"If someone suggests that you aren't beautiful, you can consider how sad it is that they have such a limited view of beauty. You can consider how unfortunate it is that they have such an exaggerated sense of self-importance that they think you should care about what they think." - Ragen Chastain
Husky. Blubbery. Porky. Chunky. Tubby. Obese.
Did those words take you back to school, to stares and whispers, to concerned relatives clucking their tongues? Did shame instantly wash over you?
Hating the way we look not only feels miserable, but is linked to substance abuse, self-harm and eating disorders.
Our feelings about our bodies don't come from nowhere. Body shame surrounds us: in the media, in popular culture, in songs and movies and TV shows and magazines. And the farther from that photoshopped, unreal ideal of perfect we are, the less bodies like ours are represented.
Those of us who live in large or very large bodies really only see ourselves described in the media one way: negatively. We are a problem to be solved. We are an epidemic. We are only seen lumbering down the street in news clips, without heads so that we are not only dehumanized, but "protected" from the shame of being seen in such a disgusting body.
These media and cultural portrayals affect us. We know from studies that around 80% of U.S. women don’t like how they look, and 34% of men are dissatisfied with their bodies. (1) That doesn't happen in a vacuum.
The words we use -- and others use about us and to us -- affect our body image, too. For example, a 2010 study found that body-dissatisfied women fixate on weight-related words more than body-satisfied women and that body dissatisfaction is correlated with higher BMI.(2) The study didn't try to figure out why this occurs, but it's no surprise to me both that larger people are unhappier with their bodies and that we pay more attention to the words used to describe us, given how often those words are used as weapons.
Another study found that "Women speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies is a phenomenon that both reflects and creates body dissatisfaction." (3)
Reclaiming the Word Fat
When I talk about my body, I call it fat.
I've chosen to reclaim this word because I feel like it accurately describes the size of my body.
Sometimes when I use this word, people are appalled. "You're not fat, you're beautiful!" they respond. Culturally, we've attached so many negative traits to this one little three-letter word -- lazy, gross, messy, greasy, gluttonous, out of breath all the time -- that these people who know me know that I'm not any of those things. Generally they're not protesting the actual size of my body, but against these negative connotations.
After all, these negative connotations are so powerful that not only are we all familiar with them, but an analysis of 2.2 million social media posts found that "the FAT keyword-based postings and discussions are for the most part misogynistic and negative, often crossing the line into clear cyber-bullying."(4)
But the thing is, I am fat. I am fat AND I am beautiful. I reclaim that word for myself as a neutral description of body size.
40 Non-Shaming Words For Your Body
When the world surrounds us with body shame, we can build a shelter of love for ourselves and our precious bodies instead. How can we ever feel neutral or positive about our bodies when our only vocabulary to think about or discuss them is full of shame?
Today, I'd like you to practice substituting positive words for the shame-filled words you were taught. Let's start a practice of reframing our large bodies by being kind to them, not only in the kinds of images we take in, but in the words we use to describe ourselves.
Here are 40 kind words you can use to describe your large body.
My body is...
An oak tree (or tree of choice).
Like an ocean.(5)
At the higher end of the weight spectrum.
Like a mountain.
Big and beautiful.
40. Fat, if you choose to reclaim it.
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Lindley, pronounced LIN-lee. I’m a professional photographer who specializes in working with people of all ethnicities and genders, not just the ones whose bodies are likely to be seen in magazines and advertisements.
I also sell body- and fat-positive stock images at Representation Matters. You can also visit me in Seattle for body-safe, HAES- and fat-acceptance-based, and LGBTQIAP+-affirming boudoir, portrait and small business sessions.
Teens, Social Media And Body Image, Heather Gallivan
Attention to fat- and thin-related words in body-satisfied and body-dissatisfied women before and after thin model priming, Tobin et al.
“If You’re Fat, Then I’m Humongous!” Frequency, Content, and Impact of Fat Talk Among College Women, Salk and Maddox
“Eww, fat people disgust me!!!”: Obesity, Social Media, and Natural Language Processing, Matthew Rehrl
Thanks to Shoog McDaniel