Some interesting results emerged this week from a poll conducted by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to celebrate its 70th anniversary. Like, nearly 9 out of 10 women would rather be women than men. Hurray! 1,004 women of all ages participated in the poll, answering questions on aspects of daily life, such as marriage, sex, family, work and appearance. In terms of the latter, perhaps unsurprisingly, the results uncovered that the age group most affected by appearance was the younger group – the 18-24s. Of them, 37% said ‘fat’ was the word they would least like to be associated with.
What was somewhat surprising, however, was that 42% of women polled overall said that ‘stupid’ was the word they would least like to be connected to. Which means it’s possible to conclude, for the most part, women would rather be called ‘fat’ than ‘stupid’.
I find this very encouraging. What a progressive step towards equality it is to live in a society where women are coming to value the workings of their brains over the aesthetics of their bodies. At last! I am proud to align myself with that 42%, because, yes, I too would rather be called ‘fat’ than ‘stupid’. Sound a bit unfeasible? I promise it’s not. Here’s why…
Thus far, I have managed to forge a career using… my head. The shape of my ass has had nothing to do with it (other than providing me with a bloody good cushion to sit on). That’s reason enough to value brain over bod every day that I work – which, as a freelancer, is every day.
Second reason: I care less what I look like today than ever before. Yes, it’s probably to do with my age, but seriously, I do nothing to my hair these days except wash it (and occasionally brush it) and I rarely wear make-up. Gone are the days of singeing my hair to an army of split ends with those menacing ceramic tongs. Gone are the days of crayoning layer upon layer of Jet Black Rimmel around my eyes, only to develop that ‘punched-in-the face look’ by the time I arrived at the club. And don’t get me started on the hours spent in that pool at university – the one in which I’d splash up and down, desperately trying to ‘keep fit’, until one day I got dangerously close to inhaling a stranger’s shit… And all for what? To impress boys. My time would have been far better spent in the library.
Today, I’m a frizzy/curly haired, no-make up wearing woman in her thirties who does a little exercise every day (walking) and tries her best to eat a healthy (ish) diet. I’m the weight that nature intended. I do not think I’m fat, but if anyone does, I couldn’t care less: bring it.
Next reason: life isn’t better if you’re thinner. Yes, there have been times when I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking it might be – and I’d imagine many reading this have done the same. But isn’t it obvious that life’s problems and insecurities do not evaporate into oblivion just because you drop a few kilos? Being slimmer might make you feel better temporarily, but it’s not the ticket to everlasting happiness. In fact, people who refuse to fuss over their weight and generally eat what they like are the most fulfilled and happy people I know. I wanna be in their group.
I realise, of course, that none of the above addresses the very obvious power of the odious word ‘fat’. And that’s partly because I truly loathe that it has any power at all. Women who have never worried about their weight are rare, and in fact, I’m not entirely convinced I’ve ever met one. It’s depressing.
What is it about ‘fat’ that’s so insulting? In my view, it’s the association it has with these other words: ugliness, laziness, unhealthiness, greed… A woman could be the most beautiful, selfless, kind human being on the planet – but if she’s overweight she’s reduced to all these things? It makes no sense. To be honest, that’s probably one of the main reasons I refuse to find it the more offensive insult of the two words in question: because I won’t believe it to be associated with any of those other adjectives.
Being ‘stupid’ however… well that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.
Just imagining being called stupid makes me angry. Not because I think I’m in any way intelligent, but because if you’re stupid, you’re stuck with the condition of stupidity for life. There’s no room for improvement. Unlike being ‘fat’, there’s nothing you can do about it. (Note here, I’m not talking about someone saying I’ve done something stupid – I do stupid things constantly – but someone calling me stupid, period.)
Fear of being stupid has always driven me. I worked hard at school – really hard – in the hope it might ward off what I worried was inevitable stupidity. Furthermore, educating myself was something I could control. I couldn’t control how popular I was, but if I did my homework and revised for my exams, I’d get the grades to be able to move on from the classroom. Working hard, pushing my brain, seemed to me to be an easy way to excel at a small portion of life – my career. Far easier than excelling socially or romantically, anyway. So I suppose I’ve always valued my brain. Which means that if someone tells me it’s inefficient and not very good, it’s like forcing me to accept something I work daily to avoid.
I also take umbrage to the insult because it’s one I’ve heard so often levied at women. I’m not banging my feminist drum here, but ‘stupid woman’ is a phrase I’ve heard far more often than ‘stupid man’, and I challenge anyone to disagree with me.
The times I recall being called stupid personally have always been by a man, and incidentally, in the workplace. What angers me about those moments is I still don’t believe I ever warranted the insult (I’ll let it go one day…). One man called me stupid because they were angry about something I’d done (which actually, I’d meant to do), and another man implied I was stupid because they disliked me. They were both senior and therefore the insult felt like the law. I became the irrevocably stupid girl in the office. It was infuriating.
Yes, I would rather be called ‘fat’ than ‘stupid’... Though, of course, finding offence in either ultimately comes down to confidence. I’m confident I’m not currently fat, so someone calling me fat wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to me. I’m not confident that I’m not completely stupid half the time, hence why the insult has such power to grate... Perhaps I (and anyone who wants to join me) should focus on trying to be more confident in general. That seems like the best solution...
‘Yeah, they called me fat AND stupid,’ I might one day say, ‘but, hey, they said nothing about my hair, so RESULT!’