just commenting on what is happening when I try to wear something with a poorly place waistline.”

She doesn’t love it because she’s growing up in the same world all of us did, a world where FAT=BAD and so fatphobia is ingrained in our understanding of our bodies. But I’m hoping to slowly rewire her perception of fat in the same way I have had to rewire my own.

3 Comments

  • Olivia Funkhouser

    Maybe the fear of being fat that many of us have isn’t about the real consequences of being overweight but of the fact that we associate our physical bodies with our identities and therefore feel guilt and shame associated with being fat. Like you pointed out, we do tend to think that FAT=BAD, but maybe that isn’t the problem as much as the internalizing of fatness as being a negative representation of who we are. Excess fat can cause real detrimental problems to our physical and mental well-being but just being fat, even if we made decisions which led to being fat, does not make us bad people.

    For example: I’m about 20 pounds overweight. This makes it harder for me to run, makes me feel more tired, and increases my risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These are quantifiably, objectively, bad things for my health. However, I don’t really think that the existence of my fat is representative of my worth as a person. The mental habits which have led to my being overweight are coping mechanisms for anxiety, the way that my brain has learned to use food to avoid stress. This is not me, this is not my value. This is a behavior that my body engages in when it’s on autopilot. Over-eating is how my brain treats my body when I’m not paying attention. When I love myself, when I am present and self-aware, over-eating feels bad and uncomfortable. Running becomes something enjoyable, not something I am afraid of. Maybe if the world saw overweight people as being deserving of love and care and compassion, even when we are not treating ourselves with love and care and compassion, then we start to treat ourselves that way, become more present and aware of ourselves, and maybe dont over-eat as much either.

  • Maribeth

    I decided quite recently, that after years of dieting, I was stopping. I am eating healthful foods, making better choices, and if I drop a few pounds along the way, so much the better.
    I will never look like Kate Middleton or Gieselle Bundchen. I’m a big bones gal of German descent. And I think my relatives were the hearty German Farm Girls! Which means I have a larger frame, bigger bones and I will never be delicate!
    I love what you wrote. Thank you.