Is “Fat” A Slur?

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Is the word “fat a slur or a description? This is a variation of a question posed by someone Re-Tweeted onto my timeline. The conversation that followed described the ways people who are overweight should be described; and they debated whether fat is in fact a slur.  It’s a sensitive subject, especially when you consider the fact that over thirty-five percent of American adults are obese.  Many people feel the word fat isn’t a slur or there is nothing wrong with targeting people who are overweight, because it’s something they can control and they are fat because they want to be fat.

Since I will never be mistaken for overweight, I don’t know how much value my opinion holds, but I’ll give it anyway. There is a minority of people who are genetically predisposed to being overweight. On the other hand, I believe the majority of overweight people are that way because of lack of motivation and poor eating habits. However, poor eating habits are not always entirely people’s fault.  Poverty and very few healthy food options play a large role in the rise of obese Americans.

For example, while I was in the DMV for Christmas break, I had to buy a new charger for my MacBook so my brother and I took a ride out to Kensington, Maryland. Kensington is located in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is more affluent than Prince George’s County (where my mother lives). After I bought my charger, I realized I was hungry and wanted to grab a quick bite to eat. We drove around for 20 minutes before we found a fast food restaurant, and we only found it because it was near a shopping mall. Conversely, if I were near my mother’s home I would have had no difficulty finding a fast food restaurant.

It’s no secret that less prosperous urban neighborhoods are food deserts; meaning they often lack options for fresh fruits and vegetables. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than affluent ones, they have fewer grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. This is the case in my neighborhood of Crown Heights where there are scarcely any grocery stores. Residents are expected to do their grocery shopping at bodegas and local delis where there is no fresh produce and the prices are inflated. Even if you find a grocery store that has fresh produce, the prices are discouraging. I went to Target a couple months back and while picking up a couple items I noticed a bag of grapes were $7 while a bag of Doritos was $2.50.

Being on the thin side, I receive all types of slander that is deemed perfectly acceptable. There is no reason for a person to tell me that I need to eat a sandwich or tell me that I’m skinny enough to hula-hoop with a cheerio, but people do. Most of the people in my family are thin and more than likely I’ll be slim my whole life no matter how many weight gain regiments I go through. Thin people are allowed to work out, and we do have appetites and eat regularly. Telling me that I benefit from “skinny people privilege” is offensive. Unlike “white privilege,” weight isn’t something that can never change and affords me a social advantage. For the most part, if an overweight person wants to lose weight they can. Black people can’t magically turn themselves white.

Alternatively, it’s easy to use genetics as a crutch or excuse for why you are the way you are. Eating healthy may be expensive and challenging but people can’t fall into the trap of eating fast food every day. Watching what you choose to put into your body is no one’s responsibility but your own. This is where I draw the line on whether people should take personal accountability for their weight.   Based on this, I don’t think that using the word “fat” as a descriptor is a slur.

Do you believe that using the term “fat” as a descriptor is insensitive and/or an insult? Have you experienced a disparity in the types of grocery stores in relation to the median income of the neighborhood it is located? Is it possible to discriminate against people who are thin?

- Tunde

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  • http://www.OpinionatedMale.com Mr SoBo

    I can only imagine that being labeled 'fat' is not a nice feeling. Its a very charged word. More often than not, its usage is largely meant to demean and hurt and therefore it has taken on a new meaning beyond just being a descriptive term.

    However, if fat is being considered a 'slur' by some, then 'skinny' should be considered one as well. In fact, throw all adjectives on the slur list for that matter, as there will always be a subset of people that will collectively find any given descriptive term offensive for whatever reason.

    In the unlikely event 'fat' is deemed a slur, what descriptor would take its place? What would be the more fitting and charming way to describe someone of significant mass?
    My recent post Lost On Love: The Art of Loving Selfishly

  • Corrin

    Great post PC and I love the topic! I do not think the word "fat" is a slur but rather a description. I call myself fat all the time, but at the end of the day based on the official BMI scale this is what I am…that is the reality of the situation. I think the magnitude of the word, like many controversial words, is dependent on the person it is aimed at(yes I ended with a preposition). If your weight (like most cases) is a physical manifestation of a deeper issue and you are insecure about that issue then someone using the word to describe you is offensive. In these cases you yourself view the word as offensive, therefore you project that when others use the word they view it that way as well. As I stated like MOST controversial words(Bitch,slim,etc) its all about perception. But again it is offensive because of personal reasons NOT because of the actual word. As someone who has been fat all of her life I think there is more to the situation then just lack of motivation and bad eating habits (but this is not about me lol). I also think the "pull yourself up by your boot straps" idea of dealing with it is not for everyone. The average person struggles with most avoidable things. For example, in 2012 if someone were to have a unplanned kid(married or not) the reality of the situation is they were being irresponsible BUT I am willing to bet if you described that person's actions as "irresponsible" then they would be HIGHLY pissed. Another example of "the power of words", I am cool with being called fat BUT call me light skin and we are going to have problems,lol!

    • Tunde

      i agree with you in that i think that sometimes when people take offense at a word like "fat" that it can come from a place of insecurity. if someone is using the word maliciously then i could see how someone could take it as a slur.
      My recent post The War on Christianity

  • http://twitter.com/inomallday Shamira

    Interesting topic.

    One thing I disagree with is on skinny people privilege. It does exist, albeit not as extensively or explicitly as other structural privileges of society. But generally, the implicit assumptions that we as a society make on skinny/skinnier people (that they are healthier, more fit, more attractive, happier – none of which are necessarily true) do influence a surprising amount of decisions we make in life, not just romantically, but in the workforce, with your healthcare, and so on. Granted, there are a significant amount of factors that affect the range that applies to and to what extent (race/social class, etc)…but it is undeniably, a factor, in my opinion. Maybe your experience as a man would differ – I have no frame of reference to speak on that.

    I will say, however, that backlash against skinny people isnt an appropriate response. This whole "real women have curves" movement that has become the rallying cry of some people is a lot more exclusive than accepting, which I doubt was the original intent of movements of that nature (see: Dove, etc). The response to "fat-shaming" isn't "skinny-shaming" – both of those are rooted in displacing our insecurities over body image on other people, and that's really unnecessary. And ultimately, it continues to root the discussion in an extremely flawed place, and that is that health is dictated by your body shape, which couldn't be further from the truth.

    If you're a size two and have never done excercise in your life, your problems can be just as worrisome as somebody who's seemingly visibly overweight, as well as the fact that somebody who's seemingly overweight can be in a lot better shape than most of us presume. A lot of that is rooted in cardiovascular health and body fat percentage. I won't get into a BMI discussion here, most people should know at this point that it's a fairly bunk parameter that should only be used as a fairly loose frame of reference, if at all.

    I say this all to say that our obsession with dress/pants size doesn't allow us to reframe the discussion the way that it properly should, which is to say "how healthy are you?" Our country has such a collective body dysmorphia that we laud these chicks/dudes who manage to stay skinny while "indulging" in fatty, over-processed foods to their heart's content – not realizing what a flawed goal that is. (This is no shade on people who do that btw – I'm not perfect, I eat like crap more often than I should, and the additives in a lot of products we eat today are literally addictive). Any article that says "watch Mila Kunis scarf down pizza and eat real food! (what is real food anyway?)" is arguably just as harmful to our consciousness as the consequent article that says "Adriana Lima eats one grape an hour."

    Last note on nutrition: The whole "eating healthy is really expensive" perspective is usually a bit overinflated. Don't get me wrong, a lack of access to fresh fruit, veggies, and lean-cut meats/fish is a real problem in so-called "urban" environments (in Astoria, I am lucky to have multiple organic groceries within walking distance from my spot), but a more overarching issue is lack of knowledge in nutrition preparation (if you drown your salad in ranch dressing, what are you really accomplishing). A lot of people literally do not know how to cook without frying oil, butter, excessive sodium, sugar, and what have you. Retraining your palate to enjoy things without them is easier said than done – and, honestly will get you a lot more bang for your buck. (I've been discovering 561 new ways to use greek yogurt every day – the utility of that stuff is astounding!). Also, learning to cook healthily, and enjoyably to boot, will always be cheaper than going out to find an "organic" restaurant for lunch or dinner.

    So basically, my issue with focusing on the word "fat" and "overweight" is that those terms tend to have us focus on the wrong things. That by no means gives people who are neglecting themselves an out, but overall health is a way better parameter. Our society's obsession with other peoples weight, pant sizes, and dress sizes shows our insecurity with our bodies as a collective, in my humble, non-nutritionist perspective. Basically, just worry about being the best version of you that you can, and f*ck everyone else. Lol

    *P.S. None of this applies to Wiz Khalifa. That n*gga needs to eat a sandwich. Lol*

    **P.P.S – Sorry about the mini blog post. Its a topic that I've been exploring a lot over the past couple of weeks, so my own personal discoveries seemed apropos to share **

    • http://www.singleblackmale.org/author/wisdomismisery/ WisdomIsMisery

      This is a great comment. Ive nothing to add but wanted to say thanks for sharing.

    • Tunde

      you're right. although i am on the thin side most of my life my eating habits have been terrible. i've been doing better with incorporating more vegetables and fruits into my diet and i've all but cut out soda. i might have a gatorade or cranberry juice every now and then but i mostly drink water.

      "Maybe your experience as a man would differ – I have no frame of reference to speak on that."

      trust me being a man on the thin side isn't well received especially when emphasis is placed on muscle definition.

      • http://twitter.com/inomallday Shamira

        LOL. My BF has a similar build to yours, and I clown him all the time ….I should probably stop doing that before I go back to being #Forever Alone . It's all love though!

        Also I think there is a stark difference between skinny/lanky and skinny/athletic/muscular … two totally different experiences when there shirts come off. But that's all I'm gonna say about that.

        • Tunde

          "Also I think there is a stark difference between skinny/lanky and skinny/athletic/muscular … two totally different experiences when there shirts come off."

          you have a point there.
          My recent post The War on Christianity

  • Smilez_920

    1) I don’t think ” fat” is a slur. But I do think people can use it in a nasty tone to try and make someone feel bad.

    2) food disparity is real. I use to work at Pathmark while I was in school. The Pathmark located by a housing projects in Queens didn’t have as much variety, I would find expired boxed/ can food on the shelf sometimes. I think A lot of people from many economic backgrounds don’t know how to eat. But the more money you have the easier it is to change the habit faster and easier. I know @FemnistaJones on twitter is doing a #SexyShred weight loss challenge. She gives tips on healthy eating. One day she tweeted about a few states that actually let ppl with EBT/Food stamps , can get double their money if they buy fruits and vegetables from farmers markets or trader joes ” healthy grocery stores” etc . The only issue is that most in that predicament don’t know about these advantages and some of the ” healthy food spots ” are located very far from their neighborhood.

    3) I think ppl trying to ride the skinny shaming movement is like when ” white ppl ( especially white women) complain about Affirmative action. While we shouldn’t skinny shame, lets be real movements like Monique puttin out that book “Skinny Bit*chs are evil” or “Real Women have curves ” hasn’t made society have love for fat people. It’s not like now all the small women on TV are being replaced with Big women. While skinny doesn’t always equal healthy, being extremely overweight will never be healthy.

    • Tunde

      "lets be real movements like Monique puttin out that book "Skinny Bit*chs are evil" or "Real Women have curves " hasn't made society have love for fat people."

      monique really pissed me off with that movement she tried to start. why not big up yourself instead of trying to degrade someone else? if say zoe saldana came out with a book called "fat people are evil" can you imagine the backlash?
      My recent post The War on Christianity

      • Smilez_920

        lol True.. I mean I understand no one wants to be made fun of, but I think the source is different when its a fat person makes fun of a skinny person. For some it could just be two people jonsing back and forth, but for others, most of the time the joke is based in ENVY.

  • http://thebookofjackson.blogspot.com Dr. J

    I just don’t have time for people and their weight issues. I don’t care about what women care to do with their bodies in terms of birth control and abortion because it doesn’t affect me nor is it my problem. That’s how I feel about people with weight issues. However, they want to handle, perceive or solve it is their bag.

    Might sound rude but it truthfully isn’t.

    • Bree

      Doc J you don't care until it's your lady, future wife, and daughter. Then it does become your problem.

  • Bree

    Do you believe that using the term “fat” as a descriptor is insensitive and/or an insult? I think it can be depending on the context and tone with which it is used. Per American Society, fat and any other word that someone can take the wrong way and is not politically correct can be deemed an insult.

  • Bree

    Have you experienced a disparity in the types of grocery stores in relation to the median income of the neighborhood it is located? Absolutely there is a disparity. I currently live in Mont County. When I first moved to MD 5 yrs ago I lived in PG County in Laurel. I definitely noticed the difference. I only moved to Mont County because I've always worked out here and the drive/traffic and gas was killing me, so I moved closer to work. I think because society is more aware of the disparity in neighborhoods now as opposed to when I was a kid things are slowly but surely changing for the better. However, I agree with you Tunde, there is definitely a pretty significant difference in not just stores but cleanliness and quality of stores in Mont County ie Bethesda, as opposed to PG ie Hyattsville. I actually liked living in Laurel. I lived near rte 1 so it was a pretty nice area to me compared to North Philly.

    • Tunde

      i used to live in laurel (on the rt 197 side) and there were no options as far as grocery shopping except that wack food lion. my mom lives in riverdale and i couldn't tell you where the nearest trader joe's or whole foods is. its a shame.
      My recent post The War on Christianity

      • Peter Parker

        Tunde, there is actually a whole foods in the process of being built in New Carrolton. The county executive is on board with the plans, but residents are giving much push back.

        • Tunde

          oh wow. didn't know that. then again i don't live in the area anymore and i'm only home about every 6-7 weeks. its in the same shopping center as the shoppers food warehouse?
          My recent post The War on Christianity

        • Peter Parker
        • Bree

          Peter I thought more whites than blacks lived in New Carrolton? Thats what I heard, could be wrong.

      • Bree

        Tunde you are so right. I used to go pass 197 when I lived in Laurel and worked in Bowie part time.
        Now that I think about it there aren't any trader joe's or whole foods nearby.
        At least Philly does have a few Whole Foods…lol. (even though they are all closest to the downtown area's).

    • Smilez_920

      Some people don’t understand how grocery store location affects a person’s diet choice. If Food lion or in NYC Pathmark is 2 miles away but Trader Joe's/ Whole Foods or a Fresh Food Market is 10 miles away, more then likely I'm going to do the majority of my food shopping at Pathmark. Going to the healthier location cost more travel time and money; if you live in a big city like NYC with no car, your not carrying 100-250 dollars worth of groceries on the bus/subway, it’s hard.

      I also feel like food chains put a lot less effort into the grocery store they build and run in lower income communities’ vs. higher income communities.

      • Peter Parker

        I agree and I don't shop at any local grocery stores. My advice would be to only purchase items on the outside paramater of the store. Those are where the healthier food choices are going to be located. Read labels and educate yourself. If you can't pronounce the ingredient, it probably is not good for you.

      • Bree

        Cosign Smilez. This was a big problem when I was a kid. Same thing goes for Philly too. Plus the quality of food you get at Pathmark or Murrays (who remembers Murrays) lol is definitely different. Every WholeFoods and Trader Joe's I've been to has looked clean as the board of health. And the food looked, smelled, and tasted fresh. I doubt many folks get sick off of expired old food from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.
        It's like Lord & Taylor vs Walmart. Big Difference.

  • Bree

    Is it possible to discriminate against people who are thin? Absolutely. Growing up I was short and thin and even at 12 and 13 I probably looked about 8 yrs old to most people. I was teased a lot in school and called names like "scrawny and scrawn." I didn't weigh 100 lbs until I was 19 and went away to NC to college. What eventually put weight on me was BC pills. So I can totally relate.

  • http://glippost.wordpress.com Darrk Gable

    To call somebody fat is calling them fat. Personally, I see nothing wrong with it, but I grew up in the 90′s when people were slightly less sensitive about such things. I’d say people who consider it a slur or insensitive are either overly sensitive or don’t want to face the truth. And yes, there are some who have genetic dispositions, but as was pointed out, that’s not generally the case. Another aspect of this is not all…fat…people are unhealthy, but ultimately losing weight would probably benefit them all the same.

    To the last question, it is possible to discriminate against anyone, even thin folks. The thing I’ve found and seen is that the discrimination can come from a place of jealousy, or insecurity depending on where the discrimination originates.

    • Tunde

      "To call somebody fat is calling them fat. Personally, I see nothing wrong with it, but I grew up in the 90's when people were slightly less sensitive about such things. "

      this is where i am with it.
      My recent post The War on Christianity

  • Peter Parker

    I think the context in which you use the word fat determines whether it is insensitive or not. I come from the notion that I really don't care what people may say to me, so if you think I am fat, cool. I am still going to do me (I am not fat of course, but if I was this would be my attitude). As a proponent of immproving the health in minority communities, I do believe this is an issue that definitely needs addressing. Many minorities, not just blacks, are dealing with obsesity at disporportional levels which is crazy. When you see kids with Type 2 diabetes, this problem has become a serious public health epidemic.

    • Peter Parker

      __In reference to food deserts, this is a real issue in urban communities. As someone who resided in the affluent Montogmery County and now lives in PG County, there is definitely a major difference with access to affordable and healthier food choices. Access is the key and if you don't have access, then you will only be left with the unhealthy food choices that are avaiable. There are also socio-economic issues that play a role as well, but that is a topic for another day. I would like to say that I am working with the PG County Healthcare Coalition and we are definitely trying to address the food deserts in the county. One way is creating urban farms. Take a look at this link http://www.ecoffshoots.org/. Many people are not aware of this urban farm right in pg county where you can buy fresh produce. Also, incorporating more health foods into local schools can help with the obesity problems as well. Having schools buy from local farmers and provide better food choices will help condition kids to eat a more healthier lifestyle.__I do think our generation will have to be the ones to come up with creative ways to encourage and demand our politicians to provide more healthier food establishments within our communities.

  • Ms. Smart

    It's not a slur but it is insensitive. That said, nobody OWES anyone sensitivity. This whole notion that strangers, friends, and family owe sensitivity is crazy to me. Who am I to control what someone else says. Are my feelings more important than their right to say what they feel? Nope. But that's goes into a whole different topic about controlling your reactions and not controlling what others say cus you can't. :-)

    Being aware of the neighborhood you wrote about, it's part of the reason why I haven to moved back to Prince George's County. I have a full grocery store in my subdivision and TWO across the street. The idea of having to drive far to get groceries, especially fresh produce sickens me. Further, when I do find myself at the stores in PG, the service is sketchy and the produce looks like stuff that would never pass the mustard in Anne Arundel or Howard counties.

    • Ms. Smart

      Oh and I forgot to mention, I have a Dutch market about five minutes down the street. Just came from there and balled real hard spending $16 on fresh fruits and veggies.

      • Bree

        I looooove the Dutch Market. Reminds me of the Farmers Market and the Amish Market back home in PA. Man they got some good food there.

  • Streetz

    Shamira crushed it with her comment. Ill just say this.

    Fat isnt a slur to me, its a Non-pc word to describe people who are visibly overweight, and now it can even mean ppl who are greedy with food (which includes a LOT of skinny ppl)

    Fat people (skinny fat and obese fat) want us to focus on the usage of the term and not the fact that theyre fat. Thats a problem!

    I used to be chubby before puberty blessed me with height and a metabolism, so I can tell you the fat jokes were never cool. However fat was how I described other fat people, and I didnt want to be fat so i did something about it.

    Lets stop being sensitive and work on self!

    • Tunde

      "Lets stop being sensitive and work on self!"

      yep!!!
      My recent post The War on Christianity

    • krystllyght

      I agree that people should work on themselves if they need it and Skreetz I love you like a play cousin but just because a person does happen to be overweight, it doesn't give us all the license to just point and call them fat. We can argue that they should stop being sensitive but that doesn't give us leeway to be insensitive.

      • Streetz

        Theres a diff between me calling you fat to put you down and calling u fat as a synonym for overweight.

        • krystllyght

          But knowing that fat is such a loaded word, why would I use it against you regardless of my intent for mentioning your weight at all?

        • Streetz

          I dont consider fat a loaded word. Fat and overweight mean the same thing essentially. I have natural tact so I wouldnt be blunt with strangers. with FRIENDS? YUP, you fat bro!

        • krystllyght

          lol You'd definitely have to taper that convo to the person you're talking to but, in my experience, it wouldn't be received well especially since in most instances, it can't be delivered without sounding malicious.

        • Streetz

          Say it in a British accent. Problem solved!

  • gemmieboo

    good post, interesting topic.

    it seems many ppl agree that the term fat (and even skinny) can be used in a negative tone to make some one feel bad or demean them. that is what a slur is. so yes, calling some one fat, or fatty, or fat ass as a means to slight them or belittle them is a slur. but obviously, the term fat (and skinny) are also – by and large – adjectives, and thus descriptors.

    the question really shouldnt be is fat (or skinny) a slur or descriptor, but rather, why do we feel the need to attack ppl based on their size? yes, obesity and laziness are a problem in this country that affects all of us as a society (even those who say they dont care about how other ppl view their bodies or what they do with them) and becomes our burden to deal with. but being hurtful and treating ppl poorly by calling them names that poke fun at their large size isnt solving the problem. on the flip side, eating disorders are also real. there are plenty of ppl who suffer from being skinny (or not skinny enough) and reverse size-ism can be just as hurtful and mentally damaging. ppl have killed themselves over their body image not being "good enough". and while we may not be able to control how other people perceive themselves, why would we want to contribute to the problem??

    at the end of the day, i think ppl just need to STFU. unless youre trying to be part of the solution, just STFU. what do you gain by telling some one they need to eat a sandwich? or that their fat ass aint "thick"?? i see grown ppl (women AND men) do this all the time and its so middle school mean girl. grow up.

    p.s. thin ppl totally have thin ppl privilege. but i wont get into that here. but T, you've read Survival of the Prettiest – you know that thinner people are considered more beautiful, and therefore receive better treatment.

  • http://www.tokyosremix.com TokyoBrown

    As an advocate for a size acceptance I think people who are over-weight endure the most harsh yrt widely accepted form of bullying. Calling someone fat is a slur. People HAVE fat, but they are NOT fat. The inverse would be calling a slender person bones. It just doesnt make sense.

  • krystllyght

    Although it isn't a slur, I think it should be treated as one. Nobody ever lovingly uses the word unless they're talking about cute chubby babies. I'm sorry I don't have a long comment about it but I feel like we don't always know what other people's situations are so we should just keep our judgements on weight to ourselves unless we have something nice to say.

  • Southerngyrl_

    Yeah, I think everyone is trying to be overly academic on this one. You go up to someone and call them fat. How will most people receive it?

    You are in the middle of a conversation and describe someone as "fat", do you think they would feel okay with how you described them?

    In my country voice "man gon with that". Everybody knows that calling someone fat will most likely receive a negative reaction. Lets stop trying to act like we live in a world where words don't have more than one meaning and obvious negative connotations.

  • Alana

    I look at it like this… would you describe your mother, sister, aunt, daughter, etc as fat? Or would you use other words like voluptuous, overweight, chubby, more to love, etc. ?