How to Write about Fat People

Lately on the facebooks and around the internet I’ve seen a trend I both love and hate.

I’ve seen clickbaity stories where the big reveal is OMG this person is doing a thing AND HOLY FUCKING SHIT THEY ARE FAT.

The other thing I see is like this:

Video link gets posted and the description is something like blablabla, despite being fat, blablabla but fat/large/rotund/enter other cutesy word that is not fat.

Here is the problem.

It’s not body positive at all to use fat people doing things that seem extraordinary (exercising, being cute in a bikini, walking, living you know being human) in spite of what we perceive as something insurmountable to doing the thing. Being fat.

(This also applies to disability inspiration porn, but we’ll get to that)

We don’t expect fat people to ever, EVER dare to feel good about themselves or have the body confidence or style or an interest in dancing or running or yoga or ANYTHING deemed by our culture as beyond the reach of people who live in fat bodies.

Viewed through the moralistic lens that tells us that in addition to being unsightly, being fat is just immoral, these articles, video shares etc support the idea that being fat is the thing that will make it hard to attain goals. Whether they are flying to Paris, buying a wedding dress, getting a tattoo, whatever. Fat people are often expected to be constantly vigilant about not being fat anymore.

Whether that is through constant dieting, pathological eating or exercise habits, by any means necessary. Fat people are often expected to make that the priority.

There is our setup.

Next, when we present fat people doing things and have the background to understand that their fatness is not only supposed to be unsightly, it is also immoral and as our culture dictates the one thing that might keep fat people from doing things.

If we are coming from that point, of course we have to put the modifiers on our discussions of fat people doing things.

Large but graceful…

Plus size and so brave….

Unhealthy fat bitch but oh wow, I wish I could do that (an actual comment I saw on a dance video last night).

This is such a problem riddle me this.

A photo of one of the fat, like really fucking fat yoga person in a complicated beautiful poses. They had their hams out and fat flyin in the wind and it was pretty amazing. Half of the posts where people (both fat and not) who first wanted to talk about how the yoga person would have been SO MUCH BETTER if they were thinner, and then with the modifiers in place talk about how great it is to see a fat person overcoming their fatness to do something.

The mind fuck is real.

This is not how to write about or talk to fat people. But, I don’t expect better from comments because, we all know why.

I do take issue with writers who are too lazy to stop doing that.

Language matters. How we use it can often start conversations where we can first question commonly held harmful ideas, challenge them and start changing them first for ourselves and like a virus for others.

Before I get into the language miss me with the PC Police whining bullshit. Just don’t. If that’s your stance, why the fuck are you here?

Moving on.

If a writer chooses a phrase like: large but graceful we as the reader understand instinctively that this is an anomaly because large and graceful cannot coexist.

Further, when we add in cultural ideas about fatness we see that this person is virtuous because they are “doing something” (whether the fat person is dancing or doing something for weight loss or not) and by choosing to use this language the writer is othering the person from bad fat people. That type of phrase reinforces the idea that fatness is the barrier to a fat person doing things, rather than as is often the case society.

I will take a risk here and peak for a lot of fat people and say that often when fat folks aren’t doing things they love or that make them feel good it isn’t because of their bodies but how they are treated by people.

I’ll use myself as an example.

I love to dance. I had a period of time where I had money and time to take a class and I took the free one. What wound up happening was this attitude. I was patted on the back for doing something because the presumption was that I was doing it to not be fat anymore and not because I loved it. I was given back handed praise, “you’re doing well for someone your size good job!” And a few times was harassed, women snickering at my fat ass in my yoga pants.

See also when I was running while fat, having garbage thrown at me, people mooing at me, looks of disgust when I was at the gym.

Like a lot of other fat folks, it was not my body preventing me or making me stop doing those things. It was the stress of being publicly humiliated to one degree or another.

Combating this whole problem is pretty simple.

Stop using the modifiers.

Correct them when you share a story or video.

You can say this person is graceful/awesome as fuck.

That’s it.

Don’t use fat people as some sort of personal force to make you feel better about yourself or to shame other people into doing things.

It’s a good start to unlearning the way we talk about people who are doing things while having non-normative bodies or ability or neurological differences.

This is part of doing the work in terms of body politics.

Think about it.

One thought on “How to Write about Fat People

  1. Thank you for writing this! I’m sick of seeing stories that other fat people and attach virtuousness to fat people doing activities perceived to be aimed at losing weight while shaming other fat people who don’t choose those activities. We are human beings and deserve to be treated with the same respect as nonfat folk. And it just irks me to no end that so many don’t see the problems inherent in these stories!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.