Why Is 'You're Fat' Still the Go-To Insult to Use On Women?

“I’m sorry but it just sounds like you’re fat and jealous of those women because they aren’t.”

This is part of a recent comment posted on a not-so-recent story I once wrote for FemiNoshing called “Why can’t even female TV cooks be fat?” While I agree that the story was written with a pretty heavy dose of snark, I’m not interested in rehashing that argument here. Rather, the comment, which devolved all too quickly into a personal attack, made me wonder why often the best way to knock a woman down, the best way to put her in her place and dismiss her, is to call her fat?

And it’s not just women doing this to each other. When men want to make a woman feel bad, whether it’s because she dared have an opinion, or because she rejected him in some way, they will point out that she’s fat. Sure, the words “ugly,” “bitch” and “slut” get bandied about too, but “fat” brings with it its own particular tinge of disgust and contempt.

Why is calling someone fat considered so effective? Oh, right — because being fat is not healthy! (My commenter talked about health, too, but I digress.) I’m not getting into arguments about health at every size here. Nor will I disagree with the concept that being morbidly obese often leads to health problems (and yes, note I pointed to the most extreme example here, because most fat people are not morbidly obese).

But there are lots of things people do that are not healthy. Smoking is not healthy. Drinking hard alcohol (wine, in moderation, is actually recommended) is not healthy. In fact, drinking and driving is downright dangerous. When was the last time being fat and driving caused a pile-up on the highway?

And finally, recreational drugs are usually not just illegal, but also unhealthy — crystal meth-mouth, anyone?

And yet, when was the last time the words, “well, you’re a smoker” was leveled at someone as an insult? When was the last time someone accused a stranger on the Internet of being an alcoholic, merely because they wrote about the subject in a blog?

Let’s cut the shit — “health” has nothing to do with it. This society deems fat people unattractive, and calling someone “fat” is like calling them ugly. Actually, it’s worse, because being ugly could just be the result of losing the genetic lottery, while being fat is something that you did to yourself, and how dare you let yourself go like that? It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s about moral failure. And it’s particularly bad for a woman to get fat, because we are still the ornaments of society, and required to make everyone’s landscape as pretty as possible. Even gorgeous, tiny celebrities — Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, anyone who dared have a baby — can’t live up to this impossible standard.

Hating fat people is about the only acceptable prejudice left. Being racist, ableist, homophobic and sexist is frowned upon in polite society. (Please note I don’t include the Web, here, where anonymity lets bigots run rampant.) Treating a fat person like shit? Not so much. After all, they deserve it. They couldn’t possibly be good people, right?

That’s is why being called “fat” is such a good way to put a woman down. It relegates her to the group that society has deemed deserves contempt and ill-treatment. Who wants to be in that group?

So here’s the thing — if you’ve ever considered yourself a feminist, or a womanist, or even a humanist, don’t use a woman’s weight (real or perceived) against her. Realize that your concerns about her supposed health are bullshit. Don’t use “fat” as an insult. It’s too easy. Then again, being an asshole is often easy. Being kind is way harder.


Author: A.K. Whitney

A.K. Whitney is a journalist in Southern California.


  1. Roane says:

    I really like your post!
    It is true what you say – fat people are relegated to the section in society reserved for serial killers and criminals. Why else are shows like The Biggest Loser popular? They’re like shows following the lives of prisoners who are trying to become better people.
    As a high school fatty, I hate the labels people place on one another, and make a point of not judging people too quickly.
    I wish we could all do the same. :(

  2. Priestfriend says:

    I’ve done some soul searching on this issue. I can’t claim to know what others’ experiences are, but when I have had a gut negative reaction to an overweight or obese person and asked myself why, the answer I usually come up with is fear. Fear of being fat. I’ve never been overweight, but I’m not skinny as a rail either and as I age, I have to watch my weight more. I think when I see an overweight woman and have a negative reaction, I have to face that this woman represents what I fear becoming. There’s probably more to it than that, but it is definitely part of it.
    But just like racial and other prejudices, no matter what they’re based on, they skew reality. So I have to remind myself that my internal reaction is more about me than it is about him/her and that they don’t deserve to be the victim of my own fears and insecurities.

  3. Anne Fescharek says:

    I think you are missing the point of the site. I think “TIWYF” is mainly satire and a way to mock some of the atrocious food choices offered to misguided consumers. (Think Oprah consuming Fried Butter at the TX State Fair.I mean, really? A clear “TIWYF” moment). I think the picture of Jessica Simpson does not show a fat woman but a poor wardbrobe choice. Some of that garbage just turns my stomach. It makes me steer clear of deep fried twinkies for ever.

    • A.K. Whitney says:

      I don’t know what point you think I’m missing in my story, but I’m definitely missing the point in your comment. When did I mention “This Is Why You’re Fat”, the website, in this? (I love that site, btw). In fact, TIWYF has nothing to do with this story, and neither of the people who commented before you mentioned it. So umm, huh?
      And yeah, Jessica Simpson is not fat. But a lot of people used that as a slur against her, and treated her like she had no right to a career because of it. So I and the editors both felt this illustration was apt.

  4. cherry davis says:

    It is the ultimate insult to a woman but my motto is I’m a bitch. If I do something wrong and you call me on it .. da na da. If you decide to call me fat to make yourself look better to your friends or just to bully me and I’ll stand up for myself.

    Years ago a guy was blocking the walkway and I said excuse me so I could get past him without touching. He decides to wait until I’m past to say to his friends ‘She needs to lose weight so she won’t have such a fat ass’. I turned around and confronted him. I loudly asked why he would say something to rude when I was being polite. I turned to his friends (2 guys and a woman) what kind of woman are you to laugh at me when he’s trying to bully me just because I politely asked him to move over so I could get past him. I shamed all of them (his friends) the jerk tried to say something else snarky to me (called me a bitch). That’s when I said to him maybe he wouldn’t be such an unhappy man if he wasn’t so short but I can always lose weight but his inadequacies as a man aren’t correctable. He then got super mad and cursed at me again and than I told him he was going to be kicked out of the bar. I then went to the bouncer (my friend) told him how he’d made a negative comment about my weight and he got kicked out! The funny thing was that his ‘friends’ didn’t want to leave so stayed at the bar for the rest of the night.

    I might be a fat woman but I can be a Fat Bitch and will not take any guff of anyone!

  5. Cordula says:

    I agree with your assessment of the situation. And not even “bigger” girls are targets for this insult (as you mentioned). As a matter of fact, many thin girls or girls who are insecure about their bodies or looks get the “fat” insult I suppose for similar reasons Priestfriend mentioned. Since most girls are insecure about themselves in some way in today’s society, namely their bodies, (since woman’s bodies have come to be public property it seems) calling ANY woman fat will be a blow. I like that you’ve examined this and wrote about it.

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