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Can the Fat Stigma Be Undone?

Can "Fat" Ever Be a Neutral Term?

Plump. Curvy. Or, my personal favorite section of girls' clothing, "husky." (Yes, it still exists.)

There all sorts of ways to euphemize the weighty issue of surplus body fat (there's another!). Overweight is probably the most accurate and least sugarcoated, but "fat" may be the most oft used, at least in unmixed company. And by that I mean among thin people.

Although a study reported that fat celebrities are normalizing obesity, I wonder if this is even possible. Susie Orbach, author of Bodies and Fat Is a Feminist Issue, has said that part of the problem is that the word "fat" has been moralized. Fat is not a neutral term, but rather a condition to be scorned and derided. Could fat ever be a neutral term?

Photo by Flickr User DavidDennisPhotos.com

Join The Conversation
staple-salad staple-salad 7 years
I'm fat. I've always been fat. I have no idea what it feels like to fit pretty clothes, or be thin, or not have a spare tire 'round the middle. Granted, I'm not THAT fat. I'm 100lbs overweight, but I'm only about 2 sizes higher than my ideal size (I'm a size 18, my mom has a similar frame to me, wears a size 12, and looks rail thin). I never learned healthy eating habits (I'm trying to pick them up now, but it's proving very difficult since I don't even know what to shop for), and going to the gym is a major no-no what with all the scowling fit people who assume you're fat because you're lazy or think "fat is ugly! Let's hate her!" or at least the general stigma against it. I don't think being fat should ever be encouraged, or necessarily embraced, but I don't think being "thin" should ever be encouraged or necessarily embraced. They are equally unhealthy, and being healthy is what people should aim for. Fat CAN BE beautiful, but GROSSLY UNDERWEIGHT can be as well. Or fat can look disgusting, just as skeletally thin (like a lot of the "beautiful" people are) can. I will NEVER take offense at someone saying "fat". I'm fat. It's what I have. It's what's between my muscles and skin in abundance. It's there. That's all there is to it. It's not a bad word, it's a statement of fact. I AM however, often very much offended by words that people use to circumvent saying "fat". It's condeceding and flat-out RUDE to say these things. That and "fat is not beautiful" is another thing I take offense at. I'm sorry, but people of all body types can be beautiful. I think our culture has proven that beautiful is not always healthy, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Stated as opinion, I don't care, stated as fact, I take offense. As far as the term "curvy" goes. I am curvy. I may not have big hips, or big boobs (seriously, I feel robbed, fat but with A and a half cups), but I have an hourglass figure. The rolls plaguing my back, however, are not curves (at least, not welcome ones) and not attractive (at least in my opinion).
elizabethsosewn elizabethsosewn 7 years
Yeah I have a serious problem with people using Curvy as a euphamism for overweight. You can be curvy and slim (hello scarlet johannsson?) and you can be overweight and not curvy. also husky is a digusting term. I hate it. I am overweight, I am not fat, and I am curvy.
RockAndRepublic RockAndRepublic 7 years
I think their will always be negative connotations with this word because it's obvious that some others feel superior to those they deem fat.
imLissy imLissy 7 years
We don't only judge fat people though. I think equally bad things about anorexic people as I do fat people. I'm not perfect. People say stuff about my height, lack of breasts, acne. Do I care? No, that's just what people do. You can't help what you think. That's life. Life isn't fair.
totygoliguez totygoliguez 7 years
A lot of people here are scrutinizing obese people. Many "fat" people are addicted to food or have a condition, in other words as anorexia or bulimia is an eating disorder. Sure, is easy to say "go on a diet" the problem is that sometimes is an emotional thing, and sometimes people suffer of their hyperthyroidism which can cause obesity.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
Sunbelle, maybe in your personal experience, thyroid problems weren't enough alone to make you overweight, but for some people, they are. Each case is unique.
imLissy imLissy 7 years
and btw, what's with that picture? Those women aren't fat, they're just old. Actually they look pretty good for their age.
imLissy imLissy 7 years
My friends yell at me when I tell people I used to be fat. I have to say chubby or overweight. All overweight people to me aren't fat. Fat to me implies some disgust. If I see you wobbling around in the supermarket with a cart full of chips, burgers, and soda, I will judge you.
Ac2366 Ac2366 7 years
I'm pretty sure that husky clothing is only found in the boys department. I have never seen husky girls sizes. Anyway, fat won't ever be acceptable though at this rate it may become normal. Even if a person is fat because they are addicted to food they are still an addict and addicts go to rehab. Addicts are told they are hurting themselves and no one feels sorry for them because they couldn't help it or it wasn't their fault. I hate excuses.
imdamoos imdamoos 7 years
Even if you legitimately can't control your weight, you're still fat. Having an "excuse" doesn't make you normal-sized.
Sunbelle098 Sunbelle098 8 years
mguy414, a thyroid disorder is not an excuse for extreme obesity. although your friend might have been stricken with hypothyroidism, it is never the sole culprit in weight gain. i know from personal experience. the word "fat" is totally stigmatized. the way our society treats people who are even slightly overweight is outrageous.
mguy414 mguy414 8 years
I agree with you, tlsgirl. And I don't think people should sugarcoat things, but they also shouldn't assume that just because someone is fat/overweight that they are just lazy. I knew a girl who had a thyroid problem and the medicine made her extremely overweight, and all her life she struggled to lose weight and just couldn't, but she had to take this medicine! I'm not going to walk up to someone and say "Hey, you're a fat, lazy, slob!" But if I get to know that person and find out that they are, in fact, a lazy slob who eats Big Macs all day and gets no exercise, yeah I'm going to call them out on it.
janneth janneth 8 years
People often say "she's a little overweight". You never hear anybody say "she's a little fat".
janneth janneth 8 years
Fat and overweight both mean the same thing. But fat = blame, lack of will power, etc. Overweight = the person happens to not be model-thin, no big deal, just a description.
cg130 cg130 8 years
I don't see why the word 'fat' should be anything BUT neutral - it's a descriptive word, and I refuse to sugarcoat the truth. I would never treat any overweight person differently than a person of a healthy weight, but that doesn't mean I should have to pretend to not know they are what is defined as fat or overweight. I *really* agree with tlsgirl...obesity is a dangerous and unhealthy habit. I'm not being cruel or judgemental, but I am being honest.
miss-elle-cherie miss-elle-cherie 8 years
I think that if "fat" becomes a more neutral term , obesity won't be as accepted as it is now . By people saying "everyone is beautiful !" they are saying "being unhealthy is ok , you're still beautiful !" . NOT true . The reality is that obesity is NOT beautiful or ok .
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
The thing that bothers me is that people are stigmatized all of the time for other unhealthy habits, but god forbid you comment on someone's weight. I used to be a smoker and people I didn't even know would come up and tell me what a disgusting habit it was or try to knock cigarettes out of my hand, but no one would ever think to be that forward with someone who was obese. It just bothers me. It's not like I go around calling people fat - I just don't see any need to treat it that much differently than any other unhealthy habit.
Purly Purly 8 years
tlsgirl, everybody has things they do that are unhealthy, but that's no reason to dismiss everything they do as being bad and stigmatize the people.
Purly Purly 8 years
I think that it will take individuals standing up for themselves, being proud of who they are, and simply not taking crap for it anymore. It's ridiculous the way overweight individuals are treated in today's society.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
I don't think it's very neutral, but I also don't have a problem with it. All of the euphemisms out there are just used to try to sugarcoat what is essentially a damaging and unhealthy lifestyle.
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 8 years
Only if you spell it phat! heehee
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