Why More People Need To Know What "Fatcalling" Is

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.

"You look like a gallon of milk."

"You've got a big, fat ass."

"Why aren't those tights ripped? Your legs are so big."

These are all things that strangers have said to me on the street, simply because I dared to exist in public as a fat person. Well, technically, that last one is a paraphrase — I was lost and in a hurry, and I was so taken aback I didn't even fully register what that man was saying.

We often use the term "catcalling" to refer to unsolicited sexual comments or advances, most of which are directed at women on the street. But what about the unsolicited insults that people find acceptable to hurl at fat folks? How should we categorize those? (And, no, being fat doesn't make you immune to catcalls, either.)

In my head, I always thought of these cruel statements as catcalling's weight-shaming cousin: fatcalling. A Google search for "fatcalling" shows I’m far from the only person who's experienced this, let alone the only person who’s given it this catchy (albeit obvious) name. And the fact that this term is out there, existing in the ether, is a painful reminder of how ubiquitous and cruel fat-shaming can be.

At The Vocal, Catherine Bouris uses the term to describe some of the insults she's received from strangers, including people calling her a "whale" and a "hippo." A 2016 Medium post from a writer using the alias Your Fat Friend, meanwhile, uses the term to describe an incident in which a stranger told her his sadistic fantasy: "[H]e wanted to hold my arms down while I struggled to get free." Fatcalling can also take the form of concern-trolling, in which non-doctors, for the most part, dole out fat-phobic remarks under the guise of free health advice. (Thanks, but no thanks.) And it doesn’t just happen on the street, either. It can happen at the gym, on subway platforms, at restaurants, and in online comments sections. (For further proof, look no further than the comments on Refinery29's own 67% Project manifesto, where you'll find everything from concern trolls to remarks about Refinery29's 67% stock photo models.)

These experiences show how fat people are made to feel as if our bodies aren’t only aesthetically unacceptable — they don't even belong to us. We apparently exist only for other people to mock, criticize, or verbally assault. And while catcalling has been placed at the forefront of the national conversation around street harassment, it seems like fatcalling is still something you have to experience to know it's happening.

So why aren't we talking about this more? A huge factor is likely shame coupled with numbness. It's amazing what you can get used to when you're around it every day. (New Yorkers, for instance, regularly sidestep heaps of trash, roaches, and rats without batting an eye.) The first few times I was fatcalled after my weight gain in 2014, I was mortified. It didn't matter what neighborhood I was in, what I was wearing, what I was doing — someone always seemed to have an opinion to share about my appearance. But these days, I've learned how to tune out the voices of rude passerby by clinging to my own sense of self-love and body positivity.

In a twisted way, I became more comfortable with my body precisely because it made other people uncomfortable. I felt like I was more in control of my reality — like I was actually living for myself. And no, I don't mean that I started eating more fast food, or whatever the concern trolls might be thinking. I'm actually more comfortable in, say, workout clothes now than I was at a smaller size. It's almost as if I'm daring people to judge me, to share their uninformed opinions — and it gives me more confidence to know that their words don't have power over me.

Of course, it took me a while to get to this place. Being called a "gallon of milk" was not an experience I was able to brush off lightly. It took a lot of introspection about why people made those kinds of comments in the first place, and the work I needed to do to love myself, and to strip those words of their power. (In the end, they really are just the ramblings of a complete stranger, and there's no reason to take them seriously in any capacity.) Most importantly, though, it took me finding the stories of other people who had experienced fatcalling and could label it for what it really is — a hateful, targeted form of street harassment — for me to finally stop allowing cruel strangers to hold so much power over my self-worth. Slowly, over time, these types of comments have ceased to bother me.

I’m not saying that we should just resign ourselves to accepting this kind of harassment. I’m simply saying that, while a depressingly large chunk of society figures out how to be decent human beings, those on the receiving ends of fatcalls can find solace in talking about our experiences — and making sure that straight-size folks are well aware this is happening, too.

At the end of the day, no one deserves to have unwanted comments hurled at them, simply because they've deigned to exist in the world. The various campaigns to end street harassment that have popped up in recent years are a great start. But it's important to remember that traditional catcalls aren't the only form of street harassment — we need to fight fatcalls, too. And I have no problem using my "big, fat" voice as my weapon.

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67% of U.S. women are plus-size. Join as Refinery29 gives these women their own megaphone, doubling down on our commitment as allies, and partnering with them to catapult their powerful conversations into a true historic movement. #WeAreThe67

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