Who’s Calling Who Fat on the Web

The current edition of Gastronomica is the “Politics of Food” issue, and it reads pretty much as you’d expect for a journal published by the University of California Press. There’s a mixture of fascinating, well-supported stories; knee-jerk leftism; academic jargon and navel-gazing (for better and worse); and some bizarre but fascinating little one-offs.

Mark Morton files one of the latter, titled “Weighty Words.” Using Google as his research tool, he dug around to see how particular adjectives and euphemisms for overweight attached themselves to various genders and classes. Men, for example, are portly (39,200 results versus 746 for women), while women are plump (91,000 hits versus 15,500 for men).

The big finding, however, comes with black women. Disproportionate to everyone else (vastly, in some cases) they are labeled fat, obsese, and overweight. His take: As the ultimate outsiders (in race, gender, and usually class) they’re attractive targets for adjectives that carry negative connotations.

Morton looked back through the Oxford English Dictionary and found a pile of old terms (such as fussock, runnion, and sow) to describe fat women, and zero words specifically associated with fat men.

The upshot: possibly nothing, other than to suggest that we should think twice before we slap a label on anyone.