If someone is fat, then everyone can see it. It’s not a secret. It’s not something that the person needs to spell out for everyone, so they don’t really need to “come out” and say it, do they?
On this week’s episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass points out that “coming out as fat” isn’t like coming out as gay or transgender. “Nobody says to you, 'Dude I had no idea you were fat!'," says Glass. They already know.
Lindy West, author of Shrill, begs to differ. West tells Glass, “I always felt that if I didn’t mention it, people wouldn’t notice.” She explains it’s about the fat person not wanting to burden others with their failure.
West convinced herself that one day she'd be skinny, before realizing how ridiculous this was. She accepted she's fat, and decided to embrace it—this was the only way she'd be happy.
“Rather than spending all of my time counting almonds, why not figure out how to be happy…now?” she queries. And so, she “came out".
“I’m fat,” she says.
Coming out as fat is a complicated, people don't accept it because they see it as something you can change. Doctors, family members, loved ones, will try to help you drop the pounds. And there are obvious health concerns.
But West wants to reclaim the word and empower others to do so. I'm using the word “fat”, rather than "overweight", in this article because West makes an extremely valuable point: the word overweight implies there's only one acceptable weight, and these people are over it. This really struck me. I always thought that overweight was the politically-correct expression, but only because we’re taught “fat” is bad. If we consider “fat” to be acceptable, it isn’t a derogatory term.
We all have that slim friend, who tries on a dress and complains she’s fat. West says this is the only time you hear people say “I’m fat”: when it’s actually not true. In contrast, when we hear a fat person say it, we get uncomfortable and try to comfort them by telling them they’re not fat, or worse, we explain all the things they’re doing wrong or try to “help” them.
West argues your fat friend doesn't need your help, she just needs you to accept she's fat, and happy.