Curvy, Plump, Plus-Sized, BBW, Fatty

I use the descriptor “fat”.  I like it because it allows me to reclaim a term that has been used against me. It’s my way of telling the bullies that they can’t have my lunch money anymore. But that doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone.

Some of the labels I’ve heard are:

  • curvy
  • plus-sized
  • zaftig
  • person of size
  • BBW/BHM (Big Beautiful Woman/Big Handsome Man
  • fat
  • pleasantly plump
  • rubenesque

I don’t think that any of these are better or worse. Here’s what I do think:

You are allowed to use whatever term you prefer.  So is everyone else.  Unless I missed an e-mail, nobody has been appointed  Grand Label Overlord.  I don’t care if you don’t think someone is actually “Rubenesque” or big enough to be BBW.  I never thought that I would quote Gollum from Lord of the Rings but:  “Not It’s Business!”  Really, it’s not.

Think before you use the terms negatively.  When I hear someone say “Real women have curves” or “Sticks aren’t sexy” I cringe. Because I know women who aren’t curvy and that doesn’t make them un-real.  And I know very thin women and they don’t like to be called names and told that they aren’t attractive any more than I and my fat friends do.  I’m guessing that the road to size diversity is probably not paved with hypocrisy so I try really hard not to do to someone else exactly what I don’t want done to me.

Your experience is your experience, not everyone’s experience.  You cannot assume that because something works for you that it works for anyone else. Maybe it was empowering for you to wear a bikini.  That’s awesome, but that doesn’t mean that it will be empowering for everyone.  Maybe you practice intuitive eating.  Fantastic, but if someone else prefers to measure their food it doesn’t make them any less body positive than you.  Some people feel that Health at Every Size means that everybody can be healthy at every size.  Some think it means there are healthy and unhealthy bodies at various shapes and sizes.  Some subscribe to the theory that each body has a set point.  These are all things that are interesting and good academic discussions to have, but everyone gets to choose their own experience and path to health.

To me, the most important thing isn’t what we call ourselves, or the path to health that we choose.  It’s respect.  And that includes demanding respect for our experience and choices and giving other people respect for theirs. I believe that my right to punch ends at the tip of everyone else’s nose. Therefore, I don’t try to tell anyone how to live, and I don’t allow other people to tell me how to live. And while I would never say that you have to live this way, I will say that it is working out great for me!

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 9:00 am  Comments (26)  

26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes!

  2. I’ve always liked the word “rubenesque” because it has built into it several positive elements: it derives from the famous artist Peter Paul Rubens, best known for portraying full-bodied women. We all know “art” is good thus the positive connotation. Also that period in history, being large meant that you were well off financially and socially, also good things. Alas it is a term it is generally only applied to women, not men. :-( When I use the term, I intend it as a compliment meaning that the lady is not only full figured but looks good that way… …kinda like you! :-)

  3. Sometimes I refer to myself as having an unfashionable body type. I don’t know that it’s an ideal way of handling the situation (now I’m wondering if “unfashionable body” would be better), but I think it’s a way of putting any blame where it belongs.

  4. One of my most humbling moments was when I ranted on Twitter about something and my very thin (naturally) thin friend called me out on it. I was so ashamed of myself and from that moment began to try to stop myself from any kind of body-shaming. Even the kind where I poke fun at skinny people. Even though it was born of a place of envy, it still wasn’t very nice. Luckily we’re still friends.

    Again, Ragen, I can’t thank you enough for the awesome job you do here.

  5. Thanks again, Ragen – I really appreciate what you’ve said here. With so many messages to the contrary, it is damn hard to say to oneself, “THIS is who I am and how I want to be”, and it is even harder to accept those sentiments as credible and worthy. Your voice cuts through the bullshit, and is entirely helpful.

  6. I quite enjoy reading your posts … and yes, I do have a label for myself, I am proportionately fat. I am fat everywhere and it is in proportion to the rest of the fat on my body. What do I like about my proportinately fat body? It’s mine.

    • Hey, that’s me too. Not curvy, but proportionately fat. Fat middle. Fat hands and feet. Big head too – makes it a little more difficult to find hats and comfortable eyeglasses in my size. And – I found this out in a crafting class – fat earlobes. Supersize those clip-on earrings!

  7. People’s eyes always grow when I use “fat” as a self-describing adjective. Their hands come out after they’ve (partially) closed their mouth and there begins the “there, there. You know, you can…” If I’m saying something amusing, “fat” makes it hilarious. I suspect that’s discomfort but wow! I have 20 seconds to consider becomin a professional comedian. I’m fascinated by how people respond to “fat” being used in a positive, or even neutral or unclear, way. What reactions do you get?

  8. Jeannie- I like! Do you also find yourself wanting facebook like buttons EVERYWHERE? Like, like.

    • I do too. Like like likity like. I want to ‘like’ just about every post and every comment that I have read so far, except for the ones that I want a ‘made me get a tear in my eye’ button.

  9. Just a random comment I thought you might appreciate:

    I started a Fitness Boot Camp thing today, for which I received an excellent Groupon deal. I figure despite all the buzz about “losing pounds/inches” etc. it was a cost-effective way for me to try some new kinds of movement (never done a boot camp before, and I’ve got a couple friends who swear by them) and get out of my apartment and maybe make some new friends. (My apartment gym is the worst, because then you have to deal with building gossip/chatter.) The best part was trying to explain my goals to the trainer whose job it was to “weigh me in”, take my body comp, etc. that weight loss was not my primary goal. He asked me why I signed up, and I said “I want to be more fit and healthy” and he said “Okay, but how specifically?” Me: “We’ll, I’d like to be stronger, since I feel like I can’t lift anything myself. I’d like to be able to go dancing without running out of breath every two minutes. You know. Muscular strength and cardio endurance.” Him: “Well, do you have a goal weight?” Me: “No, weight loss isn’t my goal, so no.” Him: “Well do you want to lose inches?” Me: “Not especially.” Him: “So, do you have a pair of pants you’d like to fit back into?” Me: “Oh, no. I get rid of clothes that don’t fit and get new ones.” Him: “So, you don’t care if you lose weight or not?” Me: “I mean, I guess if I do, then I do. And if I don’t, then I don’t. But, I’m okay with my weight, really. Primarily, I’d like to become stronger, more flexible, and improve my resting heart rate.” Him: (looks at me suspiciously, and grudgingly writes under “goals” on the form: *Weight loss is not primary goal*.) I thought I’d be angry, but mostly, I was just really swallowing my laughter at his total confusion the whole time. Like, dude, are you a personal trainer? Really? What about “I want to be more fit than I currently am” is so difficult to process/comprehend?

    • You rock!!

    • I’ve often wondered why people have to focus on weight loss. Being healthy is most important. Kudos to you Sabrina!
      My girlfriends husband will gorge himself on food, gain 35+ pounds, go to Bernstein and lose 50 pounds, gorge himself on food, gain 55 pounds, visit Bernstein again … terrible cycle. And most of all, a dangerous cycle. I’ve often asked him why he just doesn’t concentrate on eating/exercising healthfully (is that a word?) … and it would save him a shitload of money. His answer … he likes eating.

  10. I tend to use curvy to describe myself, although it feels a bit like I’m skirting around my size. It needs some more emphasis and to be said in bold. Curvy!

    When I first came across it I was really wanting to use BBW, but unfortunately the term has picked up quite a lot of sexual overtones for me. A BBW was somebody you hit on at the bar or catcalled, not the confident woman you saw walking down the street.

  11. I like “Fluffy” Thanks to a comedian it makes me smile every time I hear the word and smiling is a good thing.

  12. I’m always told that I’m not fat. I have a BMI around 28 so I’m fat. I suppose curvy is a better word or full figured. I have a rather large bust line. I definitely have curves. I wear a size 14 on the top and a size 10 on the bottom so curvy it is.

  13. I’ve been going with “fat”, but primarily in safe spaces (my head, the fat-o-sphere, with my husband). I like using that word because I feel like using it straight-out with no euphemisms helps diffuse the negative connotations that I’ve internalized. And it makes me remember scenes from “Fat Rant”, which make me smile. :)

    I sometimes use “large/r”, “big/ger”, or “plus-size” in other situations, especially when I’m speaking to another larger person who hasn’t made it clear that they like “fat”. (I love it when other people say “fat” in a non-negative way – I feel like it gives me permission to do it too – but since I’m a smaller fat person, I worry about hurting the feelings of someone who deals with greater stigma than I do.)

    When describing myself, I don’t like “curvy” in place of “fat”, since my shape has always been very curvy regardless of my size (I’ve worn 9 pants sizes in my adult life). I’m curvy AND fat, so the engineer in me chafes at the imprecision. :) I fully support other people using it for themselves.

    I’d also like to share one more term, courtesy of one of my dance teachers: “Big Diva-licious Woman.” It’s more a sub-genre of “fat” than a synonym, but I like it because of how well it fits the dancer she was referring to: big, gorgeous, confident, and charismatic.

  14. points taken. well said.

  15. I like to take a page from my favorite comedian, Gabriel Iglesias, and say that I’m fluffy:-D I like rubenesque (sp?) as well.

    Great blog:)

  16. I absolutely love how well this is written. As a curvy/big/chubby/fluffy/whatever woman – it’s easy to fall into that hypocrisy. Thank you for putting something very difficult to say – very eloquently.

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad that you liked it!

      ~Ragen

  17. There’s been a backlash against using “curvy” or other “euphemisms” for fat (according to feminists around the internet, at least).

    This, I do not like. I haven’t got a good word for myself. I will call myself fat, as well — but I’m not especially fat. I don’t want to co-opt it.

    And I AM curvy. It’s not a euphemism for me!

    (Oh, but I’ll also use chubby, cause I think it sounds more like me than fat does :)

    • Hi Maggie,

      I’ve heard the term in-betweenie used as well to describe women who neither feel like they fit into the thin ideal, nor that they fit into the fat subculture. I say we let everyone in the body love boat who wants in, and we let them call themselves whatever they want!

      ~Ragen

    • I’m also fat-but-not-especially-fat, and I use “inbetweenie”, but only when I know people will understand what I mean. I also use “smaller fat person”, especially when it’s relevant that I’m not very fat, or when I think I’m going to get a “but you’re not fat!”.

      The word “inbetweenie” is actually what made me feel like I *did* have a place in the fat community. It acknowledges that I have greater privilege and face less stigma than larger fat people, but also that I’m not just a larger thin person. That’s what made me stop worrying about co-opting “fat”: I AM fat, I’m just the inbetweenie type/degree of fat.

      Getting slightly off-topic, I think the bust-the-euphemism award goes to “deathfatz”. I love the way it mocks the term “morbidly obese” and all the assumptions and stereotypes that go with that. I don’t use it, since I’m not a member of that group, and I imagine some people would find it hurtful. But every time I hear it, I want to jump out of my seat and applaud.

  18. I kind of like chunky myself. It somehow says solid and strong. Maybe that’s silly, but that’s the way I see it.

  19. Again, I love your take on this. Great post!


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