Fat, Fluffy, and other F-words

Fat, Fluffy, and other F-words

We know there are a lot of loaded terms out there that folks use to describe larger bodies. Many find issues with a lot of those words, and others are ready to reclaim them. 

We asked you on Instagram Stories to answer polls and give us the truth, so we could get to the bottom of these loaded words. The results are in.

The two words you hate the most: Fluffy and Obese.

While we certainly don't all agree on the words that we prefer to use, it was pretty clear which words we absolutely despise. There were a few more on the list, but the two that we got the clearest impression on are the words fluffy and obese. 

Let's break down what you hate about each of these words so that we can learn what makes these words feel hurtful or offensive.


Why you hate the word "fluffy."

First up, let's look at the word "fluffy." Here's what respondents said about the word fluffy, and why they dislike using it as a body descriptor.

  • What? Am I a pillow? Or an animal?
  • Fluffy is the worst word. It's so demeaning.
  • Any word that tries to blur accurate descriptors of my body, like fluffy, are insulting.
  • God, I forgot how much I hate the term fluffy, like what does that even mean?
  • Please call me anything but fluffy.

Many people use fluffy because they think that it's kinder and gentler than using a word like "fat" to describe a larger body, as if they're describing a very fluffy animal who is wearing its a winter coat. It feels temporary, like you could be shaved or get a hair cut and have a new size completely. But even more than that, it's an adjective most often used to describe cozy comforters, long haired cats, and bears coming out of hibernation in the spring–– not human beings. 


Why you hate the word "obese."

Next, the extremely hurtful word "obese." While so many respondents took the time to write to us that they dislike the word, they didn't even get into their issues with the word. Likely, because it's so painful and possibly even feels too obvious to need to explain outright. 

But why is it so painful, exactly? Well, "obese" is often used in a medical context and unfortunately many of us hear it not from the mouths of doctors, but from friends or strangers on the internet who are expressing their opinion on another's body under the guise of a health concern. A study done by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale in 2012 found that the language used by health care providers, "can reinforce stigma, and potentially lead to avoidance of future medical appointments." Basically, these words are extremely hurtful, even if they're supposed to be medical or clinical words, to the point where larger bodied patients may give up on making appointments altogether.

And why exactly are they so painful? When we often hear them coming out of the mouths of bullies or from the keyboards of internet trolls, they can leave a sting when they are reinforced by a trusted professional. Many doctors are in fact avoiding using the term, despite it being an insurance classification and a medical word, like Dr. Spolett, a Yale Medical Group Clinician, who said that, "'sometimes the kind of language that is used in the medical profession can seem offensive. The word 'obese' is a medical word, but it has so many bad connotations that I never use that word with my patients.'”


The other words you hate.

And here are some of the other words that came up often that you do not like to hear used to describe your body size:

  • squish and squishy
  • chunky
  • overweight
  • plump
  • heavy or heavyset
  • big-boned
  • chubby
  • pudgy


The words you prefer to use.

Our Instagram audience, which is made up of people like you, couldn't agree on just one word. But there are a few words that came up multiple times, that we seem to prefer over those not-so-great words like fluffy.

Here's our list of the preferred words you submitted:

  • curvy
  • plus-size
  • voluptuous
  • soft

Each of these words were submitted by multiple respondents. When we pitted "curvy" against "plus-size" in a poll, it was split right down the middle with 50% of our audience voting for "curvy" and the other 50% voting for "plus-size." 


Your thoughts on the word, "fat."

This is a big one, and our audience seems to be pretty split. When we conducted the poll asking about the audience for their preference on the word, "fat," we had two options: "accurate descriptor," or "hate it! so mean!" 

69% called "fat," an accurate descriptor while the other 31% say they hate the word.

While a handful of respondents submitted the word "fat" as a word they hate, many more submitted it as a word that they prefer to use.

Many of those who prefer to use the word fat offered a bit more of an explanation on their preference:

  • Fat! It's okay to say it!
  • I prefer to use "fat" only when I'm feeling strong enough to say it
  • Fat! I have fat, we all have fat. It's not a dirty word! Please stop whispering it to people.
  • Fat––it's not a bad thing.
  • It depends on how fat is being used and who is saying it.
  • I'm fat and not afraid to take up space.

Many fat activists have been actively trying to reclaim the word "fat" from the bullies and lazy comedians who use it as a punchline. And while some are too scarred by the bullies who taunted them by using this word like it's the biggest insult ever, others are trying to take away the power that bullies hold when they sling that word around by calling it an accurate descriptor and saying that there are many worse things to be than to be fat.


What do you think? Are there descriptors that we haven't mentioned that you actively despise or some that you find to be more positive or just more neutral?

Tell us!


By Ashby Vose
Ashby is Ori's Head of Brand. She is a plus-size woman obsessed with empowering other women and fostering community. She lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and two cats and can often be found in the middle of an arts and crafts project.
Follow Ashby on Instagram @ashbyvose



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