Fat. So?
Published in

Fat. So?

Fat is a word. Use it.

Regular followers of our haphazard social media (and those who get The Hindu in Chennai) might have seen last week that the podcast was in a feature on podcasts. We were so thrilled to be featured, and the article itself is pretty great. My mother even said “You’re right there next to Amit Varma, who’s been famous and blogging for so many years, so wow you’ve arrived!” (I died laughing. Also, Hi Amit! Big fan for many years, as you know.) So yeah, there I was, with my photo in The Hindu. I had arrived!

Aditya, who wrote the piece, is someone I know from publishing and media, and he’s a really smart thinker and has a challenge-the-status-quo-and-be-aware-of-privilege sort of approach that I love. (We had a great chat, but sadly most of it didn’t make it into the article.) And so, when he told me he’d been fighting with the editors but they refused to allow him to use “fat” in the article*, I knew it wasn’t for lack of trying. Apparently it’s verboten as a pejorative in the style guide at The Hindu**.

Y’all might remember from episode 1 that I am a big crusader for reclaiming the word fat. It’s just a word. I’ve said it on the other podcast I was on, and I say it so much it’s almost a chant. And everywhere I go, I meet the same discomfort — Gayathri, for example, felt the need to add the disclaimer that I wrote that word, not her. She had been schooled in her academic studies about using it to describe a subject. Similarly, according to many people, it’s a slur. And that’s really where the depths of fat stigma and fat phobia can be seen.

Because, here’s the thing guys. Here’s the thing.

If you say a word is an insult, a slur, a pejorative, what you’re saying is that being that word is bad. It’s why people have been trying to reclaim the world slut for years. Why is lazy or rude*** a mean thing to say? Because these are traits you reject, traits that make you a “less valuable” person in society, traits that mark you as other. Anything other is outside the accepted world, and then doesn’t deserve to be given the same rights and benefits of something that “belongs.”

Think of citizenship as an easy example: if you’re a citizen, if you’re “one of us,” you get to vote, to own property, to seek things from the government. If you’re “part of the family,” you can ask for things from the family. If you’re not, then you don’t deserve them. You might get them as a kind gift, and you better fucking be grateful for them. (I got a WHOLE LOTTA RANTS on the subject of identity, and citizenship in particular, but imma spare y’all.)

So let’s take this back to fat. When you mark fat as a “bad word,” you’re saying “having a fat body is a bad thing,” “being fat means you are less valuable,” “your fatness gives you fewer rights, and you better fucking be grateful for what you get.” Can you see how this is a problem? This one small thing with The Hindu (which we fixed by getting them to use plus sized, instead of their preferred overweight — I feel like P has a rant there she can do next weekend) is merely a symptom of a far greater spread and deeply debilitating problem of how we dehumanize fat people**** in society, and don’t even notice it.

When you see and hear — unconsciously — how being fat means you’re not fully human like “thin” people are, even at age three in a fairly positive, woke household, you want to do anything you can to not be fat. “Anything” can, and often does, lead to eating disorders, mental health problems, suicide attempts, and allowing yourself to be subjected to a lot of abuse because you have internalized this idea that you, as a fat person, are worth less.

And that is a whole lotta bullshit.

So please, start using fat. It’s just a word. It’s an adjective, like tall, short, pink, wide… If we stop acting like it’s a slur, we can collectively start to see fat people as just as human as everyone else, and we can start to rehabilitate one small part of the dick-behaviour of our gool ol’ friend society.

It’s just a word. Please. Use it.

*The original sentence was introducing the podcast: “Nagarajan and Nath wanted to create a space where the concerns of fat Indian women — obscured ever so often in real life as well as popular culture — can be discussed.”

**I actually was so fired up about this I talked to as many editors as I could in the media about style guides, and it turns out most of the time they avoid using it because people complain, but if a person wants to use it for a reason, then they do. So it’s kinda case by case, which is better than a blanket ban but still not good.

***Again this is not something I like: I don’t think lazy is a bad thing. Because lazy means you’re not “productive” in a way that benefits capitalism, which is fucking fine by me! Similarly, “rude” is a great way to shut people up. It’s “rude” to interrupt — yeah not when you’re some foolish man mansplaining to me for the third time and we’re twenty minutes into a meeting and we can’t move on.

****Of course this is not even a little restricted to fat people. Anybody who makes the supporters of status quo unhappy (i.e. old, rich, straight, monogamous, white men, replace adjectives as they apply to your situation — in India that would be old, right, straight, monogamous, sarvarna men) is othered in similar ways. “Don’t dress like a bhangi” we like to say in the North of India, i.e. don’t dress like a lower-caste person. In Tamil “poriki” is a terrible thing to say because it implies you are a ragpicker. Etc.

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Ameya Nagarajan

Fat activist, cat lady, cook, amateur anthropologist, podcaster, collector of people