According to a recent survey, nine out of ten overweight people have been called names. “Fatty”, “lard arse” and “fat bastard” were the most commonly reported jibes, alongside “Ten Ton Tess”, “Mr Blobby” and “porker”.
For the noticeably overweight, abuse from strangers can be an everyday occurrence. Unlike other conditions, there is something about obesity that stirs up hatred and people are not afraid to express it.
As global obesity rates rise, our language around the topic is evolving. According to Ian Brookes, consultant editor at Collins English Dictionary: “A number of facetious terms for obesity have recently come up. We’ve added the phrase generation XL – which leads on from generation X.”
There is also a noticeable difference in the terms used to describe overweight women and overweight men.
Men are typically termed: “heavyset”, “chunky”, “solid” or “burly” – all of which have an implication of strength.
Conversely, women are often described as: “heifers”, “beached whales” or “fat cows”- animal references that are much more negative.
American organisation Obesity Action Coalition is campaigning for People-First Language to be used when we’re discussing obesity. Not a new concept, People-First Language has already been successfully incorporated into the way we speak about people with a number of different problems. For example: “The man with Down’s syndrome was celebrating his birthday” or “the woman with diabetes was looking for low-sugar foods”.
Compare that with: “the obese woman was sitting on the bus”. People-First Language does not label the person with their disease. Like Down’s syndrome or diabetes, obesity is one part of that person, it does not define them.