THE BLOG

Fat Is Just a Word

29/05/2015 10:49 BST | Updated 28/05/2016 10:59 BST

Fat - an F word which has become so taboo and so awful that it's become just about the worst thing you could say to someone.

I believe the world is approximately divided into two types of people - those who hear these things being said about them and those who live in fear of having these things said about them.

I'm also reminded of all the times I've been fat-shamed in my life, when streams of insults have been hurled at me about how fat I've become or how much weight I've gained.

In reality, I'm a UK size 12-14. Pretty average, I think? So what's it really about then? Clearly, a lot more than the size of my belly. Calling me fat here isn't just a comment about my appearance. It's a pointed remark about who I am as a person - which is saying I'm not a very nice one.

Back up. Let's do a reality check. Let's consider the fact that fat and thin are actually just words, just physical decriptions used in the same way "tall", "short", "dark" and "fair" are. In case you need it, here's a gentle reminder from the OED that fat is defined as "having much excess fat" and thin as "having little flesh or fat on the body".

That's it. There isn't anything in there about "fat" being bad, evil, nasty, unlikeable or "thin" as good, virtuous, desirable.

So how did we start ascribing moral, ethical values to physical descriptions? How has it become natural for us to use these words to underscore judgements about someone's personality? Our boss isn't just a bastard but a fat bastard. A girl we dislike isn't just a bitch but a fat bitch. How one tiny word carries so much weight (yes to the pun!).

We've become terrified of the word fat, not for what it actually means but for all it implies. To be fat is no longer just about having more fat cells, a purely physical thing. It's also an indication that we're unhealthy, lazy, greedy, burdensome or lacking restraint and discipline. On the flipside, today's thin ideal is ascribed all good qualities - healthiness, conscientiousness, responsibility, self-control.

Sure, I know fat people who are unhealthy, lazy and greedy... but I know thin who are just the same. I have slender friends who are health-conscious, disciplined and stylish; but I also have fat friends who take care of their bodies, are responsible, fashionable, awesome individuals.

Here's the truth we keep choosing to ignore: a person's physical traits says nothing about who they are, their attitudes, behaviours, successes or failures. We are who we are because of who we are, not because of a number on a scale or a dress size.

If we see a fat man, the only thing we know for certain about him is that he is fat; perhaps also balding and wears glasses. We know nothing else about how he lives his life, what he thinks, believes, does or says. Ditto for the slim woman, the tall guy and the redhead across the street.

Let's also stop making ourselves feel bad and reducing all that we are into a single word that describes only one facet of our physicality: fat. Stop thinking that because we are fat we can't possibly also be strong, smart, loving, beautiful, fun; or that we can only be these things when we're thin.

So I continue reading and hearing what the fat-shamers say about me; sometimes I even count how many ways they can use the word "fat" creatively (not many). And recently, I've decided to do something different about it.

I agree.

I own it. I will use whatever words I need to use to describe myself. I concede that within Asian communities, I call myself fat because I have more fat on my body than most other Asians. I am average among my Western friends because we're about the same size. I am also curvy because I have curves, tanned because I have a tan, and have dark hair because my hair is black.

The people who really matter - and I myself - know that all these adjectives (because that's really all they are) have no bearing on who I am as a person, the values I hold dear, the work I do or the relationships I hold. At the heart of it all, being fat or thin or in between, tall or short or medium-ish, doesn't affect the actual me.

And if the shamers continue hurling "fat" around as an insult, a taunt, an expletive... well, then, that probably says more about them than it does about me.