Is it Offensive… Or Are People Too Sensitive?

Why is it rude to call people as fat? When I was younger, I was taught that calling someone was fat was the same as calling them ugly. If you are called fat, you are supposed to feel embarrassed, ashamed, offended. Being fat just means you have more flesh on your body, and what is wrong with that? Nothing. There is nothing wrong with being fat. Nothing is wrong with the word, there is something wrong with how it is used. People have used the same words to insult people, just like how they use the same words to compliment people. Like I said, the issue is not the word, the issue is the use of the word. 

People have become more sensitive and cautious when labeling people, to demonstrate acceptance and awareness of others and their differences. However, rather than taking away the negative connotations from labels, people have given those labels more negative connotations by trying to replace them. Words have become superfluous in its intention to be “sensitive” towards people. Language has grown to be superfluous as people use identity terminology to fit their perception while those being labeled are excluded from how they are being identified, ultimately promoting a cycle of generating assumptions.

Experts in social fields are reassigning terminology in accordance with social norms and perceptions of language, but people determine and assign meaning to the language. Words like “crippled” can be perceived as offensive in the 21st century; however, these words were not created to be offensive. Like “crippled,” the word “fat” was not created with a negative connotation. Historically, “fat” was a symbol of wealth because most  civilizations struggled with famine. However, as time passed, the struggle with food shortages lessened, and because more people had access to food, the beauty standard of thinness replaced the image of being “fat” as the acceptable beauty standard. “Fat” became an insult and viewed as shameful and unappealing. Experts in social fields continue to replace identity terminology around abilities and neurodiversity that society deems as insensitive towards the groups being identified by those labels; however, with the intent to be more considerate of others, language has become more verbose. 

While language has grown redundant through the cycle of redeveloping vocabulary, those being labeled are also excluded from how they are being identified. According to Ashley Austrew those that are being labeled, were often not offended by the previous language used to describe them. Austrew also reported that in fact “many fat activists, as they proudly call themselves, are reclaiming the word fat and squashing its stigma.” Rather than replacing words, those who are identified by that terminology often embrace the label, opposing the word’s stigma rather than the word itself. However, despite their efforts to embrace the label, their opinions are disregarded in the decision to redevelop vocabulary and the process in doing so. 

When members of a group are labeled without consent, the assumption cycle continues. The intention was to have words be “sensitive” towards people, but the negative connotation inadvertently grows. Not only is the new label not desired, but the language is so broad that it becomes inaccurate. An example of an inaccurate label is the term “differently abled.” A cripple is one with an extreme limitation of a particular kind. When terms such as “differently abled” is used, the word does not politely describe what it is supposed to. “Crippled” indicates limitation; however, “differently abled” does not indicate a person’s limitation, so it is more exclusive than inclusive. So despite the intention of trying to be more inclusive with new words, people have resulted in being more exclusive to others. These terms are useless because it does not describe or embrace people in a “sensitive” manner; rather, it creates more stigma around those people and excludes them more from society. People continue to create new terminology for the purpose of promoting inclusivity; however, as shown in research the goal is often not reached and rather made to be more difficult to accomplish.  When people repeatedly change the language itself rather than the usage of the labels, the assumptions made about those labeled continue to grow and generate more stigma.  

Society is slowly becoming more accepting of people who have been excluded in the past. More people who have dealt with difficult experiences because of their identity are getting the recognition they deserve. Though society has made improvements in being inclusive, it has also made unnecessary actions that are not effective in being more inclusive. It is important to recognize that replacing terminology while disregarding the opinions of those being labeled allows for the cycle of exclusion and assumptions to continue.