I Don't Feel Fat; I Am Fat
Writer: Alysse Dalessandro
When I wake up everyday and look in the mirror, I am fat. When I have a bad body day, I am fat. When I have a great day, I am still fat. Fat is a descriptor of my body. It’s not a temporary state and it’s not inherently a bad thing. Saying that I am fat doesn’t mean I am ugly but society still conflates the words fat and ugly. This is where a recent statement from model Ashley Graham really has me troubled.
“There are some days I feel fat,” says Graham on People.com. “I’m not convinced there’s going to be a moment where every woman in the world wakes up and feels like a million dollars. So, what I want to do is give women the tools that will help when those moments come up. Sometimes it can be as easy as telling yourself that you are beautiful.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this one short quote. I’ve been trying my best to explain why this is problematic for days on social media. It turns out that a lot of thinner folks want to hold onto this idea that fat is a feeling. But it’s not because what Graham is saying when she says, “I feel fat” is “I feel ugly.” Contextually, we know this because she mentions combating this feeling by telling yourself that you’re beautiful. This enforces the narrative that to be fat means you cannot also be beautiful.
Graham is a model who chooses to identify as curvysexylicious over using the word plus size because of the stigma against that word as well. Though she personally doesn’t want to identify as plus size and certainly not fat, she is hailed as “confidence goals” and is a self-proclaimed “body advocate.” If she was so confident, wouldn’t she be able to love her body at any size? Wouldn’t she be able to see all bodies including ones that look mine as beautiful?
It seems to me that Graham is okay being plus size (as long as she’s not called that) when she’s getting clothing and lingerie lines with plus size brands or when she’s trying to promote her book about confidence. Sure, she’s bigger than average and she will use that to her benefit but she goes out of her way to make sure it’s known that she’s big but not THAT big. There are plenty of models her size who just model as their job and don’t talk about body politics in any way. If she isn’t going to listen to fat folks when they say her language is harmful, I would prefer that she just model and not speak on body politics at all.
Fat is not a feeling you get to try on when you want sympathy (or a check) and then disregard it when it doesn’t suit you. I don’t get to choose when I identify as fat. I am fat all the time. How do I know I am fat? People remind me all the time.
When I am walking down the street wearing shorts, people yell “COVER UP PIG” out of their car windows. When I post a picture of myself in a bikini, people on the internet tell me to eat less without knowing anything about what I actually eat. When I wear heels, people ask how they don’t crush under my massive frame. People call me a whale pretending to be a “human female.” As an actual fat person, I face discrimination and am harassed for being fat. I can’t wake up tomorrow feeling better or just tell myself I’m beautiful and that will go away. Beauty standards affect people of all sizes but they disproportionately harm people of size.
Feeling fat because your clothes don’t fit that day is very different than clothing not being made in your size at all. If you are a straight size person or someone who can fit into clothing under a size 16, I encourage you to go to a mall and try to find jeans in a size 26 or even better a size 32. Let me know how many stores carry jeans in those sizes. Let me know what the salesperson’s reaction is when you ask for that size at J.Crew or if you ask for a size 46G bra at Victoria’s Secret.
If you are able to go to the store and get the next size up in those jeans that don’t fit, that’s a privilege. I wear a size 20 which is often times the largest size carried by certain retailers, if something doesn’t fit, I am sad not because my body is fat but because there literally is no way for me to wear those jeans I liked. So when you use “I feel fat” to mean “I feel bad” you reinforce the stigma against fat bodies. It’s that stigma that contributes to the reasons why brands won’t make jeans above a size 12 at all.
Does the fact that your jeans don’t fit feel bad to you? Certainly. No one is saying that isn’t a valid feeling. But equating that bad or uncomfortable feeling to the all-the-time state of my body is harmful to me! It’s a lot like saying “That’s so gay” when you are putting something down.
I want to acknowledge that body dysmorphia is real. I understand the need to have control over one’s body. That’s definitely a challenge and I am not speaking over that experience but I still believe that using the phrase “I feel fat” is a cover for other feelings.
Sure, saying “I feel fat” is the language we all learn. It’s the easiest terminology to use. I get that too. But if it harms someone else, is it worth holding onto when there are other words to use to describe how you feel? I challenge you to put this into consciousness and think about what you are really feeling.
I have been asked what other phrases people can use instead of “I feel fat” so here is a list.
- I feel bad
- I am having a bad body day today
- I don’t like the way I look in this outfit
- I’m disappointed my clothes don’t fit today
- I feel uncomfortable in my skin today
- I feel bloated
- I feel scared that I am putting weight on
- My body is changing and I don’t like how that feels
- I am worried I am beautiful
- I feel anxious because if I get fat, I won’t be worthwhile
Thank you to everyone on Twitter who chimed in (@findingmypoly & @radmoodle specifically) with these as well. I am certainly happy to continue to expand this list. Also, if you’re looking for models who are proud to be plus size, I encourage you to check out this list and also follow model Alex LaRosa’s @VisiblyPlusSize.
Changing language that comes second nature to you isn’t easy. It’s a process in the same way that loving your body is a process. It is going to require thought and also some discomfort. I say this as a person who is a work in progress. But I encourage you to put this awareness into your consciousness. The more you raise your awareness, the less you’ll gravitate towards that harmful language. And the more you’ll be able to confront what you’re really feeling. Ultimately, that will make you feel better. I say all of this because I know you can do it. I know we can do better.