Growing up, I feared this word more than any other. I could never say it out loud. I could never hear it without cringing, and turning red, and feeling a deep and particular shame. “Fat” was the worst word I could think of, far more offensive than the other f-word, far more powerful and hurtful and scary.
That single world was the reason I spent most of my young life avoiding bullies and confrontation. It was built-in ammunition for anyone who hoped to destroy me. It made me an easy target, and so I spent most of my time trying to hide behind intentionally ridiculous outfits and good manners and kindness. I don’t regret any of that, but I regret my logic behind it. I regret that it was a means of hiding rather than a way of embracing who I was. I regret that I felt so ashamed.
Because the truth is, no one ever called me fat except for me. The truth is, I wasn’t fat, not really, not the way I thought I was. I look back at pictures from those days and wonder why I was so insecure. Maybe it’s that I was surrounded by gorgeous – and I mean GORGEOUS – friends. Maybe it’s that I couldn’t help but to compare myself to them, and to realize each time that I did not, in fact, compare. Maybe I was just a teenage girl and that’s what girls do.
But why do we do that? I work with mostly women – smart, strong, interesting, clever, remarkable women. And yet, the majority of our conversations revolve around the f-words, food and fat. Really, why do we do that?
There are answers, of course – society and media and cultural influences. But why are we, as smart, strong, independent women not above all of that? Why must we spend so much time obsessing about what we eat and how we look? Why do we spend so much time punishing ourselves this way?
There is so much discussion about “deserving” when it comes to food. “I deserve this piece of cake because I exercised today.” I understand the logic, and you do deserve that cake, but the flip side of that is the assumption that if you haven’t “earned” the right to put excess calories into your body, you somehow DESERVE to feel badly about yourself, to feel guilt and shame and disgust should you decide to eat it.
And that’s where we get into trouble. We make these strict rules for ourselves in terms of our eating habits about what is “good” and what is “bad.” And so the lesson becomes that if we’re eating virtuously (meaning healthily), we are “good,” and if we are eating poorly (meaning unhealthily) we are “bad.” But we’re smarter than that, aren’t we? We’re smart enough to know that one silly little piece of cake doesn’t define our self-worth. We need to give ourselves a break.
Of course, it’s important to take care of our bodies. I’m not suggesting that everyone just give up on weight loss goals and exercise and healthy eating habits. Obesity is a prevalent and significant problem, one that stems from, and results in, even greater amounts of self-loathing. This country is filled with self-hatred, and so much of it revolves around the fear of this one word. The F-word. Fat.
Why do we give that word so much power? Ultimately, it’s just a word. It’s really no different from any other adjective. People replace it with words like “chubby” or “heavy” or “big” because the word “fat” has become this terrible, terrifying thing. We’ve turned it into a weapon against each other and ourselves. The word “fat” destroys us.
I once heard a dear friend of mine say the words “I’m so fat” and it nearly destroyed me. Not only because she is beautiful, and really very skinny, but because she couldn’t see it. She couldn’t see what I was seeing when I looked at her. She couldn’t see anything beyond that one single, untrue word.
And even if it had been true, even if like me and others I know, she was overweight, it shouldn’t have been the way she defined herself. It shouldn’t have been the only thing she could see when she looked in the mirror. It shouldn’t have been powerful enough to bring her so much pain.
Words matter. They can create and they can destroy. They can remain with us longer than we, or anyone, can imagine. But we can determine their significance. We can choose how much attention to give to them. We can choose which to hold on to and which to let go of. We can choose to stop giving the word “fat” so much power. We can give ourselves a break. We deserve it, don’t we? We deserve to stop hiding and being afraid and punishing ourselves. We deserve our own love.
As for the F-word? Well, fuck it.