Guest Blogger Lauredhel: “The Obese”

The awesome Lauredhel of Hoyden about Town wrote to us the other day and asked if we’d take on one of her pet peeves: using the phrase “the obese” to describe the entirety of fatkind. We explained that we are A) huge fans of hers, and B) a bunch of slackass losers, so if she wanted to see this topic on Shapely Prose, she’d just have to guest post. Fortunately for all of us, she obliged — and made some hilarious graphics, to boot. Thanks, Lauredhel! — Kate

By Lauredhel

People with disabilities have for quite a while been promoting “people-first” language to reinforce the simple, yet radical, notion that people with disabilities are people first, PWD second. “Diabetics” are people with diabetes; “disabled people” are people with disabilities; “wheelchair bound people” are people who use a wheelchair.

But before activists and advocates could move from this adjective-“people” format to “People with such-and-such-an-attribute”, there was an earlier step. Getting rid of the monolithic mass noun. People with disabilities were typically labelled as a homogenised, Othered mass:

“The Blind”, “The Retarded”, “The Crippled”, “The Wheelchair-Bound”, “The Autistic”, “The Handicapped”.

Please don’t get me wrong, here – even this basic linguistic change is nowhere near ubiquitous. Mass-noun terms for “The Disabled” continue their powerful hold over both everyday speech and formal labelling. And this is not the Oppression Olympics – I’m not comparatively evaluating the oppressions of PWD and fat people. (Coming from the intersection of both, I hope I have a touch of extra cred when I say this.)

But it’s this deliberate language change process that springs to mind, for me, every time I see or hear The Obese.

There’s a resonance, here – and it’s with horror-movie terminology. When I read “The Obese”, I think “The Slitheen”. The image of the Absorbaloff forces its way into my mind (why, Rusty, why?!). The Blob. Children of the Carbs. The Doughnutyville Horror, perhaps.


The Obese are constructed as a big ol’ shuffling mob of zombies, out to accelerate global warming and eat babies and spread contagious fat to poor innocent citizens.

“Zombies”, you say. “Isn’t that just a little – hyperbolic, Lauredhel, hon?”

No. The actual term “walking dead” abounds for people of a certain size.

In the book Obesity, By Alexander G. Schauss, Schauss quotes a clinic director evaluating NFL players:

“The players who are at greatest risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are the offensive and defensive linemen – they are the walking dead; they just don’t know it.”

Susan Powter’s “The Politics of Stupid: The Cure for Obesity“, pushing her diet-that-is-not-a-diet cure, talks about

“resurrection from the walking dead millions are “waking up” in daily”.

People advocate calling fat children “the walking dead” to scare them into dieting.

The zombification and dehumanisation is internalised, too; repeated social messages are powerful things. A diet blog is dubbed “Dead Man Walking“. A commenter on fat fu even called hirself “walking dead morbidly obese” – while mentioning that sie has been that way for thirty years.

And there’s this, and this, and this.

The usage and context of the term “The Obese” bring home to us the fact that society thinks of fat people as a mob. A sinister, homogenised, shuffling, soulless mob. People who are fat are Othered, defined as something apart from normal. Our fatness is considered our key and defining characteristic; something that sets us apart from “regular people”. Our bodies are foreign, and undesirable, and frightening. This attitude is dehumanising, deindividuating, and what’s more, it gets on my wick.

I hope we as a people can start to take a leaf out of the book of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, when they say:

What Do You Call People with Disabilities? [or fat people, or any other “kind” of people ~Lauredhel]

Men, women, boys, girls, students, mom, Sue’s brother, Mr. Smith, Rosita, a neighbor, employer, coworker, customer, chef, teacher, scientist, athlete, adults, children tourists, retirees, actors, comedians, musicians, blondes, brunettes, SCUBA divers, computer operators, individuals, members, leaders, people, voters, Texans, friends or any other word you would use for a person.

(Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.)

58 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Lauredhel: “The Obese”

  1. Hi Lauredhel,

    Thanks for this post. I live at that intersection too — fatness and disability. I agree with everything you say about the term “the obese,” and it’s soooo good to read someone saying it. I’m so glad you wrote this!

    I’m not sure I entirely agree about the word “disabled.” What keeps popping up in my mind when I read the “people-first language” link is that, while of course we are people first, some of us ARE disabled, and would be so no matter what accessibilities were provided or what societal norms were changed. Of course this varies a whole lot — each person and situation is different. Some people currently considered disabled wouldn’t be at all disabled if our soceity happened to be different. But some would. It’s an odd issue, a little sketchy: people shouldn’t be labeled “disabled” if and when that label is harmful, of course, but sometimes the word “disabled” describes a reality of my life that I don’t want anyone to gloss over. Does that make sense?

    I don’t always have a problem with the word “disabled”; I care more about the tone and context, and how the word is used.

  2. Brilliant.
    I was just thinking about a post about how the battle to use “people with diabetes” instead of “diabetics” was a fight I didn’t want to give up on even though everywhere I turn it seems like a lost cause.

    This:
    “Our fatness is considered our key and defining characteristic; something that sets us apart from “regular people”. ”

    Is what gets me every time. I don’t usually have high blood pressure, but I wouldn’t like to have it measured after I hear that kind of language. It makes me lose my shit.

    Our [fill in the blank] is considered our key and defining characteristic; something that sets us apart from “regular people.” could really define so much of the dehumanizing we see in the vast hatered wasteland.

    People with obesity? Yuck. But, at least it emphasizes the humanness of the subject.

  3. Lauredhel, bringing on the awesome. Children of the Carbs! *snort*

    I think it was probably John Hockenberry’s book ‘Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence’ that fully woke me to the capital-‘A’ Absurd in language about PWD – funny, funny, extremely funny writing as tough and smart as it is hilarious and cool. I still have the most enormous crush on him.

    But this ‘walking dead’ thing is news to me, and not even hitting the Absurd button; how incredibly creepy that dehumanization is, as well as being offensive.

  4. The post is brilliant.

    Also, because I am a terrible wiseacre I cannot resist mentioning that there is research that shows that noun labels (e.g., “the obese”) activate the associated stereotype more strongly and inhibit alternative categorizations more strongly than adjective labels. For example, people will judge “the obese” as less likely to be also musical or intellectual than “obese people”. I don’t know if there is a difference between adjective and “person-first” labels, though.

  5. You know, having just read a headline about “the disabled,” I wonder how much headlines are to blame for shaping the language here. “The ___” makes sense when you’re working with a limited number of characters (though it’s no less objectionable). Did that sort of construction exist before headlines — or at least, before a set of rules for headline-speak had become common knowledge?

  6. @Kate In a 140 character society where Twitter exists, THE OBESE and THE FEMINISTS and THE LEFT and THE WHATEVER will rule. There’s no space for diversity or nuance in our society, anymore.

  7. Great post! Lots to kick my brain back into gear.

    I do wonder, though, about what the more acceptable term would be. I work with a diabetes program and I agree with wellroundedtype2, “people with diabetes” instead of “diabetics” is a constant struggle.

    In my experience, public health professionals have a need to use official-scientific-sounding language to further justify their positions, programs, and in many cases, funding streams. While it might be possible to shift away from “the obese”, is “people with obesity” really better? (Not that your post was suggesting this, I am just basing this on the other examples).

    With all the push and hype to have obesity classified as a disease, that can then be treated (preferably with expensive meds) and incorporated into clinical practice guidelines, ad nauseum, is this parallel something that should be encouraged?

  8. Um, I’m inspired by Kate’s comment above to be clearer than I was before: I HATE the term “the disabled.” What I don’t always mind is the term “disabled people.”

  9. Indeedie. Not only this “The Obese” dehumanizing and monsterizing, but it minimizes the HUGE variation among fat people. When the nightly news flashes yet another news story about how many people are obese, they show pictures of someone like me (400lbs, 58-57-68) and give the impression that ALL fat people are my size. Yet the CDC publishes charts showing weight is a bell curve. One would think this means most fat people are much closer to the middle of the bell curve than me.

    Oh, and ever notice most of those photos show people in t-shirts and sweats? Is it because suits or other “professional” clothing doesn’t give the right impression?

  10. This also makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think I want to be called a “person with obesity,” even though technically, I guess, I am. I’d rather be called a fat person. Well, I’d rather be called Eve, but you know what I mean.

  11. I have called myself “the walking dead morbidly obese” many a time when commenting on blogs about obesity, mainly tongue-in-cheek because for the last 30 years of my life, doctors have been telling me I’m morbidly obese and will be dead in the next 5 years if I don’t lose some of this “deadly” fat I’m carrying around. So, for me, it’s a way to tell those who think that being 375 lbs is a death sentence that they are so full of shit, their eyes are brown. “Walking dead” my ass. In that 30 years, I’ve managed to raise my son alone, support myself most of the time without government help, take care of a home, go to college, work on cars, do home repairs, and the list goes on and on and on. So, if they think they are going to “other” me by calling me the “walking dead”, I’m going to throw it right back in their faces that they don’t have a fucking clue what they’re talking about.

  12. You asked, “Why, Rusty, Why?” on the Abzorbaloff. The Abzorbaloff was the creation of a nine-year-old boy who won a contest and actually originally wanted the monster to be the size of a double-decker bus. Now the next root cause question would be who at Blue Peter decided on the winner and why that boy and that monster? That I have not seen yet.

  13. Great post, Lauredhel. And “Children of the Carbs” — BWAH!

    Yeah, I always did think “The Obese” needed a BOOGABOOGABOOGA after it. We’re coming to eat your children, when they’re still donuttable babies, mwahahahah!

    As far as terminlogy for myself and my fellow neurologically interesting folks is concerned, though, I’m not sure I want to be called a “person with Asperger’s.” Way too dry and clinical for my taste. I don’t even like saying, “I have Asperger syndrome” all that much, because “syndrome” has way too much booga-booga in it for me, and I don’t think of Asperger’s as something I have, anyway, more like something I am. I always say, “I’m aspie.” “The autistic,” though…ew. If (neurotypical) people want to refer to me as being “with Asperger’s,” fine, I’ll settle for that.

  14. Rebecca: “I’m not sure I entirely agree about the word “disabled.” ”

    Oh, I don’t much mind “disabled person”, when it’s relevant, though I’ve come to prefer PWD – again, when it’s relevant. It’s “The Disabled” that I don’t like. And again, people can self-label just fine! This post is about how the dominant group refers to the despised group, and the ways in which they use that language to dehumanise and stereotype.

    tg: my “Why, Rusty, Why?” was about that entire episode from start to finish. The paving stone fellatio prison was the nadir of New Who, by an order of magnitude or so, and the Absorbaloff just added insult to injury. Bleagh.

  15. Terminology around “fat” is a bit difficult to pin. Fat, overweight, obese? I don’t think anyone is suggesting “person with obesity”; after all, not all fat people are “obese” ;)

    I use PWD, disabled people, and “the disabled” all regularly and mostly interchangeably, but I also think context matters – a LOT. A commenter here calling hirself “fatty fat fat fatso,” and hir doctor calling hir same, mean very, very different things. In the context of activism and advocacy, there is a wider range of available language, because we can reclaim those words or phrases as value-neutral or even positive.

    Outsiders, otoh, should tread lightly. Speaking of the OBESE (dun dun dunnn) in the context of corn subsidies and physical education – yeah, that’s more than a little Othering, transforming the very existence of a large group of people (a group of large people? :)) into a Crisis — the problem with which should be obvious.

    I’d be interested to see what ideas yinz could come up with using the “person-first” philosophy — it doesn’t seem to have been applied much to fat yet and I know there are some creative minds out there.

  16. There’s a doctor on the other side of the whole medical establishment from most of us here who proposes that obesity is when excess fatness interferes with health or quality of life. That still leaves plenty of room for the impact of stigma and the issue of we still don’t know how to turn fat people into thin people (and probably never will — and even if we did, we don’t know that those newly thin people would have any better health overall). But, there might be a way for people to self-identify as “fat and not seeking intervention” in a way that would let people know to back off. I don’t know what language would be used — the fatosphere is all about sorting through that.
    Maybe just self-identifying as fat is mind-blowing enough for many.

  17. WRT2, “fat and not seeking intervention” is awesome. I don’t have any ideas about self-identifying as such, but it’s a great phrase/idea.

    On a completely unrelated note, I just read this story on Yahoo, and my head is about to explode. Intersection of classism and fatphobia, much?

  18. Killedbyllamas, I was wondering about that article, and was hoping someone here would write about it. It was just so offensive on so many fronts.

    lauredhel, I don’t think bad Dr. Who has ever been summed up quite as succinctly, or with such genius as these five words: “the paving stone fellatio prison.” Shudder.

  19. This is a brilliant editorial…
    And VERY helpful for someone who writes about science and medicine like I do…
    There is a tendency in medical writing to make people into their diseases and it irks me too.
    It really touches me because growing up, while in school, I was called “the fat one ” (la gorda, I went to school in Mexico City). For 12 years of my life I did not have a name. It was so incredibly damaging to my self-esteem.
    I did not feel even human. How could I possibly think that I deserved anything other that the abuse I got and self-inflicted through EDs, smoking and promiscuity?
    It took me 2 years before I learned to answer to my name again.
    It took me close to 20 to believe and love myself.
    Thank you for this one …
    Rock on!

  20. lauredhel: Sorry to have narrowed the scope of your statement! The — as you so brilliantly put it — “paving stone fellatio prison” really squicked me out and yes, it was the nadir!

  21. Ugh. Says a doctor in that Yahoo article, “”The undereducated don’t know the value of [exercise]. They don’t have the drive for it. There’s a reason you’re successful, you’ve got drive. The same is true for exercise,” said Dannals. ”

    Translation: “You’re dumb, you’re poor, and you’re fat, and it’s all your own damn fault. Why can’t everyone be more like me?” I’m not denying that doctors as a group do tend to be driven, in good and bad ways, but sometimes they act like they’re the only ones in the world with any ambition and the only ones who work hard.

    (My own type-A med student drive is pretty narrowly education-focused and doesn’t seem to extend to exercise or housecleaning or many other areas where I am pretty chill).

  22. First off, I loooove close readings!!! My inner (and outer) rhetorician applauds this!

    Also, wellroundedtype2:
    How about “PWF”?

    I’m a person with fat. I’m also a fat person. But I sort of like PWF, because it emphasizes that we *all* are people with fat, in varying amounts, just as we’re people with skin, people with muscle, etc. etc. etc.

  23. Interestingly, this is a movement that started in the late 80’s when people with HIV (notice language) were sick of being called AIDS victims.

    Milla – I get so frustrated with most science writers – esp. with HIV related stuff!!!

  24. I don’t mind being called an “obese person.” The grammatical clumsiness of a “person with obesity” would bother me more than putting obesity in front of me being a person. Frankly cumbersome phrases are more offensive to me than adjectives being placed before my personhood. But I suppose that is a personal problem.

    Frankly, I wish they everyone would just shut up about their obsession with people with more adipose tissue than they approve of.

    It’s going to be an unrealistic expectations kind of day.

  25. You know those annoying little “memes” where you fill in the blanks about yourself and forward them to everyone you know? I just received one from a friend and under “Worst Fear”, she put “getting fat”. HER WORST FEAR IS *GETTING FAT*?!?! Above the death of her husband/children, dying in a plane crash, spiders, snakes, or fuzzy bunnies? She’s scared of getting fat! So yes, I would say that puts Obesity at the Zombie level.

  26. Sorry to be off-topic still, but the other reason I posted that article is that I take that shit personally. I grew up in WV (Charleston, not Huntington) and seriously, they do not get to call people from my state stupid because they don’t have the time or resources to conform to someone’s standard of health. Because you can totally pay for gym memberships and health insurance with freaking willpower and intelligence, dontcha know?

    (disclaimer: I did in fact come from a very middle-class home, so I feel like the degree to which I am taking this personally without having experienced some of the conditions personally is a bit…privileged, perhaps. Feel free to smack me if it is.)

  27. “But I sort of like PWF, because it emphasizes that we *all* are people with fat, in varying amounts, just as we’re people with skin, people with muscle, etc. etc. etc.”

    Miriam Heddy – LOVE this sentence! That one statement summed it up for me.

  28. @La Di Da: I’m glad you mentioned that Adbusters’ cover. I saw it last month and my immediate thought was “Kalle Lasn has jumped the shark”. Granted, he may have jumped some time ago and I am slow on the uptake.

    @ Miriam Heddy: I like PWF because if you let your brain work on that for half a second, it’s forced to realize that *all* people fall under that category, literally. So it not only helps prevent othering but almost compels the person you’re talking with to identify with you, which IMO is pretty cool.

  29. Kalle jumped the shark a long time ago, when the magazine was almost too depressing to read for about 3 years in a row. The headless fattie is, unfortunately, a step UP from a whole series of sexualized-dead-woman issues.

    Which is too bad, he’s a good designer and had a chance at starting a whole movement. It’s like the post-2004-election depression that hit everyone I know hit him and he couldn’t keep it out of the magazine.

    (and thank you, fatosphere, for the phrase headless fattie. I wish I didn’t have so many opportunities to use it.)

  30. Excellent post.

    It’s a logical extension of the many threads I’ve seen in the FA world about reclaiming the word “fat” as a descriptor.

  31. I was appalled by that yahoo article as well – I think the bits that stood out most were the line about ‘drive’ that you quoted and the harping on how many teeth people were missing, in a context that seemed to suggest fatness was the cause of all ills. Being fat makes your teeth fall out? News to me!

  32. Last night I was watching TLC – wow, they have an obsession with obesity on that network. They had two hour long shows “Half-Ton Mom” and “Half-Ton Dad”. Different families. They said there is a new catagory when it comes to obesity called the “super obese”. There are something like 2 million Americans that fall into this catagory.

  33. An excellent post… and a frustration I share (also being in the intersection)… but the question remains, does language follow culture, or does culture follow language?

    Do we need to fix the language, and hope the culture tags along for the ride, or do we need to fix the perception that we are somehow less than human (while we are also apparently more than human, LOL) so that the language follows naturally?

    I am fat, I have diabetes, and I live with chronic pain. These *are* defining characteristics of who I am, I can’t deny that, or them, and still be who I am. They are not the *only* defining characteristics, but if we try to ignore the (pardon the cliche) elephant in the living room, he becomes the only thing we see. We must confront the elephant, and see him for what he is — just one tree in the forest.

  34. I have a deep an abiding discomfort with people-adjectives used as nouns, especially for groups, regardless of whether they are considered “good” “bad” or “neutral”. (ex. I really don’t like the phrase “The Jews” or the use of “Jew” as a noun, similarly “gays”. I much prefer “Jewish people/person”, “gay people”, etc. I feel like this is a particularly good example because the historical connection that can be drawn to what has happened in the past when people have been labeled by one characteristic above all else shows what part of the problem is.)

    Part of my issue is just my grammatical preference for adjectives staying adjectives, but it also has to do with the fact that using any noun, other than “person” for a person makes that noun the most important thing (sometimes the only important thing) about that person, and also implies a certain sameness between everyone who shares that characteristic. (I can accept the necessity for the shorthand of man/woman/transman/transwoman/child/adult/teenager/etc. especially when it’s a gender or age status label that is acceptable to the person themselves, it’s not like I’m going around advocating we talk about, for example, “female people” all the time, but even those can be problematic, including because they do prioritize the gender or age status as a defining feature of the person, which may or may not be something that person feels is true.)

    At least when you use an adjective it is much more clear that this is just one of many adjectives that could apply to this person (ex. short, fat, long-haired, blue-eyed, bisexual, female, Jewish, left-handed, etc.) and it happens to be the one that you’ve chosen at the moment but it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily central to the person’s existence, just that it’s what’s relevant at the moment.

    Personally I prefer the adjective formation in almost all situations, except where there is none available that are not fraught with negative history, or just outright inappropriate (adjectives that are not value neutral, or that have to define themselves in opposition to some “normal” state of being, for example “disabled”, are some of what I mean by inappropriate). I’m not at all saying that people should not be free to identify however they wish and I will absolutely defer to another person’s choice to be “a person with/of _______” rather than “a _______ person” just that in situations where a suitable, non-insulting adjective is available, and where it is appropriate for me to be the one choosing terminology I will always go with the grammatical simplicity of the adjective-noun phrasing.

    /ramblings of verbosity

  35. monkey, I’m with you.
    I’m glad that I’m 40, and I understand that while I might say I’m Jewish, I might prefer that someone who is not Jewish call me a Jewish person rather than a Jew, and what this means for how I use language for other people.

    I am still uncomfortable using the word fat to describe myself and others verbally, because it’s so easily taken out of context, especially in my professional life. PWF is cool. PWLOF (w/lots o fat) works for me too.

  36. ‘PWLOF’ – ROTFLMAO!

    Btw, hasn’t “person/people of size” attained some widespread recognition? That’s the term I often use (commonly alternating between that and ‘fat people’) when referring to fat rights in an equity / human rights context.

  37. I just wanted to comment on kate’s dethread and killedbyllamas’s comment….

    killedbyllamas, do you want to guest post about it? It would also be worth contrasting with the coverage of the healthiest city (Burlington, VT)…..

    i got really angry when i heard it on the way to work yesterday with the radio people making har har jokes because the healthiest city is in VT, and the unhealthiest is in southern WV. And, as WV is my home state, I just wanted to scream out, of course, that’s going to be another WV joke… but really the study has 0 to do with income and opportunity does it? note my sarcastic typing voice.

  38. I had cancer and was treated with radiation therapy. Every time I went for a checkup I commented on the sign posted in every exam room about “breast patients.” I also threatened numerous times to bring a sharpie pen and correct it. Not one health care provider got why it offended me (and I was not a “breast patient.”) I had to explain it to them. The mental image I got from that sign was of breasts with legs. When I pointed out to a male radiation oncology fellow that he might feel differently if it was addressed to “prostate patients” and he said something about how they saw the “prostates” in the morning, I stopped going back.

    P.S. Please no well-intentioned lectures on the importance of follow up visits, I still see my primary oncologist….

  39. Bean basically said what I was about to say – I don’t even like being called a “cancer patient” because that completely defines me and who I am by my current state of health (and not entirely accurately, since my pathology report came back clean…but I’m still in treatment). “Breast patient” would be way worse (particularly if you’d had a mastectomy). I am a person (FIRST) who happens to be in treatment for cancer.

  40. The article about “healthiest” and “least healthy” cities reminds me McCain’s plan for rural health care, which seemed to come down to “fat kids need to exercise more”. Um, OK. I’m willing to say all kids need to be free to exercise more (down with long-ass school days, excess homework, and the cultural thread of fear that kids allowed to enjoy unstructured time outside will be kidnapped instantly!)…but what does that have to do with rural health? You going to solve poverty, lack of access to health care services, substance abuse, and accidents by getting the kids on the Wii Fit? I don’t think so.

  41. If anything I would imagine rural kids get more exercise than city kids. Growing up in rural Michigan, I had no shortage of safe places to wander around and jump and climb trees and stuff. Kids who live in the city don’t have that, necessarily.

  42. Great post.

    One of the things that has always grated on me is a term I heard after a friend of mine became a high school teacher: “The Behaviourals.” That’s what the teachers call students who are regularly disruptive in class. Students with behavioural issues are not just their behaviour. This type of language really causes teachers to devalue the students and contributes to them being seen as lost causes in the educational system.

    In the same vein, I think that calling fat people “the obese” (I prefer “fat people,” as a result of rigorous mental reconditioning by the fatosphere) gives the medical establishment a reason to write us off. The mentality is that fat people are just frickin fat, and just don’t change, goddamnit! Why even bother trying to help them anymore? (If only they would acknowledge the REAL reasons why we continue being fat, despite their lectures, warnings, admonitions, guilt trips, drugs, surgeries, etc., they would stop trying to be so *helpful*.)

  43. I have never liked the term obese. It implies very fat bodies are riddled with diseases and we’re ready to keel over at any moment. It’s like obese is the new leprosy.

  44. I swear this is my last comment today. I SWEAR.

    Bree:
    I saw your comment and I thought of this, which made me sad and angry, because usually I like The Onion:

  45. Umm…aren’t we all “the walking dead?” Seriously. Every single one of us is going to die someday, of something…yes, even thin people.

    Someone should give those poor folks who think they’re cheating death because they’re not obese a heads up. It doesn’t really work that way.

  46. The idea of ‘person with obesity’ becoming widespread has just given me a new piece of language to hate with a passion.

    I don’t think the world at large needs any more encouragement to see ‘obesity’ as a disease, and that’s what that construct does. If we have to settle for using ‘obesity’ at all, let’s at least position it with the adjectives, where there’s a slight hope for neutrality. I’d rather just not use it at all, though. I don’t want my natural body shape labelled as an illness, thanks.

    (Person of size…just sounds weird to me. Like, it implies the existence of people without size.)

  47. ” I don’t think anyone is suggesting “person with obesity””

    Just to make things perfectly clear, I wasn’t pushing for that terminology in this post. I thought that was fairly obvious from the final quote box, but maybe it wasn’t! Sorry.

  48. I’m writing this with the caveat that I recognize that this is a deeply emotional issue for many, and the reassurance that I respect your personal experience and your views. A rant warning is probably indicated here, since as a primarily egg-head rather than feeling person, I just don’t understand caring what neutral people call you when they clearly intend no insult.

    I’ve been frustrated for twenty years in my social work career with the notion that if we change the name of a stigmatized group every five years, the stigma will disappear because people are too stupid to notice the names changed, and not the hated people in the group. Hint: nearly all of the “bad names” for people with Developmental Disabilties are former clinical terms adopted in whole or part to reduce the stigma aimed at them.

    We need to change stigma and not names. Changing names just sprays air freshener when the toilet hasn’t been flushed, as far as I can see.

    Nobody thinks we need to call “the hockey players” or “the volleyball players” or “the authors” PEOPLE WHO…play hockey, play volleyball, write books. This is because they are neutral groups. Most people don’t revile them, and there’s no world wide moral panic or scape-goating of these groups.

    Referring to me as a “person with asthma” or “person with depression” or “person with physical limitations” instead of a physically disabled person, or a depressive or an asthmatic does not make me a different type of person. It doesn’t change the neutrality of asthma, or the stigma associated with both psychiatric and physical disabilities. It just takes longer to say. And I must say that “People with fat” has a ring to it, though I prefer fat person/people myself.

    I hasten to add that I just ASK individual people how they like to be referred to, and then refer to them that way. Some of my graduate classmates (whom naturally I usually call by name) prefer African American, some Black, some Women or Men or People of Color, some just don’t care. I had one prof who said he “missed Negro, it had a dignified sound and was ONE word.” (Emphasis his, though I heartily agree with respect to terms applied to me.)

    I can tell when somebody intends to insult me, their descriptors of me don’t really matter. “Person with asthma” can be sneered in a disrespectful tone just as easily as “asthmatic” or even “wheeezebag.” My 1970’s report card comments calling me “very creative” were not praises – they were code for “odd.”

    And don’t even get me STARTED on the word “persons” replacing “people.” What the FUCK? What’s wrong with the word “people”? Persons seems like fakey business lingo to me – like “utilize” instead of “use.” Or “gifting” instead of “giving.”

    Okay, mildly drunk 40-something is heading to bed in a huff of elderly crabbiness. You kids get off my lawn!

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