FAT – One small word, one powerful shot of hatred.

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner recently wrote an article for Allure magazine called The F Word.  And it’s beautiful.  And brilliant.  And heartbreaking.  And real.

For those of you who know me personally, you know how tender this subject is to me.  I wrote a post on my personal blog roughly a year ago about my struggle to use the word “fat” in my own writing:

And then something else occurs to me.  I have not actually described my character as overweight.  Or (the less painful) chubby.  Or even (the socially acceptable) curvy.  This realization sinks in as I open my manuscript and do a quick search for these words and nothing comes up.  I then glance over scenes in which I know I have described her, but here’s what I get:  nada, nothing, zilch.

Several scenes entail my main character glancing at herself in the mirror, comparing her dull features to the vibrant beauty of her mother.  But that’s it.  I never say she is fat.  I also never say her mother is fat, which she is … in my mind.

And here’s something else I noticed.  I just typed the word fat twice … three times.  And each time, I cringed.

The book I reference in the post has now become my recent release.  And through rewrites, I was careful to describe the lead character in the way she truly saw herself.  She’s an athlete.  She’s dark-skinned, like her father.  And she has the chubby face and soft curves of her mother.  But a local girl, after meeting her only a few times, calls Savanna “fat”.  And suddenly, my main character has to ask herself:  does one person’s opinion of you change who you are? 

This is a question I think all teenage girls struggle with, not just with the word “fat”, but also interchangeably “ugly”, “stupid”, “bitchy”.  The word “fat” can also very easily be replaced with a racist comment, a classist remark or a sexual prejudice.  There will always be something some asshole undereducated individual comes up with to make you feel worse about yourself.

And it’s our job to give girls the tools to see themselves as who they are – not who the world says they should be.

It’s beautiful to see an article written by a successful woman, who shares with the world her pain, revealing the one trigger that can still be pulled to release the rush of emotion left over from childhood.  But by telling the world about that struggle, she’s also empowering herself.  She’s saying, “Yes, this hurts.  But you aren’t the first genius to come up with that insult.”  She’s singularly taking the power out of the word “fat”.  And she’s giving other women – and girls – the power to do the same.

(If you’ve never read Jennifer Weiner, I recommend starting with her short story collection The Guy Not Taken.  The work is endearing, and full of tangible, beautifully flawed characters.)

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2 Comments

  1. with body image so closely tied to the value society places on women, especially for our young women, our pre-teens, who are struggling with their identities, of how they see themselves, i think it’s extremely important to remind our daughters that they are not only what others see on the outside; that they have so much more to offer than their pretty packaging.

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