Is “Fat” Losing Its Sting?

Novelist Sarai Walker proclaimed in the New York Times this weekend: “Yes, I’m fat. It’s OK. I said it.” Her commentary immediately started trending and it made us wonder, is “fat” losing its sting as an offensive insult?

Gallup: Percent of U.S. Adults Interested in Losing WeightFat acceptance activists, after all, have accomplished much. As we’ve written before, many signs can be found that fat shaming is becoming socially unacceptable. It’s understood to be harmful, and popular culture seems to be rejecting it.

Walker describes how she and other fat activists are working to destigmatize the word “fat” and by extension, fat bodies. And lately, we’ve heard some concern from public health thinkers about about the fact that Americans may be increasingly content with excess weight. They point to Gallup data showing that interest in losing weight peaked among U.S. adults in 2004 and declined ever since. They fret, perhaps people will no longer worry about the health effects of obesity.

Well, for better or worse, we can’t find signs that people are becoming less concerned about obesity. Nor can we find evidence that people are much less likely to consider calling someone “fat” to be an offensive insult. We base this on ConscienHealth survey research over the last few years.

We’ve been asking people if they regard obesity as a serious health concern or if they think that fitness is more important. Concern about obesity actually rose a bit from 38% to 46% between 2014 and 2016.

Likewise, we’ve been asking if people view “fat” as an offensive insult or an objective description. The proportion who view it as an insult has dropped from 52% to 47%, a difference of marginal significance.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us with a culture that Walker correctly describes as having way too many “trolls dedicated to bullying fat women.” It leaves us with a highly prevalent health condition — obesity — for which most medical professionals offer little care. It leaves few good options for people who are living with obesity.

It leaves us with much work to be done on bias and stigma before any progress can be made in reducing the impact of obesity.

Click here for Walker’s commentary in the New York Times. Click here for Gallup’s data.

Stings, photograph © Paolo Margari / flickr

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February 8, 2016

2 Responses to “Is “Fat” Losing Its Sting?”

  1. February 08, 2016 at 11:20 am, Allen Browne said:


    Are you a Carolinas fan?

    Wha you say is true but we are on the edge of a new world of understanding the disease of obesity – it’s physiology, it’s many causes, it’s complexity, it’s unfairness. We have work to do but we are better armed than ever before.

    • February 08, 2016 at 12:28 pm, Ted said:

      Allen, I have a tough time working up enthusiasm for football these days, so I’m not much of a fan.

      I agree that we’re in the midst of significant changes and I think the progress is in the right direction, however confusing the action may be.