How did that statement make you feel? What was your gut reaction? Did you cringe a little bit? Did you feel just a twinge of pity for me? Did you get the urge to search for my Instagram page to see if I was an acceptable kind of fat, or just fat fat? Did you see my picture and want to placate me with “you’re beautiful, though!”? I don’t know exactly how you felt about that statement, but the chances that you read it and felt completely neutral—as if I’d said ‘I have brown eyes’—are low. Fat is a word loaded with connotation, most of it negative. At best, fat people are perceived as not living up to our full potential because we could be closer to our best selves if we weren’t fat. More often than not, though, we are written off as lazy, unhealthy, and unattractive. That’s exactly why I’ve had to learn to use the word unapologetically, especially on the internet where I am known as @BadFATBlackGirl.
I’ve always been fat. I didn’t get pregnant or develop a medical condition that caused me to gain weight. When I was an infant, I was nicknamed Buddha Baby because I was so round and chunky (and bald). Not only am I fat, I’m not shaped like an hourglass… at all. I’ve spent my entire life with a body marked by the rest of the world as excessive and disorderly. In other words, I am my own expert on the fat experience. I shouldn’t have to say that, but I do because people frequently address me as if I don’t know that I’m fat. They remind me with the confidence of a mediocre white man. A family member will comment on how much weight I’ve gained or lost. The man fixing my car will call me “big sexy” before asking for my phone number, lest I forget what kind of sexy I am. I have not. On the flip side, though, people who are trying to be courteous and polite prefer to act like my fatness doesn’t exist at all. They avoid using the word at all costs, opting instead for plus sized, chubby, big-boned, or a deep, heavy silence. For this diplomatic group, mentioning my fat threatens to erase any of my other positive attributes and all of our good vibes.
Both ways of talking about my body are annoying, and they betray how too many folks feel about fat people: that we should not exist. By either obnoxiously calling it out or ignoring it, these people make it clear that fatness is understood to be a problem that needs to be fixed. Fat people should always be working towards having smaller bodies, and are only affirmed in talking about their body when they’re expressing such goals. People with smaller bodies should want to avoid fatness and are given free reign to spout as much vitriol as they like about it. This is why so many people feel justified in their fatphobia when it’s disguised as a “hEaLtH cOnCeRn.” Meanwhile, those same people are silent when smaller folks post their Popeye’s chicken sandwiches, their dark liquor, and their memes about how their 19th attempt at dieting has failed after only 16 hours. It’s not poor health or lifestyles that triggers them, it’s fat.
I use the word fat to disarm people who insist that the word can only be weaponized against me. Whether they want to use that weapon or are trying not to hurt my feelings by dropping it from their vocabulary, the word is charged for them. For me, using fat to describe myself neutralizes some of its power. It forces people to consider that I am, first and foremost, a human being. I am not in need of intervention. I am not disgusting. I am not lazy. I am not ugly. I deserve the right to mind my own business, just like everyone else. Naming my fatness is part of the daily work I must do to avoid internalizing the idea that fatness is something that I must escape, or that as long as that is the state of my body, I don’t deserve happiness, love, success, peace, or confidence. I deserve all of those things no matter what size I am. I speak of those things in my life, along with the fact that I am fat as a reminder that I’m just a girl that does both.