Size Matters: The Thing About Average

Sorry, y’all, but this blog has got two posts left! So you’re not rid of me yet. I wanted to explore a subject related to FA that Alyx brought up in the comments on the last post—how do we determine what isn’t fat? Where do we draw the line? And what exactly does “average” mean?

What’s interesting about the “average” USian woman is that she’s actually a size 14/16, which would make her plus sized, a euphemism for “fat”. However, average is usually used to describe any woman who isn’t “thin,” but also not “fat.” Of course, words mean things and we can’t just apply any word to any situation. But with a term as nebulous as “fat” gets on the margin, it’s hard to decide exactly when we can apply it. Fatphobes tend to apply the term to people whom they know nothing about at random, depending on body composition, shape, height, etc. rather than any specific size or weight. When we get close to the middle of the body size spectrum, the subjectivity of the viewer becomes a huge factor in how others perceive a woman’s body as fat or thin. There’s no real clear cut way to answer this question except to state that at the margins, self-identification is key.

This ties in to another question asked: How do nonfat people decide when to use the word “fat” to describe someone? I touched on this in the last post, but let me expand on it. If someone doesn’t use the word “fat” to describe themselves, as with any ally you need to respect the words they use. Although we should seek to normalize the word “fat”, on an individual basis, those who would consider themselves allies need to be conscious that not every fat person is ready to embrace being called fat. Support them in loving their body, affirm their beauty, expose them to positive representations of fat, but let them come to their own conclusions.

So what is average? It seems like more of a statistical term than something to describe bodies. Even if you are the fabled size 14/16, all size 14/16 bodies are not built the same. I don’t think it’s offensive to use the term “average” if you really are referring to a statistical average of dress size. But we should not confuse “average” with “normal”, because that implies that anything else is deviant. This is one of those gray areas that must be navigated with care.

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