“fat” and what we make it mean

As unfortunate as it might be, “I feel fat” is common language among women—of all sizes. And as much as I try to get down to what’s really bothering me without displacing it on my body instead, on occasion, this thought pops into my mind.

On days where I can’t get away from the body image, feeling too big blues, a good cry, a pep talk, and a good sweat usually help me feel better. But along the way, I’ve done some thinking about this whole issue. A few years ago, I remember hearing about an eating disorder therapist asking a friend of mine what would happen if she got fat, and I have thought about this along my journey because part of what accepting my body and trusting it during recovery involved was thinking about what would happen if I did gain weight or more weight than I might have been comfortable with.

I’d be lying if I said that I smile at the prospect of gaining weight. But getting upset over the idea of buying a bigger side of pants is an invitation to consider what we make “fat” mean. When it comes to getting bigger or considering myself fat, I’m entering pretty emotionally laden territory—an indication that there’s something going on besides the number on the scale. What is it about being bigger or heavier that is so scary to us? What is it about the word “fat” that makes it so darn scary or unattractive to us? Sam blogged about her own relationship with words like “fat” and “big” and was honest about her own experiences negotiating around these labels.

Whether we’re fat or not, the way we use the word and the way we think about it is important. Given the body conscious society we live in and the way that we can affect the ways people think about themselves, I think we all need to be conscious. I know I have seen it in little kids at camp this summer already – “That tree is fat!” as the most laughable thing in the world or “I’m going to get fat!” in regards to a 7 year old eating pizza indicate to me that “fat” signifies a lot more than the dictionary definition might suggest. Deborah Lupton’s book, Fat, is a good one if you want to get into this from a super nerd approach.

But on a personal level, it’s an interesting thing for me to think about. When I look at a BMI table, I fall in the “overweight” category. So then the kinesiology grad in me says that BMI can be inaccurate for athletes because that weight could be (health promoting) muscle. But then the critical thinker in me questions why being overweight is something that needs to be avoided in the first place. BMI gives us the objective lines instead of the subjective take on our own bodies and in my case, tells me I’m too much. I start to get real with myself and remember my experience in the bod pod and having my body fat tested: worse than overweight, I am “overfat” or have “excess fat” depending on the term of choice. Then I think about the way that I’ve bounced back from being far too lean for my body’s health and happiness and the way that it tampered with my hormones. But my thyroid’s functioning just fine now so the hormone excuse is no more.

So where does that leave me?

Thinking about birds.

Bird! (Not the one in my backyard, FYI)Image source


I just moved in with my (super wonderful and amazing) boyfriend. We have a backyard and birdies that live in the big pine trees back there (bragging a little). My sister (a birder) would tell me that I am confusing robins and sparrows, but there’s a couple of robins. And one of those robins is bigger than the others. Maybe it’s a boy or maybe it’s just chubby. Either way, I figure, that bird doesn’t know that it’s bigger than the others. If it does, it doesn’t make it mean that it’s somehow less “ideal” of a bird. It doesn’t use it as confirmation that it’s not good enough, not worthy, or not beautiful. That bird goes on living its bird life, catching worms, building nests, soaring through the air in all its chubby glory.

I think we could learn from the birds.

Since so many of us seem to think we’re “fat” (listen around the water cooler or in the locker room of your gym for this kind of talk, especially on a Monday morning after a weekend when people like to “indulge”), I think we need to start to consider what that means to us. Are you really fat? What difference does it make if you are? If that bird can keep on keeping on, can you?

Most of what we think being bigger than we’d like to be holds us back from has nothing to do with our size—but everything to do with what we think about it. We want these ideal bodies because we think then we will be entirely different people with entirely different behaviours. But the cool thing about wanting to be a different kind of person with a different set of behaviours is that those things do not depend on the number on a scale or the tag of your jeans. If you think that being fat stops you from being in shape, I’d say exercise anyway and you’ll get fitter. If you think that you’d like to be some super healthy girl with a six pack, eat that super healthy diet already! We let our delusions about not having our dream bodies stop us from living our dream lives. That’s what’s sad—not weighing more than we “should” or than we think we should.

As always, the way we think about ourselves is what really matters. It might be easier/more comfortable to go on making our bodies wrong, but every little step towards appreciating mine—exactly the way it is, right now—reminds me to keep on keeping on. Happy and healthy is as happy and healthy does!


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