Sean Dietrich published an article today titled "Fat Girls", and while he makes one extremely excellent point, ("A woman is a hell of a lot more than a body.") I have some serious issues with some of the other things he says (although I understand what he is trying to say, and the goodness of heart that drove him to attempt to articulate it).
There are two tightly entwined things that need unpacking the article: his declaration of what is beautiful, and his declaration that a five-year-old-girl is "not fat".
Let's start with what is beautiful. My main problem is that in his essay, Dietrich uses the classic, "Beauty Is On The Inside!" (BIOTI) argument, by substituting the word "beauty" for "character". The BIOTI argument comes from mistaking "beautiful" for "valuable", as is often the case for objects. And I understand why he makes this connection- it's something our culture shoves down our throats from every angle, that your worth as a female comes down to your physical attractiveness, and if you aren't beautiful, you aren't as valuable as someone who is. But that doesn't actually make it true, any more than calling peanut butter "almond butter" is going to keep someone with a peanut allergy from going into anaphylactic shock. Because you are a person, and not an object, you have value whether you are physically beautiful or not- and that's something we as a society need to work harder at internalizing. Because BIOTI is blatantly false- beauty is on the outside; character is on the inside- and children, who are not stupid, can clearly see that.
Now let's take a moment to talk about the word "fat". What does "fat" actually mean? I turned to my good friend Google, who gave me (among other definitions) "having a large amount of excess flesh." That's right- fat is a nice, neutral adjective, with no moral worth attached. Nowhere in the definition of "fat" is there the word "ugly" or "stupid" or "lazy" or "worthless" or even "not beautiful". Nowhere. "Fat" is not actually a pejorative, and we need to stop treating it like one.
It's something I've had to consciously work on, myself. There was a time in my life when I was fat. Many people (who love me and don't want me to "talk bad" about myself) are quick to assure me that no, I wasn't fat- but I was, and I say that with no shame. I was about 10 sizes larger than I should have been at that time (hello excess flesh). I was also beautiful and smart and funny. I lost that excess flesh and became skinny. I was still beautiful and smart and funny. I gained some of the weight back, and was still beautiful and smart and funny. I could go on, but I think you get the point- the amount of flesh I carry (excess or not) has nothing to do with my physical beauty- or my worth as a person.
Because we unconsciously equate "beautiful" with "worthwhile", when someone tells our daughters, "You're not pretty," what we hear is, "You're not valuable", and because of course our daughters are valuable, we rush to reassure them, "You are beautiful! Look at how nice you are to Susan! Look at how you help your brother with his chores!" Which is, in a completely unintentional way, reinforcing in our daughters' minds that only beautiful people are worth loving- and again, they can see for themselves that BIOTI is not true.
Those girls and women Dietrich mentioned? In spite of his use of the word "beauty", we have no way of knowing if they're beautiful or not. But he illustrates their character for us; he indicates that they are strong, loving, determined, compassionate, kind, generous, brave- and valuable. So it doesn't matter if they're "beautiful" or if they're "fat" or if they're "left-handed"; those are descriptive words that tell us nothing about their value as people. The words "kind" and "generous" and "brave" tell us who they are. Because, as Dietrich so flatly states, "A woman is a hell of a lot more than a body."
So maybe that five-year-old who got called fat, is fat. And- radical concept here- that's okay. If she is a healthy, happy, well-adjusted little girl, who gives a rat's ass is she's fat or skinny or freckled or near-sighted or any other valueless descriptor word? And rather than rushing to reassure her that she's "not fat" (and is therefore valuable!), maybe we should teach her to look whoever called her fat in the eye and say, "What of it?"
(One last thing- "fat" is just a descriptive term, neither good nor bad, but "lard-ass"? "Lard-ass" is not neutral, and therefore no one is a "lard-ass", no matter how much excess flesh they carry. Even if they are physically repulsive, even if they are the world's biggest jerk, they're still not a "lard-ass", because again, your physical shell has nothing to do with your character- and vice versa. If someone's pissing you off by being a horrible human being, you need to focus your commentary on that, and not on how they look [even if they look like a deranged Cheeto]. And if someone calls you a lard-ass, you know that they're too immature to articulate their actual problem with you [or, more likely, themselves], and you can safely ignore them.)