By now, many of you may have heard that Walmart recently came under scrutiny because one of the pages on its website listed plus-sized Halloween costumes as “Fat Girl Costumes.” Lots of news outlets reported that Walmart wasn’t aware of the issue — and as soon as it was discovered they removed the offending words. Walmart also issued this apology from multiple Twitter handles, “This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We worked quickly to remove this.”
People out there are debating whether this was intentional, overlooked or whatever, and news media, like CNN and HLN are saying things like “Walmart apologizing as they should…” and “who thought that would be an appropriate title for a public sales page?” It’s also worth noting that the ladies of The View used this mishap to raise awareness about fat shaming.
From my perspective, this is an opportunity to discuss the terminology that we use when we discuss bodies that are culturally deemed larger than normal — or rather bodies that I happily call fat bodies.
Basically, the reason that the news media, Twitter-ites and other gabbers are scolding Walmart is because we culturally understand “fat” as a dirty, shameful word and, in turn, when we call someone “fat” we are saying something nasty. “Fat” is a term that bullies and internet trolls use to illicit shame, humiliation and embarrassment; it’s a thing that all sizes of people say when they feel unsatisfied with their bodies.
To be honest, I believe that whoever designed that particular page of Walmart’s website was using “fat” in a derogatory way because very few people stop to think that “fat” is an actual thing that people are and that being fat might not be this terrible, awful, no good, very bad thing if the culture didn’t shame every fat person everywhere.
My point is that “fat” is a painfully-abused word, and one that needs some reevaluation.
I am fat. Not kinda sorta — I weigh around 220 lbs. and I wear a size 18. There are people who are fatter than me and people who are thinner than me, but there is no debate. I am fat.
Now, people can argue all day about the repercussions of my fatness, but that will not change the reality that I am a fat person, like many other people who are part of the earth’s human population.
By shying away from the term “fat,” we are perpetuating the idea that fatness is shameful. I refuse to be ashamed of my fat — or rather I refused to be ashamed of who I am. So, when I describe my body I use the facts, one of which is fatness.
And honestly, the other terms the culture gives me to describe myself are often troubling, sexist or derogatory. Take “plus-sized” for example — the term which the news media and many people view as Walmart’s appropriate choice. The term “plus-sized” is inherently prejudiced. “Plus” means more than something. More than what? Let’s be not beat around that bush:“plus-sized” is a term that implies more than “normal.” Only, if you think statistically, fat is looking pretty normal.
Give me any of the words you can think of to describe a fat body and I can give you a reason why describing me as that word implies something more than a description. Obesity? I’m a disease. Curvy? What does that even mean? Am I a street? Or is curvy like voluptuous, which implies that my body shape is characterized by luxury or sensual pleasure. Really? What if I just want to be a person, not a sex object?
The thing is, I get why Walmart shouldn’t have called the costumes that come in sizes 1X and higher “Fat Girl Costumes” and why people were offended. I acknowledge that “fat” is still a hateful word, even though it should just simply be the opposite of “thin.” And yet I can’t help asking: when will we realize that fatness is just part of life? That it’s not something shameful that needs renaming, so we can stop being offended that people are fat and move on to the idea that Walmart referred to adult women as “girls.”