Has “Fat” Become the Newest F-Word?

Just before Christmas, actress Jennifer Lawrence declared that “it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV.” During a Barbara Walters special, the star of the Hunger Games movies also took the media to task for “the effect it has on our younger generation,” on girls who are taking their cues about “how to talk and how to be cool” from television and other shows, and its failure to acknowledge responsibility for this.

As Lawrence said in her December interview,

“So all of the sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress. And the word fat! I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. I mean, if we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?”

Lawrence is hardly the first to single out the media and popular culture (and the fashion industry) for the part they play in shaping attitudes and ideas about how to look and act and for essentially turning “fat” into the newest four-letter f-word. Her suggestion to outlaw certain words (“fat”) highlights the hurtful, condemnatory meanings they’ve acquired but carries its own dangers.

Ban one word and it’s likely people will start to use another with an equivalent meaning in the same way. People use words that mean something quite the opposite (“thin,” “skinny“) in just as deliberately cruel and cutting ways (consider how the the word “anorexic” has been used in recent years).

The issue that Lawrence’s comments especially draws attention to is the unflagging focus on women’s bodies by the media and popular culture. Whatever your accomplishments, you will still be judged on your looks and, if you’re a women, your weight speculated about.

Psychologists, social scientists, other women in the spotlight and women who’ve struggled with eating disorders have all sought directly to link the media and popular culture to women’s obsessive concerns about body image and equation of this with self-esteem. While making an actual link remains elusive, the fact that this issue returns again and again — that an actress like Lawrence of notable talents is still cattily critiqued because she doesn’t look like many of the teenage models on the runways of New York’s Fashion Week — shows yet again that the media and popular culture have an unhealthy obsession with putting down women because they don’t look like some imaginary idealized version of Disney Princesses.

Eating disorders were a subject of huge concern when I was in college 20-something years ago. Our campus Women’s Center created support groups and campaigned to have the university hire a staff member at the Counseling Center who was a specialist in treating women with eating disorders. We thought we were making great progress for our campus awareness and while we were, the fact remains that eating disorders remain common and untreated among college students today.

With a new year just about to start, expect talk shows, news sites and magazines to remind us that it’s time to make our resolutions for 2014 and shouldn’t we be going to the gym regularly? With Lawrence’s recent words in mind, it would be well instead to pledge to school ourselves to see past the hype.

We can be mindful of when we comment on someone based on what she or he looks like, seek to not attach value judgments to words like “fat” and “skinny” and — certainly — look forward to Lawrence’s next appearances on the silver screen not because of her appearance but because here is a young woman of prodigious talent who’s willing to speak out about what matters to her.

Photo via Thinkstock


Aleisha D.
Aleisha D3 years ago

thanks for posting

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

you every day, you'd never leave the house again. I don't care how tough you are. It would be overwhelming. That is why we have these boundaries and guidelines in play. C: If they ARE trying to get better and you're mean-spirited enough to treat them poorly because their current appearance isn't appealing to your personal aesthetic, do you really think that helps the situation? No, odds are, you just made it worse. This world is difficult on it's good days, why make it harder on anyone? Especially someone whose story you don't even know.

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

Personal accountability for one's weight has nothing to do with the rudeness of others. If you attack a stranger or treat them poorly due to their appearance, no matter what their appearance might be, tall, short, thin, fat, black, white, you name it, that's on YOU. You're the jerk. Not them.

How about take responsibility for YOURSELF and not hurt people? Yet, apparently, nothing is ever "your" fault. ;)

You don't NEED to hurt others. It's not difficult to just keep your thoughts to yourself and maintain a socially acceptable degree of tolerance towards people who don't look like you want them to. If it is? Go see your physician and get some counselling for your anger issues or whatever your problem is. Ever hear the term "polite company" or "socially acceptable"? Yeah, these are things. We do them so we don't destroy ourselves in bloody rages every time we see someone wearing the color orange, 'cause we can't STAND orange! :P We NEED to play nice, or we seriously won't survive. We do too many other things that are beyond stupid, getting along helps us live another day.

Sure, people should try to get healthy if they aren't healthy, and sure, they should recognize if they have a problem and try to stop it, but A: how do you know they aren't trying? B: Are you perfect? Obviously not, since you're a jackass who goes out of their way to be rude to people. Back off and grow some empathy. If everyone on the planet randomly came up to you to tell you what they thought of y

Brad H.
Brad H3 years ago


Koty Lapid
Koty L3 years ago

Thank you for your article.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora O3 years ago

Frankly - why should I be bothered if people around me are fat ... short ... tall ... skinny ...?? What matters is their character and behaviour. I'm bothered though by arrogance and stupidity.

In trying to ban the word "fat" (replace it with race, religion, color, skinny ... whatever you like) stupidity shows its ugly face. Never has respect, politeness, courtesy, compassion and empathy been instilled in youngsters and adults (yes, adults can be taught too) by banning certain words.

We should place again more importance on proper education rather than applying aspirin and hoping it would solve the deep seated problems our first world societies have today.

Luckily I'm not overweight (thanks to self-discipline as I'd have the tendency) but if I were and someone would call me fat the only right answer would be: "do you have any other problem?" - alternatively one could also ask: "unfortunately I don't have 2 hrs spare time to give YOU a run down of YOUR short-comings" or something like that. I'd just hit them right back but sure would not be offended.

One can only offend me if I allow it!

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M3 years ago

There is a difference between people overweight, slightly overweight and seriously overweight. Sometimes its not what people believe and it can be for many other reasons. People are quick to point the finger. They are usually slimmer!
Today I watched on tv a young man, who had Tourette's Syndrome and took many tablets. He was also overweight. Quite well rounded one might say. He was given a break thru operation to his brain. They followed him and in the end he was 'cured' and had no 'tics' but the outstanding other part was he had lost a heap of weight and looked so different and even more handsome. Why did this happen? Did he go on a diet? NOOO.... he didnt have to take all that medication.............. a terrible side effect. He is off them now and lives an even better life. So not all are overweight for gorging food, there are other reasons to take in. But honestly who would tell another to their face... you are fat!???
Id be off like a rabbit.

Mandy H.
Mandy H3 years ago

Continued: However it's difficult to walk the line between beating yourself up and giving yourself confidence and you do need to really watch how you respond because you could make things worse. I'm lucky I know myself well enough to understand when I'm upsetting myself and when I'm giving myself confidence.

Mandy H.
Mandy H3 years ago

I do agree that it TV shows should be monitored with how they're using words like 'fat' or 'skinny' and if they're going to have this sort of theme they should be trying to raise awareness. Say a TV show has a bigger teenager being attacked at school because of her size, it should show how badly this affects the teenager rather then just showing the attacks. We can't just stop talking about weight problems or the affect that being too fat or too thin on a person because then it becomes a 'seedy' topic and that's the opposite of making progress. It should be noted though that weight is biologically complicated as well as mentally complicated, I gained all my weight after I reacted to a medication and now every time I exercise I end up with a migraine and curled in fetal position with stomach craps that blur my vision. I don't remain over weight and unfit simply because I'm lazy, I remain this way because I can't exercise to balance out the food that I eat (even though I eat healthy). To combat the 'fat' word being taken negativity I know of women who are taking back the word, they're comfortable with their body and they see 'fat' as being a description rather then a value. I try to follow this line of thinking because if you're comfortable saying "I'm fat" then it doesn't affect you as much when someone else says it. However it's difficult to walk the line between beating yourself up and giving yourself confidence and you do need to really watch how you respond because you cou

Donnie H.
Donnie H3 years ago

Good grief, don't you people think it might be considered rude to ridicule people for not being perfect??? Calling someone fat is cruel, no matter what spin you put on it. People with thyroid disease and other health conditions can gain weight. People with angioedema have water weight. Steroids some people must take for serious health conditions causes weight gain. Do you think it is OK to ridicule them? Do you think it is OK to shame and ridicule people who are deaf, or blind, or in wheelchairs too? Do you think they can get off their asses and change their condition? Do you think that it is my fault that I've been insulted because I'm only 5' tall and thin? Do you think I can do something about it, like maybe grow a few more inches??? NO, it is not OK to call somebody fat, gimp, deaf and dumb, retard, shorty or any of the other insulting and hurtful labels. Doesn't anyone know what manners are anymore? Or common courtesy? Let anyone here who is perfect and without any flaws... cast the first stone. You insulting people disgust me. You know who you are, and should be totally ashamed of yourselves. But, I doubt that you even know what that means.