Fat Tuesday is here.
It think it’s time to reclaim the word “fat” this Fat Tuesday. The “fat” of Fat Tuesday is happy. It’s a last hurrah before a long fast. It’s the celebration of bounty. It’s excess and indulgence. It’s happy. In the case of “Fat Tuesday” we are supposed to be happy.
I’m not defending obesity. I’m not minimizing the diseases that obesity exacerbates. I just want to complicate “fat” a bit. Instead of saying “She (or) he is fat,” as if it’s an existential state, inherent to the person, like character or temperament, can we be more compassionate AND clinical? “She (or) he is experiencing obesity.”
Indeed, obesity and the struggle with it is an experience. If you’ve ever combed through a Ross rack at midnight trying to find a decent plus size dress, you’ve had the obesity experience. If you’ve ever watched plus-size loved ones yo-yo diet and cycle through success and failure, you’ve had the obesity experience. If you’ve ever been starved for something in your life (love, attention, respect) and found a short-term substitute at the bottom of a pint of ice cream in the middle of the night, you’ve had part of the obesity experience.
I’ve been every size from a 6 to a 20W, and even when I was thin, I wasn’t happy. I was panicked about regaining the weight. It made shopping easier, sure, and I felt noticed. However, keeping the weight off was my entire life. It was a full-time job on top of the job I already had. Thinness is not happiness. Happiness is happiness. We all struggle with happiness, thin or fat.
The word “fat” has bedeviled me my whole life. “Pretty for a fat girl,” “too fat”, “too fat for the role,”–just a few of the many things I’ve heard. Behind that “f” word “fat” is another “f” word, that often follows close by and is implied, “failure”. Being “fat”, or more compassionately, experiencing “fatness” does not mean you are a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or lack will power. We ALL experience failure. The pitfall is making experiences into identities.
Many of those who have been conditioned to be ashamed of their fatness have also been conditioned to hide. How many of us retreat to the back row of a group photo because we don’t care to be seen from the neck down? Too many.
Fat tropes have been around for centuries. I think of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, that repulsive, yet humorous fat Flemish drunkard (who’m I’ve actually auditioned to play). How many times have I auditioned for characters destined to be the butt of a joke, just because I wear plus size clothes? So many. Too many.
It’s time to get past the fat tropes and complicate “fat”. It’s not a state of being, a character defect or a joke. It’s a medical condition that needs attention and also compassion. My takeaway from all of this is that “fatness” doesn’t preclude happiness. You have a right to be happy, fat or thin. However, we each have to claim and create space for our happiness. Part of happiness is treating ourselves well, no matter how others speak about us. The word “fat” needs complicating and compassion at the same time.
I wish you a fun, happy Fat Tuesday–fat with joy, fat with happiness, fat with hope that the best is yet to come. Celebrate you, who are you are now, today.