Fategories – Understanding the Fat Spectrum

Updated, May 2021: I wrote this piece in 2019 and it was long overdue for an update. I’ve removed the “White Fragility” framework because WOW that did not age well, and I should never have used it. I know better now, and I’m sorry. I updated the definition of “deathfat” and credited author and fat activist Lesley Kinzel with creating the term (with sincere apologies to Lesley for causing misunderstanding). I included history and context for the term “super fat” that I did not understand when I wrote this (h/t to the fats who educated me on this after this piece was published), and I changed the format to be more of a neutral explainer. I’ve also updated the image because, frankly, it was hard to read! I tried to cram everything into one image, but it’s just impossible to include everything in one image and not make a cluttered mess. So now, you have a big infographic.

My vision for this piece when I wrote it was for it to be a helpful resource, especially to those who are new to the fat community or trying to onboard newbies to the wonderful world of size oppression conversations, and I’m so glad that it has been used in that way. I’ve edited the piece to be more informational than inflammatory. Truth be told, I’ve calmed down a lot since this piece was first written, and I wanted this whole post to just relax. You could see the steam rising from this post, it came in so hot. So, hopefully, you’ll hear a little less anger and a bit more chill in the edits I’ve made. This time, I do not choose violence.

Love,

Linda


Like a lot of people, I spend a lot of time on The Internetz™. And much of my time there is spent in online groups and communities for other fat people. There are a lot of them! And these groups cover a wide array of topics. There are groups for healthcare concerns, groups for hygiene, groups for people who like to swim, groups for fashion, groups for talking about sex. While the topics the groups are dedicated to vary wildly, there is one topic that always comes up, in every single one, and causes a great deal of fighting and distress.

And that’s “levels of fatness.” You know: straight-sized, plus-sized, “small fat,” “infinifat,” and so on. Fategories.

These conversations almost seem to follow a script: Someone posts a question about the different “categories” of fatness they see people using. They don’t like the categories. They don’t understand them. Where is the line? Who made the rules? Are they necessary? Are we really gatekeeping fatness in this manner?! These categories, they declare, are arbitrary and rigid. They wish we would stop using them, because we are all fat in this group, and we do not need to be divided. We are more powerful when we are united and supporting one another than divided into categories and fighting!

So, what the heck is this all about? Where do these terms come from? Who decides how they’re used? Who determines where you fall? Let’s dig in.

The Fat Spectrum: A Glossary

Isn’t “fat” enough of a descriptor? Honestly, no! Not really. Fatness, like many things, exists on a spectrum. 

Over time, as fat activism has become increasingly intersectional. As communities aim to center the most marginalized in their ranks, people have developed labels that describe where they fall on the fat spectrum. These labels or categories essentially attempt to create a shorthand that quickly and efficiently describes where a person is on the spectrum of fatness and their experiences living in the world in those fat bodies. It’s a difficult thing to attempt, because size oppression touches so many areas of fat people’s lives, and these conversations can be very nuanced. No system of labels is going to be perfect, or accurately reflect every single person’s lived experience, but these terms are commonly used in fat communities.

So if you’re feeling a little lost, I created a glossary of terms you’ll hear in fat communities. If you find yourself wondering “what does ‘mid-fat’ even mean” or “where do I fall on the spectrum,” these definitions are for you, so that you do not need to inquire with a group of several thousand fatties who will rip you apart because they hear that question every Thursday.

I do want to note, to the people of the jury, that this list and this blog as a whole are not intended to be the end-all, be-all of this discussion. I did not create any of these terms. If they have specific creation myths, they are noted below. I know there is some internal disagreement about many of the contours and edges of these terms. I know, I know. I also want to acknowledge that using women’s clothing sizes as a primary means of classification is problematic, as it leaves out men and nonbinary people (though hopefully the XL sizes help with that.)

I am simply trying to encounter terms people might see out in the wild in fat communities and explain them to those who don’t know. Some of these terms (such as Infinifat) had their genesis in the BBW community (which also spurred plenty badass fat activists & many of the online spaces we cherish today), but that is its own community with its own lexicon, which I am not part of, so I’ve opted to leave out BBW terms, with no disrespect meant to people who call that community home.

Straight Size

A “straight size” person is, quite simply, someone who is not fat. They do not require plus-size clothing and their body weight is not generally a barrier for them in their daily lives. 

Mid-Size

This is a term some straight-size people have coined to describe their experience of not being skinny, but not being fat, either. People who consider themselves “mid-size” are often around a US women’s size 12 or 14, and in some cases even smaller. This is a variant of “straight size” that excludes people on the smaller end of the straight-size spectrum. This is a particular fetch that I don’t want to help make happen, but it is gaining traction as a size category, particularly on TikTok. Mid-size people are right in the middle of the bell curve of sizes and are not considered fat by the vast majority of people. 

fategories

Small Fat

Below a US women’s 18, or in the 1x – 2x range

A “small fat” is someone on the smallest end of the fat spectrum. Think “entry level fat.” When it comes to plus-size clothing, they are included in the size ranges of all plus-size retailers, as well as many straight-size clothes. A person who is in the small fat range may experience some degree of size oppression (such as doctors voicing concern about their weight, or comments from friends, family, or people in general), but they are able to access public spaces and are generally not shut out of many areas of life solely due to their weight. 

Mid-Fat

Between a US women’s 20 – 24 or 26, or 2x – 3x

“Mid-fat” people are the next step up the fat spectrum. Mid-fats are typically relegated to plus-size retailers and rarely included in straight size retailers’ extended sizes. At this stage, brick-and-mortar options for clothing tend to dry up, as most options are online-only. Institutional sizeism comes into play much more strongly with mid fats than small fats. People in the “mid-fat” range are likely to experience discrimination in healthcare, weight stigma at work, in relationships, and the world at large. They may have trouble fitting into certain seats or accessing certain spaces. However, they are still accommodated to some degree, in comparison to those who are on the larger end of the spectrum. 

Large Fat

US women’s 26 to 32, or 4x – 5x

Definitions of “large fat” can vary, but it usually refers to people in between the “mid fat” and “super fat” categories. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “Lane Bryant Fat,” a term coined by writer Roxane Gay. People who consider themselves “large fat” are on the larger side of the middle of the fatness spectrum, which is a bit of a confusing sentence, sorry about that. 

Superfat 

Women’s size 26 and up; may have an upper limit or not, depending on who is using this label and how they choose to employ it

The term “super fat” was coined at the NOLOSE conference in 2008. You can read the history of the term “super fat” here. Super fat was created by the fattest members of the community, who felt that “mid fat” and “large fat” no longer suited them (and because they felt their presence and needs were being ignored and/or diminished by those smaller than them.) It was specifically meant to evoke superhero imagery and acted to unify members of the fat community around the largest fats. Some fat people at the conference even made capes! 

Over time, as it often happens on the internet and with language in general, the meaning of this word has shifted slightly. Super fat’s meaning has changed slightly in some circles and “infinifat” has replaced the term for many fat folks. (Some people who were involved with the creation of the term “super fat” still prefer it to “infinifat.”) What used to be considered “large fat” by some is now referred to as “super fat.” This can be confusing for people new to the fat community, because there is so much history that is from a specific time and place! 

But whether folks use the term with the understanding that it has a size cap where “infinifat” takes over or not, you can generally always assume that when someone refers to themselves as “super fat,” they mean they are on the larger end of the size spectrum. People in this range experience a lack of access due to their weight on a regular, daily basis. They experience discrimination in healthcare, the workplace, public spaces, and are excluded from many areas of public life. People who identify as superfat are either at the upper end of most plus-size retailers, or may even be sized out of most plus-size retailers. They generally have no brick-and-mortar clothing stores that serve them.

Infinifat

Women’s US size 32 – 34 and above, or may be used as a variant of super fat

The term “infinifat” was created by Ash of The Fat Lip. “Infinifat” people face significant barriers due to institutionalized sizeism on a daily basis. As defined by the graphic Ash made (which is widely circulated), infinifat refers to anyone who is a size 34 or above and/or size 6x. Infinifats are so underserved that many may not know their actual clothing size because plus size retailers do not include them at all. They may have to have clothing made custom. People in this size range are excluded from participating in many areas of public life, face intense discrimination and mistreatment in healthcare, and are the most underserved of all members of the fat community. 

Death Fat 

The term “death fat” was coined by writer and pioneering member of the Fatshionista Livejournal community Lesley Kinzel in a blog post from 2008. According to Lesley, this term was not meant to have specific size constraints, and can refer to fat people of any size who wish to use the term to reclaim their “morbid” fatness.

Graphics to Use 

Beyond the nifty infographic I made above, there are other charts and glossaries that exist as well. Most commonly these break down these categories based on clothing size, such as this graphic from The Fat Lip Podcast:

Size and Accessibility

Clothing size is used as a gateway for understanding size-based oppression, but it’s the beginning of the conversation, not the destination. Access to clothing that fits is an entry point to understand the larger picture of lack of accessibility that fat people face as they move up the size spectrum. The larger someone is, the more barriers they face in their daily lives when trying to participate in mundane life activities and navigate the world. People who are small or mid-fat, for instance, probably don’t have to think too hard about it if a friend or coworker offers them a ride in their car. But for people who are higher on the spectrum, that ride becomes fraught: Will I fit in the seat? What if the seat belt doesn’t click? Do I have a seat belt extender on me I can use? If I use it, will the people I’m riding with me be weird about it? Will we all have to sit in the car listening to the “beep” because I can’t buckle my seatbelt? And that experience extends to a lot of things, from flying on a plane, to going to see a movie, to eating in a restaurant, to finding a seat in a waiting room at the doctor’s office.

Accessing compassionate, evidence-based healthcare becomes harder as you move up the spectrum, too. That doctor I wrote about? Who compared my stomach to a cancerous breast (YES REALLY!) and made me cry? They were recommended to me by someone in a fat community who said they had a great, weight-neutral experience with that doctor. They identified themselves as mid fat; I was a US 28 and fell into the “super fat” category when I saw this doctor. That size difference, which seems negligible, completely changed the experience we had with the same medical professional.

At a smaller size, you may not have issues with blood pressure cuffs fitting, or worry about the weight limits on examination tables, or read that an ultrasound or scan was obscured by “patient body habitus” (meaning, your fat bod) in a report, or have a doctor give you a “come to Jesus” talk about your weight at every single appointment. Infinifats may even encounter scales that can’t weigh them, medical equipment that does not fit them at all, and exam tables that cannot accommodate them. People over a certain size may not be able to find MRI machines that they fit into, may be denied treatment because of their weight, or may have treatments held hostage to bully them into having weight loss surgery they may not want (and did not really consent to, if they were bullied into it.)

So, when we break people into “categories of fatness,” it isn’t just about clothing size. It’s about access. It’s a way of trying to quantify the fact that people who have larger bodies face a greater degree of size oppression.

The Importance of Intersectionality

The other thing that’s important to note is that clothing size and access are not the only factors at play here.

Fat activism is (or, at least, should be) intersectional. That is, it takes into account how different political and social identities overlap and interact with one another. For instance, someone who is mid-fat, but also trans and living with a visible disability that requires assistive devices has a very different experience than a cis, non-disabled person who is also mid-fat. A young fat person will not have the same experience navigating healthcare or workplace treatment/discrimination as someone who is 50+ and also fat. BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People/Persons of Color) who are fat live with racism as well as size oppression. So, these identities intersect with one another (see that?!) and it is only by considering the full picture of a person’s identity that we can understand their experience.

None of the categories for fat people aim to give a full picture of what oppressions and privileges a given person lives with. What it’s aiming to do is add size oppression (and privilege) to the equation. 

Size Spectrum FAQ 

Why is categorizing people based on their size even a thing?

Fat people have been in community with one another since at least the genesis of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) in the late 60s, and probably well before that, but that’s where we’ll start for the purposes of answering this question. Fat people can experience the world very differently based on how fat they are. The needs of someone who is on the larger end of the fat spectrum are usually quite different than those who are smaller. This not only creates conversational barriers, but can also create access issues. (For instance, a conference organized by a group of people mainly composed of small and mid-fats may not realize that a space or activity is completely inaccessible to larger fat people. This has actually happened when people who are smaller organize an event for people who are larger than them and, whoops, the bathroom stalls at the venue are too small and the chairs have arms.) So the categories (or “fategories,” if you will) were created as a helpful, quick way of understanding the difference of experiences and needs based on size. 

Unfortunately, many larger fat people have seen themselves continually pushed out of fat communities by those who are smaller. This is often nothing more than a numbers game: There are naturally going to be more people in the middle of a bell curve than at either end of it, so there are simply more small and mid fats in the general population. And that statistical truth plays itself out in fat communities, too. So, much like the super fats who wore capes and created an internal code to alert others when they felt excluded, these categories keep us from completely overlooking, ignoring, or walking and talking over larger fat people. It’s essentially a way of saving a seat at the table for larger fat folks.

It also helps people connect with people in their same size range when crowdsourcing information. 

Isn’t categorizing people by size divisive?

You could choose to see it that way, but the fat community created these categories for a reason. It was not to divide communities and create discord, but to ensure that all sizes were included in fat activism and had a place in the fat community. Some people may choose not to associate themselves with any label or category and that is absolutely fine. There is no Council of Fat Overlords that is going to write you a ticket or impose a penalty for not adhering to the rules. 

In many activist communities, you’ll encounter the concept of “centering.” In a nutshell, this means that activist communities often choose to prioritize the needs and voices of those who are the most marginalized. Have you heard the phrase, “A rising tide lifts all boats?” The thinking behind centering larger fat people in fat activist spaces means that when the needs of the largest fat people in a community are met, it will also improve the ability of smaller fat people to have their needs met. But if we focus on the needs of smaller fat people, the needs of larger fat people are not met and they will continue to be excluded. And because people who are more marginalized due to their size (and/or other intersecting issues such as disability, race, gender, class, and so on that can limit access) may be outnumbered, those who hold privilege can (inadvertently or intentionally) end up dismissing, excluding, speaking over, or speaking for people who are larger than them. So, when a community centers larger fat people, it is holding space for their needs, voices, and perspectives in the community… and hopefully ensuring that they are not silenced or pushed to the margins in their own communities. 

But who decides where someone falls? Who decides whether someone is a small fat or a mid fat?

You decide! Where do you fall based on not just your clothing size, but the discrimination and bias you experience due to your weight? Which category sounds closest to your own experience? There’s no Fat Sorting Hat. No one is going to bust out a measuring tape and evaluate your size. That’s not what fat activism is about! You can use these categories, or not. If you are in a discussion in a community where people are talking about their own size and which “fategory” they fit into, this and other pieces of content explaining these terms will help you understand what they’re talking about. If you are in a community that states that it centers larger fats, this explainer can help you wrap your head around what that means and why it’s done. 

These terms and definitions were created by the fat community, and as you see in the definition of superfat, lines blur and shift over time. There isn’t a panel of judges evaluating anyone’s size where you can file for an appeal if you think you were unfairly placed in the small fat category. But here’s the thing. If you want to be part of fat communities, where you have access to the knowledge, wisdom, compassion, recommendations, friendship, humor, and badass activism of fat folks, you have to be willing to accept some of the internal lingo and etiquette that has been developed by that community over many years. It’s as simple as that. 

I’m uncomfortable being told I have privilege when I have been discriminated against and hurt because of my weight. So, why are people telling me I have privilege when I don’t feel like I do? 

Have you ever had someone ask you if your tongue fits in your mouth? You were just happily moving through your day when someone comes along and asks you if your tongue fits in your mouth, with a smirk on their face. Suddenly, your tongue feels massive, and you aren’t sure what to do with it or where it fits. Privilege is kind of like your tongue. You don’t really feel it until someone forces you to think about it.

It’s important to know that when someone makes you aware of your size privilege, they are not accusing you of anything or saying that the discrimination, pain, or even trauma you’ve experienced due to your size isn’t real or valid. One of the sad realities that binds fat communities together is that everyone has experienced that same pain, in varying degrees. I can certainly understand why it’s distressing and confusing when someone tells you that you have privilege and your experience has not felt privileged! It’s a hard thing to accept. (And we see this in nearly every segment of activism, from race to class to disability activism and beyond.)

But privilege is not a personal action or choice; it is the result of an oppressive system and body hierarchy that favors thinness. If you compare yourself to someone who is not fat at all, you can probably easily name the privileges they have that you don’t. They can shop at any store. They are not bullied for their weight. They don’t have doctors telling them they need to go on a diet, or have weight loss surgery, or billing your insurance for “weight counseling.” They cannot be (legally, in most states!) discriminated against by their employers for their size. They see themselves represented in the media, and their bodies are studied by scientists more regularly than fat people’s bodies are. 

So, that’s pretty easy to see when we look at thin versus fat, right? If we accept that size is a spectrum, and not just a skinny/fat binary, then you can expand that understanding to include proximity to thinness. The closer someone is to being thin, the more privilege they hold. The fatter they are, the less privilege they hold. This is because our society prizes thinness and condemns fatness. People with privilege don’t feel their privilege, it’s those without privilege who feel it. 

But for the sake of simplicity here, it’s easiest to understand someone telling you that you are privileged as them asking you to listen to their perspective, rather than an accusation or indictment of your feelings. 

I have body dysmorphia and I am legitimately not sure of where I fall on this spectrum. How do I figure it out? 

Hopefully your clothing size is a helpful clue as to where you fall. If none of these categories seem to fit, look at the tag in your pants. What size are they? Where would that size place you?

It’s not uncommon for people to ask this question because they are uncomfortable with being told that they are “small fat” when they feel they are simply enormous, the fattest person to ever enter a Cheesecake Factory. But it’s important to remember that we’re not measuring your feelings. Fat is not a feeling. It’s not low self-esteem, or poor confidence. It’s about where you exist in relation to other people, based on the size of your body and how well you can access various services, spaces, and items because of it.

If you are truly unsure after checking the size of your clothing, a trusted friend should be able to help you understand. This can be a polarizing and contentious question to ask in fat communities, so it is generally not recommended that you ask there. (Especially since, in order to figure this out for you, you’re probably going to be asked for your clothing size anyway, and you are just as capable of matching the size on your clothing tag to the size on a chart as anyone else on the internet.)

Doesn’t this just reinforce the idea of a body hierarchy? Ranking people in terms of size? 

In order for it to function as a hierarchy, it would need to have people who sit atop the hierarchy. One group would need to have status and authority over the others. So, who is on top here? Are the smaller fat people at the top of the hierarchy, because they possess more social capital and privilege than larger fat people? Or are larger fat people the ones at the top of the hierarchy, because in certain very specific situations and conversations in fat communities, they are centered? How is this pyramid built, who is on top and who is on the bottom? It’s not very easy to answer that, is it?

That said, there are some fat people who choose not to identify themselves with any of these labels for that very reason. And that is their right! No one is being forced to use any of these terms. Again, there is no panel of experts that is going to sort you into your appropriate category. It’s literally just shorthand for communicating for one another, and for some people, they may personally identify with whatever category suits them. (For instance, people who consider themselves “super fat” may love the superhero connotations and have fond memories of the conference and communities where this term was created and took hold, or love the defiant humor of “death fat.”) Some people find the very idea of “fatgories” abhorrent and told me so after I first published this post in 2019. You can take what is useful, and leave the rest.

In communities where people use these terms, people often speak disdainfully of “small fats.” In fact, I’ve even seen online communities dedicated to making fun of “small fats” where they share screenshots of their social media posts and comments. What’s the deal? What’s the beef? 

There are more “small fat” people than there are “super fat” or “infinifat.” A bell curve is a bell curve because there are more people in the middle, right? And there are fewer people at the edges. That’s usually reflected in fat and Health at Every Size communities, too. Larger fat people can feel outnumbered, and usually are. And when you’re already part of a marginalized group, and you feel marginalized in spaces where you are supposed to be welcomed, it can be extremely upsetting. In some cases, it’s downright infuriating because those spaces were built and cultivated by larger fat people, and smaller folks just came in and took over. 

In most cases, this isn’t intentional. Again, it’s a numbers game. 

In the past, though, it has been intentional. Look at the “body positivity” movement. This was created by fat, disabled, and marginalized people who were truly being radical by expressing love and joy for their bodies. When you have a body that is reviled and disdained and pitied and hated, loving yourself is a revolutionary act, a bold rebellion. And the defiant self-love was infectious. People wanted in on that. So they took body positivity and claimed it as their own. (You can read more about that here and here and hear what Lizzo has to say about it here.) For years, the concept of positivity has been twisted and reshaped to fit the narrative of whatever someone wanted to sell you. Body positivity has been stripped of meaning, and commercialized to death. It was once an outpost for the Rebel Alliance, for people living on the fringes of the diet culture empire. And now it’s used to sell Dove soap, fitness apps, diets, clothing, and more. It has become the evil empire. So, some people in fat communities still have a lot of anger about that. And, understandably, they can be hypervigilant about protecting their spaces. But body positivity isn’t even the first time this has happened, or the last. 

When “small fat” is used with a tone of disdain, it usually indicates that someone in a shared space has said or done something that was inconsiderate, invalidating, or insulting to larger fat people in that space. They may have simply failed to consider that people larger than them exist. Sometimes, they may have simply been guilty of coming into a community of fat people and saying, “Hey, where can I find some leggings in a 1x?” (The answer: “Have you tried going to literally any store and finding where they sell the leggings?”) 

The best anyone can do here is to make sure you understand the rules of the road, for whatever community you’re in. In online spaces, that means making sure you understand the rules of the group and quietly observing for awhile so you can understand how the group functions, so you don’t accidentally kick a hornet’s nest. 

How We Can All Just Get Along 

When I first wrote this post in 2019, I fell firmly on the side “small fats suck and are fragile and cry when everything isn’t about them.” I was pretty angry! I had some stuff going on. Now, several years and a whole pandemic later, I think a more nuanced take is in order. 

We’ve all got the same goal, more or less. We want better healthcare, less discrimination, more access, or at least better clothes in more sizes. We can all agree on that, right? Those are the basics. That’s why everyone is here, and most of us also want a sense of belonging to a community.

So, here’s what I suggest going forward, my Fategories Peace Plan: 

  • Be compassionate: Small fats, people who are larger than you may be hurt and quick to react because they face a lot of marginalization due to their size. Larger fats, everyone is new to a group at some point and might stick their foot in their mouth because they don’t know what they don’t know. Trying to have compassion for each other and allow room for other folks to be human, flawed, and with their own unique baggage can help communities run more smoothly. 
  • Read the room: If you’re new to an online space or community, lurk for a while. Learn the rhythms of the community and get familiar with the people in the community. Comment before you post. Ease yourself in. A lot of arguments and pile-ons have started because someone simply came in without taking the time to get to know the community. In any community, people are likely to get annoyed if you just walk in and start talking over everyone. So take a little time and settle in, and give yourself time to actually be part of the community. 
  • Take care of yourself: The cool thing about online communities is that you can just walk away from people and conversations that annoy you. We are all masters of our notifications and feeds. So, fellow fats, if you see a newbie posting something that annoys you and you don’t feel like teaching them lessons, just leave. Bounce. Hide the post. Keep scrolling. Move on with your day. Leave it to people who feel like engaging. Keep on walking. Every question about plus-size swimsuits is not an attack on you, I promise. And if you can’t resist the fight, well, maybe that’s a deeper issue you need to look into. (I was like that and, whoops, I was running around with undiagnosed and untreated PTSD just lashing out at any “safe” target! So it’s at least worth thinking about what’s driving you if you’re like, “No, I will fight all the small fats in every community.”)
  • Be cautious about asking for other people’s labor: So, before you post to a group of 12,000 people to crowdsource a pair of XXL pants or ask about chub rub or where you can find a swimsuit, make sure you’ve done some legwork. Have you Googled it? Have you searched the group you’re in? People on the internet tend to get annoyed when you use them as Google (because they are, in fact, human beings), so just make sure to do your due diligence before you ask for the help of thousands of people finding wide-width sandals. 
  • Don’t volunteer labor you don’t wish to provide: I can make a flow chart of this conversational spiral in fat communities, it follows a very reliable progression. Someone asks a question, and then you provide a thoughtful answer and list of resources. Or, they express an opinion, and you disagree, leaving them a thoughtful answer and list of resources. They either don’t respond or don’t respond kindly. Maybe they still disagree. Maybe they don’t want the advice or resources you’ve given. Then you get annoyed. You provided all that labor! You did all that work for them, and this is the response you get?! So then you take out all the rage for all the free labor you’ve ever done in this community or on the internet or IN YOUR LIFE on the other person is like “woah what the fuck?” and you both get into it. (Can you tell I have done this once or twice?) So, the thing is, you should consider labor for strangers on the internet like money you lend to a friend or family member. It’s a gift, not a loan. Do not expect to get what you are owed, or want, in return. You don’t know them, they don’t know you, and you owe each other nothing. If you can’t live with the idea of not having your emotional labor in an online comment thread respected or compensated, keep scrolling. Don’t do any labor. Go pet your cat or watch a YouTube video instead.
  • Keep the big picture in mind: We’re all here for the same reasons. We want equality, we want healthcare, we want access, we want to be able to navigate the world more easily. We’re not going to make tangible progress on those things if we spin our wheels and expend all of our energy fighting with people in our own communities. Asking ourselves, “will this help our cause or our community?”, is a good filter to develop. Who actually benefits from us fighting over semantics with people on Facebook? Surely not us!
  • Hanlon’s Razor: This is a simple rule or principle: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. A kinder way of saying this is that sometimes people just don’t freakin’ know. And they’re not asking a question AT you, they are just asking a question. Sometimes people haven’t had exposure or experience with something, and just don’t know. They’re not stupid. They’re not out to get you. They just literally do not know. None of us have to be saints, but if we could all just be a teensy bit more charitable to each other in communities, we’d all be much happier.

At the end of the day, fat communities are important, revolutionary places. It’s where we develop ideas, take action, and provide support for each other. Given the amount of bullshit and discrimination we put up with as a demographic, that ain’t nothing. Being fat in a world where everyone wants to shrink you and do everything in their power not to be like you is hard. Finding a group of people where you are accepted just as you are, safe from people trying to make you smaller or tell you about how much weight they lost on keto, is a powerful thing. For fat people who may be isolated due to disability or lack of access to public life, these communities can be an absolute lifeline. Lifelong friendships are formed. Alliances are formed. We make plans to storm the castle at dawn. It’s a really awesome thing. 

These categories are not meant to be an albatross, forever causing division and disagreement. These are not warring houses or lines in the sand. They’re just meant to be shorthand we can use to strengthen our community and communicate a little better. They can also act as an intro to the marginalization of fat people, if you’re new to the topic. They meant to foster understanding and a community dynamic where the most marginalized are never pushed aside. And the good news is that they’re optional. You don’t need to sort yourself into a category if you don’t want to. But even if you don’t wish to employ these terms, understanding where they come from and how they’re used can be helpful in navigating the fat community and understanding others who inhabit these spaces. 

So, take this information and do with it what you will, take care of yourself, and just try follow Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick.

26 thoughts on “Fategories – Understanding the Fat Spectrum

  1. Wow, what a pathetic article. I find it funny how oppressed fat people think they are, not oppressed enough to stop eating the calories for 10 people a day. You have it so hard. 😢😢

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  2. Argh I was hoping there would be more positive comments… nevertheless thank you so much for your article, it’s very informative and well-written

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Honestly what you see here are the most positive comments of the bunch, the Reddit & Kiwifarms slime LOVE leaving me little love notes on this post in particular.

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  3. This article is a perfect, absolutely perfect primer for people just beginning to understand these issues. Thank you for writing it. I can’t wait to share it.

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this article! As someone who would most definitely count as smallfat, this really brought attention to certain thought patterns and defense mechanisms I was woefully unaware of up to this point. I very much see myself coming back to this post from time to time as a reminder. I’m sorry about all the weird hate you’ve been getting, and thank you again for this amazing article!

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  5. Thanks so much for this! As a thin woman who has long been interested in supporting fat liberation, I am super grateful for sources like this that I can utilize when I come across new terms, concepts, etc. without asking emotional labor of someone who may not want to do it.

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  6. Wow, reading this I was a mid-fat even at my smallest, but I looked like a small fat if not straight sized. What messes me up so much is how bad body dysmorphia is…I HATED the way I looked then and wanted to lose [redacted] more pounds, but looking at my pictures I’m not even sure how that would’ve occurred.

    It’s really a shame the trolls have come to this post, but also really good for SEO as I’ve seen you comment hehe. Fatness is still so stigmatized and misunderstood even by medical professionals even with all the evidence we have, and it’s frustrating.

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  7. I guess I’m a little confused. I was a size 24 and now I’m an 18 because I did a whole lot of research on nutrition and what doctors and psychologists had to say about why someone abuses themselves with food and how to break the hold of a food addiction I understand boosting self esteem but I think its shameful to try to make others feel bad about their “privilege” and like they aren’t doing enough to be more understanding. No one knows what anyone else is going through mentally and obesity and weight problems are mostly caused by mental health issues. I’m a big believer in “You do you” so if this is what you need to get through your life sane, do it. But remember your problem isn’t discrimination, it’s being physically and mentally unhealthy, and everyone needs to become responsible to find help and fix it. I don’t give two shits what anyone’s size is, but obesity is killing people and completely overwhelming the health care system. Do not make it acceptable. Self harm is self harm and your heart is going to stop beating at some point and obesity means it’s sooner rather than later. Don’t band-aid the real problem. The society issue isn’t bigger chairs. It’s the fundamental change that capitalism/marketing has had on the western diet and the lack of insurance support for mental health care. But what do I know? Sorry this triggered me, but I didn’t know “fategories” was a thing until I saw this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, yeah, you lost me with “abuses themselves with food” (lol what) and claiming that “mental health issues” are the reason for o*besity. You’re not confused, you came to my blog (by way of the Fat Logic subreddit, maybe?) and used it as a platform to brag about your own weight loss (congrats, you’re still fat and part of the demographic you complain are “overwhelming the healthcare system, so hate to inform you, we’re in the same club.) Had you spent more than a minute absorbing the content I provide for free on my website before leaving a comment, you would have read more about medical discrimination in healthcare, the harms of dieting and weight cycling (guess what, lots of the health problems attributed to fatness are actually due to weight cycling!) and the nakedly corrupt capitalist machinations of the diet industry. (Not to mention the bariatric surgery industry and pharmaceutical industry, I love how everyone so concerned about capitalism when never cares about the capitalism of diet companies, the fact that they fund so much research, or that much of the literature around “obesity” is directed by the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies looking to sell more drugs to more people despite the fact that their drugs kill people.) I’m sorry you are “triggered” (what was triggered, your terrible feelings about your own weight?) but you picked the wrong day to come into my space and inbox with this.

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      1. Whoa chicka you super misunderstood what I was saying. But thank you for being mean to me about it. Had a rough day? Sorry for adding to it. I agree with pretty much everything you’re saying about the circle of capitalism in “diet industry” and the rabbit hole pharmaceutical industry. I was literally saying if humans in general (I meant anybody… I don’t know you and don’t read your blog except this one article that had a new concept that surprised me) have problems with their weight and how they have to cope with it, then they should seek help. If you think that over eating isn’t because of sugar addiction or using food to cope with your feelings than I guess you just like being fat. And thank you for shaming me about my weight loss when I was literally trying to say I have seen both sides of the small/mid fat fence very recently and so my comprehension might be more valid than some dumbass troll on here. I wanted to understand what this mentality was about, but instead of having a discussion you showed me that you don’t want people to understand.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. How did you find me? I honestly want to know. If you don’t read this blog, where were you linked? How did you get here?

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      3. yahoo news sent me an article about people being upset over the term “midsized” and showed a bunch of tiktoks and I thought “ok what’s that?” and linked to another article talking about fategories that had your blog linked. Fell down a link rabbit hole.
        Also, it occurred to me that maybe you don’t get my tone. There is no sarcasm in my comments. I was genuinely interested in your view points on a deeper level after reading your whole article and other comments.

        But I’m kind of down with this stuff now so try to have a good night.

        Liked by 1 person

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