Ask Lindley: “Should I use the word ‘fat?'”

One of the most common questions I’m getting these days is, “Should I use the word fat?”

Many fat folks have reclaimed the word and are using it as a neutral descriptor, but to the world at large, “fat” is an insult. So should you be using it?

If you are a fat person: Go for it! Feel free to reclaim that word, though of course you don’t have to.

If you are a thin person: Use with caution, and only in contexts where you’re making it very clear that you’re using it neutrally.

If you’re not sure if you’re fat: Be cautious about claiming identities that aren’t really yours. Generally, people who are fat experience active stigma, discrimination and limitations due to their body size. See this Fluffy Kitten Party piece on fategories to learn more.

If you are a healthcare provider in a fat body: Sure, go for it, as long as you’re making it clear that you’re not using it as an insult or a self-deprecating joke.

If you are a healthcare provider in a thin body: If you’re working in an explicitly fat-affirming, Health at Every Sizeยฎ or similar context, use it with caution. Otherwise, avoid it to prevent accidentally increasing stigma or making patients feel insulted.

If you are a researcher: I’m aware that the o* words below are expected language in academia, but that doesn’t make them less viciously stigmatizing. Use neutral language unless forced to do otherwise, and advocate for less stigmatizing language in research.

Pro tip for everyone: The words overweight, obese and obesity are slurs. They medicalize and stigmatize a perfectly normal and natural segment of the variation of human bodies. Don’t use them.

So what am I supposed to say instead? Here are some descriptive phrases you can use instead of “fat:”

  1. People in larger bodies
  2. Higher-weight people
  3. Larger people

Let’s fight for a world where fat is just a neutral descriptor for large bodies and not an insult, where fat bodies are equally valued.

Let’s dig deep.

Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources on body liberation, weight stigma, body image and more. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.

Hi there! I'm Lindley. I create artwork that celebrates the unique beauty of bodies that fall outside conventional "beauty" standards at Body Liberation Photography. I'm also the creator of Body Liberation Stock and the Body Love Shop, a curated central resource for body-friendly artwork and products. Find all my work here at bodyliberationphotos.com.