Recently, a friend posted this: “I fit my fat ass into a pair of size medium pants.” It’s not the first time a thin friend has referred to her “fat ass,” and for me, as a 43-year-old woman who has struggled with her “fat ass” since she was 11, it’s triggering to hear beautiful, thin, kind friends say things like this.
To be clear, I was not fat most of my life, though I’ve been on a diet or exercise plan since I hit puberty and developed boobs and an ass. But I was only officially obese between ages 28-32 and now extremely obese since age 39. [As defined by the NIH.]
But “fat ass” has never really been about weight. It’s about shaming.
I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, is about women and shame, and to me, the most important sentence in the book is:
You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.
In fact, attempting to shame someone into changing a behavior has a deeply negative effect.
These women friends who refer to their “fat asses” may feel ashamed for not having reached personal fitness goals or may feel ashamed for being proud of having reached fitness goals and want to minimize that sense of feeling good about their bodies because that’s "shameful," too! Typically, though, “fat asses” isn’t about weight, it’s about how a woman feels about her self—not her body, but who she is.
These friends, I experience them as kind, funny, smart, generous. Yet when they refer to their “fat asses,” I can’t help but wonder, “If you think your ass is fat, what must you think of mine?” I imagine all the women in their circles who are of similar and greater weights must think the same thing, whether they are conscious of it or not. The phrase creates ripples of negativity and harshness that last long after the words are spoken.
Is that the intention when women friends refer to their “fat asses?” Of course not. For them, the words are directed toward an inner issue they are struggling with, with which I can empathize. But even so, there is a significant external impact—the words wound not only these friends but also every single person who hears them, partly because of the physical comparison they trigger, and mostly because they perpetuate an idea that a woman’s body part is a relevant indicator of who she is. The words perpetuate shame.
To encourage efforts to eradicate the phrase as a tool of self-harm, let’s keep in mind the University of Oxford study which found that “women with larger than average butts are not only increasingly intelligent but also very resistant to chronic illnesses.” Also, “fat asses” are fun to shake! Give your booty a pat and hit the floor with “24 Songs That Celebrate Body Image.”