Some writers may fear touching on such a controversial topic as weight, thinking it would be better to stay within the boundaries of societal neutrality. However, if you’re willing to engage in the thoroughness and empathy that writing about contentious topics requires, know there’ll always be someone who needs to read your story. It can be someone who yearns for representation or validation of their body type, especially if what they see or read about is mainly centered on skinny characters. It can be someone who doesn’t understand the struggles of their plus-sized loved one. It can even be you, should you want to broaden your self-awareness of your fat-related attitudes and perspective of the world. If that resonates, here are the best ways to write about weight.
Do your research on the fat experience
Something you’ll need to consider when writing about weight: the fat experience isn’t uniform. For some, their struggle with weight centers around learning to love their bodies as is and caring for them despite a hostile environment. In doing so, they see keeping a healthy weight as a dynamic struggle they want to engage in. Meanwhile, some understand their obese condition to be rooted in biology—instead of assigning any particular judgment on their body size, they utilize a healthy weight loss program to help alleviate what they understand to be a chronic condition. Weight loss medication is a feature in these programs, which address the biological factors that impact their ability to lose weight. Other include improving eating patterns, choosing more nutritious foods, and working with a community to address common obesity challenges, allowing these individuals can then focus on other concerns in their lives.
Ultimately, the empowerment of these individuals lies in finding the right methods and support to reach their desired state of well-being. You’ll want to understand the diversity of these experiences by deliberately learning, asking about, and researching them. This will enrich how you depict weight in your story.
Be mindful of your language
As a writer, you likely already understand that words aren’t neutral. When it comes to writing about weight, you’ll want to take care that you’re sensitive to the meanings behind the terms you choose. Some phrases are harsh and judgemental—for example, you’ll never want to describe a character as “morbidly obese.” Other words have connotations you’ll want to be aware of when utilizing. Many consider “plus-size” as a neutral term, especially as it’s made its way into the language of clothing brands and fashion. Outside of that context, however, calling someone a plus-sized person can be strange. “Inbetweenie,” “small fat,” “mid-fat,” “superfat,” and “infinitifat” are all terms used by the fat community but may confuse those not engaged with the group. Even if the words are accurate, you generally want to avoid using terms your reader is unfamiliar with. Finally, there’s the ever-controversial word, ‘curvy’—which some people think is flattering, and others consider too associated with the over-glorified
A great rule of thumb to avoid getting mired in these vocabulary traps is to use people-first language—wording that avoids labeling someone their disease. For example, you’d say that someone has obesity, rather than saying they’re obese. This can help you avoid writing with a callous and insensitive tone. And, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to use the word “fat.”
Explore fat stigma carefully
A large part of the fat experience’s negative side isn’t about the weight itself but other people’s reactions to it. Note that not every story with fat characters has to explore this—you can simply write about engaging, three-dimensional fat individuals dealing with interesting plotlines unrelated to their weight. But it is an issue worth exploring if that’s what you set out to do. Fat stigma and fat shaming are realities people face and have links to several negative physical effects, like eating disorders, alcohol misuse,
and other chronic conditions. At the same time, you need to take care of these issues, especially if it’s not your lived experience.
Before submitting your draft to a publisher, you’ll likely want to consult anti-fat bias sensitivity readers to ensure you’ve managed to portray the fat community and its problems accurately and respectfully.
Writing about weight can be challenging—but it’s also important. Follow the above tips to write your story with due care.