Your Momma’s So Portly...


| 2/19/2008 5:50:17 PM


Tags: fat, Gastronomica, Mark Morton, stereotypes, words for fat,

Fat definitionThere is no end to the vocabulary we’ve devised to slap people with the fat label—obese, overweight, portly, soft, plump, chubby, tubby, etc. But are all these words created equal? As it turns out, no. Mark Morton reports in Gastronomica’s summer issue (subscription required) that the language we use to describe fat people smacks of race, class, and gender stereotypes.

More euphemistic words for fat are used to describe those in higher-paying professions. For example, Morton found that a Google search for “portly” resulted in descriptions of doctors, lawyers, and professors, but rarely for janitors and plumbers. And “fat teacher” turned up 10,600 hits, while a search for “fat professor” turned up only 1,190. Race was another factor influencing word-choice. Although “white man,” “white woman,” “black man,” and “black woman” all got around the same number of hits when the phrases stood alone, adding “fat” skewed the results. The phrase “fat black woman” got eight times as many hits as “fat white woman,” while “fat white man” got 12 times as many hits as “fat black man.” And black women were dubbed fat, obese, and overweight at far higher rates than the others.

Now that’s all interesting, but what does it mean? Morton concludes that our propensity for denoting black women’s weight more frequently than others' reflects not the reality of waistlines, but the reality of disenfranchisement: “It’s analogous to what happens in the schoolyard: the outsiders are the ones who get called the names, not those at the center of the clique.”

(For more from Gastronomica’s summer issue, read "The Food Police," reprinted in Utne Reader’s Jan.-Feb. package on our obsession with obesity.)

Sarah Pumroy

mark morton
3/12/2008 3:24:46 PM

Hi, Dave -- I think I deal with the seemingly discrepant numbers pertaining to "fat white man" and "fat black man" in the full article in Gastronomica. -- Mark http://www.wordhistories.com


alex_1
3/10/2008 2:42:58 PM

Describing them as 'people' could be a start, Marghretta.


marghretta
2/26/2008 9:36:30 PM

Let me see: according to recent statistics, 65% of the general population is overweight and of that number half (or 32.5% of the general population) are obese. Among blacks the number jumps to 80%. Latinos, especially Mexican Americans, are close to that percentage. Now if 80% of a group is fat/overweight/plump/obese, exactly what word should Mr. Morton use in describing the members of it?


dave_2
2/20/2008 12:24:36 AM

Mark Morton's conclusion is patently absurd based upon the data presented in the article! If it is true that "the outsiders are the ones who get called the names, not those at the center of the clique" then how is it that "fat white man" gets 12 times the number of hits as "fat black man"? I don't know why these statistics came out as they did, but the differences obviously cannot be due to "disenfranchisement."