For rhetoric and writing senior Dauphine Sizer, the nicest words can hurt the most.
Although typically heavier than her childhood peers, Sizer never saw an issue with her weight until the third grade. As her friends rushed to her aid to dismiss her doubts, Sizer said their denial of her being fat only did more harm than good. Sizer is one of many students contributing to the ongoing discussion on the connotations of the word fat and its effect on body image.
“I feel like the crises of my self-image really stemmed from that negative connotation (of the word fat),” Sizer said. “If somebody, when I was eight or nine, had just said, ‘Being fat isn’t the worst thing you could be,’ I wouldn’t have had a lot of issues I ended up having for the rest of my life.”
Now, Sizer does just that, working to erase the word’s negative connotations established by her troubled childhood. But this short-yet-powerful word’s meaning is different for everyone. To English sophomore Andilynn Feddeler, “fat” holds no connotation.
“I’d want (‘fat’) to be used as a neutral word because I see it as an adjective, kind of just like tall or blond,” Feddeler said.
Will Haughey, radio-television-film sophomore, said society problematically attaches “fat” to an overweight appearance.
“(‘Fat’ is) subjectively defined by your appearance of being fat, by having excess fat on your body to the point where it’s visible,” Haughey said.
All three agreed that their changing feelings toward “fat” did not blossom until college. Feddeler considers the support she’s received from other Longhorns as a foundation for her newfound beliefs.
“When I started seeing new views and perspectives at UT come into play, I was like, ‘Wow,’” Feddeler said. “I started realizing that everyone deserves basic human decency, no matter how they look.”
Students such as Sizer have made good use of such realizations. Sizer uses social media and her self-run blog, My Friends Call Me Fat, to advance her body-positive ideals.
“My goal is to be there for fat individuals who may feel isolated,” Sizer said. “I hope that, across the internet or Instagram, I can give them that comfort.”
However, efforts to alter the word’s traditional connotations have met opposition. For instance, a common argument against changing “fat’s” connotation is that it excuses unhealthy habits. Sizer opposes such arguments, citing her clean bill of health as evidence.
“I did a health clearance before I left (to study abroad),” Sizer said. “Everything was perfect, but they still felt the need to write ‘obese’ on the health clearance form. I’m healthy, so why is that relevant?”
Although he worries that feeling complacent while being overweight can be detrimental to one’s health, Haughey prioritizes body positivity over the need to lose weight.
“While it is objectively healthier than not losing weight, people should still feel good about themselves and feel like they are beautiful just as anybody else.” Haughey said.
But for people such as Sizer, such arguments are worth pushing against, if it means steering even one individual’s self-image in the right direction.
“I have one friend who says, ‘I’m okay with identifying as fat now, whereas before, that was the worst-case scenario,’” Sizer said. “‘But now, you’ve made me feel like it was okay to.’”