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Is it OK to use the word ‘fat’ when describing bodies?

The term ‘fat’ comes with many connotations, far beyond the actual definition of the word. So who is allowed to use it, and when is it appropriate?

Language is much more powerful than we think. Especially in today’s highly digitalised and oversaturated world, we often forget about the power of words. 

But words still matter more than we think, especially when it comes to how we feel about ourselves.

This is especially relevant in the context of how we talk about our bodies and the use of the word ‘fat’.

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“The word ‘fat’ has so much history and weight to it,” says Demi Lynch, founder of inclusive news platform Kaleidoscope News and podcast Faternise.

“For decades now, being ‘fat’ is considered to be the worst thing a person could be in society. We still live in a world that’s catered to thin people and shuns fat people. 

“From the seats we sit in every day, to the lack of size diversity in fashion, to the billion dollar diet industry – fat people are either excluded from the narrative or feared by society.”

“The word ‘fat’ is often used as a derogatory term to belittle, stigmatise and pathologise people of larger body size/weight”, says Rachel Roberts, a clinical counsellor at Make Space Counselling and Rough Patch Affordable Counselling. Unfortunately, this is still where the word fits into our mainstream language today. 

“If you were to do a word association for ‘fat’, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear words like lazy, greedy, unintelligent, selfish, ungroomed. These words reveal a culture-wide attitude towards not just the word fat, but fat people – an attitude that isn’t just unpleasant, but is actively harmful,” says Roberts.

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