My friend sizeoftheocean posted on Twitter the other day that she really dislikes the term 'fattist'. I also dislike this term and hoped that she, being very smart, would be able to shed light on my own ire. She said that it has a defensive tone to it and is used by people who are not otherwise into fat stuff. I agree. My own dislike also extends to its linguistic construction – yes, my snobbery knows no bounds – sexist, racist, classist, disablist, heterosexist, fattist, right? You'd think it would work because it's consistent an allies fat with other kinds of identities. But I still can't get on board with it when I have 'fat hatred,' 'fatphobia,' 'fat oppression' as means of naming the same sort of thing, concepts that are rooted in histories and cultures of fat activism, rather than something that seems tacked-on. I feel similarly about 'looksist,' which to me seems too shallow a way of describing the systemic marginalisation of people who represent difference; it's not just about the act of looking or one's 'looks'.
I've been thinking about other terms that people use to describe what I think of as 'fat stuff,' or simply 'the movement,' or even just 'fat.' 'Size acceptance' and 'fat acceptance' are popular, though they are not for me because I find them too limited; I think self-acceptance is fine, but social acceptance is not enough for me, I'm more invested in social change. I want to change things more than I want to be accepted, in fact I realise that acceptance is not something that motivates me very much at all. 'Size' or 'weight' are too euphemistic for me. I tend to use 'fat activism,' sometimes 'fat politics,' occasionally the more restrictive 'fat rights,' but often feel that I could do with more language here.
As I've been researching, I've noticed a few references to 'fat pride.' Like fattist, these tend to be made pejoratively by people who feel burned by the movement in some way, and/or by people who would be less likely to understand the association between fat pride and queer or LGBT pride movements. Here pride is a slur, fat people shouldn't be proud because it connotes arrogance, the valuing of one type over another, smugness. In this context the ultimate goal is for fat to be stripped of any value, good or bad, just let it be what it is. I agree with this to some extent, but I also think that even if there were no negative connotations to fatness, I would probably seek out some kind of pride in myself, a pride that is associated with self-respect, pleasure, confidence, feeling as though you have value. As it is, fat pride is a useful concept in the current climate, which looks unlikely to change very much any time soon, and where there are many daily attempts to stomp these feelings out of fat people.
Again, 'the fat and proud movement,' or 'the fat pride movement' are not terms that I would use these days, perhaps I have become sensitised because of these attacks. I'll never forget an interview in which Shelley Bovey talks about "the fat and proud brigade", and compares the movement to fascists. I've wondered if this is a reference to me because of the title of my first book, in which I expressed misgivings about some of her work. Brigade is an interesting addition, it implies some kind of officious, blundering Dad's Army set-up; a group of pompous buffoons. Whilst there are many pompous buffoons in fat activism, including me, not to mention other extremely annoying people, this description doesn't really fit the diversity of the movement, it is a barbed caricature.
We could probably talk about preferred terms for how people think about fat until we are blue in the face. I agree that language creates meaning and that there is a lot of language in the world that denigrates fat embodiment, there are many terms I dislike. But policing language is problematic because the contexts in which words are used vary so greatly, being forceful around good and bad words is unacceptable, it's too close to censorship. Some words work for some people and not for others, where I feel uncomfortable about language I try and look for the intention rather than blame the form of the words; often people are just a little ignorant about fat and language. What I want is more words rather than fewer, I think the more fat language there is, the easier it becomes to think and talk about fat.
Are there any linguists in the area? Can you illuminate any of this?
Brooks, L. (2002) 'Size Matters' [Online]. Available: http://www.shelleybovey.com/frameset.html?/sizematters.html [Accessed 9 March 2010].
Cooper, C. (1998) Fat & Proud: The Politics of Size, London: The Women's Press.