It is a word I’ve heard thrown at women over and over again: at celebrities, at friends, at acquaintances, and even at myself. It is a favourite among misogynists and slut-shamers and it is cherished by celebrity gossip websites — I’m talking about the “f” word. It is a word that most women will have directed at them at one time or another in their life, regardless of size.
This is something that used to confuse me. Why “fat”?
Why not call me stupid, evil, or cross-eyed? What makes this the insult of choice among chauvinists? Why is commenting on a woman’s weight used as such a trite, automatic insult? What is it about this word that preoccupies us women so much?
And what is wrong with being fat? My being fat or thin states nothing about my character. It makes no comment about who I am as a person. It says nothing about my values, thoughts, opinions, or accomplishments. It does not even indicate my beauty. As the viral mermaid-or-whale Facebook beauty campaign proved a few months ago, many gorgeous women are fat. Meanwhile, many women with looks outside of traditional beauty conventions are thin. So why is “fat” used as synonymous with “ugly”?
Moreover, weight alone is also a poor indicator of health. It is unhealthy to be obese, yes, but it is also more unhealthy to be underweight than overweight. Another factor given little analysis is why the person weighs what they do. Is it an illness? Diet? Over/under-exercise? Bone density?
If we take away all the stigma around the word “fat,” we will see that fatness has little to do with the content of our character, our beauty, and even our health. Therefore, I believe that there is a deeper reason that chauvinistic men so frequently opt for this “insult” when they critique women; it’s about policing women’s bodies.
“Fat” is a word loosely thrown around at women of all shapes and sizes, from women with bare-bones frames to the very voluptuous, by notorious woman-haters such as Dick Masterson and Nik Richie. It was even used recently in a vicious media frenzy to attack the stunning, successful actress Ashley Judd (who was having none of it, by the way!). They use it because with this one word, they can police us. While we may go on to have more fun, fulfilling lives than these miserable misogynists, they can use this one-word weapon to show that they still have the superiority on the social scale. It is away of asserting their superiority and our inferiority. It is a playground-esque way of telling the girl you like who has just pushed you off the see-saw, “Well, at least I’m still better than you!”
When a man attempts to hurt a woman by calling her “fat,” he is devaluing women’s achievements by indirectly arguing that a woman is nothing without a body. In fact, she is her body. She is an object, whose value is determined by its appeal to a man. Such men believe that a woman can be admired by a man, but she can never be equal to him.
Fat-phobia and slut-shaming go hand-in-hand. Like I asked earlier, what is a man even trying to say when he uses a word like “fat”? Much less an even more subjective word like “slut”? What does that hateful, sexist word even mean? You can ask 10 men and get 10 different answers, but as with other slurs, the smart men won’t even reply because “slut” isn’t an insult that any intelligent person would ever use. I mean, these misogynistic men are easy enough to see through. Often, it is a case of unrequited love that has made them so bitter. Other times, they are just complete psychopaths, with their sexism on the same level as a neo-Nazi’s racism, or a gay-basher’s homophobia. Usually, it is a combination of both. In all cases, it manifests due to the dangerous combination of low self-esteem and a big ego.
Such men do not realize that we are not our bodies, therefore, they use slut-shaming to police women’s behaviour and our bodies. As Kerry Howley articulates, this objectification of women is justified with the ideology that “women need be preserved in glass so as not to “ruin” themselves, lest they diminish their sexual value by “giving it away” […] None of the slut-shaming makes sense unless you assume women live to give themselves to men in their purest possible form.”
When a man calls a woman “fat,” he is demeaning her. He is suggesting that a woman can be admired, but never truly respected. Judged, evaluated, but never appreciated. The maid, never the mistress.* The [willing] victim and never the protector. These men love to scrutinize our bodies and our sexuality, believing that a woman’s sexual appeal comprises her worth. If her body is “imperfect,” her worth is diminished. If she acknowledges female sexuality, her worth is diminished. Misogynists actually think that they have a right to scrutinize us — that this is what we’re there for; we exist solely for their praise, which is what gives us our value. On our own, we are nothing but an object. They make this assertion every time that they dare to call a woman “fat.”
This hurts women not only because we are bombarded and brainwashed with media images every day that constantly tell us that “thin is in,” but also because the contemporary woman often associates the word thin with success, and even with a certain level of glamour. The modern woman’s role is shifting. Many of us pursue a career, an education, volunteer opportunities, and more. We travel. We drive expensive cars and buy expensive clothing. To us, the thin woman seems more avant-garde, more stylish and chic. We’ve come a long way, and this image seems like a far step from the matronly Martha or Monroe.
Yet the cruel irony is that this word is used against us, to take us back to a time and place that I hope never existed. Misogynists logically realize that confident, successful, beautiful women like Tara Lynn and Katya Zharkova wouldn’t look twice at them in the real world, so they relish this fantasy wherein they have the power to put a woman “in her rightful place” by dropping the f-bomb.
Whether the woman in question is built like a figure-skater or a 17th century rubenesque model, a man who encourages a woman to alter her figure beyond its natural, healthy weight wants only to weaken her and nothing more. This is why, regardless of size, these chauvinists will invariably prefer an unhealthy and unconfident woman over a strong, independent one. Their idea of what it means to be “thin” is meant to infantilize, control, and condescend us, and is not even congruent with the equally problematic slim, high-powered businesswoman cut-out that the magazines are trying to sell us. A misogynist’s standard of “beauty” is rubbish. They are attempting to rob us of our agency. So don’t let them.
If you ever again here a misogynistic man calling you, your friend, or any woman around you fat, laugh in his face. Do not give him the dignity of a response. Do not tell him that you’re in the gym five days a week, that your BMI is actually lower than 18, or that the woman in question is clearly eight times hotter than him — none of it. We should never have to justify our bodies. Due to his own low self-esteem, this man wants to take your power away from you, and it isn’t his to take. Do not even try to enlighten him about how incredibly ignorant he is being, because there’s nothing a dumb jerk hates more than being told they’re a dumb jerk. Misogynists hate women, therefore they use this word primarily because they know it hurts us. Most of us like looking good and they just love reminding us that they still think they’re better. If we stop taking the insult, they’ll slowly catch on. In the meanwhile, it’ll have much less ammo.
*It upsets me that there is no true female version of the word “master.”