The shoe on the other foot

By | January 18, 2009

1. It’s a shame you’re so underweight. You have such a pretty face!

2. Maybe if you just made a lifestyle change, you know, eating more fat and getting less exercise, you wouldn’t be so underweight.

3. I’m just concerned about your health. Being as underweight as you obviously are is dangerous.

4. There is a thinness epidemic going on! Everywhere you look, people are skinnier than they ever have been! Due to the current culture of obsessive dieting, our children are growing up undernourished!

5. You’re not thin! No, no. You’re just a little bit underweight.

6. I just prefer women/men who aren’t quite so underweight. It’s not my fault–evolution designed me to think this way.

7. It’s not just you who’se underweight–we could probably all stand to gain a few pounds. I know I could.

8. OMG, she was so underweight–she was like 120 pounds! Can you imagine? How awful!

9. You could be fatter; you’re just not trying hard enough, and that’s why you’re underweight.

10. You should see a doctor. Maybe there’s a medical reason you’re so underweight.

If a fat person approached an “average-sized” person and said these things–in other words, made comments that measured another person’s body by the standard applied to their own body–it would not be tolerated; and yet we fatties allow these kinds of comments to stand because we are so used to it that we don’t even think about it anymore.

How this came about: I was having a discussion the other night with my ex about using the word “overweight.” I’m not going to get into a lot of messy detail, but one of the reasons we split up was his lack of body positivity; immediately after we split, he started dieting and obsessing about being thinner. As a result of which, a fair number of our conversations now are about weight (him) and body positivity (me).

During the conversation, he said “overweight” a few times and finally I became exasperated and asked him not to use that term. He couldn’t understand my logic–isn’t “overweight” more polite, less offensive than calling someone “fat”?

In an effort to make him understand, I asked, “Would you refer to someone who is thinner than your particular standard of attractiveness as ‘underweight’?”

Well, of course not, was his reply.

I decided to write this post to show how ridiculous and offensive the statements people make so casually about our fat bodies can be. I originally had some funny ones in there, too–comments about shopping at the minus-sized store and reality shows called “The Biggest Gainer” or “90-Pound Weakling”–but in the end I decided not to use them, because I want this to be taken seriously.

Saying someone is “overweight” is like saying a short person is “undertall,” or a Caucasian person is “overpale.” The use of the prefix automatically implies that there is something missing, something in excess, something wrong.

Just so we’re clear: I am okay with being called fat, because I am, comparatively speaking, a fat person. I am a person on whose body there happens to be a substantial amount of fat. To acknowledge this is not an insult unless you say something insulting about it. Describing me to someone with whom you are setting me up on a blind date as “a cute fat blonde” is okay. It’s technically accurate and does not assign any value judgement to my weight.

It’s never okay to make dogmatic pronouncements about another person’s health, or even another person’s attractiveness, based on their appearance. Because you don’t know. You can’t.

Comments are closed.