Why Are We Still Saying “FAT”?

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


I go to a tiny private high school in downtown Chicago. I’m a senior now, and I know not just everyone in my grade, but a large majority of all the students at my high school. I’d say my school is very forward-thinking when it comes to mental health, students’ well-being, support, and a healthy work-social balance. We regularly have conversations about sexual consent, about managing stress, about the dangers of drug and alcohol, and most recently, a mental health alliance was started by a fellow student to raise awareness for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

While I feel that I’ve reaped the benefits from this atypical “extra” education, I didn’t know how much my school was actually missing until I started this GOA in Abnormal Psychology. I decided to focus on eating disorders because I realized, in my tiny high school community, I could count on both hands how many girls I knew with eating disorders. And my school would remain silent on the issue. I want to shed some light on the issue, because it’s not just relevant in my community.


One of the first steps of this Catalyst Conference was interviewing a professional in the field we wanted to focus on. I interviewed an extremely helpful eating disorder therapist in Chicago named Tracy Durkan. We talked about many aspects of eating disorders; how most people associate them solely with privileged white women, how living with an eating disorder is a daily ongoing struggle, and how they’re just not talked about enough. However, the thing that stuck with me the most from our conversation was when I asked Ms. Durkan what she wished she could do to help people with eating disorders. She responded that she would want to eliminate the word “fat” from people’s vocabulary. And that really got me thinking. I’ve never heard the word fat used in a positive way. It carries a negative connotation in every context its used.


The word is so harmful to people who struggle with eating disorders. Although there have been movements to stop the negativity and stigma surrounding the word “fat,” the fact remains that it’s triggering to people of all ages who suffer from eating disorders. They’re afraid to BE fat, and people using the word to describe unappealing things all around them is triggering, upsetting, and psychologically harmful.


I want to eliminate the word fat from your vocabulary. It seems like such a small change, but you have no idea about the impact it can have on someone who struggles with an eating disorder. The word carries fear, disgust, and dissatisfaction.When I was younger, I remember signing a pledge to eliminate the word “retard” from my vocabulary, which I did without question because I realized how much negativity it brought to people whom it referred to.


Along with other students also participating in the Catalyst Conference, I plan to give a presentation to students at my school about how they should eliminate the word fat from their vocabulary as well.  Students at my school will be able to sign the pledge in person, but for everyone viewing this project, I invite you to sign the pledge below, and encourage others in your community to sign it too.

Together, we can make a positive change in the lives of the millions of people who live with eating disorders every day.

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Bahadur, Nina. “LOOK: A Young Woman’s Incredible Comic About Body Image.” The Huffington Post,, 7 Dec. 2017,

Deans, Emily. “A History of Eating Disorders.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Dec. 2011,

“Fat Shaming In Films.” YouTube, YouTube, 14 Nov. 2016,

“Our Work.” National Eating Disorders Association, February 18th 2018,

Schultz, Rachael. “What We REALLY Mean When We Call People Fat.” Shape Magazine, Shape Magazine, 29 June 2017,


Share this project
  1. April 26, 2018 by Summer

    Sophie, this project is great! I have also noticed how the word “fat” is never used positively, and I agree that it is so important to eliminate the word from our vocabulary. I signed the pledge, and I will make an effort to stop saying the word. Thanks for spreading the message!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Summer, thanks so much for checking out my project and signing the pledge!! I’m so glad you agree with the message I’m trying to spread.

  2. April 26, 2018 by Grace Nichols

    I liked how you picked a specific issue that caused eating disorders, the word “fat”, so you can actually catalyze change in our language. The photos you used also helped me relate to people with body image issues (I especially liked the B+W cartoon of the two women passing each other), because we don’t realize it but we are so much harder on ourselves than we are on other people.

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Hi Grace! I love that you liked the B&W cartoon, that’s one of my favorite visuals that I found because it really showcases what a lot of people think when they see someone with a different body type than their own.

  3. April 27, 2018 by Maya.Moravec

    Sophie I love the idea of the pledge to not say this word, I never fully considered the power the word can have on those around me until recently. I think there is a great body positivity movement especially on instagram with ‘fitspo’ models who seem to be changing their messages to EAT MORE and eat what you want, and to not be so hard on yourself. Seeing the disorders at Latin too gives this a whole new deeper meaning and connection for me. Thank you for focusing on such a real and important issue countless people face!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Maya, I totally agree with what you’re saying. I love that you mentioned the fitspo models, because I’ve really been noticing and appreciating that their attitudes towards food and health have become a lot more about doing what YOU want, and doing what’s best for YOU. Thanks for checking out my project!

  4. April 27, 2018 by Rory Smith

    Hi Sophie! I really appreciate the idea behind your project and the work that you have done so far to lessen the stigma surrounding eating disorders and the word “fat.” I, too, have taken similar pledges for other words that are used in a negative context and I think that signing a pledge to eliminate the word “fat” would be a great first step! In the school environment, I have been impacted by eating disorders in a similar way, and I think that in order to lessen this stigma we must first begin by approaching eating disorders in the appropriate manner, without the use of negative language such as this. Do you have any ideas to create large-scale change regarding fat shaming? For instance, the video that you uploaded about fat shaming in movies really caught my attention, and I was wondering what the best way to combat solving this issue in such an environment as Hollywood would be. Let me know if you think of anything! Again, really great work! 🙂

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Hi Rory! Thanks so much for checking out my project! I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot recently, and I think that videos and spreading awareness is a huge part of it. When I think about issues that Hollywood has recognized, the “#metoo” movement or the “#timesup” movement comes to mind. Perhaps creating a hashtag about eliminating the word fat could kickstart change on a larger scale.

  5. April 27, 2018 by Alex Rickett

    Sophie this is amazing! I think your realization about the word fat is what happened and will happen to all that read your presentation. I think I’ve always known the “fat” is a negative word in all ways, but did not truly understand that until reading this. Eating disorders vary in so many ways, but most stem from the use of this word and I love that with one word you will have a lasting effect on so many people. The video and Dove and Victoria Secret ad campaigns were an amazing touch to a great presentation! Good job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Thank you Alex!! I’m really glad that this made you recognize how lasting the effects of the words can be!

  6. April 27, 2018 by Sadie Ellis-Caleo

    I really love this topic and the way you presented it! I have never thought of completing eliminating the word “fat” to help people with eating disorders, but you make a really good point. The way you addressed this issue was very relatable and I really liked your use of visuals; it really enhanced your presentation. Great job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked the visuals!

  7. April 28, 2018 by Katie Beason

    I liked how this project compared the self-love campaigns of both Victoria Secret and Dove to show how while one was clearly a publicity stunt, the other truly values all body types. However, I wish that the project would have further addressed healthy versus exteriorly beautiful. Example: I have been repeatedly told that I have the perfect body type for me because I have a petite waist, full breasts, and strong legs. That being said, what people don’t know is that I was diagnosed with anorexia years ago, and while I may have an appealing body type, I am by no means healthy. On the flip side, while no one should be called ugly for being overweight because weight has no correlation with beauty or worth, serious weight issues can deteriorate someone’s heart and internal organs. While all body types should be cherished and respected, we shouldn’t romanticize ill health.

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Katie, you make such an amazing point. I’ve actually often thought about that before, and can’t believe I didn’t think to put it in this project. It is absolutely most important about being healthy, not about what your body looks like on the outside. Thank you so so much for commenting this, I hope that other people can read this and be aware of it!

  8. April 28, 2018 by Mila Tewell

    A very thoughtful and important message to deliver — thank you!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Thank you so much!

  9. April 29, 2018 by Natalie H

    This is a great project! I definitely agree that cutting out fat as a negative word is a big step in the right direction. I do have a question that comes with changing the landscape of body shaming: where I’m from, fat shaming has transitioned to be something less blatant but still present in many ways. It’s calling someone curvier beautiful, but then turning to a friend and saying “My God, I look like a whale in this dress, I need to drop 10 pounds pronto!”. What do you think are some ways that we can move past toxic emotions against oneself in our culture and truly eliminate body shaming?

    • April 29, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Hi Natalie! This is such a valid question to raise, and it’s something I’ve experienced others say many times. I think really focusing on the things you love about yourself is a big step in the right direction, instead of focusing on the things you don’t like. And also, something I always tell myself is, “Would I ever tell my best friend that she looks horrible in that dress and she needs to lose weight to wear it”? Of course not. So why would I ever want to say those things about myself? I hope that this is somewhat of a helpful answer to your question!

  10. April 29, 2018 by Claudia Pinilla

    I agree that the word “fat” should be cut out of everyone’s vocabulary because it really effects people with eating disorders. I know many people with eating disorders and it is a very sensitive subject that can be merely effected by the use of these words.

    • April 29, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

      Claudia, I’m so glad that you agree and that you know firsthand how sensitive that word can be! Thanks for checking out my presentation!

  11. April 30, 2018 by Siena.Martin

    I really liked your project, I think it brought up a lot of great points and was organized very clearly.

  12. April 30, 2018 by Carolinelayson

    Your project was very well organized I love how there wasn’t just a bunch of text thrown on the page and that you broke it up with a lot of graphics and videos!

  13. May 01, 2018 by Isabelle.Franz

    This is a great topic that touches on a topic that is oftentimes disregarded. I think your overall idea questioning why we still use the word “fat” still exists, due to the fact that it effects people who may be struggling with eating disorders is particularly powerful. I also think that we use this word very casually, which can be hurtful even when we do not realize it. I think your photos comparing the Victoria Secret’s “love you body” campaign and the Dove one was very surprising and shows how ads and models truly affect us everyday. I also think your “pledged” statement at the end was very creative and helps make a difference, even if it is small. Nice job!

  14. May 03, 2018 by Sofia

    Hi Sophie,

    I love that you have a pledge! I think that is so cool. I think that your youtube video was super informative because you are so right, this goes unnoticed or passes as humor in many parts of our society.

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