3 Tiny Ways Thin People Can Shift Their Language to Support Fat Acceptance

A person talking, with alphabet letters coming out of their mouth

A person talking, with alphabet letters coming out of their mouth

Originally published on Ravishly and republished here with their permission. 

We have a serious language problem in our society.

More specifically, in case you haven’t noticed, whether we mean to be oppressive or not, the ways that we use our language can have an incredibly oppressive effect.

And usually, it’s insidious: Really problematic things sneak their way into our everyday language without our ever really noticing. And because we live in a society that normalizes, encourages, and even rewards the reinstatement of the status quo, we’re very rarely called out on it when we say something racist, transphobic, or otherwise harmful.

And the same goes for the ways that those of us with thin privilege (if you want more on that concept, try here and here) toss around incredibly fatphobic phrases without even recognizing it.

And that’s got to stop.

Because if we can just rearrange our words a little bit (or completely avoid some things altogether), we can start to make the world a more accepting place for fat people.

And in our diet industry-saturated culture, that’s good news for all of us.

So here are three ways that you can start refocusing your language to be less hurtful to the cause.

1. Never Say That You ‘Feel Fat’

Hey. I know that a lot of people are tired of the insistence that “fat is not a feeling” – and I hear that. Considering that some people – especially eating disordered folks, like myself – really, honestly believe themselves to experience the “feeling” of fat, I get why asking people not to say this anymore can be annoying at best and invalidating at worst.

But here’s the thing: Say what you really mean instead.

Because usually, when we say that we “feel fat,” what we’re really trying to get across is more along the lines of “I feel guilty for having eaten ice cream,” “My body feels unhappy because I haven’t exercised in two weeks,” “I’m having a bad body image day,” “I feel very aware of what fat does exist on my body today,” or even “I’m experiencing some intense body dysmorphia.”

And those are all completely legitimate – albeit frustrating, and sometimes destructive – thoughts and feelings.

So say how you really feel. And try to leave “I feel fat” in the dust.

Because fat is not a feeling – not technically. It’s a body type, an experience, and an identity. And associating it with every negative feeling that you have adds to weight stigma in the form of “Fat = Bad.”

2. STFU About Your Diet

Okay, so you’re on a diet, and you’re really pumped about it. You truly, honestly believe that you’re, say, “getting your body back” post-partum (that’s a harmful concept) or improving your fitness a la the latest technological tracking device (which can also be a harmful concept).

And while I think we need to throw a lot of these ideas in the trash, I’m also understanding of how diet culture makes you believe that these are good things – things, in fact, to brag about.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that people setting and meeting goals is a great thing. If you’ve just picked up running as a hobby (because you truly enjoy it and not because it’s fueled by guilt and shame), and you’ve finally run your first 10K, by all means, celebrate that. If you’ve come to understand that you have a gluten allergy and you just found a really kick-ass gluten-free recipe, by all means, post that shit on Facebook.

But recognize the ways in which some diet talk can be incredibly harmful, depending on its context.

Comments like “I shouldn’t eat that” or “Do you know how many calories are in a slice of cheesecake?” are never helpful to anyone (least of all to you and your quest to diet).

More to the point, talking about dieting as a perpetual activity we all should be striving for – and defining your worth in weight-loss goals – is not only inherently fatphobic (as the fear of fat is what keeps the cycle going), but can also be really triggering to folks whose entire life has been a series of doctors, parents, teachers, and lovers forcing them onto dangerously low-calorie diets.

3. Stop That Weird Comparison Thing That We Do

“I feel so huge in this bathing suit,” Friend 1 says to Friend 2.

And Friend 2, in an attempt to minimize Friend 1’s negative feelings by shifting focus onto themselves, says, “Psh. Well, if you feel big, then I must look like a beached whale.”

Stop. Stop stop stop. Stop this nonsense immediately.

Why do we do this?

I’ll tell you why: Because, in our minds (thanks a lot, shit society), the concept of being fat is so horrific, so offensive, so unthinkable that we could never, ever, ever let our friends believe that they’re fat – and so we change the subject immediately, turning ourselves into the subjects of that scorn (which we believe we deserve for being, like, a size eight and not a two).

Fellow thin people: Don’t do this.

First of all, because there’s nothing wrong with being a whale. Whales are cute, happy sea creatures (and, um, if they’re beached, that’s a serious animal welfare issue). But also because there’s nothing wrong with being fat.

And when we either say or imply “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful,” we’re drawing a very clear line: that it’s impossible to be both fat and beautiful simultaneously.

These ideas – that fat isn’t beautiful, that diets are healthy, that fat is a feeling – all stem from one grotesque place: the notion that the worst thing you can be is fat, and the best thing you can be is avoiding that fate at all costs.

And, fellow thin people, if we want to do better by fat people – and ourselves – we’ve got to cut the fatphobic language our of our vernacular. Now.

Melissa A. Fabello, Co-Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, is a body acceptance activist and sexuality scholar living in Philadelphia. She enjoys rainy days, tattoos, yin yoga, and Jurassic Park. She holds a B.S. in English Education from Boston University and an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality from Widener University. She is currently working on her PhD. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello.