“Ugh, I feel SO fat today.”
On a regular basis, words like this are spoken in my vicinity. Every time, it reinforces the idea that in our culture, existing as I do is bad. The thing is, fat is not a feeling. A feeling is an emotional state or reaction. You can’t feel fat, or like a fatty, or like a total fatass.
In her article on Bustle, Marie Southard Ospina explains:
In its more generally accepted definition, fat is a body type. And one most fat people are likely exhausted of having co-opted by the masses who’ve decided said body type is among the worst things a human can possess. By people who don’t realize that in saying, “This outfit makes me feel fat; I hate it,” what they’re really saying, be it intentionally or not, is, “This outfit makes me look like you. And that is unacceptable.”
As a fat human, I, like other humans, experience a full range of emotions. I feel happy, sad, angry, joyful, depressed. I also have physical sensations. Sometimes, I feel hot, cold, sweaty, or gassy. But I do not feel fat any more than I feel blue-eyed or brunette.
My body and life experience is not here for you to use as a synonym for your bad day, bad feelings, bad self image. I am not here to be an example of what you dislike or fear. Consider what you mean when you say you feel fat.
You feel lazy.
Maybe you’re feeling bad because you have been sitting on the couch for three days when you’d planned to go for a hike. You might be disappointed in yourself for not moving more, or your body might be reacting to a lull in physical activity when you’re usually up and at ’em.
Better words to try: sluggish, lethargic, listless, apathetic, sleepy
You have no energy.
I’m no stranger to being low-energy. Sometimes it’s the weather, other times it’s just the end of a rough week. Maybe you haven’t eaten enough. Maybe you forgot to have your coffee this morning. Perhaps you didn’t sleep well last night and you’re feeling tired. Or, let’s face it, maybe you’re just feeling 2020 today.
Better words to try: exhausted, drained, inactive, fatigued
Your stomach is upset or bloated.
Whether it’s Thanksgiving Dinner, the best BBQ of summer, or a night out with friends, we’re all familiar with being too full. That supersized order of nachos tasted beyond amazing at 2 a.m. post-club, but the next morning it’s a different story. You might feel gassy, puffy, or swollen, but you still don’t feel fat.
Better words to try: bloated, stuffed, bursting, saturated, uncomfortable
You are unmotivated.
You know what they say about the best laid plans. Perhaps you were planning on going for a walk, run, or hitting the gym for some weights, and now you don’t feel like it. Maybe you woke up to grey skies and just couldn’t make yourself get up to go to that yoga class you were looking forward to. Or your to-do list is a mile long, but you just feel like binging Schitt’s Creek.
Better words to try: disappointed, humdrum, unambitious, dull
You are sad.
Sometimes, when we’re sad, our body feels sort of undefined and weak. When my energy is low, I imagine myself on the couch like a blobfish out of water, an undefined pile of human with just about zero motivation to do anything or go anywhere. If you’re sad, it’s also more likely your self confidence will not be at peak. You may start to feel bad about things that usually don’t bother you, or see flaws you normally ignore.
Better words to try: melancholy, pessimistic, out of sorts, down in the dumps
You feel uncomfortable.
Maybe your pants are too tight. Maybe your chair is uncomfortable. Either way, feeling uncomfortable is not the same thing as ‘feeling fat.’ When I sit on a hard floor or uncomfortable chair and my bones start to ache, I don’t say I ‘feel skinny’ because I don’t have enough cushion. No matter the cause of your discomfort, there are tons of better words that better describe what you’re feeling.
Better words to try: gassy, bloated, stiff, awkward, crampy, sore
You feel unattractive or undesireable.
This is a huge one. Perhaps you’re in a fitting room trying on a pair of pants, and the cut isn’t right. Maybe it’s even squishing your skin in a way you find unpleasant to look at. Every time you use the word ‘fat’ when you mean ‘unattractive,’ you’re perpetuating the stigma that fat and beautiful are mutually exclusive.
Better words to try: unattractive, unappealing, not confident, downtrodden
Know Better, Do Better
Every single one of these feelings can be felt by people of any size. Describing what you’re feeling as ‘feeling fat’ is not only hurtful, but it’s inaccurate and uninteresting. When you use the word fat to describe feeling these things, you propagate the idea that being fat is the same thing as being lazy, unmotivated, undesirable, or bad.
That’s right, nobody uses ‘feeling fat’ in a positive way. Every single one of the examples given above is negative, because that’s pretty much the only way this phrase is used. All of this serves to reinforce the notion that having a fat body makes people less-than. It reminds us that our fat bodies are your nightmare, that when you are at your worst, you associate that with the way we exist. It contributes to the stigma fat people face every single day moving through this world.
So, next time you’ve got the urge to describe what’s going on inside you as ‘feeling fat,’ consider the alternatives. Think about how you really feel, and choose better words.