Three years ago, if someone asked me to describe my body in three words, I would have felt uncomfortable using the word “fat.” I didn’t mind being called “chunky,” “chubby,” or “thick,” but “fat” was always received as an insult; and more often than not, people meant it as such.
I wasn’t always fat. I was once able to tie my shoes while wearing tight pants. I was once able to find nice jeans in my size, without having to search the entire rack. My flesh was once free of deep, dark stretch marks. I know what it’s like to not be fat, which means I understand the privilege that is not afforded to fat people, the same privilege I lost after my weight gain.
The privilege of not being fat includes having a descriptor that only means one thing: one’s body size. Slim simply means slim. Muscular simply means muscular. Thin simply means thin. Fat doesn’t just mean that someone is fat. Fat is normally synonymous with lazy, smelly, disgusting, and ugly — at least, that’s what being called fat felt like to me.
Roxane Gay tweeted, “Fat is not an insult. It is a descriptor. And when you interpret it as an insult, you reveal yourself and what you fear most.” She’s right. Whenever someone called me “fat,” I used to clap back with an insult about their appearance, as I would if someone called me “ugly.” I interpreted “fat” as an insult because of how I once felt about fat people, before my weight gain.
I didn’t think fat bodies were ugly or disgusting. I always preferred someone with a larger body, even now. I simply stared at fat people and rewrote the story of their body in my own head. I assumed that many fat people are uncomfortable in their bodies. I assumed that many fat people are only fat because they sit around all day and eat ravenously. I assumed that many fat people are too lazy “fix” themselves. However, I was the lazy one. I was lazy for assuming fat people needed to fix themselves.
My body has a story, every pound and stretch mark. Only, I’ve lost my skinny-boy privilege, which means I don’t get to tell that story. When people stare at me, they don’t see someone who ate to fill a void after finding his grandfather dead, or someone who used food to comfort him after years of emotional abuse from his father. They see someone who ate himself into a prison. They see someone who is too lazy to do something about it, even when I am trying to do something about it.
Whenever someone called me “thick,” I knew they were using it as a substitution for the word “fat.” I didn’t care. In fact, I preferred this. There was no negative undertone. The term “thick” was a simple descriptor meaning that someone was overweight, just like the term “fat.” However, today it means anything but that. “Thick” means muscular, slim, having a bigger butt. Really, the term “thick” is synonymous with having a conventionally attractive body, which I do not have.
Now, I must call my body what it is: fat. I must do with the word “fat” what I’ve learned to do with the word “gay.” I must stop seeing it as an insult, even when it is intended to be. I must do with the word “fat” what white gays and stan Twitter did to the term “thick.” I have to steal it, then modify what the word means.
Fat isn’t synonymous with lazy, disgusting, or ugly. Fat simply means fat, which I am. And while you’re calling me fat, don’t forget to call me other painfully obvious descriptors: I have dark skin. I have brown eyes. I have full lips. I have black hair. I have a beard that connects.
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