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Is the word “fat a slur or a description? This is a variation of a question posed by someone Re-Tweeted onto my timeline. The conversation that followed described the ways people who are overweight should be described; and they debated whether fat is in fact a slur.  It’s a sensitive subject, especially when you consider the fact that over thirty-five percent of American adults are obese.  Many people feel the word fat isn’t a slur or there is nothing wrong with targeting people who are overweight, because it’s something they can control and they are fat because they want to be fat.

Since I will never be mistaken for overweight, I don’t know how much value my opinion holds, but I’ll give it anyway. There is a minority of people who are genetically predisposed to being overweight. On the other hand, I believe the majority of overweight people are that way because of lack of motivation and poor eating habits. However, poor eating habits are not always entirely people’s fault.  Poverty and very few healthy food options play a large role in the rise of obese Americans.

For example, while I was in the DMV for Christmas break, I had to buy a new charger for my MacBook so my brother and I took a ride out to Kensington, Maryland. Kensington is located in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is more affluent than Prince George’s County (where my mother lives). After I bought my charger, I realized I was hungry and wanted to grab a quick bite to eat. We drove around for 20 minutes before we found a fast food restaurant, and we only found it because it was near a shopping mall. Conversely, if I were near my mother’s home I would have had no difficulty finding a fast food restaurant.

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It’s no secret that less prosperous urban neighborhoods are food deserts; meaning they often lack options for fresh fruits and vegetables. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than affluent ones, they have fewer grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. This is the case in my neighborhood of Crown Heights where there are scarcely any grocery stores. Residents are expected to do their grocery shopping at bodegas and local delis where there is no fresh produce and the prices are inflated. Even if you find a grocery store that has fresh produce, the prices are discouraging. I went to Target a couple months back and while picking up a couple items I noticed a bag of grapes were $7 while a bag of Doritos was $2.50.

Being on the thin side, I receive all types of slander that is deemed perfectly acceptable. There is no reason for a person to tell me that I need to eat a sandwich or tell me that I’m skinny enough to hula-hoop with a cheerio, but people do. Most of the people in my family are thin and more than likely I’ll be slim my whole life no matter how many weight gain regiments I go through. Thin people are allowed to work out, and we do have appetites and eat regularly. Telling me that I benefit from “skinny people privilege” is offensive. Unlike “white privilege,” weight isn’t something that can never change and affords me a social advantage. For the most part, if an overweight person wants to lose weight they can. Black people can’t magically turn themselves white.

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Alternatively, it’s easy to use genetics as a crutch or excuse for why you are the way you are. Eating healthy may be expensive and challenging but people can’t fall into the trap of eating fast food every day. Watching what you choose to put into your body is no one’s responsibility but your own. This is where I draw the line on whether people should take personal accountability for their weight.   Based on this, I don’t think that using the word “fat” as a descriptor is a slur.

Do you believe that using the term “fat” as a descriptor is insensitive and/or an insult? Have you experienced a disparity in the types of grocery stores in relation to the median income of the neighborhood it is located? Is it possible to discriminate against people who are thin?

– Tunde