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The word fat is a descriptor that holds no moral value

Picture this: you have a sharp pain in your shoulder. It’s been plaguing you for a few days, so you decide to see a doctor. You explain what’s wrong and the doctor puts you on a scale. After a brief examination, the doctor suggests that you lose some weight.

Has this ever happened to you? Well, it happened to me.

Navigating this world in a fat body is like navigating a minefield. Only instead of landmines, we are confronted with fat-phobic medical professionals, a love life filled with fetish or disgust, the endless search for reasonably priced clothing, spaces that are not meant to accommodate us, and the constant refrain of “You’d be so pretty, if only…”

I’m fat. I’m not curvy or thicc. I’m fat.  However, despite what popular media and society-at-large keep trying to tell me, I don’t consider it a bad thing. The word fat is a descriptor. It holds no moral value, it’s not tied to my worth or deservingness, and it’s certainly not as scary as everyone makes it out to be. If I can look at someone and call them thin, why can’t I look at another and call them fat? To place these two words on a spectrum of good and bad is antiquated and unfair.

Believe me, I have tried to change myself. I thought for so many years that if I just changed the way I looked I would get the acceptance I so desperately craved. All this did was lead to a history of an eating disorder and heaps upon heaps of self-loathing. I have come to realise that this is my body. It’s not going to change, nor should it have to.

Throughout my life I have had to live under the weight of people’s assumptions. I don’t want to speak on behalf of all fat people here, but I know this to be true for many in my life. The assumptions are that I am unhealthy, that I don’t take care of myself, that I eat too much, that I couldn’t possibly have an eating disorder. I wake up knowing that the world expects me to apologise for taking up space, and for expressing myself in the way those with thin privilege do.

You might be reading this and thinking, “But what about the body positivity movement? We’ve come so far!”

Yes, body positivity is great. In theory. However, what started as a movement for fat, black, queer people to show love for themselves and their bodies has subsequently been turned into a buzzword and used by people who will never truly understand this lived experience. To be clear, I am not skinny shaming. I firmly believe that all bodies are good bodies, but I also believe that this movement was not made for thin, cisgender white women who enjoy the advantage of a world that venerates them.

Even though I am further along on my self-love journey than I used to be, I still have moments when I look at my flabby arms and my thighs that love each other so much they just can’t be apart. And I think … what if? Would I be lusted after? Would I be looked in the eye? Would summer be less anxiety provoking? In these moments, I have to remind myself that I am not the problem. In these moments, I remind myself that I am a strong, confident, fierce, sexy, brown, fat woman who does not need external validation or the male gaze to feel good about herself.

I weigh so much more than the number reflected on the scale. My weight is not some numbers concocted to reveal an archaic and racist BMI (Body Mass Index) score. My weight is made up of my character, the strength of my mind, and the way I interact with the world.

If you really want to be “progressive”, stop commenting on people’s bodies (even if they’ve lost weight). Stop complaining about how much you’ve eaten. Stop talking about a “bikini body” as if only certain bodies belong in bikinis. Stop looking at fat people as works-in-progress, as still trying to reach a target. Stop with the shaming and the assumptions.

I’m sorry if you were put on a diet as a child. I’m sorry if you weren’t allowed to wear a bikini because your rolls would show. I’m sorry if you were rejected because being with a fat girl is just so unthinkable. I’m sorry if you eat in secret, if you hide the chocolate wrappers, if you struggle to look at yourself in the mirror. 

I see you, and you are not alone.


  • Marché Arends is a writer and editor based in Cape Town. She is constantly trying to find ways of marrying her two passions: social justice and the written word

Top replies to this story

  1. ‘Navigating this world in a fat body is like navigating a minefield’
    It is also true that that replying to this article is like navigating a minefield. Yet I will still venture to commend it for its clarity on so many levels.

    I offer this quote as a starting point for discussion:
    “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

    For me, it’s the intent behind the use of the word ‘fat’ that is important. For example - did the doctor mentioned in the article intend evil or good? If he was trained in a medical environment that considered obesity as always being a potential health problem then, at the very least, his intent was ‘good’, rather than ‘evil’. As I am sure you understand very well :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

  2. I think this is a sensitive topic, and as such you are likely to encounter people who will fawn over your bravery for trying to reclaim the word “fat,” and you will also find those who will insult your arrogance for believing you should be the authority on a subject broad as body image, which has existed since the beginning of human civilization.

    If I were to be honest, I would say the correct reading of this type of article can probably be found in the middle…among the type of reader who isn’t least likely to respond. But for all the fancy rhetoric and new age jargon, the most honest response is the same as it has ever been: you can’t change other people, but you can change you if you desire to do so.

    If you are truly happy with your body, you should not have to ask others for anything. You don’t owe them anything, and they don’t owe you praise for not trying to do…anything.

    With the simple exception of a mere fraction of the obese population with diseases that keep them from losing weight, virtually all obese people can alleviate their deadly condition if they reduce their caloric intake and increase their physical activity. It isn’t rocket science. The barriers are psychological. Having tried and failed in the past isn’t a valid excuse for not continuing to try. Trying and succeeding is absolutely a reason for others to congratulate you. Not trying and wanting a participation trophy is…progressive.

    It isn’t a new phenomenon that people prefer to look at healthy individuals. It is human nature. No amount of guilt tripping will force people to look at a fat man or woman and not prefer to see something that isn’t there…a healthy person. If you are healthy and overweight, then more power to you. You probably won’t write articles about your weight because it won’t be lurking in your subconscious 24/7. Focusing on health instead of labels like fat and skinny…that is about the only way society can approach the international obesity problem. Trying to reclaim words…is an exercise in not exercising.

  3. Yes, it’s a sensitive topic … and are you claiming to be sensitive?! You offer statements such as “virtually all obese people can alleviate their deadly condition if they reduce their caloric intake and increase their physical activity” without evidence.

    You also offer sly little digs such as “fancy rhetoric and new age jargon” to justify your position whilst employing the same fancy rhetoric in such phrases as “Trying to reclaim words…is an exercise in not exercising”. Is there really any need to go all-in with phrases such as “wanting a participation trophy”?

    I’ll offer you the following quotation:
    “Never criticise a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” - American Indian Proverb.

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