I spent a lot of my life trying to be a “good fatty.” It wasn’t really a conscious choice, and I didn’t have a cutesy little term for it. I just knew that I was fat, so society would never totally value me in the way they might if I was thin or average sized.
Fighting the entirely bogus idea didn’t occur to me for most of my years. Instead, I looked for ways to justify my body to the world. I realized early on that if I was going to be fat, I needed to be full of surprises. People would still like me if I was sassy, healthy, likable, smart, pretty, good at things… I just needed a hook. I needed that One Thing to make people want to overlook my (worthless) fat body and see my value.
That One Thing has changed a lot of times over the years, but the feeling that I need to prove myself because of my body still lingers no matter how hard I fight it.
I became acquainted with the term “good fatty” a year or two ago.
My favorite explanation of the concept comes from fat activist, artist, and animator Stacy Bias. Bias created a really informative cartoon series that digs deep into society’s view of fatness. The series explores the concept of the good fatty through the use of twelve archetypes.
It goes so far beyond the “work in progress” fatty that I already knew about. It demonstrates many other ways fat people seek acceptance in society. There are lots of ways a fat person can “get a pass” on some of the judgment that usually comes with life in a fat body. Sometimes, we choose to emulate one of these archetypes in a bid for approval. Sometimes, they are thrust on us by other people looking for ways to excuse our bodies (like fatness needs an excuse).
Here are a few of the “good fatty archetypes” that fat people might embody which allow us to to be seen as acceptable in a fat-hating society:
1. The Work-In-Progress
I mentioned this one already because it’s the most common type of good fatty.
Works in progress avoid judgment because they are in the process of losing weight. If they aren’t actively dieting, they at least feel that they “should be” working on their weight.
This kind of good fatty acknowledges that they value thinness, even if they don’t have it. I have fallen into a few good fatty traps over the years, but the most common one was “work in progress fatty.”
I have done a lot of work to love my body, but I still struggle with falling into this good fatty trap even now.
2. The Mama Hen
This kind of good fatty is valuable because of her maternal contribution to the world. She might be an actual mom or just “the mom” of the group, but either way, she finds value in accepting that the role of a sexless being, made to nurture. I fell into this role in high school, and I still find people shoving me into it at every turn.
People are most offended by fat people who dare to declare that we are sexy and desirable. If we can admit that we are neither, people are happier to have us around. It’s common knowledge that the world is kinder to fat people when we hate our bodies. It’s our audacity to exhibit self-love that pisses people off. Mother Hens are non-offensive because they hide their sexuality and their edge in favor of a soft, maternal persona.
3. The Fat Unicorn/The Fathlete
These are two sides of a similar coin. These kinds of fat people either have an extraordinarily clean bill of health (Fat Unicorn) or they have extraordinary physical ability (Fathlete). Their bodies more or less perform the way we have been conditioned to expect only a thin body to perform. They can dance or lift or run in a way we don’t expect from a fat body.
Fat bodies who don’t have health problems are somehow worthy of respect. Thin bodies with health issues are also worthy of respect. Health is only a requirement for respect for those of us who dare to live in a larger body. Fat Unicorns and Fathletes have health, so they get a seat at the acceptable table.
4. The Fatshionista
Instagram is chock full of Fatshionistas. Most of the time, these girls are either on the smaller end of the plus-size range, or they have a very specific body shape that has already won society’s respect. They have “curves” and they wear daring, sexy clothes. In some people’s estimation, these women prove that fat women aren’t the sloppy, frumpy messes people think we are.
There’s a lot going on here. The idea that some fat bodies are “good” because they are similar to thin bodies in every way except diameter is not helping the rest of us.
5. The Big Man
No list about fat bodies would be complete if we didn’t include the way a man can obtain a “get out of jail free” card for something a woman just can’t.
The Big Man is associated with power and strength and protection. He might be the gentle giant. Either way, if a man will lean into his size as a “big guy,” he will face way less size discrimination. He can see himself portrayed in TV and movies with conventionally attractive, average size partners.
As someone who has embraced my size and stopped apologizing, I can assure you it doesn’t work like that for a girl. Of course, every fat man can’t, won’t, or doesn’t want to embody this archetype. It’s often not a choice. But the fact remains that for those men who take on the Big Man role, it’s basically a free pass. The Big Man is a good fatty mostly because he’s not a woman.
I could go on all day. There are a lot more identities to unpack. The Hapless Fatty. The Dead-Early Fatty. The Natural Fatty. The Fatlebrity. And it’s so much more complicated than I ever considered
There are a lot of ways fat people can seek legitimacy in a thin-obsessed world, and not all of them are roles we have chosen to play. For the Rad Fatty, for instance, even genuine confidence and a commitment to fat activism can be enough for some people to respect the person in a fat body.
But you know what should be enough?
The fact that a human being inhabits the body. Whatever size it is.
It’s difficult to fully explain how it feels to live in a large body. Judgment and assumptions are literally everywhere we turn. Negativity surrounds the entire concept of fatness, and every negative word has the potential to cut like a knife right through a fat person if we are feeling vulnerable that day. It’s okay if you need to play a good fatty role now and then to protect yourself. I have done it. I still do it.
If you’re in a fat body and you’ve been trying to find respect in this cruel world, please know that you are already good. You always have been. You’re allowed to rest.
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