We live in a beautifully diverse world. Our brothers and sisters in humanity come in all colors and shapes and sizes. There are skin tones of black and brown and white and yellow. Some of us are thin, some are fat, some are tall, some are short. Some of us have straight hair, some have big-curl hair, and some have tight-kink hair. And every description, every variation is a testament to God’s Power and Grace and His Mercy on us—that we are so blessed to be given the opportunity to experience these differences, so that we can learn from them.
So why is there a sensitivity to some of the terms I used above? Why did you wince when I said fat, but not when I said thin? Why are some of you reading on, waiting to see how I plan to use black and if I might use it in a demeaning manner?
If I go for a walk with a child, I expect her to point out the differences in the tree trunks we come across. I’ll encourage her to notice that some trunks are so thick we could only encircle them by forming a human chain around the tree, and others are so thin that one person could succeed in wrapping her arms around them. One is thin, the other is thick. Some leaves are green, some are yellow, some are red, orange, purple. I, like you, will encourage that child to see the variety, because to see the world clearly, you have to notice the variety. We notice. Our children notice. They notice when someone is tall or short, thin or fat. They notice people of different colors and the different ways people dress. And that is a good thing. We have to celebrate diversity and we can’t do that if we pretend not to see it.
But there are certain traits that we tend to tell our children not to point out, because doing so is considered rude. Particularly, I’m referring to the term fat. Thin and fat, like tall and short, are relative. We can’t know one without knowing the other. The problem with fat is that it has often been used to demean and dehumanize. Society continues to sell the idea that larger bodies are not as desirable as thinner ones. I am not saying that is okay. I am not saying it is acceptable to laugh and point at someone and say they are ‘as large as a house’ or ‘as fat as a pig’ or any other derogatory phrase. What I am saying is that not every observation of fat is dehumanizing.
In one of my books, I had a brief exchange between the protagonist and her sons where they were brainstorming gift ideas for the boys’ grandmother. One of the kids says something like, “Grandma LOVES food.” The mom, trying to get what their gift idea would be according to that comment, says, “So we should make her a lot of food?” The kids laugh at their mom’s ridiculous suggestion and say, “No, mama, Grandma is fat enough.” It was meant to be a chuckle for readers, the way little kids say exactly what’s on their minds. It was meant to be a family moment, where the reader sees how much thought this family is putting in to finding the right gift for their beloved Grandma. It was not meant to be dehumanizing or derogatory in any way. And I still maintain that it was neither of these.
But my editor was upset by the scene and strongly recommended that I cut it. I was about to blow off her suggesting as being too PC when I asked my best friend what she thought. She, too, thought it was best to cut it. She implied that kids might not make such comments anyway.
But my kids make those comments to me all the time. It is never said in a mean fashion, they never do it to ridicule. But they often notice my fat thighs. They’ll bump my chair and tell their siblings, “Look, look how her bum jiggles!” And that is simply the truth. And I think that other kids make the same types of comments, because they come naturally from their perceptions of the world around them.
I did cut that scene from my book. Against my own desire to have that realistic, funny family moment. I didn’t want to insult anyone, so I erred on the side of caution.
I wish there was a way to remove the observations from the mocking. I wish they could be separate, because being truthful in our observations is part of the beauty of life. But there will always be that sensitivity, someone finding offense even if your intention was anything but. And so much goes into that. It isn’t just about your remark, it’s about how people have been dealing with those types of comments throughout their life. I get that. It comes from our own personal insecurities, ones we’ve lived with for years. And I believe that these insecurities are fragile and we must deal with them delicately.
I just wish there was a way to normalize these adjectives, to take away all positive and negative connotations and have them be neutral, the way we talk about the thickness or thinness of a tree trunk, or the color of a car. No one gets upset with those descriptions. I want skin tones of black, white, brown and yellow to all sound the same. I want fat and thin to sound the same, just like short and tall do.
Is it possible that we will ever come to a place where these descriptive terms do not carry negative connotations? I don’t think so. I think our personal experiences along with historical accounts regarding skin color and body image will continue to affect how we respond to these terms.
I just wish this wasn’t so. These negative overtones do the world and all the beauty it contains a great disservice.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts…