The rhetoric around obesity is toxic. So I created a new speech for fat people | Charlotte Cooper

The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper

I like to call myself and be called fat. I suppose fat is a political topic, and as such it feels powerful to reclaim terms that are frequently used pejoratively

The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper

There are lots of words used to describe people such as me. Medics and their allies will use some Latin or Greek to make their language appear authoritative and scientific. According to them I am obese, or someone necessitating bariatric intervention. By extension, in newspapers I am part of an anonymous population blob known as the obese.

If I go shopping for clothes I might be called plus sizing. If I meet a person who has receives person with a body like mine shameful, I might be euphemistically be characterized as big or big. Others might try to spin this shame into something more positive and fairly, like curvy. If someone tries to translate my job, they might use terms such as gordo , dicke , grasso , grande . In some places there might not be terms for me, either because no speech exists, or because some people relate to me through a vocabulary of disapproving looks and disgusted sounds.

I like to call myself, and be called, fat. This is simple and descriptive and it feels powerful to reclaim a word that is frequently used pejoratively. I am a fat activist, which is a word that can mean many things, but for me it means that I think fat is a political subject.

Fat is typically framed as a health problem but health is not apolitical, as bodies of work in the social sciences have come to expose. Debates about the NHS, and fat people being held responsible for funding crisis, are just one region in which fat is a political subject. The social animosity and scapegoating of fat people can also be seen as political.

In my most recent book, Fat Activism: A Revolutionary Social Movement, I argue that fat activism can be anything to be undertaken by anyone for any reason. It is not inevitably about self-acceptance, improving health, developing self-love or addressing stigma though that can be part of it. It can be as much about joining organisations as tweeting; as going to a fat clothes-swap as writing and sharing a poem; as having a dialogue with person as presenting a paper at a meeting. It is to be able to weird, illegible, ambiguous and antisocial. There is no singular route of being a fat activist.

In calling myself fat I am depicting on a feminist practise of naming things in order to be allowed to bringing them into being. This entails naming myself, on my own terms, and using language to define the world around me as I experience it. I do this because I believe the experience of being fat is valuable. This is heresy to those who suppose fat people should not exist. But the opinion from the margins illuminates a lot about the shadow side of conformity , norms, and dreads concerning incarnation and difference, and how these are manipulated for power and profit.

Earlier this year I published a homemade dictionary of fat activist words and conceptions. I wanted to subvert the language of medication and public health to give readers a playful glimpse of a subculture. Here are some examples.


A literary device that is irresistible to people writing about fat, especially journalists: piling on the pounds, fat fighters, weight watchers, and so on. Perhaps they do this because fat is intrinsically funny to write about , not like serious stories or hard news.


The part of your body thats under your tits and above your privates. Can be any size, shape, texture, colour, different levels of hairiness, sweatiness. A place where fat accumulates on some people. Sometimes flops around, sometimes is bold and stout. Sometimes attains gurgling noises. Sometimes has pleats and stretch marks. Sometimes has a mind of its own and will not behave. A delightful, gorgeous thing, information sources of physical power much maligned and fretted over. Important resource in gut-barging competitions.


A way of talking about energy that you get through eating food. An obsession. A pretty name for a girl child.


A fat athlete.


A person who is not fat. A person who is better-looking, healthier, more intelligent, more likely to succeed in life, sexier, more lovable and better to be with than any fat person. A very good and virtuous and normal person.


Fat upper arms that get more wobbly and loose with age. Source of power.

I generated A Fat Activist Vernacular because I am interested in language and power in relation to fat people. The weight-loss industry is worth a fortune, and there is a lot of fund and status riding on the question of who gets to define fat experience generally public health politicians and their friends and allies in the weight-loss industry and medication. My predilection would be that this is a topic for fat people to work out for ourselves by valuing and sharing our own experiences. But there are many others with vested interests in owning and exerting this information.

The language of fat activism, frequently raw and emotive when people talk about being objects of hate, is being appropriated and gentrified by academics and professionals, tidied up and made respectable, while deposing the originators. You can see this in the transformation of the activist term fatphobia into the blandly inoffensive weight bias, which is sure to make its way into policy sometime soon.

My own word, headless fatty referring to media images of fat people whose heads have been cropped out of the frame was also cleaned up by a prominent academic at Yale as headless belly. What happens more often is that fat activist originators of speech and conceptions are not cited, and their ideas become appropriated and made respectable without anyone being the wiser.

Meanwhile, at the age of 46, I have found other ways of speaking about this subject. After embarking a few years ago on a lifelong ambition of becoming a contemporary dancer, in November I will be dancing a piece called But Is it Healthy? in the Wellcome Collections Obesity gallery. I get asked the question all the time and it is impossible to answer it in words , not least because fat people are a diverse group, health is constructed in myriad routes, and expert science is not incontrovertible. So I will dance the answer instead! This will be performed as a duet by Kay Hyatt and me to a soundtrack I have attained based on archival records by fat feminist activists made in 1980 by Karen Stimson at the New Haven Fat Womens Health Conference. The speakers are Diane Denne, Judy Freespirit, Aldebaran and Judith Stein; a recording of Marcia Duvall, also represented on the panel, has unfortunately been lost. These women are founders of many of the ideas circulating in fat activism today, but they have been forgotten historically. I would love more people to know about their work.

The dance emerged from a period of research in which Hyatt and I explored what it is like to be continually asked: But is it healthy?; it brings together years of activism, explaining, patient listening and deep annoyance in response to this question.

Through dance I am developing a different kind of speech, utilizing my body expressively and encountering audiences who have been worn down by the rhetoric of the obesity outbreak for the past decade and a half, and want something different.

I hope that by watching us dance in the Obesity showing at the Wellcome Collection, audiences will understand that there are other ways of talking and thinking about fat than those which have been dominant in recent years. It is unbelievable that fat people like me have to lobbies so very hard to be seen simply as human. I hope the dancing, and its soundtrack, helps people recognise that fat people have community, histories, cultures, bureau, thoughts and lives all of our own.

Charlotte Cooper and Kay Hyatt are performing on 4 November 2016 as part of the Friday Late Spectacular: Body Speech at the Wellcome Collection

Read more:

The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper
The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper
The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper
The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper
The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper

The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper

The Rhetoric Around Obesity Is Toxic. So I Created A New Speech For Fat People | Charlotte Cooper

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