Throughout the late 20th century, the conversation around fat has been the same. It's an insult. It's unhealthy. Above all, it's a terrible thing to be.
But what if the conversation changed? Or even more radically, what if we've actually been wrong all along?
I interviewed Lindsey Averill, an academic, activist, and co-creator of the documentary, Fattitude: a body positive documentary addressing fat prejudice and alternative ways of approaching body image. Through the documentary (which is currently in production) Averill aims to shake up our views on the Other F word.
Scout D: Lindsey! Thanks for being here. Talk about the word "fat." Is it still the worst thing to call somebody?
Lindsey A: Um..no. Not even close. Fat is actually the word I like people to use when describing my body type. I am fat and there is no shame in that. Unfortunately, the word fat is complicated because the average fat person has been bullied using the word and many not-so-fat people are also bullied by being called fat. So, for many the word is impregnated with all kinds of negativity, but really it's just a descriptive word. Some people are thin and some people are fat, just like some people are short and others are tall. Reclaiming the word fat is one way we can go about overturning the cultural prejudice against fatness. So, yeah - fat's not gross or stupid and we should totally use it more often - when people feel comfortable with that.
SD: If fat's not gross or stupid, why is there a war against the obesity epidemic?
LA: If you ask me we have a "war" because people are hateful and caught up in weight bias. Let's talk this through, shall we? A war against people who are shaped differently than you sounds like prejudice, doesn't it. Obesity is not an epidemic. An ebola outbreak is an epidemic, the bubonic plague was an epidemic. You can't catch obesity. It's not an epidemic; that's inflammatory language that encourages prejudice against fat people. Also, just a side note...Obesity is also not a disease, no matter what people think and say. In Fattitude, the film I am making with my business partner, Viri Lieberman, Dr. Dianne Budd, a board certified endocrinologist explains that calling "obesity" a disease is ludicrous because you can be "obese" and have perfect health - hence where is the disease? She goes as far as to say that it's akin to calling homosexuality a disease or being too tall a disease.
SD: Can anyone use the word "fat" or is it limited to certain groups?
LA: Depends. Does the person you are talking to take the word fat as an insult? Are you using the word fat as basic descriptive term? People at all weights call themselves fat. Many women and men who are not fat often refer to themselves as fat, or they use the word fat to express the general dissatisfaction they have around their body and their beauty. In other words, when people who aren't fat say, "I feel fat" or "I am fat," what they are really saying is "I am unsatisfied with my body." We live in a world that is brutal towards all bodies and intensely focused on ideal beauty, so even I am not sure where - or rather at what size - the hatefulness towards fat people begins. But I do know that once you are wearing plus sizes, living in the world requires constant accommodations and lots of micro-aggressions. Like I said it's complicated.
SD: Ok, so use the word "fat" in a cool sentence that I can use at parties with my friends.
LA: Loving your fat body is a radical act of rebellion in a culture obsessed with a lot of shallow sh*t. I also think that on your facebook or online dating profiles you should note that you're fatter in real life. Fat and happy, people, fat and happy.
[embed_code code="%3Ciframe%20src%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fplayer.vimeo.com%2Fvideo%2F130980360%22%20width%3D%22500%22%20height%3D%22281%22%20frameborder%3D%220%22%20webkitallowfullscreen%20mozallowfullscreen%20allowfullscreen%3E%3C%2Fiframe%3E"][/embed_code]Trailer for 'Fattitude' the movie.
SD: Let’s talk about the real reason people don't like images of "fat." It's unhealthy. Society likes skinny models because they represent the pinnacle of good health and a set positive example for our children, am I right?
LA: Boo. The conflation of health with skinny bodies is just a cultural lie. Many thin people are violently mistreating their bodies - under eating or over-exercising. Five pounds under an average weight is much more dangerous than 25 pounds over an average weight. Heathy comes in all shapes and sizes. I live in a fat body that is quite healthy. I swim 80 laps five times a week and I eat nutrient rich foods. BUT - and this is really important - my health status should not determine how the world interacts with me, nor should it be the standard by which people judge how much respect I deserve or the example I am setting for children. Honestly, I tend not to get into this argument because I think it's flawed. Heath is not a mandate. You don't belittle someone because you don't like their heath status, or their race or their height. People who live happy lives filled with human decency and respect are healthier - no matter what size.
To find out more about Lindsey and the Fattitude movement, check out www.fattitudethemovie.com