Friday, September 11, 2009

Is "Fat" a Four-Letter Word?

Did you know that you can say "tits" on TV now? Well, not on network TV, but I'm pretty sure I heard it on Bravo, while certain other choice words were bleeped. "Piss" seems to be all right too, as long as you don't mean it literally. ("You're going to piss him off"--Roger that; "You're going to piss on him"--not tonight, Josephine.) The other five are definitely still bleep-material.

I mention this, and reference George Carlin in particular, because I hold the belief that there are no bad words. Words are just words; it's the thoughts and the actions that accompany words that shapes their meaning. I know that's like saying "guns don't kill people, people do," but unlike guns, words (with the possible exception of racial slurs and homophobic hate-speech) were not originally designed to wound.

I don't self-censor around Westley much. I don't go out of my way to swear, but I also don't go out of my way not to. But Westley is at an age now where he's picking up on everything I say and do, and new words in particular hold a special power for him. "We need to watch what we do around him," Rob said after I playfully slapped him and Westley followed suit. "What we say, too," I said, going through my mental catalogue of conversations and realizing that I'd probably said more than a few things recently that I didn't want my little dude to repeat. At least, not around his grandparents.

A few nights ago, I was cuddling with Westley while the cats were eating dinner. Rob accidentally frightened one of the cats away from her bowl, and the other jumped at the opportunity to steal an extra helping.

"Oh, Ursula, don't walk away," Rob said, nudging Fiona away from her sister's dish. "Finish your dinner."

I chimed in. "Seriously, Urs! That's why Fiona's so friggin' fat!"

As soon as I said it, I was suddenly re-aware of the child in my lap. Westley didn't seem to give any mind to my words, but I had a What-did-you-just-say-young-lady? moment in my head.

Does Westley really need to know about fat? I wondered. And then, the counter: But fat is a real thing in the world. It's an accurate description, especially of the cat.

It seems strange but telling that I would pause over using "fat" in a negative tone when I've been known to sing along with some decidedly not children's music while Westley is in the car with me ("I only ask because I'm a real cunt in spring/You can rent me by the hour"). But "fuck" and "piss" and "cunt" were never hurtful to me. "Fat" was.

It wasn't so much that the word was an insult hurled at me, but one that I absorbed from the world around me. Growing up, the only person to ever call me "fat" to my face was my brother, and it stung. It stung hard, because it was true. Not "true" in the crazy-straw mentality of my teenaged self-esteem sense, either. It was true in the "BMI of 30 and above" sense. I held the word "fat" in my head every day. And that word--and more importantly, what it signified--was the reason I felt left out of life for 14 years. I soaked the cultural fat-negativity up like a sponge soaks up water, and I can't seem to squeeze it out. Even though my actual weight has been normal for almost four years.

Recently, I gained about ten pounds. Apparently, one of my pseudo-rebellious responses to finding out that there are a lot of things I can't eat anymore is to overeat on the things I can have. Yeah. Consequently, I'm now sporting quite the gluten-free muffin top. Now I find myself thinking and saying "fat" more often than I did just a few weeks ago. It's incredibly frustrating, and not just because my pants don't fit. Intellectually, I know that "fat" is just a word. And that it means fat, not "not as good as thin." But I also know that despite my best efforts, I'm modeling the fat-equals-bad mentality for my son.

And that fucking sucks.