Content warning for mentions of eating disorders and behaviours. No numbers are mentioned.
‘‘Fat’ is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her. I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me; but then, you might retort, what do I know about the pressure to be skinny? I’m not in the business of being judged on my looks what with being a writer and earning my living by using my brain.’
In a previous post, I discussed diet culture in the workplace. I want to expand upon that post by discussing the language we use. Today, whilst in work, I overheard a colleague describe themselves as ‘fat’ due to the amount of food they had eaten over the weekend. This is not the first time and it certainly will not be the last.
J.K. Rowling asks if being fat is the worst thing a human being can be. Society will tell us it is. We’ve been conditioned to believe being fat makes someone less beautiful, less desirable, and less worthy. The media, fashion industry, and weight loss companies feed off our insecurities and profit from our misery – and we let them.
Ask yourself – and answer with complete honesty – how many times you’ve felt horrified at your appearance when looking in the mirror? How many times have you left the changing room of a clothing shop in tears – or close to? How many times have you denied yourself a slice of pizza or piece of cake because you’ve hated your body? And how many of you go to the gym, not because you want to get a healthy dose of endorphins, but because you’re ashamed of how you look? And how many of you have ever gone to extreme lengths to shift a few pounds, such as using laxatives or appetite suppressants?
Everywhere we look there’s an advert for weight loss companies encouraging people to lose the weight they gained at Christmas or to get that ‘perfect’ beach body. Leaflets are stuffed through the letterbox and emails pile up in your inbox, particularly around Christmas and summer time. Celebrities endorse harmful products, including detox teas and diarrhea-inducing lollipops, to their mass following. Chances are they’ve never used these products themselves yet feel it’s perfectly acceptable to advertise a dangerous product to their followers.
FAT IS NOT THE WORST THING A HUMAN BEING CAN BE
Yet fat is not the worst thing a human being can be. Fat is not, as society would have us believe, a dirty word. Being fat doesn’t make a person less beautiful, less desirable, or less worthy. You can be fat AND beautiful, fat AND desirable, fat AND worthy.
I’ve heard colleagues describe themselves as both ‘fat’ and ‘pigs’ for not following their Slimming World plans. Whenever I log into Facebook, I see a classmate post photos from the gym with the hashtag #fittynotfatty. I’m incredibly guilty of using this kind of language myself as I’m constantly referring to myself as both ‘fat’ and ‘chubby’. I’m aware that my use of these terms has increased recently. More people are guilty of this than we think. I’m writing this post from a cafe at my university and, having been observing the people around me, have heard quite a few conversations that include language like this.
The language we use is, to put it simply, fatphobic. When we call ourselves fat and feel ashamed for how our bodies look, we’re telling both ourselves and the people around us that being fat is deplorable and embarrassing. If that’s how you feel about yourself, how do you feel about someone else? Is it okay for them to be fat because everyone is beautiful but not you? How would you feel if someone said something negative about the size of your body and you overheard? That’s a possible consequence of the language you use. Fat-shaming and fatphobia are an epidemic in our society. Is it any wonder eating disorders are on the rise? Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of weight. It is a myth that eating disorders are only severe in those who are malnourished and underweight.
When I use this kind of language it is the result of my unstable and unhealthy self-image. It stems from my eating disorder. It’s internalised. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and are not the fault of the individual. However, the words we all use have consequences. For both ourselves and those around us. It is difficult for me due to my history with an eating disorder to feel comfortable with weight gain. I’ll admit that I’m not at all comfortable with it and some days it makes me want to rip my own skin off. There is a war inside of me. One side is fighting to destroy the land and make it smaller, the other half is fighting to be free.
I know gaining weight is not the end of the world. Being fat is not bad or wrong or shameful. People tend to equate being fat with being unhealthy when the fact is you can be fat AND healthy, much like a person can be underweight AND unhealthy. We see fat as unhealthy because society has told us it is yet we applaud someone for losing weight, becoming dangerously malnourished, because it’s seen as desirable. Can you see that being fat is not the problem? Society is.
WHAT IS THE WORST THING A HUMAN BEING CAN BE?
There is no one answer to this – it’s all subjective. For me, some of the worst things I could be include selfish, cruel, vain, narcissistic, unkind, and rude. None of these have any correlation with the way I look. We’ve all heard the saying that it’s what’s inside of us that matters – and it’s true. Everything I would despise to be known for has absolutely nothing to do with my appearance. The same goes for the best of me. I want my heart and brain to be what I’m known for, not a thigh gap and protruding collarbones. When people describe me, I want the first things that come out of their mouth to be how kind, decent, generous, thoughtful, and compassionate I am.
Despite still struggling with disordered eating and intrusive thoughts, I’m trying to be more mindful about the language I use. Are you?