Facebook’s “Feeling Fat” Option: Really The Problem?

woman holding  fried food with duct tape over her lips

sealed lips, sad eyes.

YOU MIGHT NOT EVEN have been aware of the fact that Facebook offered a “fat” option to digitally describe your current mood, but they did, and now that option is officially history. Apparently, quite a lot of people felt the status option with its accompanying double-chin emoji was inappropriate, and enough people gathered together and demanded it become a thing of the past that Facebook was convinced they were correct.

The petition that went around online was making the claim that fat is not a feeling, so listing it as one could be damaging to certain people. The petition began:

“When Facebook users set their status to ‘feeling fat,’ they are making fun of people who consider themselves to be overweight, which can include many people with eating disorders. That is not ok. Join me in asking Facebook to remove the ‘fat’ emoji from their status options.”

The petition got 18,000 signatures, which was enough to remove the word “fat.” But since Facebook always has to have the last say, it replaced it with an option that reads “stuffed” and left that little double-chin fella around, so that people can still express the fact that they ate too much (which is essentially what this mood is used to convey), if they are so inclined to do for some reason. The “feeling full” option is the next notch down on the satiety scale, with a smiling emoji indicating a pleasant feeling of fullness, sans double-chin. Very technical stuff we’re dealing with here, obviously.

While being sensitive to people with eating disorders is incredibly important, and no one should be making fun of anyone’s weight on Facebook (or on any other social media outlet, when it comes down to it), getting rid of this option seems a bit like putting a Band-Aid on a skinned knee while ignoring the fact that you’re bleeding from your neck. Unless you’ve got the moral compass of Kathryn Merteuil from Cruel Intentions, it seems unlikely that you would post “feeling fat” as your mood in a deliberate and snarky attempt to make fun of other people and cause them to feel upset about their own bodies. It also seems unlikely that anyone ever saw their friend post that specific mood and was then triggered into an unhealthy state of mind from it. While we’re not ruling out that possibility, it seems a more probable reaction would be to scoff at what we presume to be that person’s deluded self-image. And, let’s be honest: the people who post about their imaginary “haters” probably cause more rage-spirals and feelings of disgust with humanity than that status ever has.

Plus, is there a girl on the planet who hasn’t expressed the sentiment “I feel fat” at one point in her life, regardless of that sentiment’s relation to reality? It would be great if no one felt fat ever, but with the way that culture and society exist at this moment, that’s unlikely, and doing away with the word “fat” isn’t going to take away the sentiment behind the statement; namely that being fat is horrible and if you enjoy food a little too much, you’re going to become fat. What would be more useful, perhaps, would be examining why we’re conditioned to make those associations, and then making an effort to remove the negative connotations that are associated with the word “fat” and the assumption that people who are overweight are necessarily uncomfortable and unhappy with the way they look and feel. Of course, some people who are overweight may not be happy with that fact and struggle to change that reality, but not everyone does, and not everyone feels that way; in fact, Joni Edelman, whose essay on happiness and weight went viral recently, sums it up best when she says: “Happiness does not require thinness. Fatness does not presume sadness.” In Western cultures, especially, the idea that “fat equals bad/unhappy” is an ingrained and epidemic assumption, and it’s one that’s been informed by a staggering number of different socio-cultural factors like media biases, misconstrued health information, and fashion marketing tactics. If we can think of a way to get rid of assumptions of states of mind based on body and weight altogether, which is no mean feat, it would arguably do more good than getting rid of a status option on a social media platform. How to go about that task is where it gets complicated and difficult, but it’s still important work that needs to be done.

This petition and Facebook’s subsequent response may be an example of people losing sight of the forest for the trees, but hey, it does show the power of driven people coming together on the Internet, even if what they accomplish doesn’t necessarily deal with the real issues at hand. I mean, come on: if anyone really wants to express their feelings about their body on Facebook (accurate or not), they can always just, you know, type it out in the status bar instead.

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