“Obese. Fat. Overweight. Higher weight. Big boned. Large-sized.
Carrying excess fat. Unhealthy weight. These are just some of an
endless list of words used to describe people's weight.
Are these words stigmatising? Do they make you feel worthless? Do
they anger you? Does it matter what context these words are used in?”
- Angela Chesworth
What should we call it? It is surprising how much focus we put on
answering this question when talking about obesity. Some people prefer
"fat" because they think it is a factual description. Others
are offended by "fat" and prefer "obese" because
it is an objective, clinical term.
Attending a recent
UK conference on obesity and weight management, I heard a speaker
refer to people of "higher weight". This drew a very
negative response among certain sections of the audience, who clearly
felt this was both stigmatising and offensive.
I actively participate in organisations that support people living
with obesity. I feel stigma is a very important aspect of the
challenge and, of course, this is where definitions - and
disagreements about definitions - arise. As we are all individuals, it
is difficult to please everyone. What one person might find offensive,
For me, it's the context that makes a word damaging. Being called
"fat" by a passing stranger can leave you feeling upset,
angry and even worthless. But what about when a doctor says to you:
"I'm concerned that your body is holding too much fat, and that
this could cause future health issues." Does that leave you with
the same feelings?
Obesity is usually seen as self-inflicted, and this opens up people
to ridicule, discrimination and bullying. So, on leaving the
conference, I was concerned that so much focus had been placed on
"what do we call it?" Isn't the "eat less, move
more" stigma much more concerning than what the disease itself is called?
What people don't realise is that I am active. I've had a full-time
physical job since leaving school. I've also had a personal trainer
and attend a gym and daily swimming sessions. So go ahead and call me
fat, overweight, higher weight, big-boned, or whatever you want. But
if you feel the need to judge me, do it based on your own
observations, not on what you are told by the media, or by
professionals with no experience or understanding of what living with
obesity is actually like.
In my opinion, conferences and other forums where obesity is
discussed would benefit from better communication between academics
and patients. Such dialogue would contribute to a better understanding
of the challenges faced by people with obesity, and inform a better
strategy to move forward with one voice. And not with just one
limited, stigmatising word.