Identifying as Fat in an Overweight World
by Kyra Craig
Fat. The word holds a lot of weight and has connections deep down in many people in many different ways. People are big-boned, larger, bigger, stocky, but not fat. You’re not fat, you’re beautiful. You are anything but fat. But why? If you told someone that you were tall, they would not correct you saying “You’re not tall, you’re beautiful” because we all know that you can be tall and be attractive. You can be short - the literal opposite of being tall - and still be attractive. It’s acceptable to be the muscular mesomorph, the slender ectomorph, but the fat endomorph?
From a young age we are taught that it is inappropriate to tell others that they are fat; that it is a dirty word. So why is it that we have created this false dichotomy of fat and attractive, that we do not see with most other characteristics that we use to describe others? History shows that it has not always been this way. Take, for example, the Baroque Period. In the 17th century, one of the most prolific artists of history, Sir Peter Paul Rubens, found great success from painting full-figured women. His artistic portrayal of fat women led to the creation of the descriptor of “Rubenesque” to describe bodies like in Sir Rubens art. The image of these women were understood to represent happiness, prosperity, and pleasure. Today, Rubenesque art refers to a wide range of art celebrating the beauty in the fat femme form.
One of the words most use to describe a “big-boned” friend is overweight. This word comes from the dated practice of using the BMI scale. BMI stands for body mass index and was created with the idea that by comparing height to weight ratios, a doctor could then recommend you exercise more, eat differently, etc. However, more recently it has been documented by several sources that the BMI scale is actually false. Take for example, a muscular mesomorph basketball player like Lebron James. At 6’8 and 250 lbs he is the poster child for the world of sports. That being said, according to the BMI scale, Lebron James is overweight on the cusp of obesity - something not commonly associated with professional athletes. One of the most obvious reasons for gross miscalculations such as this is that the equation for BMI uses an exponent of 2 which is illogical as human beings exist as three dimensional objects. That being said, the word “overweight” in many ways can be more harmful than “fat”. By using the term “overweight” we perpetuate the false idea that there is a universal normal weight and that people are either within or outside of the zone of healthy living.
It is not uncommon now to see body empowerment activists identify as fat, and their reasoning really is simple. Everybody has fat. Everybody also has muscles, bones, and blood. Fat does not have to be a bad word. Some bodies are fat. Some are tall and some short and some thin. Fat is a descriptor that reflects the character of the one who uses it. That being said many people have deeply personal feelings and differing relationships with the word. So while it may be wise not to label others without consent, it is a word to work on reintroducing ourselves to. A word to befriend after being taught to believe it was the enemy.