Size Matters: I’m Not Fat, I’m Big Boned

Sometimes it seems there are as many euphemisms for fat as there are fat people. What’s wrong with “fat” as a descriptor? Plenty, if you go by the number of different words people use. Plus size, chunky, curvy, zaftig, fluffy, squishy, big boned, BBW, thick, stout, round, husky, brawny… These synonyms speak to the fear of fat that is so prevalent in our society, and they serve to create a sort of hierarchy of size. But what do they represent in terms of body type? Certain body types seem to be labeled with specific euphemisms that are not used to describe other body types and these are often discriminatory. Then there’s the issue of qualifiers to the term “fat.” “In-betweenie,” “death fat,” “small fat”. There are certainly differences in the lived experience of people who are “in-betweenie” fat and those who call themselves “death” fat. How do we present a narrative of shared fat experience when there are so many different individual experiences of fat?

“Death” fat, or “morbidly obese” people are going to experience more discrimination, more shaming and more insults than “in-betweenies” (those that fall somewhere between “normal” and “fat”). That’s just the facts. There is privilege there, in being a smaller fat person, that must be acknowledged and interrogated. Words like “curvy, thick, chunky” are going to be applied to more smaller fat people than larger. These words are viewed as more positive than words that may be used to describe larger fat people such as “obese” and “blubbery.” Of course, smaller fat people are not immune to the frat boy “fatass” drive-by shout out, but they’re more likely to be viewed as sexually attractive (case in point: Sara Ramirez). Because of this disparity, there is sometimes dischord between different sized fat people, with the larger fat people accusing the smaller fat people of being privileged and not truly fat, and the smaller fat people lamenting the policing of fat identity. In a way, both sides are right.

“Fat” needs to be reclaimed and turned into a value-neutral descriptor, this is true. But “fat” is currently such a nebulous concept that it’s really going to take the elimination of euphemisms to describe it for it to coalesce into a firm identity, and we’re going to have to lay all our cards on the table when it comes to size privilege. We’re also going to have to convince fat people to call themselves fat, which in today’s fatphobic society is a somewhat scary thing when you’re not wholeheartedly dedicated to fat acceptance. We’re so used to defending ourselves from the word “fat” that euphemisms are comforting. Yet in order to move forward, we’ve got to face our fears.

Unfortunately, size privilege is going to exist as long as the narrative remains that fat=bad. And fat euphemisms will continue to be used by the general public until that narrative changes. As fat people, however, we can change the tune in our own movement.

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