My internets friend Stitchtowhere recently wrote an excellent screed about the way we pathologize weight in our language. Outside of the FA movement, of course, fat is overwhelmingly referred to as a “weight problem,” a “weight issue, “struggles with one’s weight,” and the implications pissed her off:
Dear Speakers of the (MOSTLY FATPHOBIC) English Language,
I don’t & have never talked about my fat & weight as an “issue”* or “problem.” It’s you that does that, and it is tired, and dated, and SO FUCKING ANNOYING. FYI, when you talk about “my weight issue” or “my weight problem” you are, both through your pitious tone & unexamined terminology, implying several shitty things: a) fat & weight are a problem b) you have a problem with fat (and therefore with me) c) that if i don’t consider my size a problem, I OUGHT TO. THIS IS BULLSHIT. I DON’T. CEASE & DESIST. IMMEDIATELY. AND NO, APPENDING “BUT WE ALL HAVE WEIGHT PROBLEMS” does not make it any more universal or okay.
Also, while you’re at it feel, free to stop using “slimming” and “minimizing” as your ultimate compliment when giving me props on an outfit. I, unlike a spy, stage show puppeteer, cat burgler, or Odo on special ops, DO NOT dress to disappear. My body exists. I occupy physical space, as much as I want/need, and I WILL NOT apologize for it. I WILL NOT, make myself look/feel smaller to better fit your tiny narrow-minded view.
TRY A WHOLE LOT HARDER TO SUCK A WHOLE LOT LESS, OKAY?
no big fat bunches of corpulent love,
(I loved it so hard that I had to quote it in its entirety.)
To the litany of pathologizing language I’d add “obese,” which is a medical term repurposed as a judgment. I’m sure a lot of people think that “obese,” like “weight problem,” is a gentle term for “fat,” but that’s simply false. “Obesity” is fat as disease, and I wouldn’t describe a fat person as “obese” for the same reason I wouldn’t describe a woman as “hysterical” — I don’t believe that fatness is an ailment and I don’t believe that emotion is a mental illness. (At the same time, if you’re going to use it, use it right — “obese” may only mean something according to slapdash medical adaptations of insurance tables, but it definitely does NOT mean “fatter than I personally consider attractive or acceptable.”)
Anyway, Stitch’s awesome takedown of the “problem” terminology put me in mind of this scene from the fabulous Pippi Longstocking (ETA: I didn’t specify which Pippi book, but I’ve checked and it’s Pippi Goes On Board), which has stuck with me vividly since childhood:
In the window was a large jar of freckle salve, and beside the jar was a sign which read: DO YOU SUFFER FROM FRECKLES?
“What does the sign say?” asked Pippi. She couldn’t read very well because she didn’t want to go to school as other children did.
“It says, ‘Do you suffer from freckles?’” Annika said.
“Does it indeed?” said Pippi thoughtfully. “Well, a civil question deserves a civil answer. Let’s go in.”
She opened the door and entered the shop, closely followed by Tommy and Annika. An elderly lady stood back of the counter. Pippi went right up to her.
“No!” she said decidedly.
“What is it you want?” asked the lady.
“No,” said Pippi once more.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” said the lady.
“No, I don’t suffer from freckles,” said Pippi.
Then the lady understood but she took one look at Pippi and burst out, “But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!”
“I know it,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.”
Damn, but Pippi is a great role model (aside from not being much of a reader). Face to face with marketing telling her that she should be ashamed, that she has a Freckle Problem that needs fixing, she nevertheless refuses to allow her body to be pathologized. She doesn’t give in to messages telling her that she should be suffering; she doesn’t even acknowledge them as applying to her. She loves her freckles because they’re part of her face, and she loves her face because it’s part of her, and she doesn’t see any reason not to love herself. So why would she give any credence to people who assume she’s suffering from something?
We could all use to be a little more like Pippi. Freckles and fat aren’t conditions that you suffer from or problems that you struggle with, and anyone who says differently is probably selling something. Don’t buy the freckle salve. In fact, don’t buy the sign. It wants you to think you should be suffering from freckles — that they’re wrong, that they make you wrong. Don’t buy it; it doesn’t apply to you. There will always be messages telling you that your body’s beautiful individual idiosyncrasies are “issues” and “problem areas” that need to be cured. I want to be able to march right up to them and say “I don’t suffer from it; I love it.” I want that for all of you, too.
Stitchtowhere expands on her point:
awhile back i was telling my friend smith that our kitten had a “peeing problem” and he was like “no she doesn’t. she pees where she wants. YOU have the problem.” he was being witty, but it’s true.
Right on. Do I have a weight problem? No, this is what I weigh. YOU have the problem.