The word ‘fat’ used to have me running scared. It stung my ears, made my heart sink, and when used by someone else about me, it made me cry. I knew that it was accurate, that I was fat, that I have been fat for a long time, but I rejected the label because it was not a state that I wanted to be in.
I was — and, actually, probably still am — a reluctant fatty. An ‘if I breathe in like this or angle my body like that, you could almost think I'm not-fat’ kind of fat girl. The ‘well I’d love to wear crop tops and bodycon dresses and short shorts but I'm too fat, but it’ll be okay because eventually I’ll lose weight and have it all!’ fat girl who tortures herself endlessly for weeks when it becomes obvious that the flab isn't going anywhere on its own. The fat girl for whom starving yourself for a day or two is easier than changing your diet or exercising more, because neither of those things are what you actually want to do, you just feel like you should be losing weight. That girl.
I didn’t want to acknowledge my fatness because I did not see my fatness as a permanent state. It’ll be okay, I’d reassure myself, because I’m going to lose it all soon and everything will be fine. I’ll be beautiful and happy. I can do what I want, wear what I want, and people will want me. I might be fat now but I have no intention of staying that way, so why accept that as a part of me?
The problem arises when I start to consider what it means for fat to be a part of me, though. My previous attempts at both diet and exercise and starvation have shown that I am probably not predisposed to this weight. I could lose a couple of stones if I wanted to. That’s the thing, though: want. I don’t need to accept that I am fat. I could lose weight if I did the right things. I just don’t want to.
It’s difficult to come to that conclusion because, for the most part, I have no way of knowing what I truly want for my body’s aesthetics. The messages that have surrounded me since I was a little girl have told me that I need to be thin, that fat is unattractive, bad, that we all need to constantly be watching our weight if we want a man. It is entirely natural that I should then think I want to lose weight at all times. But if that is truly what I want, then why does the thought of changing my diet make me sad? Why would I rather chew my own eyeballs than go for a run?
You might say that I’m lazy. Maybe I am. That’s a choice I can make for myself, and whilst others may not, and others may think I’m doing harm to myself, it won’t change it. Studies have shown that pressuring and bullying fat people into losing weight doesn’t work. If I’m going to do it, then it has to be on my terms.
Where I come from, if you’re fat then it’s sort of okay so long as you make it clear that you hate yourself. You have to tell self-deprecating jokes, make sure everyone knows you’re full when you’ve eaten the same amount as they have (whether you are or not), make constant reference to being on a diet or working out, and just generally make it clear that you’re unhappy with your looks. For that reason, you can’t take the label ‘fat’ for yourself. Telling people that you’re fat and that you accept it, that maybe you’re even happy as you are, is like the antithesis of what being fat is meant to be.
So, calling yourself fat in a way that is not derogatory comes with a hefty dollop of shame. If you call yourself fat in a neutral way, or — god forbid — a positive way, you are accepting it. You are acknowledging it as a part of yourself that you don’t necessarily see as something you have to change. That’s a big deal. It’s like, ‘I am fat, hear me roar’, except you’re probably not even roaring, just existing. Sometimes that’s tough enough, when you know everybody around you thinks fat people are disgusting and greedy. It’s hard to identify yourself as something that makes people think those things. Eventually, though, you have to recognise it as their issue, not yours.