So you want to describe a character in your story as fat, but you don’t want to be rude about it. We get it, finding the right words can be tricky. As writers, we want to craft vivid descriptions without insulting anyone or promoting harmful stereotypes. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when describing a fat person in your writing.
Use Person-First Language
When describing someone who is overweight or obese, focus on the person, not their body size. Say “person with obesity” instead of “fat/big/obese person”. This puts their humanity first. Some other examples:
- Person of size vs. fat person
- Person with a larger body vs. overweight individual
- Person with excess weight vs. heavyset guy/gal
Avoid Insensitive or Derogatory Terms
Never use words like “fatso”, “lard-###”, “whale” or “cow”. These are rude, hurtful and promote discrimination. Instead, use neutral and respectful terms like:
- Discuss their attributes beyond size
Don’t define someone solely by their weight or make assumptions based on it. Mention their interests, accomplishments, values, and personality. For example:
- An avid hiker who enjoys long treks in the mountains.
- A talented artist with a creative eye for photography.
- An inspiring leader who mentors at-risk youth.
Focus on a Person’s Humanity
A person’s worth and value has nothing to do with their body size or shape. Describe people of all body types with empathy, compassion and respect. See them for who they are – complex human beings with diverse life experiences, perspectives, and contributions.
Treat others the way you wish to be treated. How would you want to be described? With kindness and decency, I hope. So extend the same courtesy to people of all body types.
Focus on Actions Rather Than Appearance
Rather than focusing on a person’s size or weight, describe their actions and personality. People of all body types behave in diverse and complex ways.
Mention Positive Personality Traits
Talk about their kindness, humor, intelligence or other admirable qualities. For example, you could say:
- “She possesses a contagious laughter and consistently knows how to uplift my spirits.”
- “He is among the most intelligent and considerate individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing.”
Discuss Their Onterests And Accomplishments
Point out their hobbies, skills, career or achievements which have nothing to do with how much they weigh. For instance:
- “During her leisure time, she dedicates herself to volunteering at an animal shelter and providing temporary care for kittens in need.”
- “He recently got promoted at work due to his diligence and problem-solving skills.”
Describe Them On Inclusive Terms
Refer to them using words like: person, human being, individual. Avoid objectifying or dehumanizing language. For example, say:
- “I have great admiration and respect for them as a person.”
- “Every person should be treated with dignity.”
Rather than judging someone based on appearances, look deeper to see their inherent worth and value. Focus on a person’s character, spirit and deeds. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. This approach fosters greater understanding and compassion.
Avoid Stereotypes and Generalizations
When describing a fat person in your writing, avoid using stereotypical or generalized terms that could come across as rude or offensive.
Stay Away From Labels
Don’t refer to someone as simply “fat”, “obese” or “overweight”. These labels can be dehumanizing and hurtful. Instead, say “a person of size” or “with a larger body type”. If their size is relevant to the story or description, use neutral and respectful terms.
Focus on the Person, Not Their Weight
Describe the person as a whole human being. Discuss their personality, accomplishments, style, humor, spirit, etc. Only mention their size if completely necessary, and do so respectfully and thoughtfully.
Avoid Implying Weight Equals Character
Don’t make assumptions that a person’s weight determines their character, experiences, or abilities. Avoid perpetuating stereotypes like “the funny fat friend” or implying that weight makes someone lazy, unmotivated or unhealthy. People of all body types can live full, active lives.
Discuss Challenges Respectfully
If discussing issues that may uniquely or disproportionately impact people in larger bodies, do so carefully and with empathy. Explain the challenges themselves without judgment or generalizations. Make it clear that these issues are societal and environmental barriers, not personal faults. Focus on promoting inclusiveness and accessibility for people of all sizes.
Consider Your Language and Word Choice
Pay attention to the language you’re using and how it might be interpreted. Avoid words with negative connotations like “huge”, “enormous” or “massive”. Don’t compare someone’s body to objects. And never use derogatory slurs – they are degrading and promote harmful discrimination.
With thoughtfulness and empathy, you can describe people of all body types in a sensitive, inclusive and respectful manner. Focus on the whole person, avoid insensitive labels and stereotypes, and be mindful of the language you choose. Promoting body positivity and inclusiveness benefits people of all sizes.
Be Sensitive To Cultural Differences
Cultural norms regarding body size and weight vary widely around the world. What is considered overweight or obese in one country or culture may be seen as normal, or even ideal, in another. When describing someone else’s body size in writing, be mindful of these differences.
Some cultures value heavier body types as a symbol of health, wealth or fertility. Referring to someone as “fat” or “obese” could be seen as a compliment. In other cultures, being overweight is frowned upon and associated with negative stereotypes. Describing someone this way would likely offend.
Rather than make assumptions, do some research on cultural beauty standards in the location or ethnicity you are writing about. Look for local public health data on obesity rates, which can also provide context. When in doubt, avoid direct references to body size or weight. Focus instead on descriptive details that create a visual image without passing judgment.
- Use neutral and inclusive language like “curvy”, “full-figured” or “rounded”. Avoid terms with negative connotations.
- Describe the person, not their body. Mention qualities like friendly, stylish or energetic. Refer to accomplishments, talents or interests.
- Discuss their style of dress or how they carry themselves. For example, “She had a warm, confident smile and strode energetically down the street.”
- Compare them to celebrities or public figures of a similar body type who are portrayed positively. But only do so if it’s relevant and fits naturally within the context.
- Describe a memorable interaction or experience you had with the person. Share what stood out about their personality, humor or spirit. These details humanize the subject and connect with readers.
When writing about people of all body types, approach your subject with empathy, compassion and respect. Recognize your own biases and be sensitive in your word choice. Focus on capturing the essence and humanity of the person, not their physical form. Your writing will be all the richer for it.
Describe Only What’s Relevant to the Story
When describing a fat person in your writing, focus only on details that are relevant to the story or scene. Mention their size only when necessary, and do so respectfully and sensitively.
Some tips for describing a fat character:
- Use neutral and descriptive terms like “heavyset” or “plus-sized” rather than potentially offensive words.
- Describe the character’s appearance and qualities beyond just their weight. Discuss things like their personality, talents, style of dress, etc. Think of them as a whole, complex human being.
- Compare them to average-sized characters only when relevant and in a sensitive way. Rather than outright calling them “fat” in comparison, say they are “larger” or “ heavier” than the other character.
- Discuss their body size and shape in a neutral, judgment-free tone. Do not imply their weight is a negative thing or something that needs to be fixed.
- Mention specific body parts like “full figure” or “rounded hips” only when necessary to help the reader visualize the character. Do so in a straightforward, non-judgemental way.
- Have other characters respond to and interact with them in a kind, respectful manner. Avoid subjecting them to cruel jokes or bullying.
- Give the character talents, skills, and likeability unrelated to their appearance. Help the reader see them as a relatable, multidimensional person.
- Do additional research on sensitivity readers’ guidelines for describing fat characters. They can provide helpful advice for avoiding stereotypes and crafting inclusive stories.
By following these principles, you can create realistic yet sensitive descriptions of characters of size in your writing. Focus on presenting them with empathy, compassion and respect.
Remember, a person’s worth has nothing to do with how much they weigh. Focus on describing someone’s appearance in a kind and respectful manner. Treat people the way you want to be treated. And if you do make a mistake, own up to it, apologize, and do better next time. We all have room for growth when it comes to inclusiveness and body positivity. But with compassion and understanding, we can get there.