Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Criticism of Fat as Identity

Published October 5, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

“Why the obsession with fatness?”

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been asked that question.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been labelled obsessed, sensitive, angry, paranoid, fixated, hung-up, pissed… you name it.  It seems that if one wears ones fatness as their identity, and/or speaks up on the injustice of our society’s treatment of fat people, then one must be “obsessed with fatness”.  We’re told to “get over it”.  To stop talking about it, nobody wants to hear about this stuff.  Stop identifying as fat and then people won’t treat you so badly.  People use euphamisms to try to soften the sound of their criticisms of fat activists.  They say things like “You must be proud of being large, if you call yourself THAT” (rarely will they use the word Fat, even though I use it as my screen name).  As though there is something shameful about being proud of who you are, and your body, if you are a, well… large person.

I loathe being called large, big, hefty, fluffy, chunky.  These are weasel words that are designed to shame the word FAT.

We’re not allowed to have fat as part of our identity, yet at every turn, we are reminded that we are fat.  Every day, we see and hear hundreds of negative messages about weight in the world around us, from the news story about the “obesity epidemic”, magazine covers about some celebrity’s latest weight loss or gain, advertising for weight loss products or diet foods, to public service announcements about living a “healthy lifestyle” which always imply that healthy = thin.  Then if those messages aren’t enough, fat people are told they can’t have clothes as nice as everyone else (lest we be “promoting obesity”), must pay for two seats on many airlines, shouldn’t take up too much space on public transport, should cover our bodies to hide our fatness and are not allowed health care unless it is focused on our weight.  When we go to the doctor, no matter what it is for, most of us are told to lose weight, or asked what we are “doing about our weight”, or lectured on the perils of obesity.  Then on top of that, we are shamed and bullied by the arseholes of the public.  We are yelled at, photographed, body-checked, have things thrown at us, are lectured by our families, friends and workmates, are spat at, are called fat bitches/cunts/fucks, are filmed without our consent by news crews to use as headless fatties on stories about how we are the scourge of the nation, fat children are bullied at school and singled out by the schools as being “unhealthy”, we are called liars if we say we eat healthy, and are called gluttonous/pigs/greedy if we eat anything that is deemed “unhealthy”.  If we don’t exercise, we’re told we’re lazy and deserve to die, if we do, we’re bullied while we go about it.  If we want to have children, we’re told we are too fat and it would be cruel to inflict us on our own offspring, and now it seems if we wish to not have children, we’re told we’re too fat to have an abortion or birth control.  And over and over again we hear messages about how we, as representatives of “the obesity epidemic”, should be eradicated, cured, prevented, fixed, solved, removed.

All of that comes at us every day of our lives, over and over and over and yet we’re not to own our own fatness as part of our identity?  We’re not allowed to identify as fat?

The thing is, we ARE fat.  There is no escaping that fact for us.  But we have a choice, we can buy into the cultural norm of the fatty claiming mea culpa, and never referring to themselves as what they actually are, never using the word fat, except in a whisper or to beat ourselves up, always speaking in euphemisms – large, chubby, big, hefty, plus-sized, thick.  Or, we can claim our fatness as it is – OUR fatness.  Our bodies, our lives, our experiences, our needs, our perspectives.

When someone says “Why are you so obsessed with fatness?” answer them “Because that is who I am and owning my identity isn’t obsession.”

When someone says “You sound like you’re proud to be fat.” answer them “Yes I am.  I’m proud to be a fab fat person who doesn’t let your fat hating culture rule my life.”

Fat hatred is not OUR culture, it is the culture we’re opting out of.  We don’t identify with it any more.  Our identity is fat positive.

23 comments on “Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Criticism of Fat as Identity

  • I couldn’t agree more. You know, with all these new anti-bullying movements taking place around the globe? You’d think some of these people would wise up to body hatred and how damaging it is to our society and just as bad, if not worse, than traditional bullying.

    “If we want to have children, we’re told we are too fat and it would be cruel to inflict us on our own offspring, and now it seems if we wish to not have children, we’re told we’re too fat to have an abortion or birth control.”

    This especially– it seems to defeat the purpose of ob-gyn care altogether, and I don’t know about many of you but it seems that this area of medicine is where I encountered the fat hatred after podiatry…where to solve my orthopedic issues, I was told I had to lose weight yet stay off my feet?? Whatever you say, Captain Logic. Fortunately I found a good podiatrist who is giving me good treatment and I haven’t heard a single bit of blaming my foot problems on my weight, but it was hell for YEARS and the simple expectation of poor treatment based on my weight that made me procrastinate searching and live in pain all this time.
    But for some reason I’ve gotten bitched at about my weight the most by ob-gyn “care” providers. Even though it was their damn BC that made gain like 60 pounds after my hormones went utterly batshit and took me a few years to lose once I got off the pill. Anyone else have similar experiences?


    • The entire medical field is rife with fat stigma, and it’s the one place we need understanding and support. It’s disgusting that people who choose a career caring for our health seem not to give a real damn for OUR health.

  • I would say that if anyone is obsessed with fatness, it’s the dominant culture, not us. We’re only spending this much time on it because they lecture us so damn much about how we are too fat to live. They keep writing the same thing over, and over, and over again about how we ‘just’ need to lose weight to be worthy of movement, pretty clothes, love, sex, and life itself.

    Our level of obsession? Is to blow raspberries and say ‘honey, we deserve all that simply for being human.’ And then most of us head off to belly dancing recitals, cooking classes, roller rinks, date night with our very loving romantic partners, and all the other stuff we’re doing with our, you know, lives.

    I just happen to wear my scarlet fat while doing so… or I will again as soon as I fix that pesky chain link that opened up. Where did I put my jeweler’s pliers? I must find them today. Maybe after I write my day’s articles for two blogs (one on crafts, one of weddings), figure out how I’m using up the last of the week’s CSA box in tonight’s dinner, and all those other little things I’m doing today.

    By tomorrow, though, I’ll have my pretty around my neck again… because I do stuff.

    • I heartily agree Twistie. We wouldn’t tie our identity to fat as much if we didn’t have it constantly played over and over and again from all angles of our society.

  • Lovely post.

    I would add we are also told that we are too fat to have children via adoption. There are several countries that have a BMI requirement in place to prevent people that are “too” fat from adopting.

    • Yup, Pange, the UK is one of those…and yet at the same time, there was a news story buzzing round a week or so ago that an unacceptably low number of babies were adopted in the UK last year and that we ought to be making the process easier. I’m happily child-free myself, but I’ve seen so many stories about couples rejected for being fat (very often couples who’ve already successfully fostered more than one child), I’ll be very interested to see if they make the process any easier for fat would-be adopters.

      • I think that’s so horrible. How the fuck is someone to judge parents based on their size, and just keep denying more kids a chance at a good, loving home?

        I haven’t seen much fat discrimination in the US when it comes to adoption, but I’m sure it definitely happens.

  • I agree with Twistie, it’s the culture that is obsessed with fatness and fat people. From celebrity weight loss stories to celebrity getting-my-body-back-after-pregnancy, to almost every health story on the news framed around dieting and weight, to famous people making fat strangers their charity cases du jour, to Chris Christie, it seems society can’t let us go. And they think we have one track minds!

  • If we’re obsessed with fat and fat-talk it’s only because Society is, and we have to work so much harder to counter-act the negativity.
    If society was Size Accepting at large (excuse the pun) we wouldn’t NEED to be talking about this stuff because it simply wouldn’t be an issue. *WE* wouldn’t be an issue, we would just be people – like everyone else – living out our awesome lives.
    Society is fat obsessed.

  • I understand part of where you are coming from. I just do not want to be locked in the fat box, where I am seen as nothing else. They have already made so many other “differences” the first thing to notice about people, human beings are far more complex.I wrote this..

    Now remember in my case, I openly call myself fat, not just online, I mean it’s reality there is no getting around it. It is what it is. But why have the “body” be everything? We are far more then our bodies. I know I may be coming from some different thinking on this…

    I understand why you are frustrated. I am tired of being seen as FAT first and nothing else at times, get what I mean? One’s soul doesn’t have a weight.

    • That’s just it fivehundredpoundpeep – nobody is asking you or anyone else how you want to identify, only the right to choose ourselves how we each want to identify. And it’s silly to think that wearing ONE part of your identity is an implication of all you are. We’re not single form entities. Yes, I am fat, but I’m also a woman, a feminist, a librarian, and a host of other things.

      Part of fat acceptance is being able to see the intersectionalities of all of our identities, both within ourselves and amongst each other. It’s not just this black and white one trick pony.

      And remember something really important… if it’s not about you, then it’s not about YOU.

  • Why all the focus on identity and how others define us? It’s more about impressing people. I don’t want half the identities they want to hand out anyhow… Is our personhood all about what we DO or ARE physically? I was just trying to offer another perspective. Yeah I know a lot of people tell me on these fat acceptance boards oddly, “it’s not about you”, hey I am just one person with an opinion never asked for more then that and I was the one who questioned the idea of “fat identity”, who else did it, so I can go read their blog or article?

    • Stop lumping your identity with other people’s. How other people choose to identify is none of your business. Identity isn’t “handed out”, it’s determined by oneself. How hard is it to understand that if you don’t identify this way, then it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Nor is it my job to go and find blogs for you, or educate you.

      The more you comment, the more I think this space is not for you. You seem determined to try to form other people to your standards, rather than defining your own standards. Fat Acceptance isn’t a service to take charge of your life for you, it’s about finding your own space, your own voice and your own path. That’s what I’m doing here with MY space, MY voice and MY path. It’s not my job to speak for you.

      • Just do you know, Five-Hundred Pound Peep has been making the rounds of FA blogs basically criticizing fat acceptance for being fat acceptance. She came onto my blog more than once to tell me that FA was wrong for encouraging fat pride, for not wanting a cure for obesity, and a number of other things I won’t get into right now. The point is she is against much of what FA stands for and is demanding that FA allow her their spaces to promote those points of view.

        If you think this post will cause a stink, feel free to delete it. I just wanted to offer some knowledge.

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