The answer to the problem of adjectives which describe bodies and disabilities being used hatefully is not to forever change the terms. We’ve seen how short lived such solutions are in the labels used for cognitive disabilities. “Retarded” meant slow: its association with slow mental speed inspired hateful bigots to make it a slur. “Mentally challenged” was again first used as a diagnostic label before people who hate mental disabilities turned it into hate speech.
The only way to end the problem is to end the hatred behind it. So long as slows thinkers are despised, any term we use will be coopted. So long as fat and weak bodies are hated, fat and weak people will feel the brunt of that hatred, then told by our loved ones the hatred isn’t deserved because we aren’t really fat or weak.
I am weak. I am frail. It influences how I move through this world and what I can and can’t do. It factors into my plans as I calculate how many groceries I can carry home in one trip. It changes how I play with my kid. The reality of my weakness, my small frame and stature, my low muscle tone, is the reality of my existence.
My frailty impacts my life in hundreds of ways, big and little. I need to be free to talk about it, to complain, and to trouble shoot modifications to live while weak in a strength worshipping world. I don’t need weak and frail metaphors: weak willed, frailty of spirit, strength of character. I need weak acceptance.
Frailty is feminine coded in our cultural gender binary. Strength is masculine coded. When we concede the argument that strength is good and weakness is bad, we prop up patriarchy. When we despise delicate princesses but fawn over “strong female characters”, we engage in a kind of respectability politics where strong women deserve equality – because they are masculine – but not the rest of us. Not girly girls.