Improve your lexicon: fat politicians

I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my vocabulary – both by expanding it, and by getting rid of some of the more objectionable, oppressive language which we all use without thinking.

But change can be difficult. The best solution I’ve found is to brainstorm alternative words in advance and think good and hard about them. Hence, these weekly posts – as much a tool for me as for anyone else!

I’m not perfect. Sometimes we can easily see why one word is objectionable, but the alternatives which immediately spring to mind may also have bad connotations which we’re not aware of. I may screw up during this process, but I’ll do my best to fix it when I do. All any of us can do is keep trying and keep learning.

ETA: Swear to god, I had this post scheduled before I saw the article which inspired this morning’s post! The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows how much it irks me when people attack rightwing politicians like Gerry Brownlee or Paula Bennett by going straight for the fat jokes.

I have so many objections to this kind of thing. Fat stigma is a real thing which causes serious harm to people. And politicians like Brownlee and Bennett are so easy to criticise for things which actually are bad, instead of their body size!

The thing is, it’s not just their body size. In our society, which takes a faaaaaairly negative view of fat people, fatness is a code for all kinds of terrible character traits – as Cynara Geissler puts it, “visual shorthand for lazy, undisciplined, incapable and out of control”.

And because many of those traits – laziness, greediness, out of control – align with what we assume about fat people, it becomes far too easy to see, say, Gerry Brownlee’s size as proof of his arrogance, bullishness, pushy-ness, and power-grabbing.

Yet they’re also attributes we might associate with, say, the Prime Minister – except he’s not fat. But fortunately our culture also associates many of those traits with being of Jewish descent, which at best makes it a little cringe-inducing the way many cartoonists whack a great big hooked nose on him in their caricatures.

That’s not a coincidence. After all, only 100 years ago diabetes – which we now associate very firmly with fat people who make “poor lifestyle choices” – was considered “a Jewish disease”.

This examining-our-unconscious-linguistic-biases thing is quite the rollercoaster ride, isn’t it?

And if none of those reasons convince you, I offer this: calling people “fatty” is so primary school, isn’t it? Let’s call people proper grown-up names, if we must.

So, alternatives to “fat” (or whatever other clever word you were going to use which means “fat”) which are perfect for rightwing politicians who oppress the vulnerable:

arrogant, vindictive, bigoted, anti-democratic, bullying,
dogwhistling, boorish, ungallant, uncaring, despotic
oppressive, individualistic, exploitative, sneering, self-serving

If you’ve got any suggestions of words to cover, pop them in a comment or tweet me!

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