What is fat?

I have almost over-trained myself to not comment on people’s appearance. I hate it equally when an “average”-sized woman (or man) claims to be fat or needs to diet or when anyone tells a skinny woman that she needs a sandwich (and yes, I have been guilty of the latter). I don’t believe that someone’s body is a valid topic of conversation or criticism.

But sometimes, I find myself unwilling to state what seems obvious to others. She is fat. She is skinny. She is average. Our eyes can pick out of a crowd who is different and who is similar. But what does all that really mean? And what language should we use to describe ourselves and others in a casual, size-positive way?

If Kate Harding’s BMI project taught us anything, its that we can’t rely on this poor excuse for a medical tool to categorize weight. And our own experience shows us that what is considered “skinny” is a social construct that has changed drastically, even just in the course of our lifetimes. When I was shopping for clothes as a teenager, I had never heard of a size 0! Historically, harder times often meant that a person with a few extra pounds was seen as beautiful because they represented bounty, fullness and of all things, health!

But today, even though we have ample food, inequality keeps that food from getting to the places it should be. Fat, therefore, is seen as a symbol of excess, greed and injustice. The most nutritious foods are available only to those with the means, while those who are considered working poor or indigent can afford only the most processed, chemical-laden crap on the market.

Class, I believe plays a huge role in the social construct of weight. So, really when coming up with definitions, I think its important to note that anything I come up with are “middle-class” distinctions of weight. What is a fat or skinny person to me is based completely on the availability of food in my class or country and how I view others with similar socioeconomic and political circumstances.

So with those caveats in mind, what is fat? What is average? And what is skinny? And why do I think its important to even categorize people in this way?

Well, I don’t really. I don’t think we should need to categorize. But I have also read a lot in fat-forward blogs that people often feel they are either too fat or too skinny to participate in or be represented by this movement. So its got me thinking about what is too fat and what is too skinny?

There’s just too many variables to intelligently answer this question. How much do you weigh, how tall are you, where do you carry your fat, what’s your body shape, what’s your muscle mass? With all those factors, does average even really exist or is it just in our heads?

And isn’t there a difference between society telling you you’re fat and your body telling you that you’re fat? My body probably didn’t tell me I was fat until a year or so ago. My media-influenced mind, my insecurities and the people around me told me since I was in 5th grade. But my body didn’t speak up until quite recently. And Health at Every Size is about listening to your body, not the bias of other people.

I was hoping that writing this would lead me to a conclusion, but I don’t have one. Perhaps the answer is in discussion. Are you fat? What factors, social indicators or clues tell you that you are fat or not-fat?


Filed under Feminism, Self Image, Size Acceptance

3 responses to “What is fat?

  1. vesta44

    Well, I’m fat, and it’s a combination of things that tell me this. Now, when I was younger (in my teens and even earlier), I was always told I was fat. I’ve recently gotten pictures of me back then, and in looking at them, I can honestly say I wasn’t fat then. The reason I say that I am fat now is because I weigh a lot (382 lbs is a lot), society tells me I’m fat (that’s minor for me now), and my body tells me I’m fat (that’s major, right there). But, even though I am fat, I’m relatively healthy (at least as healthy as anyone can be who has arthritis and fibromyalgia). I’m not very fit, but I’m working on it. So I’m not worried about being fat, other people’s opinions about my fat don’t bother me much anymore, and I’m not letting my fat interfere with living my life as I see fit. I think fat is a relative term, and depends on an individual’s perceptions and experiences, but is not necessarily a pejorative term. It’s descriptive, but not a moral failing. And I don’t mind stating that I’m fat, just like I don’t mind stating that I have a sick sense of humor, or that I’m intelligent, or have any number of other attributes.

  2. femmeknitzi

    I think you make a lot of great points.

    Fat is relative. And perhaps if it weren’t seen as a moral failing, I wouldn’t worry so much about noting someone’s weight in a descriptive, casual manner.

    Unfortunately, it is seen as a moral failing by most people in our society. So how do we approach the language of being fat in a way that changes that?

  3. Pingback: Fluff: A Post-Holiday Fatspirational Round-Up « Fatadelic

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