“Teacher, why are you so fat?” This is a question I get asked often. It’s a question I didn’t know how to answer when I first started teaching ESL. It’s a question that can still feel uncomfortable to answer, but after years of being asked about my weight I know it's unavoidable.
The word “Fat,” is a common word around the world. In many countries and cultures, calling someone fat is socially acceptable. However in American culture, not so much. We cannot avoid the word or make people stop calling people “fat,” just because we don’t like it. It is bound to happen whether we like it or not. As teachers, we have to find a way to let our students know what the word “fat” means, and HOW it affects people when called that.
This is a difficult subject to discuss for many of us who are considered “fat.” I am considered fat based on society standards. To some people or in some cultures, I would not be considered beautiful, because I am “fat.” It is unfortunate. I experience this in my own culture and country as well. So how does one cope with being called, “fat” and how can teachers respond to uncomfortable questions from students?
Turn it into a lesson
This can be a challenge. It all depends on your approach. One way to answer a student’s question that feels uncomfortable is by turning it into a lesson. I always like to answer a question with a question. For example:
Student: “Teacher, why are you so fat?”
Teacher: “Why do you say I am fat?”
Student: “Because you look fat.”
Teacher: “What is fat?”
Sometimes asking students questions helps them to interpret and think about what they are saying. It’s also a good way to transition their question into a lesson. I like to use a bubble map to brainstorm ideas about a topic we are discussing. In this case, I would write the word “Fat” in the center bubble, and ask students what they think fat is to them. There are no right or wrong answers in this activity. This is just to get some ideas.
Then, you can tie it into a lesson about describing people, discuss adjectives, draw or show pictures of people who look different; there are many ways to turn the question, “Why are you so fat?” into a lesson. You can do a conversation practice where students describe each other.
Tip 1: When you are discussing the word, “fat,” make sure you let students know the cultural differences in using this word. For example, in American culture it is considered insulting or impolite to call someone “fat.” This is a good cultural awareness discussion, because students need to be aware that not all people take kindly to that word.
Tip 2: Make sure you give examples of the different adjectives or ways we describe people who are considered “fat.”
Some adjectives are, but not limited to:
Big boned (not commonly used)
Full-figured (more commonly used for women)
If you are NOT comfortable talking about the word, “fat,” you don’t have to turn it into a lesson. If you feel uncomfortable being asked about your weight (it could be any weight class: fat, skinny, etc.), you can simply tell your student you don’t feel comfortable answering their question.
Tip 3:DO NOT PERSONALIZE
Try not to take uncomfortable questions personal. Sometimes students are just curious and are not trying to be rude. However, if you sense that a student is being rude or impolite in their line of questioning, let them know. Never get into any arguments with your students. Always maintain your professionalism.
Remember, you are in charge of your classroom. Use good judgment when answering uncomfortable questions. Always be honest and if you don’t feel comfortable, let your students know that. They will respect you for it.
For more tips and advice, check out my latest video from my ESL video series here.