Regardless of Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” and other campaigns promoting a healthy body image, “fat” is still a popular insult. Calling someone fat isn’t the same as calling someone short or ugly. Calling someone fat isn’t the same as saying “you throw like a girl” to another boy on the baseball pitch. Calling someone fat doesn’t just have implications on that person’s physical appearance, but it has subtle and mean implications about that person’s character. “Fat” suggests gluttony, laziness and general lack of attractiveness. And that is why “fat” is still an effective and hurtful insult today.
I’m actually not, by anyone’s reasonable standards, fat. I have a healthy BMI. I’m right smack in the middle of the normal weight range for girls my height. Plus, I don’t actually look fat. I run at least 5km weekly. Plus I do pilates. Plus I like salad and oatmeal and other “clean eats”. Yet, today, when a male friend insinuated that I was fat, I just couldn’t get over it . I took it personally. And then I blamed myself for taking it personally. And I wondered why I was getting so emotional about it – why was I overreacting to an assertion that a) wasn’t true and b) was probably made in jest? Because it wasn’t about my weight. And it wasn’t about my appearance. It was PERSONAL. It was about ME.
I realised that, a year ago, this exact friend had told me about how he thought fat people were lazy and useless and unreliable. Specifically he said: “I mean, come on, name one fat person who has, like, good grades and is, like, hardworking. The fat people I know have, like, bad grades and are, like, irresponsible.”
So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be offended when, a year later, this same guy insinuates that I’m fat.
Then again, there are some outstanding fat people out there. Like Jay Leno – the Tonight Show guy. Josh from Drake and Josh – before his gastric bypass surgery. Sam Smith – love that guy. And I guess Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a little on the chubby side. But no one knows these people for being fat. We know these people because they’re talented, famous and cool. So why is “fat” still a legitimate insult? It shouldn’t be.
Let’s examine the gender dynamics when my friend insinuated that I was fat. Girls tell each other when they put on weight. Girls talk about their weight and their bodies when they are sharing common insecurities. Girls sometimes call each other “fatty” because it’s a nickname. But when a guy implies to a girl that she is fat, IT’S A DIFFERENT BALL GAME ALTOGETHER.
When a guy hints to a girl that she is fat, it subtly implies that she is unattractive – more specifically, it implies that she is unattractive to the opposite sex. And even if it is just a casual remark, it is offensive and hurtful.
But why am I still so riled up about it? Two words: eating disorders. I’ve had close friends who let insecurities about their body take over their entire lives. One of them used to do knee-lifts at every step when she walked around school, to make sure she was burning calories. I’ve seen my friends get reduced to mere skeletons – their eyes became more prominent and seemed larger in proportion to their face; their cheekbones stuck out; the joints of their shoulders and knees jutted out at weird angles. It was painful to watch and I hope I never have to see it again because it is one of the worst things you could ever see – to see a friend be consumed alive by her own personal insecurities.
And your insecurities about your body have nothing to do with how you actually look. People can feel inferior and ashamed about their bodies whether they are fat, skinny, or kind of average. People who make this warped and illogical association between “fat” and “worthless” are the reason for our insecurities about being fat. People who equate being fat with being inferior are making life hell for a lot of girls and guys out there. Subconsciously, we might all be guilty of perpetuating this idea.
Some people say we shouldn’t discriminate against fat people because “fat people can’t help being fat”. Well, that’s not the point. It’s like how some people say we shouldn’t discriminate against gay people because they didn’t choose to be gay. Not the point. Point is, even if individuals make a conscious choice to be fat/gay/black, it’s still wrong to discriminate against those demographics, and it’s still wrong to make it seem like these groups of people are somehow worth less than others.
Why? Because they aren’t worth less than others.In fact, we’re all, like, equal. Sorry, I thought we talked about this in the 1700s when the US wrote their declaration of independence. We also talked about this after apartheid was dismantled in South Africa. Oh and we settled this when slavery was banned. We settled it again when women fought for universal suffrage. And we settle this every day when we push for marriage equality. Every day there are more reasons not to insult people with one-dimensional assertions like “fat”, “gay”, “black”, “blue”, “silver”, “gold”.
We’ve had campaigns against slut shaming, and I reckon that would teach us that it’s wrong to judge people’s lifestyle choices. We don’t get to judge the harmless choices of other people. We don’t get to judge the circumstances surrounding those choices. The fact is that we all have different realities, and so we all make different choices about our lives. And it is impossible to objectively judge a lifestyle as right or wrong. So what if someone is ‘slutty’ or sexually promiscuous? So what if people are gay? So what if people are fat?
These traits are not anything to be ashamed of. They no longer count as insults in our enlightened era. But they still hurt. What we must do is to make sure these insults wither in terms of their value and impact. Even when they are used in friendly banter or casual conversation, when we use traits like “fat” to tease people or to make a judgement on them, we perpetuate the negative connotation that is associated with such traits. We make it shameful. We make people feel ashamed. And in a world that is struggling to come to terms with its diversity, such insults just aren’t funny anymore.