I still remember the first time someone called me fat. I was 9 years old. My great-grandmother was sitting near me and for some reason felt the need to compare my body to that of my best friend. “Andrea’s skinny. Kirthan’s fat,” she sneered. In that moment, my great-grandmother confirmed everything I had already feared. That I was fat, bigger than everyone else, and most importantly, that everyone noticed.
Two years later my height evened out with my weight and my body slimmed down. But it was too late. Thanks to that comment, along with the occasional taunting of classmates, I was convinced that I was huge. Looking back at pictures of myself I know now that this wasn’t true. I was totally average. But being a size 12 and having to shop in the Women’s section at Sears made me feel like I was a whale compared to my slender classmates. It didn’t help that as a size 12, I was constantly on the cusp of being plus size. It was like something that hovered over me, regularly reminding me that I was just a few excess pounds away from shopping in the “specialty” stores.
As an adult, I own my fatness. I’m not completely okay with it but I can objectively look in the mirror and acknowledge that I actually am fat now. Yet it can still be difficult to say it with confidence. When I first started writing for Fat Girl Food Squad I found myself melding the words together quickly so that “fat” wouldn’t stand out too harshly. “I write for fahgurlfoodsquad,” is how it usually sounded. It’s taken me a long time just to get to this point and that’s why I’m still apprehensive about how we use the word fat.
Sure as an adult I can call myself fat but I still worry about how young girls react to that word. As far as I know, it’s still one of the harshest insults that a girl can fling at another girl, regardless of actual size. Despite numerous body positivity campaigns, “fat” is used like a knife to cut at the self-esteem of young girls. And the sad reality is that it’s just one of many ways that girls are made to be self-conscious about their bodies so that they view themselves as a pile of problems (saddle bags, sausage fingers, cankles, cottage cheese thighs) that need to be fixed.
There is so much negative body talk that women receive from a young age that it’s made me hyper aware of how I phrase things, even if my intentions are positive. I’m especially sensitive to what I say around my very young niece. What would happen if, in a few years time, I make a comment about my niece’s adorable chubby cheeks and the mere mention of the word “chubby” sends her into a tailspin of self-consciousness and self-doubt? It sounds crazy until you learn that studies have found 80% of girls have tried a diet by age 10 or are concerned about their weight.
In an ideal world, fat wouldn’t have such a negative connotation. We would stop thinking of it as a synonym for sloppy, lazy, smelly, stupid, etc. and just view it as another descriptor like tall, short, skinny, blonde, brunette. Sadly that’s not the world we currently live in so I find myself trying to tread carefully and be careful about body talk of any kind. But I still want to let my niece (and all young girls) know that she should be loved no matter how she looks. So right now I’m limiting body talk. And if it does come up, I want to focus on what her body can do, not how it looks. If there’s one message I can impart to my niece, I want her to know that she is a smart, creative, wonderful little girl and that even though she is indeed beautiful, she shouldn’t let her appearance at any size define her.Tags: fat, fat activism, Girls, kirthan aujlay, self esteem, the f word