I’m fat but I’m not super-fat: On labels, power, and identity

So readers of this blog know that I’m on the fence about identifying as fat. See Fat or big: What’s in a name?

When I think of my body, it’s not the first adjective to come to mind. I don’t feel fat, usually, whatever that even means, given that Tracy, who is by my standards tiny, can feel fat. (What are my standards for small? Your clothes size is a single digit. Arbitrary, I know, but there it is.)

The words I like, the words that feel right to me, when it comes to describing my body are big, brawny, husky, large, substantial, and curvy. That I don’t just see myself as fat is the result of years of effort. I’ve come to see my body through the eyes of those who appreciate it as it is, not as a potential fixer-up-er.

And readers of the blog know the reasons for my preferences. I’m muscular. I’m big and strong. But also I don’t wear plus sized clothing. I wear clothes in the standard range of sizes. Yes, the upper end of that range but still it’s true that almost all stores will have clothes that fit me. They might say XL but they’ll fit. Even skinny striving yoga stores–here’s looking at you Lululemon–have clothes that fit my body. That’s privilege.

This article, Living In Between Fat and Thin, with its description of the good kind of bigger woman really hit home with me. It’s my self-description pretty much to a tee.

“The good kind of bigger woman has her body under control; she may have generous hips, thighs and breasts, but a small waist; she is a strong, strapping, and hearty example of what your grandfather would have wanted in a woman. If I am following the same diet-and-exercise practices thinner people follow, yielding a result they would be disappointed in displaying themselves, I must somehow be doing something else wrong. I try not to fall into familiar stereotypes when I am with slim people who show their fear of fat, but it is hard. Their discomfort is exhausting. Sometimes I let myself be their milk-fed, big-boned girl. As long as I don’t break the toadstool, I am considered OK.”

That said, sometimes I want in on the fat label because I want people to know that the war on obesity includes a war on me. Whatever obesity means, I’m obese. By all definitions of obesity, I’m in. Often people, when they are talking about the need for people to lose weight for heath reasons, they’ll say things like, “we don’t mean you.” But why not?

See above! I’m the good kind of bigger of woman. I want to resist this but I also want not to crowd out the voices of the people who are no one’s idea of the good kind of fat person. Lately I’ve been thinking about my my privilege in this conversation about fat bodies and politics.

See Super Fat Erasure: 4 Ways Smaller Fat Bodies Crowd the Conversation.

“A product of the fat acceptance movement is a bigger and more diverse group of people embracing their bodies and claiming fat identity. There are so many reasons to claim fatness and so many ways to be fat. It’s an embodiment that is contextual depending on other variations like race, gender and ability especially. I don’t think that the destigmatizing and expanding the boundaries of fatness is necessarily a bad thing, but it can become complicated for me when the vast majority of these people are on the smaller end of the spectrum of fatness.”

What’s wrong with having smaller fat bodies, like mine, in on the conversation? One of the worries, discussed in the article above, is that it obscures the thin privilege that smaller fat people have access to.

Complicated stuff.

Bottom line: I think carefully about the political impact of how I identify. It’s partly what feels right to me, but as a feminist that can never be the whole story.

This is a meandering post, with no clear conclusion. As I say to friends and family often when we’re having difficult conversations and I need to retreat for awhile and think, “I’m off to mull some more.”

If you have thoughts to add to my inner conversation, please share them here! Thanks!

Image description: Two hands with pink nail polish resting on a table, texting on a smart phone, in front of a glass of dark beverage and ice. From Death to Stock Photo.

4 thoughts on “I’m fat but I’m not super-fat: On labels, power, and identity

  1. This is a really interesting post about something I had never thought of or heard about in this way before–“the good kind of bigger woman.” To me, the real conversation needs to be about stigmatization and body policing, and in that sense it is fair to have all non-normative bodies in the conversation. Even if some bodies are more stigmatized than others, it doesn’t always need to be about who is the worst off. This might be a view that I can only afford to have because I’m in the more privileged category, but I’ve been pondering the systemic privilege-disadvantage continuum a lot these days as I ramp up to teach my “Feminism across Borders” course and have re-thought the types of “borders” that need crossing. A similar issue arises when thinking about race, where it’s not simply black and white, but rather a complicated landscape where some “non-white” racialization has more privilege than others. I live in that world as well and have for that reason sometimes had similar feelings about thinking of myself as a WOC as you express here about “fat or big?” But I’m definitely not white, regardless if I am often taken for a tanned white woman and do not experience the same racism that other WOC do. For the record, I no longer have “feeling fat” as an emotion in the way I did when I identified it in that 2012 blog post ( That is not to say it’s not still a thing for lots of thinner women. Thanks for a great post. Off to mull some more too.

  2. Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:

    More on labels in light of recent conversations. This time it’s me worrying about smaller fat voices like mine crowding out others in difficult conversations. It’s also about why I want people to know that when they’re talking about “obesity” they’re talking about me. Judging by numbers on the scale, and it’s a numbers on the scale measure, I’m very much in. I’m still thinking about all of this stuff. Your thoughts are welcome.

  3. I’m in that same category, and have felt many of the same feelings. Officially obese, but able to usually shop in standard stores. I find myself wanting to point out that I’m obese, that when people are talking about obesity, they’re talking about me too, but ashamed to do so because it’s not a comfortable label. I can be uncomfortable around people who are smaller than I am (because I feel silently judged) and around people who are bigger than I am (because I don’t want to come across as judging, and some discomfort with identifying with them). And there is no good place to talk about all this socially — it’s just silent, shameful subtext.

  4. I try very hard to not think too much about my body. While it is bigger than it could be, I am still well within average. I often feel very big beside others…but I think it’s more body dysmorphia than truth. As such, I try very had not to compare to anyone, ever.

    I have pondered for the past while on what my body is for. If I am physically able to move through life easily, what is encouraging me to monitor my food intake? Can I be ok eating to feel ok and not actually diet? I can’t find the balance.

    I have also tried to come to terms with myself as a woman. I am now divorced. Does this mean I am supposed to put forward a different version of myself?

    Maybe I am fortunate to be average, because I can blend into the background….

Comments are closed.