I am not ugly, unintelligent, or unlovable. I am just fat.

Years ago, a dear friend made a fat joke about me.

We were incredibly close then, as we are now, and had found ways to joke about our identities that brought us closer together. At that point, I had never described myself as fat: not to friends, family, myself. If the topic came up, my face would flush, I’d stammer out something about being "overweight" or "big" while a hot wave of blood rushed through my full cheeks, coloring my whole face. I would feel searing embarrassment for hours, sometimes days afterward. I’d come out as queer at 15 — a surprise to friends and family — but still couldn’t muster the language to describe the body that everyone could see.

We were at work on the day my friend made the joke. At the end of a long day, he and I lugged dozens of heavy boxes up and down the stairs. On our last trip, I got impatient and tired and opted instead for the elevator. "Elevator, huh?" He looked at me, his eyes lit up in the way they do when he’s ready to make a joke. "Is that why you’re — you know,” he said before stage-whispering, “large?”


There was a moment of silence, his face frozen in a grin before I broke into a huge, cathartic laugh.

It was such an absurd, stupid joke — that taking the elevator once was the difference between being fat and being thin — and it was exactly the kind of joke we’d make with each other about our other identities. In that moment, fat was a normal part of who I was — not the sole focus, not a secret to keep, not a fact to deny, not a cause for an intervention. It was just one of the many identities and characteristics that made me who I was.

It was the first time someone had talked to me about being fat in the way that they talked to me about anything else. It was normal; it could be joked about.

And really, my friend wasn’t joking about me; he was joking about the absurdity of judging tiny moments like this one as an explanation for why I was fat and the ridiculousness of others’ feeling of entitlement to know why I had the body I had.

Fat jokes don’t work for everyone, and they certainly don’t work in every context. But for me, in that moment, it was the most exquisite, divine, cathartic moment of freedom.

Because it was, and is, true: I’m fat. I’ve been fat my whole adult life. Sometimes I’m less fat, sometimes more fat, but always fat.

Saying that makes people around me uncomfortable. Sometimes, the discomfort comes from other fat people, who feel the shame that fat people feel in a world that tells us we ought to. Often, it comes from people who aren’t fat, who remember deeply ingrained scripts about what it means to be fat (unlovable, slovenly, ugly, unintelligent) and who think that naming such a harsh truth would be impolite. They substitute other words, either euphemistic (plus size, fluffy, big girl, more to love) or medical (overweight, obese).

I say fat.

I say fat to take back a heavily charged word.

It’s a word that can be used with the sole intent to cause pain and harm — in street harassment, in arguments with loved ones, on TV, everywhere. For many women, fat is among the most hurtful things they can be called. Thin women often say they "feel fat" as a shorthand for feeling unattractive, rejected, ashamed. Fat — that one short word — has become the site of so much pain. It comes with a long string of assumptions and insults, dragging noisily and clumsily along behind it like so many tin cans.

For many women, fat is among the most hurtful things they can be called.

At the center of that cacophony of hurt is my body. Not an insult, not a feeling, not rhetoric: the body I live with every day. When friends say they "feel fat" or strangers call other strangers "fat" as a cutting insult, I feel it. I understand that for many, my body is the worst-case scenario. Whether directed at me or not, the culture of talking about fat people derisively, dismissively, hurtfully — it all stays with me.

For me, though, fat is a statement of fact. It is a description of the body I have.

Fat is not a referendum on my morality, willpower, character, attractiveness, intellect, or worthiness. It is a descriptor. It captures an important aspect of the way I look, like saying I’m a woman, I’m white, or I’m tall.

Calling myself fat describes my body, but it means so much more than that. When I say I’m fat, it takes power back. It’s hard to be hurt by someone calling me what I am.

It's hard to be hurt by someone calling me what I am.

When those around me get uncomfortable or say, "Sweetie, no!" when I call myself fat, I don’t mind. As a fat person, there are little moments every day that wear away at you: the nurse that takes your blood pressure for the third time in a row, insisting that it can’t be right. The patronizing "Good for you!" at the gym you go to every day. The unsolicited advice at the grocery store. "Cantaloupe is so high in sugar. Have you tried grapefruit instead?" Over time, these moments mount up, rain droplets turning to torrential downpours, slowly but surely eroding the topsoil, then the clay, then the bedrock of our senses of self.

When I call myself fat and when I make jokes about my own fat body, I’ve got an umbrella, just for a few seconds.

It gives me a momentary respite from that steady stream of judgment and harsh advice. It gives those around me a brief taste of that discomfort, leaving them to sit with the bizarre awkwardness that comes with these little moments when we judge one another’s bodies.

Good, thoughtful people say harsh, judgmental things to fat friends and family every day. If you lost 30 pounds, you’d be a knockout. The dates would just start pouring in! It’s often unintentional, borne of a culture that expects fat people to feel shame about our bodies. Comments that deride, erase, judge, or punish fat people are predicated on the idea that we won’t object to cruel and thoughtless remarks about who we are. And many of us don’t. Neither do otherwise good-hearted, well-intentioned thin people. The more those conversations go unchallenged, the more charged that one little word becomes.

Fat holds so much power over so many people. When I use it to describe myself, I take back a simple, small, important thing: the ability to name and own my experience.

When I talk about being fat, I take control of what that means. Instead of being forced into reductive conversations about weight loss and shame, I get to talk about my actual life. I can talk about the partners who’ve loved my fat body. The friends who understand and support me. The clothing that fits me. The people who shun me for having the body I have. The doctors who treat my fat body and the ones who deny it. The way my body is seen as a reflection of my character, of public ills, of morality. And the disconnect between that and who I actually am.

Fat holds so much power over so many people.

Calling myself fat allows me to wrest my own experiences from the jaws of a powerful, pervasive narrative that says I ought to be ashamed of the body I have always had, the body I am learning to take care of, as we all are. It allows me to carve out a space to say that the treatment I receive isn’t deserved just for looking the way I look.

We all have things we wrestle with: parts of our identity that we can’t quite reconcile, that our families struggle to accept, that our friends and partners can’t quite respect. That struggle for acceptance — internal or external — keeps us cloistered, cold, and isolated from embracing ourselves or fully engaging in our relationships. Over time, the cold sets in, sinking into our bones, and the isolation becomes a way of life.

When I call myself fat, I step into the sun. I feel the warmth rush over me. Suddenly, I can see myself — and be seen — for who I actually am and the body I actually have. It is a moment of arrival to a sense of security and assurance in my body, and myself, that was out of reach for so long.

It is a homecoming. I am home. I am fat.

Family

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

Culture

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

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Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

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Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

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