*Queue every single female I've ever known raising their hand*
We all know that unique feeling that slices through your insides and pumps you full of hot, poisonous shame when someone calls you fat. Maybe it's a stranger spewing hate at you from across the street. Maybe it's a family member who constantly berates you about your weight. Maybe it's an online troll comparing you to the majestic sea beast otherwise known as a whale. Maybe it's a best friend who always goes out of her way to tell people that you're 'the bigger one' despite knowing you'd recently recovered from anorexia (yup, that's one of mine *raises hand*). We've all been body shamed. But there is absolutely no doubt that the full blown F bombs hit you the hardest.
YOU ARE FAT.
Not too long ago that phrase had the ability to catapult me into a spiral of self hate faster than you can say 'crash diet'. The starvation, exercise addiction, and nightly emotional breakdowns took hold, with me carrying those words around as evidence of my worthlessness.
Now, I get fat shamed nearly every day. I am a woman who shows her body on the internet, intentionally accentuating belly rolls, and cellulite, and all those other 'evil' things that 'good' female bodies aren't supposed to have. I've been told to lose 75lbs, I've had a girl say that she'd rather die than look like me, just last week someone went through about 30 of my pictures and simply wrote 'FAT' under each one (I hope she was using a copy and paste button otherwise she wasted a hell of a lot of time on not hurting me in the slightest). And I'm still standing. They can't make a dent in my self love. In the words of one of my favourite artists @radfatvegan 'no shame in my belly game'.
One of the first and most important things I did on this body positivity journey was reclaiming the words that used to tear my self esteem into shreds. Words like 'fat' and 'chubby' and 'thunder thighs'. When you reclaim a word like that, you neutralise it, you take away it's power to bring you down. And I know, that all sounds great, but how do you actually do it? Here's how:
- Say it out loud. For most people, the word 'fat' causes an almost physical level of discomfort. It makes skin crawl, it makes stomachs turn. And the way to combat those reactions is to get used to hearing the word, on your terms. Say it until it feels like any other word. Say it with a smile on your face. Say it over and over until you start to feel silly, push through the discomfort (is it just me, or is 'fat' actually a really cute little word?).
- Keep reminding yourself that 'fat' is just a three letter adjective used to describe appearance. The only reason it has so much power over us is because we live in a thin obsessed, diet culture saturated world, where industries make billions thriving under our fear of the F word. Really, calling someone fat is no different from calling someone tall, or brunette. Can we all imagine for a minute how ridiculous it would be if someone yelled 'YOU'RE SO F*CKING BRUNETTE!' across the street at someone as an insult? 'Fat' itself has no negative meaning, only the meaning our culture has imposed upon it, and that's something we can strip it of.
- Find other people embracing their bad words. My Instagram feed is full of unapologetic fat babes rocking their VBOs (visible belly outlines) in bodycon dresses and breaking out their fatkinis for summer. The more you see those words being reclaimed, the easier it'll be for you too.
- Go buy a copy of Fat! So? By Marilyn Wann. It's one of the greatest body positive books out there, and even has fat cut out dolls! You can usually get a cheap second hand copy from Amazon, if I haven't bought them all already to give to my friends.
Some of you might be reading this and thinking 'uhmmm then how come we never see you actually calling yourself fat then Megan?', because I don't, I tend to use the word chubby instead. And this is important - everyone should stop seeing fat as a bad word, but not everyone should then take it for themselves. You see, fat culture is a crucial part of so many people's identities. The fat babes I follow on IG are people who've experienced instances of serious prejudice and discrimination based on their size. And in their own words, they are 'visibly fat'. We all experience body shame, and the internal mental struggles a thin person faces about their body can be just as, or even more damaging than a visibly fat person's. However, fat people face a very different reality in the outside world, and that needs to be recognised.
Most of us have experienced some body snark while out in public, but if you're a thin or just a bit chubby person (like me), it probably isn't something that happens literally every time you leave the house. It probably isn't an endless tirade of slurs, dirty glances, judgmental comments and genuine abuse. You probably haven't been unable to do things you love, like going to the cinema, going to theme parks, trying new restaurants etc. because the seating won't accommodate you. You probably haven't been passed over for a job opportunity just because the small minded person interviewing you believes that all fat people are lazy and therefore unfit for the job. You probably don't have to pay twice as much for clothing that you can only find in specifically plus size stores. You probably haven't faced the widespread and institutionalised size prejudice that fat people face every. Single. Day.
Yes, I've spent years in a state of mental torture, starved myself nearly to death, and truly believed I was the most hideously fat person on the planet. But the outside world didn't treat me the same way I treated me. I have benefited from a degree of thin privilege (i.e. not having to face the things above) for my whole life, and so I respect that fat culture is not for me. I haven't had to deal with the worst parts, so I don't get to take the best parts. It's a bit like the word 'queer', which was used as a derogatory slur against non-heterosexual people for years before it was reclaimed by members of the LGBTQIA community. I personally can recognise that queer isn't a bad word,it won't hurt me if someone tries to insult me with it, and it would be fine if I was queer. But I'm not, and I haven't had to overcome the hardships of having that part of my identity invalidated by society at large, so the word is not mine to take and flaunt as my own, calling myself queer.
Fat acceptance is crucial for all of us, because so many of our body image issues are rooted in the fear of fat. We live in a world that teaches us that fat is the worst thing you can be. It always baffles me that people will promote eating disorder recovery but draw the line at fat acceptance because it's 'too far', when really they're both part of the same beast. We all need to work together to dismantle that fear, and once we do our self esteem is gonna sky rocket, no matter what size we are. We can reclaim the word fat, we can be respectful of fat culture, we can take our power back. Now everybody say it with me:
FAT IS NOT A BAD WORD.