Hi. I’m fat. I’m what most people call an in-betweenie—I have a heavy build, I wear plus sizes, my stomach poofs out, I have folds of fat along my back, I have chubby arms and legs. I can still buy clothes off the rack at a lot of stores, though.
Don’t rush to tell me I’m not ‘that kind’ of fattie or you’re ‘not talking about [me]‘ when you’re going on about how much you worry for fat people, though. We all know that you’re thinking of me, that when you think of fat people, my double chin comes to mind, my wobbling upper arms, my thighs broad in my jeans, my big ass. I’m fat. It’s okay. You can say it. I don’t have a problem with it.
I have a lot of issues with my body, but my size isn’t really one of them. It is what it is. The reasons I’m fat are complicated and not really your business. And yeah, I am unhealthy, and the reasons for that aren’t your business either, although I know you want to rush to assume that I’m unhealthy because I’m fat.
I don’t have an obligation to be healthy, actually, and I don’t have an obligation to rush to assure you that I’m a ‘good fatty’ with great cholesterol and good scores on other health indicators allegedly related to weight. I don’t have an obligation to tell you that fat isn’t correlated with health because I shouldn’t have to justify the existence of fat people by informing you that you don’t understand how fat bodies work, and you’re not familiar with the latest studies on fatness, morbidity and mortality, health indicators, and social trends.
Because fat people have a right to exist, healthy or unhealthy, and this whole argument about health is a red herring. It suggests that if only fat people could prove that fat and health aren’t coupled, they’d be okay. Society is just concerned for us—worried that we’ll be felled too soon, taking our glorious minds into the ground with us to rot, all because we were fat and we refused to take personal responsibility for our fatness.
Here’s the thing, though: fat people have a right to exist, no matter what their health status is, and their health status is both not your business and not evidence to be used when determining whether they should be found wanting. Fatness is just a characteristic, one with which many people have a complex relationship because it’s socially loaded. Your judgement about fat has not been requested, nor is it required.
Let me tell you something about being fat: we know we’re fat, okay? We are in fact aware of the size noted in the tags of our clothes, we know how we occupy furniture. Sometimes we crack jokes about being fat because, well, sometimes being fat is funny. Sometimes being fat is fun. Sometimes we know people feel uncomfortable because we’re fat and we want to set them at ease. Sometimes we feel tremendous pressure to get people to treat us like human beings so we play the jolly fat person role to make ourselves into someone you have to engage with, rather than an object you can loathe.
And we spend our whole lives being told that everyone is worried for us. Don’t we know fat is unhealthy? Aren’t we worried about dying early? Have we talked to a doctor about our fat? Have we considered diet and exercise? How will you ever find a partner? You aren’t actually the first person to ask us any of these questions, and you probably won’t be the last. Because the thing is, when you’re fat, you know, your body seems to become part of the public commons, something for everyone to comment on. You are no longer yourself, an autonomous person who is allowed to drift through the world doing your own thing.
Here’s the thing: I think, between you and me, that you can drop the facade. You’re not worried about my health. If the health of strangers was a valid concern for you, you’d be more careful about where you blew your cigarette smoke. You wouldn’t have almost run down that skateboarder waiting to cross the curb. You’d help that poor woman struggling to load those heavy sacks of chicken scratch at the feed store. You’d cover your mouth when you cough to reduce the spread of infectious organisms.
This isn’t about my health as an individual, about your concerns for what society might lose if I drop dead. This is about the fact that you think I’m kind of gross. It’s okay. You can say it. You’re socialised to think that fat people are disgusting, to find my fat rolls hideous. You’re taught to cringe at the sight of my belly jiggling in a tight shirt, to believe that double chins are ugly and unpleasant to look at.
You’re taught that people like me are slow and stupid, that we don’t deserve to be treated like human beings. You’re taught that fat, on its own, is intrinsically, inherently bad. It takes a lot of work to overcome social conditioning, and often people try to dodge their conditioning by hiding it with something else. You want to tell me that you don’t care about my weight, you’re just ‘concerned.’
But you do care about my weight. My weight is the problem. I’m fat. That upsets you. The fact that I don’t care that I’m fat and don’t particularly care what you think about my fat upsets you even more. I’m breaking the rules. I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not.
Be honest with yourself, if no one else: you’re bothered by fatness because it disgusts you, not because you’re worried for the health of your fellow humans. Now push yourself a little harder, please: why does fat disgust you?
S.E. Smith is a writer and editor who lives in Northern California. This post originally appeared on Smith’s personal website, This Ain’t Livin’, on October 18, 2013.