Mamavation Monday: Don’t Call Me Fat

Last week my good friend and founder of Mamavation, Leah Segedie, wrote a post called “Being Called Fat Doesn’t Help Me Lose Weight Anytime Fitness” in response to a PR pitch for a book by a fitness author, a pitch that included the phrase “money is allergic to fat people.”  Leah had a lot of support from her community following her post, but she also had visitors from people that bloggers call trolls, readers who stop by  just to say hateful and hurtful things.  The author of this book wasn’t writing a dissection of the sociological reasons for overweight people making less money or studying this disgustingly accepted form of bigotry.  He was using the word fat to motivate people to buy his book and lose weight. Why is this still okay with anyone?

As I said in my comments on Leah’s post, I used to work in a middle school where my principal and fellow teachers would make rude comments about overweight students, sometimes loud enough that I’m sure the students must have heard.  I stood by silently, not sure how to react, embarrassed by my perceptions about how I looked.  Had they talked the same way about these eleven and twelve year old children, but instead mocked their race, religion, economic status, intelligence, sexuality, no one would have accepted it.  Yet, “Good God, eat a f*$&@^$% salad, Fat Ass,” was met with laughter. I’m fairly confident that no one ever lost weight because someone told them to eat a salad already.  Just a hunch.

Calling people fat is scarring.  It is shameful and has little to do with the person being called fat.  Last month I wrote about my inability to see myself as I really am after a childhood filled with people who called me fat: friends, classmates, family members. My weight from the time I was a small child to the time I graduated from college varied from underweight to at the most, ten pounds overweight.  Ten pounds.  I was never obese and in fact, at most times was smaller than the national average.  So why did people call me fat?

After writing that post, a friend of mine pointed out that the word fat is a word used to shame and has nothing to do with a person being overweight.  Kids call girls fat the way they call boys gay.  Those words are in no way attached to actually being overweight or to a person’s sexuality, they are just words of hate used by people dealing with their own, unrelated issues. I was not skinny so when someone wanted to lash out at me, they chose the word fat.  It said nothing about me.  Nothing.

After having children, I became overweight, which seemed to fit the image I had of myself in my mind, the image put there by the repeated words of others.  It seemed okay to allow myself to become what people thought I was.  And it was not the words of the judgmental that turned this around for me, but instead the understanding of those who have walked the same journey that I have and were willing to walk it again with me. I am so thankful for women like Leah and the Mamavation moms who have stood by me as I’ve taken the steps to live a healthier life. Their words of encouragement have changed my life.

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  • When I was 11, I was in day camp in NJ while spending the summer with my grandparents. My parents had divorced the year before, right during the onset of puberty and what I like to term my ugly phase, when my hair got frizzy and I suddenly got boobs and hips. I remember running down the hall one day and a boy said “slow down, elephant!” I never got over that. It’s kind of funny, in retrospect, because when I look at photos of myself in junior high and high school I was never fat. Short and curvy, yes, but I was never bigger than a size 3/4 in high school. It’s amazing what lasting damage a seemingly innocuous comment can make on kids that age. I didn’t have a healthy body consciousness until well after I had my kids, so I try to keep that episode in mind as I watch my daughter turn into a tiny zaftig. Not to make chubby comments and to concentrate on how strong she is and how active.

  • You know, it’s funny how words affect people. I was never told to eat a salad; rather I had a parent who constantly tried to feed me because I was “too skinny”.

    I find it sad that an author or his/her people would use hateful words to sway people into buying a book. Those kinds of buying tactics never work with me and I’m so glad that you have Leah (and all of us) to support you! You’re doing fantastic.

    Just so you know… in my eyes you’ve never been fat or overweight. You’ve always just been Amy.

  • It’s very sad that teachers would be so ignorant and hurtful. I remember that same thing happening when I worked as a summer camp teacher for elementary school aged kids. Maybe one day these fitness “gurus” and know it alas will realize that using words like fat, chunky, etc don’t motivate anyone, it’s positive encouragement that makes a difference!

  • People who shame others should be called on their bull. What astonishes me are the people who stand behind the ones that shame others. I think that sin is just as bad because it continues the cycle of shame and perpetuates the problem. But what happened to you Amy was very different than that. You were shamed into silence. The words that were spoken that day might have hurt you more because you had to eat them. I don’t get offended easily, but I DO get offended when my friends and loved ones are harassed and demeaned, which is what happened last week. As for the people who are standing behind the shamers, I have no words. Some are being paid to protect them, some are not, but either way we’ve drawn attention to the shame behind words like FAT and how they more than just a word.

  • One can’t be shamed into losing weight. Instead, it often has the exact opposite result, causing people to take comfort in food because people fail them. Many people, overweight and not, eat their shame, their humiliation, their anger. Nothing good comes from making someone feel bad about themselves for the way they look.

  • I remember being called fat infront of a group of 18-25 year olds at a show I had been asked to model in. Ya, that was fun. Never ever did another show again.

  • anne

    is that a pic of angelina jolie in her girl, interrupted phase? is girl, interrupted a lesser bell jar? hm.

  • Yes, the word fat is almost always used in a derogatory & hurtful manner. As much as Chuck & Brian back-pedalled in the comments section, their original intent was clear. I like the direction you took with this follow-up post, it really helps to raise awareness. I have two daughters and I hope to keep this in mind when educating them about not bullying.

  • You really do have to educate, prepare, and bring up your daughters to have great self-esteems that are rooted in who they are as people (substance) instead of looks. Of course, Dad also plays a big part in this. Affirmation, Affirmation, Affirmation…cause people out there can be pretty cruel!

  • […] months ago I wrote about the damage that was done to me as a child when people called me fat – to tease, to “encourage,” to hurt and shame.  This week I read, shocked, about […]