As a new member of Facebook, I frequently find myself flummoxed by its strange ways. Someone “liked” my “status”? I’ve been invited to play “Candy Crush”? Someone has “poked” me? Usually, with much grumbling and cursing in Yiddish, I find some way to adapt to the world of countable likes, crushes on inanimate objects, and intangible pokes. However, I recently came across something that required more than a few oy veys: “fat” is an emotion on Facebook.
Hidden cleverly among the pre-written emotional updates (e.g. “Feeling happy”, “Feeling annoyed”, etc.) is the phrase “Feeling fat”, accompanied by a rosey-cheeked, double-chinned smiley face. While I have no problem with Facebook offering its users the chance to express and connect over quite varied emotions, the potential expression of and connection over the “emotion” of “fat” concerns me. What is the difference between saying one feels fat and saying one has fat? What do people expect their friends to say in response to their feeling? Does the openness regarding feeling fat perpetuate or reduce fat shame?
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, one of the warning signs of anorexia is “frequent comments about feeling ‘fat'”. The expression of fat as a negative feeling rather than a necessary part of the body is messed up, to say the least. Saying one feels fat objectifies emotions and creates a tricky sort of codependence between weight and mind (i.e. “If I’m having certain emotions, my weight must fluctuate accordingly.” and vice versa). This article from the blog Dances With Fat provides some insight regarding the terminological issues of “being fat” versus “having fat”.
Whether people update their Facebook feelings as “fat” jokingly, negatively, or positively, fat stigma – and the general nature of Facebook – is likely to facilitate self-shaming comments from friends. I can just picture it: “You think YOU’RE feeling fat?” and the body-snarking like.
I believe that words hold power. What we post on Facebook can majorly impact our perceptions of ourselves, our friends, and our world. It will be interesting to see whether “Feeling fat” increases in usage and creates more toxicity in the world of body image, or “Feeling fat” sits unused in the depths of Facebook emotions. I know that I won’t be changing my feeling to fat anytime soon, partly because I have no idea how to do so on Facebook, but mostly because I want to use social media in a way that doesn’t portray fat as negative, that helps build self-esteem, and that differentiates between legitimate feelings and socially constructed ones.
Elizabeth Frankel is a Minnesotan who loves psychology, theatre, and anything related to horses. She seeks to understand why the world is the way it is through critical thinking, and when that fails, she just employs sarcasm.