Why I Want My Students to Love Fat

The Great Gatsby is bae.  Yes, I refuse to believe I am NOT too old to use that word.

For those that are wondering, “What the heck is bae?” let me explain.  Bae is synonymous with a person you love.  Yes, love.  Now I love my husband.  I love my children.  I love ice cream (even if Ben and Jerry’s isn’t a person, Phish Food is BAE).  This modernist novel, however, is in a category of its’ own.  It is completely and wonderfully glorious.  I absolutely love the descriptive, stylistic writing (Fitzgerald is magic), and no matter how many times I re-read this Roaring Twenties tale, I still get emotionally caught up in Gatsby’s plight to win over the heart of Daisy.

In the American Literature class I teach, we just read through Nick’s first encounter with Myrtle, Tom’s mistress (Tom, for those that don’t know, is Daisy’s hulking, brutish husband).  When introduced as having a “thickish figure…[who] carried her surplus flesh sensuously”, many of the students loudly pronounced, “Oh!  That means she’s fat!  Myrtle is fat!”

Yes, Myrtle is fat.  I nodded my head in agreement.

“But Mrs. Takao!!!  You can’t call her fat!  That’s a bad word!”

HOLD ON.

Why is “fat” bad?  Isn’t it just an adjective like any other?  Skinny?  Pimply?  Obtuse?  Magnificent?

As an English teacher, I try to instill to my students that words, diction, carries weight.  It has meaning.  Call something “good”?  Eh.  It’s a very neutral word.  But “wonderful”?  That elevates whatever noun is being modified.  “Sad”?  Eh.  “Depressed”?  Oh.  That insinuates more psychological negativity that just “sad”.  So what about “fat”?  Well, in my mind, and to my ear, “fat” just is.  It’s “fat”.  It’s like saying someone is a girl or boy (although these terms are also becoming a bit more complex to decipher)–it just IS.  So why is there such a stigma around the word “fat”?

Well, google search the term and this is the first image that pops up:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313130.php

A headless person.  The overstretched belly button.  The pale skin falling over the waistband of pants.  This “fat” looks unhealthy, meaning the individual in the photo seems like she is prone to a heart attack or developing diabetes–and in our society, health is wealth.  That could be one reason why “fat” is normally equated with “bad”.  But in reality, WE ALL NEED FAT TO LIVE.  Yes, I said it.  FAT is GOOD.  IT IS NECESSARY.

Let me explain.

Basically, if you are a human being, you have a body which is full of cells, muscles, tissue, tendons, fascia, and fat.  There is a certain amount of essential body fat needed for living (3% for men and 12% for women).  The Human Kinetics Journal writes that “Essential body fat is present in the nerve tissues, bone marrow, and organs (all membranes), and we cannot lose this fat without compromising physiological function.”  So that means TOTAL ABSENCE of fat will cause one to DIE.

You may be thinking to yourself (especially if you are woman), “Well, maybe I’ll just hang out at that 12% range then if that’s really the bare minimum of fat needed to live.”

This is dangerous thinking.

What happens when your body is living on JUST ENOUGH fat?  Well, your body instinctually wants to thrive, to live, to eat, to procreate, to run, to BE.  But if it only has enough reserves to just breathe (which is basically survival), all other systems will start to slow and shut down.  Periods (menstruation cycles) cease.  Extremities become cold.  Hair starts to fall out.  The body goes into survival mode and does all it can to NOT DIE.

This does not sound great or grand or wonderful.

So what SHOULD we do?  Eat all the fat so that we don’t spiral into physiological demise?  No, that’s not a great answer too as the body needs all forms of energy (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and other micronutrients) to function and thrive.  It all comes down to balance and mindset.  Eat a healthy range of fat, but more importantly, stop assigning labels and terms to adjectives that really don’t need them.

What would happen if we just taught kids that “fat” is just “fat”, nothing positive or negative associated with it?  Individuals in other cultures find pride in being called “fat” as that term denotes wealth and the ability to get food.  “Fat” is not shameful.  Why not pick up that same mindset?  Maybe we could use the term more often in discussion, and maybe then the continual usage of the word will lessen the severity of the associations with it.

In the end, ask yourself this question too:  If you are offended by the word “fat”, why??  How were your prejudices formed?  Were you the “fat kid” that was laughed at in elementary school?  Were you broken up with by a boyfriend/girlfriend because you were too chunky?

I want to show my students that “fat” is nothing to be fearful of.  It’s not a bad word, it’s not a horrific term.  It’s just a word.  It’s the meaning one assigns to the word that turns it into something greater.

What are your thoughts on the subject of “fat”?  Comment below!

 

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