|Sara Ramirez, a beautiful fat woman with long black hair, walks confidently in a tight red dress. From Wikipedia.|
Fat is just an adjective.
That’s it. It’s a word that describes, subjectively, a physical characteristic. Like big, or thick, or curvy, or beautiful.
It’s not an insult. It’s not definitive. It’s not an argument.
Yet so many people take it that way. To many readers, “fat” is a declaration of war.
When I wrote about Joan from Mad Men, people immediately criticized me, a size-14 woman who identifies as fat, for calling a size-14 woman fat. When Tasha Fierce described the lovely Sara Ramirez as fat, people immediately attacked her for her word choice. Fat is a word that gets people going; those three letters contain all of the sizism and prejudice that kyriarchy force-feeds women. Fat seems to erase any positive description - even if it's paired with beautiful or sexy, many readers will ignore it and focus on fat. If these readers don't see the noun attached to this particular adjective as disgusting or unattractive, it's wrong, and a personal affront.
When I describe myself as fat to my friends, at first they go, “Don’t be silly, you’re not fat!” Because I am attractive, because I am curvy and my stomach appears flat when standing, because I am confident and carry myself with knowledge of my beauty, the attack that most hear when I say fat shouldn’t apply to me.
There’s a certain conception, that fat means one thing and not another. That fat means a certain size and shape that’s beyond bodies like mine. Snarky’s Machine articulated this in the comments at Tasha’s post above:
She has been targeted for her weight, and fat policing and shaming the author because Ms. Ramirez is not a size 20 + is really problematic. Also, isn't the idea of "fat enough" a bit anti-feminist and reductive. Fat is not a destination, it's a spectrum and includes people that other folks might not frame as "fat".Those of us at the chubby end of the spectrum are targeted because of our weight and often feel left out of conversations about fatness because of our "inbetweenie" status.Now, bodies like mine experience lots of thin privilege. We’re able to see bodies like mine as beautiful, so they can’t experience that specific oppression. And we don’t, not some of it. I don’t experience the same discrimination that women who are bigger, like the author of Living ~400 Lbs, or Marianne Kirby of The Rotund. Though I’m no better or more beautiful than these women, I experience privilege that they do not.
But I do experience stigma and discrimination, and so do famous fat women. Christina Hendricks is stigmatized for being fat: discussion of her body takes up much of the conversation around her, crowding out her subtle and confident portrayal of a woman stuck in a bad place in a bad time. Sara Ramirez is stigmatized for being fat: it may bar her from being as big a star as she could be. America Ferrera is constantly expected to represent all other fat women. Sara Rue needs to lose weight to make it onto tabloid covers (and she's done it several times). These women bear extra weight of oppression and challenge specifically for their weight.
And of course these women usually won’t identify as fat. Fat is not an okay word, especially in Hollywood. But fat is still a word that I’m free to use, like pretty, like gorgeous, like beautiful. It describes bodies that are fat like mine, beautiful like mine.
The fact that they don’t actively identify with a specific adjective or phrase doesn’t mean that I am using it to attack them. Christina Hendricks might not identify as “stunning” but she is. Sara Ramirez might not actively say that she is incredibly gorgeous, but she is.
Fat is not an attack on these beautiful women. It’s an adjective. It’s a way to describe why I find the beauty of Joan Holloway to be powerful. It’s a way to tell others that fat is, actually, okay. It’s a way to take a word that you may see as disgusting and tell you that it’s actually not.
You don’t have to use that specific word to describe Christina Hendricks or Sara Ramirez or America Ferrera. That’s okay. It’s a subjective word, and I use it because it relates to my experience as a fat woman. You can describe women who aren’t small as big, or plus-size, or curvy, or whatever. Or you can not describe their body! That’s okay, too.
But I use fat, because I’m fat. I’m not using it as a descriptive knife: I’m not attacking their body, I’m not attacking my body, I’m not attacking your body. I’m just using a damn adjective.