VIDEO: Jill Andrew Tells the World What’s Up in Her TED Talk on Fat Shaming

Liz’s Team Pick

Until yesterday, I wasn’t very familiar with award-winning writer and activist Jill Andrew or Fat in the City, the blog she co-writes with Aisha Fairclough. But then I saw Andrew’s TEDxYorkU talk on “Fat Shaming and the Thin Epidemic,” and everything changed.

In the TED Talk, Andrew uses her personal experiences to tell the story of how she confronts fat shaming in the face of what she calls “The Thin Epidemic,” or “the sociocultural, emotional, economic, religious, medical, everything -cal obsession for any and everything thin desirable.” From recounting an incident of verbal harassment as a teen to lamenting the woes of shopping at stores that hide “clothes for fat bodies” in a basement or upper level, Andrew emphasizes the importance of taking the word ‘fat’ out of its pejorative context. “Words like fat,” she says, “need to be rescued from the tyranny of hate,” and using fat as the simple descriptor that it is could be one way to do that. A real moment of clarity came when she said

I now know that fat is just a description. It’s not a prescription and it’s certainly not an invitation for hate. For exclusion for ridicule, for assaults against my body, and it sure as heck ain’t an excuse to make judgments about my health or my morality.

Though the stories Andrew tells are about her own life, they encourage us to think on a broader level about the intersections of race, gender, and size, and about the significance of claiming space. And as a fellow fat person, I found myself thinking that Andrew was saying so many things I had never found the words for, and she was doing it in a powerful yet completely accessible way.

Check out the video for yourself!

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Liz is a student activist, cat lover, and pop culture enthusiast double majoring in Women's Studies and Classics at the George Washington University. When she's not reading, researching, or rabble-rousing, Liz enjoys knitting, spending time with friends, and watching things on Netflix.

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    fellow fat girl here, very much in love with this talk (and this general topic).

    The one thing I have been weary with in my life is calling out what Jill identifies here as “fat talk.” Specifically, I have known people who have body dysphoria and openly look at not just their bodies but other people’s bodies with open and blatant disgust due to their “fatness.” I don’t know if this is the type of fat talk that should be checked or not, but I do know our culture allows this type of talk to occur far too frequently and openly.

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    Interesting talk–I hear what she’s saying about the hilariously patronising euphemisms people use for large sized clothes, but it’s difficult to ask thin people to join in reclaiming the word fat, since the vast majority of people who are larger will still see it as a pejorative instead of a description… As a person who is naturally thin and has been my entire life I would not feel comfortable using the word fat to describe another person unless I knew them and knew they self-identified that way.

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      I feel the same way, but I am fat. I just tend to avoid using those kinds of descriptors in real life unless it’s necessary. Like if I’m describing someone, I’ll say “oh she’s blonde, big, and has freckles.” It may be a euphemism but I’m not 100% comfortable with saying “oh, I use fat as a descriptor, not as a negative term!” yet. I’m trying to think of an analogous term but I’m having trouble. That being said, you can kind of tell how someone means it when they’re talking. “Oh, look at how fat she is” vs. “You know Mel, she’s fat and…”are totally different.

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        For me it’s kind of like “queer” – it’s my identity, it’s a word I love using, but I know other people don’t really like it.

        Because I could not in any way be described as fat, I don’t think I’d be comfortable reclaiming that word either! Unless someone told me that was their preferred descriptor, of course. :)

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          Totally. I feel the same way about queer, despite finding it adequate to describe my sexual orientation. But I don’t really feel comfortable saying “HEY I’M QUEER” especially since I’m a woman married to a man. I feel like that doesn’t belong to me. It’s part bisexual erasure part…insecurity.

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