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Finding a Name to Call “It”

Are you fat? Or are you obese? Are you simply a little overweight, or are you cursed with having a fabulous set of big bones? Do you think your bum looks big in this, or whether that makes your arms look flabby? Which of these terms have you used? And which of these set your teeth on edge or make you want to kick somebody?

We all do a lot of tip-toeing around in life, looking for the right words to use. When you have little kids around and you really, really want to swear, you can struggle to find something that has the required oomph, but doesn’t risk your precious 4-year-old blurting it out next time the in-laws are visiting.

We all have a word for our size and shape that hits a tender spot. For me, as a kid, it was the word ‘fat’. As I became an adult, I naturally rebelled, and refused to use it, no matter how accurate it was. Instead, I was just overweight, or big. Back then, obesity hadn’t even crossed my path.

These days, of course, you can’t open your front door without having ‘obesity’ smacked across your face like a wet haddock. There’s no getting away from it.

Which makes working out how you feel about it a bit… let’s say, challenged.

Because, you see, I was fat. Still am fat. Actually, I’m fatter now than I was back then. But I was afraid to use the word because it seemed so, well, final. As though actually admitting to it meant I’d been a failure to stop myself actually getting fat. That if I could actually be just big or curvaceous, then it wasn’t really anything serious. I could go on doing whatever it was I was doing, and installing major changes in my life to address the weight issue simply wasn’t necessary.

Yes, I know – I’m sure you can see the flaw in my thinking a mile off. J

My mistake (well, one of them) was the intense depth of emotion I’d attached to a single word. By hating the word ‘fat’ I sailed through one year after another, ignoring the reality of my body – and a whole chunk of both who I was, and what I needed out of life.

I thought that ignoring it would make it all go away. If only…

But it didn’t go away. Instead, I just went on being miserable, year after year, with no idea why things never changed for the better.

By avoiding the word, I avoided the problem. By avoiding the problem, I made it worse.

I read the other day that people consider the word ‘fat’ to be personal and applicable to them, while the word ‘obese’ isn’t personal – and that being called obese doesn’t have the same connotations that ‘fat’ has. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. But I think a big chunk of that truth is bound up with the fact that obesity is a clinical disorder – and we don’t think of our extra curves as anything so sophisticated. Because we blame ourselves for every extra curve we have.

Fat is our fault, obesity is a condition somebody else might have.

Of course, the fact is that it all means the same. It all means that we carry extra weight on our bodies. The difference is – when we call ourselves fat, we use the word as a weapon. I’ll be posting more about this soon.

It took me a long time to realise the word itself wasn’t my enemy. It also took me a long time to take the word and embrace it. I actually found it kind of liberating. I highly recommend it. I learned to accept that the word ‘fat’ was simply an accurate description, just like saying I’m of average height is an accurate description. By taking the emotion out of the word, I took an important step towards feeling better about my entire situation.


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  1. Jane says:

    As a kid I hated any mention or any euphemism. As an adult I embraced “fat” when the euphemisms got a little fruity and I needed to face facts without being precious. Doesn’t change the hurt when someone else calls me fat, though! And people feel very free to judge you (and comment) on your size.

    1. Mackenzie says:

      I’ve never been able to work out why people feel they have a right to call anybody fat. Do we go around pointing out that they’re rude?

      Or perhaps we should.