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OPINION: Fat is not a feeling

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“I feel fat” is a phrase we often hear people say to describe their current emotions and feelings. However, what exactly does this mean? Many men and women walk around repeatedly using this phrase, but few people know what they are truly implying and the harm they may be causing when they say this.

Individuals often use the word “fat” as a synonym for words such as bloated, uncomfortable, lazy and full. In reality, this is not what the term means. The term “fat” is not to be used interchangeably with words used to describe our current emotions and feelings. When looking at the definition of the word “fat” in a dictionary, nowhere does it list the word as a feeling/emotion. 

Lisa MacDonald is the coordinator of nutrition services and a nutrition counselor for Campus Health at the University of Arizona. She is also an advisor for Body Positive Arizona, a student-led group on campus that is dedicated to promoting self-worth and positivity. 

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“When people say ‘I feel fat,’ they are using it to umbrella feelings and emotions that they don't have language for,” MacDonald said. 

MacDonald explains how many people use this phrase as a way to cover up other feelings such as feeling insecure, sad, overwhelmed or disgusting. 

She states that fat is a natural part of everyone's body and explains how the use of this phrase automatically attaches a negative connotation to it. It is a phrase that influences diet and weight bias culture, a culture that leads people to believe there is one perfect body type. 

“I feel fat” is a phrase that has been thrown around in our society for years. One of the first incidents where it received major criticism and was brought to light was in 2015. Facebook added a list of emotions and feelings for users to choose from when they updated their status. Facebook chose to add “fat” as an emotion alongside an emoji with chubby cheeks and a double chin.

This caused a lot of concern and conversations for many groups of people. An eating disorder and body positivity community created a petition which received over 16,000 signatures. After the petition began to receive attention, a spokesperson from Facebook spoke out and sent an email to users and the word fat was removed from the list of feelings. 

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By using the phrase “I feel fat” to describe the way we look and feel in a negative way, men and women are putting the message out there that fat equals unhealthy, undesirable and unattractive. We unintentionally associate positive emotions with a word that means "having little flesh or fat on the body" (skinny) and negative emotions with a word that means the opposite. This message that is unintentionally being put out into our society may be doing more harm than we realize. 

“Take a pause and ask ourselves: if this distress wasn't about my body, what would it be about?” MacDonald said. 

She explains how it is important to broaden our language, journal, and ask ourselves what we are really feeling. 

What if every time you "feel fat" you were to ask yourself: “What am I really feeling?” 


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Julianna is a senior majoring in journalism and sociology. She enjoys writing and reporting on topics related to mental and physical health and wellness.


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Includes tests since August 2, 2021
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Updated September 21, 2021