Monday, August 26, 2013

Being Fat Positive in Fat Negative Spaces

[Content note: weight talk]

I know everyone is probably blogging about the VMAs today, and I'll just leave that for them because I have nothing special to add. Instead, I'd like to talk about a recent personal experience. On Friday, I was at a training with some of my coworkers and several people we did not know. As we are apt to do, talk between my coworker and I turned to plus sized fashion during a down moment. We were describing how certain trends fit our bodies. I noticed one of the fellow trainees we did not know listening to our conversation with a perplexed look.

She, a thin woman, didn't say anything, but I could tell she was at least intrigued by the honest, straight forward, shame free way that my coworker and I talked about our bodies. It at least appeared, by her facial expressions, that these discussions were unusual to her. 

It was a reminder to me, that despite the body-shame-free bubble I live in, the language of this bubble is foreign to most people and full on fat positivity is nearly unthinkable. Even though it was just a few years ago that I believed the same things, I now need to stop and remember that I'm pretty radical in this approach. 

I know I've read many other fat positive bloggers approaching this topic because it can be very hard to un-do the years of socialization most of us had to learn that fat=horrible insult instead of value neutral descriptor. It's for that reason that I think that "fat" is a term where intent does matter. There's fat the way I mean it (description) and fat how most people mean it (cruel insult laden with implicit meaning, examples: lazy, ugly, disgusting.) It's also worth mentioning there's an ownership issue at play here, where I inherently feel more comfortable with other fat people using certain terms. 

It's quite a trick to navigate these two spheres. For example, someone I might mean to neutrally describe as fat (just as I might use "tall" or "brunette") could take horrible offense. 

It seems a possible solution is to be mindful of the context I'm currently in and adjust my language accordingly, if I might hurt someone (unless I have, for some reason, the time and will to educate them, which is rare in general interactions.) But really, unless I'm chatting with someone I know super well, I don't often slip into 100% fat positive speak because the knowledge of what most people think about fat folks is never far from my mind. (Just as eating in public or sitting in small movie theatre seats are never neutral experiences for me...thin privilege and all that.) So then I become concerned that by not using fat positive terms, I'm simply perpetuating the same old problems. Is it enough to just remove stigmatizing terms from my vocab? Shouldn't I try to intentionally push the needle further...? 

I don't know the answer, truthfully. 

But while we're on this topic, I thought I'd go ahead and share one of my favorite Orange is the New Black moments: 


  1. I think it's beyond fat/thin. In my experience, it's rare for women to talk about their bodies in a non-shameful way. I hear much more I've gained weight, I shouldn't have eaten that, my thighs are huge, etc, than positive, or even neutral, body talk.

    1. Yes I agree thin women often talk negatively about their bodies too, but fat stigma makes it much more radical for fat women to embrace their bodies. I mean, it's worth noting that all the examples you listed are fat shame focused.


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