Don’t Call Me Fat
If I had a dollar for the number of times someone called me that, I would be writing this piece from a beach in Maui and not from the cold, desolate wasteland that is Toronto in October.
I remember the time I opened my lunch bag at school in which my mother had carefully packed two pizza pockets. A kid nearby sneered, “two pizza pockets?! No wonder you’re so fat.”
When I was a summer camp counsellor in my teens and I was corralling the students into a line so that we could walk to the nearby playground, a little girl at the front of the line whispered to another little girl right beside her, audibly enough for me to hear, “She’s so fat.” Her little interlocutor responded while looking up at me with discomfort, empathy and confidence in the way she was raised: “That’s not a nice thing to say.”
Until recently, I’ve agreed with her. It’s not a nice thing to say.
In my experience, whenever someone used the word “fat” to describe me, it was an attempt at denigration and degradation. They wanted me to feel less than. They wanted me to feel small. They wanted me to be embarrassed. They wanted me to change. They wanted me to know that I didn’t fit in and that they didn’t like my body. My body was an affront to them. It was disgusting. It was offensive. I should be ashamed. It was judgment of the highest form.
In short, they sought to inflict harm. They wanted to hurt me.
I can thus understand the logic in taking a word that wields influence and reclaiming it, thereby neutralizing its power. When I repossess a word that had previously been used to exert power over me, it is empowering to disarm the word and repurpose it. It’s the same thinking behind anti-rape campaigns like “take back the night” — as women we reclaim the time of day when we are expected to be scared and stay indoors. We take our power back.
The word “nigger” used to be a word that denoted one’s superiority over the Black race. But if a Black person is able to use the word colloquially among other Black people, it’s no longer the potent tool of hate that it once was.