Calling People Fat: A Trend That Reclaims the Word

Two new books are notable for their contribution to the discussion on whether food is an addiction and whether calling people fat is appropriate and/or helpful. Well, the first book is, anyway; the second doesn’t actually mean to be.

Morning Joe anchor Mika Brzezinski‘s book gets personal. In Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own she owns up to her own significant struggles with eating and body image issues, hidden previously to the world because all we see is her thinness.

An excerpt from her Introduction:

This is the book I have been afraid to write . . . terrified actually. It deals with an issue that is radioactive for me. How I eat, diet, and look has tied me up in knots my entire life, and I know I am not alone. I have been held hostage by food since I was thirteen years old. My body started filling out more than the figures of other girls in my class, and that set off what has become a thirty-year battle with my body image. Food has been my enemy. My determination to be thin has led me to extremes, and I’ve done damage to my body and my mind in the process.

What “extremes” exactly? Nanci Hellmich, USA Today, lists the various issues:

For years, she has maintained a cycle of overeating, starving, binging, running. She has struggled with multiple eating disorders, including a brief bout with bulimia, binging and purging, and a type of exercise bulimia where she would gorge then run for 10 miles. And one psychologist said she had an unhealthy obsession with eating healthful foods, which some call orthorexia nervosa.

Brzezinski made a deal with another journalist, her best friend Diane Smith. The latter, perceived as “fat” and unhealthy by Brzezinski—who told her so—would strive to lose a desired goal of 75 pounds; the former, perceived as “skinny” and unhealthy by Smith, would try to gain 10. And they would write this book about their experiences.

It doesn’t matter what size you are, they advise, your eating and emotional issues can be just as in need of tweaking as the next person’s, and people have food issues for all kinds of varying reasons.

While Smith is against shaming people by calling them “fat,” Brzezinski advocates talking even more about people being “fat.” Another part of her book’s Intro:

Remember the days when people whispered about cancer and called it ‘the big C,’ as if naming it bestowed power? Now we’re doing the same thing with weight problems. We need to stop the whispering, start talking louder, and use the F-word: fat.

But let’s not forget that “fat” is not in fact a disease like cancer. Nor is “skinny” for that matter. The “cancer” is not fatness, it’s the eating, the emotional issues. Calling people fat and shaming them about their size is still a no-no in my opinion.

Meanwhile, popular comedian Jim Gaffigan‘s new book is Dad is Fat. Although about parenting his five young kids, being “fat” is clearly a theme for him. His standup routines also often focus on food and eating.

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