MYST 160 Words Have Power

This episode is not really about a specific weight-loss technique, but more of a philosophical discussion of some of the attitudes that surround the people who are on this journey (and those who should be on this journey but are not.)

I think I need to cover something that has been bothering me (and others on LoseIt.)

Words. Actually, not just any words. Adjectives.

Adjectives are, according to the dictionary: a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages and typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else. (I will be giving the definitions for a few more words later in this episode.) An adjective modifies another noun.

Okay, so what adjectives do we commonly see in our weight-loss journey?

  • Obese. (I’ve actually seen one person say “the ‘o’ word” instead of obese. Seriously.)
  • Chubby.
  • Plump.
  • Rotund.
  • Portly.
  • Big-boned. (More on this phrase in a little bit.)
  • Large-framed.
  • Fluffy.
  • Pudgy.
  • BBW

And all those words are are used in place of one other word. Who among you cringes every time you look in a mirror?  When you cringe, do you think to yourself “I’m so fat.” (It’s okay. We are all adults. We can–and will–use the “f” word here.)

Go to any weight loss site and use the word “fat” in any way other than “I only eat low-fat chicken breasts”. Go on. I dare you. If you refer to yourself or someone else as “fat”, you will get a storm of angry comments, telling you that you have a bad self-esteem or are being mean and derisive to others.

Words Have Attitudes

Why do we say that using the word “fat” shows a “bad self-esteem” or demonstrates being “mean”? It’s because the word “fat” has been applied to us in the past. And we hated it. Why do we give that word more power than it deserves? It is a simple descriptor. And some people react badly to other words, such as obese. However, few people react to “chubby” or “portly”, and many people rationalize their body size with the phrase “big bones” and they have no problem with it.

(The phrase “big bones” will probably be a future episode, because when a person has both a BMI and body fat percentage greater than 30, it has nothing to do with their bones. But again, that’s a future episode.)

Why do we give all those words so much more power than words like:

  • Tall. Short. Squat. Lanky.
  • Tanned. Pale. Freckled. Pimply.
  • Happy. Sad. Angry. Manic. Depressed.
  • Old. Young. Middle aged. Juvenile.
  • Blonde. Brunette. Ginger.
  • Sexy. Homely. Plain. Pretty.
  • Rural. Suburban. Inner city.
  • Wealthy. Impoverished. Middle class.
  • Democratic. Republican. Independent.
  • Conservative. Liberal. (Okay, these last eight have a lot of power and meaning, too.)

Here is why. (I know this because I’ve heard people say it.) People see someone who is overweight, and they frequently will automatically infer that other characteristics are also present, characteristics that have nothing to do with weight. What characteristics am I talking about? How many times have you heard someone say about an overweight person—particularly one that they don’t know—“He must be lazy to get so fat” or “She must be ignorant—that’s why she is so big.”

Have YOU ever thought or said things similar? I’ll be honest. I have. I won’t deny it. When I see a very large person riding a cart through the grocery store, and they are filling their cart with less than healthy foods, I do judge them. I know—it’s not right. But as a person who is working so damn hard to drop my weight, measuring and logging everything, it annoys me to see people who give the appearance of being oblivious to the situation. Do I know their total situation? Not at all. But that doesn’t stop that small and petty part of me inside from thinking those thoughts.

Really, how does being fat make a person dumb or lazy? It doesn’t, but that is why we hate those words. Those words carry added meaning. And we KNOW what other people think. We know those added meanings. Because we have them ourselves.

Let’s change the situation.

Imagine a person sees someone with a different skin color, nationality, sexual orientation or language. What would we say if that person said, “There’s another dumb one.” Or “She’s too lazy.” Or “They are evil.”

What adjective would describe that person? Bigot? Racist? About the nicest adjective is “Prejudiced.” But another would be small-minded. Another would be wrong.

And yet, we have those same attitudes toward those who are obese. Even worse, we have the same attitude toward ourselves when we look in a mirror. We use every possible term to describe ourselves except fat. We give that word power over us.

Now let’s bring up another argument about the word “fat”. I’ve seen people on LoseIt and elsewhere absolutely preach that “fat” is a thing, not a descriptor. One of the arguments I hear is “We ARE NOT fat.. Instead, we HAVE fat. It’s the same as saying we HAVE fingernails, but we ARE NOT fingernails”. And while the fingernail statement is true, it’s a specious argument (per the dictionary, a specious argument is one that is  superficially plausible, but actually wrong). Why is it wrong?

“Fingernail” is ONLY a noun. It is not a verb. It is not a adjective.

In the dictionary, fat is a noun (a natural oily substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs) and an adjective (of a person or animal having a large amount of excess flesh) and even an archaic verb (to make or become fat.)

By trying to deny the word fat (and similar words) we are giving it far more power than it deserves. This actually demonstrates that we ourselves (here I am speaking for many people who are overweight) are bigoted against ourselves. We act as if we deny the word, the definition will not apply to us. Another word for that is “denial”.

What’s the answer?

I honestly don’t know. But I remember as a child growing up in the 60’s it was common to use a term for African-Americans that is rarely uttered in public now. And there is a verb, based on a word that means “to make slow”, which was used as a noun to describe people with developmental delays. That word is rarely used now. And I don’t think people continue to tell jokes about people with Polish ancestry. It’s been a long time since I heard one–although that may have only been a North Central Wisconsin regionalism. I’m sure in other parts of the country, there were other ethnic groups who were the target of bad jokes. (And there probably still are.)

Maybe over time, we (again, speaking as a person who is still in the Obese category) will stop taking offence at the word “fat” when used as an adjective. For that to happen, I think we need to do two things simultaneously. The first is to get over the word. The word itself is never going to go away. I think we need to deal with it. Replacing it with different words doesn’t change the fact that we need to lose weight.

But more importantly, we all need to understand that being overweight is a complicated condition, one that integrates mental, emotional and physical health disorders. I don’t think too many comedians are making fun of diabetics, cancer patients, or the blind. Let’s ignore the baggage with the words fat and obese, and focus on the real problem. We need to point out the prejudice towards the obese when we see it, and make it clear that obesity should be treated like any medical condition. It’s something that’s real, and devastating, and treatable, but not something on which to base a joke.

Let’s stop tolerating that.

__________________________

Music composed and performed by Jason Shaw, courtesy of Audionautix.com

Voiceover courtesy of Matt Young. Matt is a professional voiceover artist. If you have any need of voice-over work, for your podcast, radio spot, or whatever, you can reach Matt by a variety of methods. He is on LinkedIn. On Twitter. And Google+. Follow his Facebook page to learn how to better use social media. Matt was also my guest on MYST 54. Give his story a listen!

All images are Creative Common Zero

 

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One comment on “MYST 160 Words Have Power
  1. Charles says:

    Trevor I believe you just said what really needed to be said. And I will add one other word to the list, that is very over used and used for the wrong meanings too. That word is diet. For so many that word is a 4 letter word that is right there with other very bad 4 letter words. I have learned a lot since late June. And most of what I have learned I go into and will go deeper into on my blog: http://cvkemp.blogspot.com.
    I am finding that the most important thing is learning to eat like a toddler. For me as a toddler and up until I went in the Navy I new when I needed to eat and when I needed to stop eating. Well I am relearning that process. And that process is freeing me up. It is relearning that when we deprive ourselves of foods we set ourselves up to over eat.