My Identity, My Choice

If I could have two wishes, the first one would be that everyone who thinks about telling me that I should stop identifying as fat would decide not to do that and to, instead, do some work on themselves about why the way I identify bothers them so much. The second wish would obviously be unlimited wishes but that’s a given, so.

I’ve had this conversation a lot lately, so if you feel like this post is targeted at you in particular, know that it is not. It is the result of our conversation + the conversations I’ve had with at least six other people in the past few months.

Every few weeks I get a comment or a DM that says something along the lines of, “I wish you wouldn’t call yourself fat. You’re so much more than that.”

And to that I just want to say, “Well, Linda, you’re so much more than your multi-level-marketing business but you’re still out here talking about how Tupperware has changed your life every single day and no one’s patting you on the shoulder talking about how they wish you’d focus more on your wholeness as a person and not just this singular facet.” Or, maybe they are. I don’t know. I just assume they’re not because it would never cross my mind to tell someone that they’re not allowed to present themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable. But here we are!

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Photo by Blue Muse Photography, Hutchinson KS [Image description: Libby shown from the waist up, laughing and showing off her double chins and arm rolls in her turtleneck sweater. The photo is black and white and Libby’s white sweater fades into the background a bit.]
So, since it’s been coming up so often, I thought I’d address it. Because obviously I assume that people that feel this way are a lot like cockroaches in that if you see one, there’s probably a thousand more hanging back to see if it’s okay to come out and ask you a question. Sorry to compare you to a cockroach! Now taking applications for a different metaphor…

When it comes down to it, what you’re saying is that “fat” is a negative word and you don’t want me to view myself negatively. Now, look, I know you want to think that’s not true. I know you think that you’re very progressive and “body positive” and you’re just saying that I’m a beautiful little multilayered birthday cake of complex greatness and I’m limiting myself by focusing on just this one aspect of my humanity. That’s what you think you’re saying. But do you want to know how I know you’re not doing that? Because you’ve never approached me about any other identifier that I use. No one has ever said to me, “Libby I wish you wouldn’t call yourself a woman, you’re so much more than that.” Or, “why do you insist on introducing yourself as a writer? Don’t you know there’s so much more depth and beauty to your special little sacred soul?” It has never happened, not even once.

The conversation is always a bit different but the sentiment is generally the same. Essentially, it’s a lot of compliments and about seventeen sentences about their own body positive journey that always wraps up with never outright saying but definitely saying, “I feel uncomfortable when you say ‘fat’ and for some reason, my comfort is more important than actually doing the work to figure this ish out.”

There can be a lot of different reasons for why a person may feel squidgy about me using the F word–and it’s going to be different for everyone. For most people it’s because “fat” is a bad word. I get that. I grew up in America in the 90’s, too. But I’ve done a lot of work to de-weaponize that particular word.
For me, “fat” is a descriptor like any other physical descriptor. Last month, I met someone for the first time and they said, “Wow! You’re tall!” And neither of us thought anything about it because “tall” is not a bad word. Ergo, theretofore, whathaveyou, “fat” also is not a bad word, to me anyway. I mean, it has been weapon used against me for my entire life but I’m trying to neutralize it.

I know the rest of the world isn’t ready to accept “fat” as a neutral descriptor but unless and until people start treating it as such, nothing is going to change. And we’re world changers around here, don’t forget that. So we say “fat” when we mean it. That also means we don’t say “fat” when what we mean to say is “gross,” “lazy,” “temporarily bloated,” “a jerk”. Let’s just all around try to be more accurate with our language–it’s vast and capable of so much!

The thing is, I identify in a way that feels right to me. I’ve thought long and hard about the identities that I claim–it’s not lost on me that I identify with privileged groups as well as marginalized groups. I’m a fat, queer, cis, white woman. That’s where I’m at right now. That is going to shift and change shape and grow overtime but that’s where I am today. The point is, I don’t claim “fat” offhand anymore than any of my other identities. I make myself say it. I stand in it. I stand in your discomfort and mine because that’s where change brews.

If there’s something in you that feels uncomfortable about the way that another person identifies, I want to challenge you to do some introspection before you start handing out life advice.
Ask yourself why something that has nothing to do with you at all challenges you in such a way and really spend some time in that discomfort–it’s fertile land.

Then, do some research. I loved this piece that Margot Meanie wrote about reclaiming “fat”. Corissa from Fat Girl Flow wrote about her experience with the word. J from ComfyFat wrote this amazing piece about how fatphobia kept them from being able to deal with the question of gender for a really long time. The entire She’s All Fat Podcast back catalogue: listen to it, learn it, embody it, become a patreon. Plus there’s so much more. The Fat Acceptance Movement is booming. What a time to be alive!

And lastly, please just be mindful of the free labor that you’re asking others to do for you. People come to me to have this conversation all the time and it can really be exhausting. It’s already so tiring to operate in a world in a marginalized body in the first place and you come home and just want to chill out on social media in your sweatpants that you like to pretend aren’t covered in holes. Then, to be faced with someone who needs you to, yet again, defend your humanity and the right to your own identifiers for free–it’s too much sometimes! There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be Googled.

I know, I know I sound mad. I’m not mad, really. I’m just… tired. And there’s a lot of pent up frustration that’s been dying to get out on this particular topic. In fact, 98% of the reason that I’m writing this post right now is so that I’ll just be able to air drop it to the next 600 people that come up to me acting like they invented the repulsive, reductive colloquialism, “Don’t call yourself fat. Your body has fat. Your body has fingernails and you don’t call yourself fingernails.” You didn’t invent that and you’re the third person to say it to me this week–quit pretending like it just popped into your head. Sorry, tangent.

Anyway, all this to say, believe it or not, I’m excited to be talking more about this topic on my blog! I really am. I resisted against talking about fattness for so long but now that I’ve started to discuss it, it feels like it’s really resonating with people and I’m so stoked about that! I know this particular post feels like I’m not having fun or you’re not allowed to ask me about this stuff. That’s not the case at all. It’s just that, you know, if we’re strangers on the internet, I don’t want to be the place where you aim a bunch of unresolved body issues.

If we have a relationship IRL and you want to ask me questions, please know that nothing warms my heart like you wanting to know how to understand my existence better. Truly. I love you all. Thank you.

XOXO, Lib

 

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