You’ve probably heard the sad news that Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday. It’s a big loss for a lot of people, whether they knew and loved him for his work as an actor, a poet, a director, or a singer. You may also have recently heard about – and seen – some of Nimoy’s photography work, specifically his Full Body Project (photos at link are definitely NSFW), in which he photographed nude fat women. Not “plus-size” model fat women. Not “curvy” women. Truly fat women. Here’s a pretty safe for work shot from the project:
Now that these photos are getting so much attention, we’re hearing a lot of comments about how these photographs “promote obesity.” This is a refrain that comes up whenever a fat person is in the news for something other than trying to lose weight (or for having succeeded at losing weight, at least for the time being).
It’s a fascinating – and honestly pretty hilarious – concept: That showing fat people not actively hating themselves and their bodies, but instead living their lives and being successful and happy, is going to make non-fat people throw up their hands say, “Well, I’m convinced! Bring on the lard and burn my gym membership!” Exposing children to happy, successful fat people is not going to make them run out and start mainlining Nutella. (Of course I’m being super sarcastic; there are thin people who eat lard, don’t go to the gym, and mainline Nutella, just as there are fat people who do not.) There isn’t a campaign that sets out to talk people into become fat. There aren’t slogans and commercials touting the wonderful things that will happen to you if you get fatter.
What people really mean when they say something is “promoting obesity” is that they believe fat bodies are wrong, and we should not give fat people any exposure (unless, of course, they are actively trying to become smaller). They believe that fat people do not deserve the spotlight, they do not deserve attention (unless, of course, they are adequately ashamed of themselves and promise to change). If you ever hear someone use the phrase “promoting obesity,” you now know this is code for “I have just revealed my hatred of fat people for nothing more than the size of the bodies. Do you want to keep talking to me about this?” At this point, you can choose to A) educate the person, B) walk away quickly, or C) call me if you need bail money.
Seriously, though: It’s wonderful that the sad passing of Leonard Nimoy is exposing (heh) a wider audience to these photographs. Maybe you look like these bodies. Maybe you know someone who does. Maybe you have never seen bodies like this in your life! You might find them difficult to look at, and that’s totally okay. You have spent a lifetime being told – and shown – that only bodies that look very different than these are acceptable, and healthy, and lovable. Challenge yourself to confront your feelings, your fears, and your preconceived notions.
I think Leonard Nimoy would agree with me when I say that I hope for a world where we can all wish the same for each other, no matter what we look like: Live long and prosper.
I have tried to live and breathe body positivity for myself for the past year. Learning to love yourself after a lifetime of hating is very tough. Things are starting to get a bit better, but there are still struggles. Learning and living with being kind to yourself is one thing, but what about teaching others about it? What about trying to make a small impact in a child’s life?! I’m faced with this every day, as my 3-year-old son gets older every minute and is absorbing information at the rate of a sponge these days.
On our drive to his preschool, we pass a McDonald’s, and we pass on the side where you can see the cars at the drive thru. A few weeks ago he asked, “What’s that, momma?” and pointed at the McDonald’s. I replied, “It’s a restaurant. Where people eat.” He then said, “We eat there?” I almost said, “No, that’s bad food,” but stopped myself. Instead I said, “No, we prefer healthier food.” While I was proud of myself for that moment, I am finding more and more instances where I have to stop and think about what I’m saying and how it could negatively affect him for the rest of his life. I don’t want him to think McDonald’s is bad food, just that we choose not to eat there because it isn’t healthy. I don’t want my son to grow up with the idea that fast food is BAD, that fat people are BAD. I’m really trying to nip this in the bud at a young age.
I’d hate for him to have the same feelings about certain things that I did when I was growing up. I learned that places like McDonald’s were bad for me because I was already fat, but it was totally cool for my much thinner friends to eat fast food. In reality, it really isn’t a healthy option for anyone, or a good source of the nutrients that our bodies need.
I wonder if my parents, our parents, had taught us that fast food is okay to have – but because it’s loaded with X,Y, and Z ingredients and doesn’t supply us with A, B, and C ingredients – how my views on food might be different at this day and age. Teaching me to not feel guilty for wanting some fries, or that even though I know chickens don’t have “nuggets,” it’s okay to still crave them and not feel like gluttonous pig for doing so.
Help me teach my son, and the next generation. Does anyone who reads this blog have kids, and have you ever thought about this before? Thought about how your words can impact your child’s future outlook on such a thing as food? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback!
Mailbox time! The other day, I received a wonderful message from a college friend, and she agreed to let me share it with you:
Hi Bethany. I just wanted to personally thank you for what you are doing. I started following your writing about a month ago. I have always felt like a fairly typical woman….thin in my teens and 20s and have gradually gained some weight with kids and life stress. I’m about a size 12/14 depending and would love to lose a few lbs to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I never thought your writing directly represented me but I have a strong feeling that women need to support one another. Today I learned differently. Fat shaming happens at all sizes and it is devastating. You are so strong. Thank you for being the woman that you are.
If you guessed that this message made me cry, you’re right! I believe so much in what I write here, and sometimes I wonder if my work is making a difference. It’s so rewarding to know that people are not just listening to what I’m saying, they’re really hearing my message.
Okay, so the point of this post isn’t just to toot my own horn. It’s to address the most important part of my friend’s message: that she didn’t think BFD directly represented her. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you’re thin, have been thin all your life. Maybe you have never experienced fat shaming. What meaning, then, could BFD possibly have for your life? Why should it matter to you?
- Fat and body shaming exist on a spectrum. What is fat to one person is small to another, and enormous to someone else. There is not some magical number – weight, BMI, pant size – under which you will suddenly be safe from fat and body shaming. When we think of body shaming, our minds often go to extremes, imagining the very fat or the very thin, but the truth is that there are probably very, very few people – if any! – who do not experience body shaming of some sort. It’s practically our national pastime.
- You love a fat person. Probably more than one. Mothers, fathers, great aunts, second cousins, high school best friends, step-children, your mailman… There are so many wonderful people in your life, and some of them are fat. It’s inevitable: more than a third of Americans are considered “obese,” after all! You can come here to learn something about the issues that concern the fat people you love – including how to support them.
- Children will listen. Kids aren’t born to hate and fear – they are taught those things. You can teach your children to mock and ridicule and shame people who look (and think and act) differently than you, or you can teach them to enjoy and embrace the amazing diversity of humans who populate our planet. You can teach your children that their bodies are shameful and disgusting unless they look a specific way, or you can teach them to love, fuel, and move their bodies in healthy ways, to appreciate all the things they can do – rather than just what they look like.
- You will need it one day. That’s not some future curse of fatness I’m placing on you. You might get fat, or you might not. But one day, something will happen that will make you feel like your body is not good enough. That message might come from a magazine, a doctor, your spouse, or even yourself. And when that time comes, I want you to have the strength to endure it, and to know that you are more than that message.
My college classmate is right: Women need to support one another. People need to support one another. It doesn’t matter if you can’t directly relate to what I write here. You can listen, and you can keep an open mind, and you can try to understand my perspective and experiences. You can take what we talk about here and use it help make the world a better place for fat people. Along the way, you’ll be making the world a better place for everyone – yourself included.
Attention all non-fat gym-goers: I am not your inspiration! Got it? Good. Now let’s all go on with our lives. Wait, you want to know why I say that? All right, let’s break it down.
The other day, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to an article about the ten most annoying types of people at the gym. Now, don’t worry, fat people weren’t on that list. But they were on the bonus list at the end of the article, which was about the five most awesome types of people in the gym. Well now, this could be good! But no, it’s not.
They’ve overcome their embarrassment of being in a gym with fitter people. They’ve decided to make a change. For that, they deserve all the support we can give them.
First, I want to acknowledge that yeah, I totally bet a lot of fat people are embarrassed to set foot in a gym. After all, we are taught that we should be embarrassed by our bodies at all times, in all places – especially places where bodies are the focus! But I bet there’s also fat people who are reluctant to join a gym because of guys like the one who wrote this, because of people who make assumptions about our health and fitness based solely on the size of our bodies. That’s not embarrassment – that’s frustration, anger, disappointment.
So now let’s break down what’s really wrong with this dude’s assessment: Fat people are embarrassed to be in a gym with “with fitter people.” How do you know, thin gym-goer, that you’re fitter than me? Did you bring your most recent blood work from your doctor’s office so we can compare? How about if we measure our resting heart rates and blood pressure? Oh, you meant “fitter” as in “thinner”? You should have just said that.
And of course we’re all at the gym because we’ve “decided to make a change,” by which I’m sure he means “lose weight.” There’s absolutely zero chance that some of us fatties have been active and participating in fitness for years, right? Because if that were the case, we’d already be
thin fit like you! Thank goodness you are here to give me all of your support as I embarrassingly set foot into a gym for the first time ever so I can make my body smaller, which is the most important marker of fitness for fat people.
Woah, that took a massive turn for the sarcastic. My apologies.
Anyway, I’m not going to link to the article where I found this, because there’s so much else wrong with it – like finding inspiration in women in their 30s working out, and in “injured and disabled” gym-goers. Obviously this article was written by a man with a ton of thin and able-bodied privilege. But the truth is, people who are outside the gym “norm” are often considered inspiration for those who do fit society’s idea of fitness (that is, thin and – especially for men – muscular). Think of the last time you saw a picture of a former fatty working out, accompanied by the words “What’s your excuse?”
When you use bodies that are not like yours – that you consider “less” or “worse” – as inspiration, you are making assumptions about those bodies. You assume the fat person is unfit, you assume the fat person does not regularly participate in fitness. Well, I’m sure you remember what your mom told you happens when you assume things!
The next time you see me or any other fat person working out, consider why you’re amazed. Is it because of the judgmental, assumptive reasons this gym dude listed? Or because you’re just as impressed with our abilities, our strength, and our determination as you are of that thin person working out next to us?
Last week, I asked you to weigh in (see what I did there?) on what word you would prefer me to use to describe myself instead of fat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very popular post, and only about 20 people voted. Still, I think it’s a good idea to talk about the results, and to do a quick run-down on why I don’t like any of the choices better as a way of describing my body.
In the poll, the most popular choice was Other (I’ll tell you in the comments), but only two people commented. One picked fat, and the other encouraged me to use whatever word I want. A note about that: I should have explained that I did not host that poll because I am looking to replace the word fat in my body-describing vocabulary. I am completely comfortable and happy using that word. Rather, my goal was to get an idea of what other words make people more comfortable. Out of curiosity.
To that end, the second most popular choice was curvy, followed by full-figured, fluffy, heavy, large, plus-size, and obese. No one picked big, chubby, or thick.
Here’s why I don’t like any of those choices better:
- Curvy, to me, implies having a big bosom and a big butt. Not every fat woman has those, shall we say, assets. When I hear “curvy,” I think of women with hourglass figures, with large chests and small waists, that are considered “plus-size” in the modeling world.
- Full-figured is old-fashioned sounding to me, and yet still implies that hourglass shape with breasts and butt. Curvy is the new full-figured.
- Fluffy. Where did this come from? Animals are fluffy. Clouds are fluffy. I am not fluffy.
- Heavy and large go together for me. I don’t mind large so much, but heavy sounds strange. I mean, fat is the opposite of thin, but we don’t use “light” as the opposite of heavy when describing bodies. It just doesn’t sound like a word that should be used to describe a body.
- Plus-size is a clothing term, and a dumb one at that. Who decided where straight sizes end and plus-sizes begin?
- Obese sounds – and is – clinical, and implies disease. My body is not a disease. Sorry to disappoint you, American Medical Association!
The next best word on this list, for me personally, is chubby. If you called my that, I wouldn’t be offended. The bottom line is, we all get to choose the words we use to describe ourselves. (Unless you’re trying to categorize yourself on a dating site, and then good luck. Ugh, the worst.)
If me using the word fat to describe my body upsets you, you should consider why it bothers you so much. Because fat and me? We’re friends forever.
So I got a new tattoo. It’s a Fat Cat, a design made (locally) famous by my sister. I absolutely love it. The artist (you can find him here) totally nailed what I was going for: It looks like my sis drew it on my back and then took a bunch of crayons to it!
I have been thinking about getting this tattoo for a few years now, but something always stopped me: What other people would think. I know, right? I write here all the time about doing what you want with your body, not allowing what others think (or assume) dictate how you live. And yet, I was frozen, convinced that people were going to think less of me for getting this ink. Even funnier considering I already have four other tattoos!
I was finally able to get the Fat Cat after I spend a good amount of time reminding myself that it’s my body, my rules. It doesn’t matter if not a single other person on the planet doesn’t like the ink – what matters is that I like it. After all, I didn’t get it for any of you, I got if for me.
Let’s be totally honest: It’s easy to say “my body, my rules,” but it’s much harder to put it into practice. This goes – as I’m sure you already guessed – beyond tattooing. Of course my first instinct is to consider fat bodies. Consider the guts it takes for fat people to dress however they like (think crop tops, leggings, form-fitting clothes, swimsuits), to make their bodies visible in public, to participate in physical activities in view of others. Sometimes the simple act of walking out the door with an “abnormal” body (that is, one that does not conform to what society considers ‘normal': thin, able-bodied) is an act of defiance and a show of strength. But the truth is, body acceptance is something I believe every one of us – in all our wonderful shapes, sizes, and abilities – struggles with.
It seems to me that there are two major obstacles to conquer when it comes to accepting our bodies: ourselves, and other people. It takes a lot of hard work to rewire your brain after years of being taught that your body is not good; a lot of long, difficult conversations; a lot of unblinking looking into mirrors (both metaphorical and literal) until you learn to like what you see there. But even when you’ve come to accept yourself, you still have to deal with the world outside your head, heart, and door, with the people and messages that tell you you’re wrong after all. You can spend years working on your self-confidence, and one nasty remark can send you tumbling back down into that shame-filled abyss you worked so hard to climb out of.
We all know (or have read comments from) people who have made it their jobs to remind us that we are not right, not good enough. Advertising makes billions of dollars by convincing us we aren’t supposed to wear that, we aren’t allowed to do that, we aren’t welcome to take up that particular space – until we look a certain way, which we can only do by buying their products. Bullies aren’t in it for the money; they just enjoy making other people feel bad. It would be easier to understand their motives if they were getting paid, right?
It can be very difficult to keep our spines straight and our heads up under those withering circumstances. We can help ourselves, though, by building and strengthening communities like the one we have here. We can lift each other up, and lift ourselves up in the process. The specifics are unique to each of us, but together we can encourage each other to live by the motto: our bodies, our rules. Eventually our voices will be loud enough that we can tune out the media messages, and drown out the bullies.
What rules do you have for your body? How do you stay strong in the face of outside forces who don’t want you to be you? And do you have any tattoos? Share in the comments!
I’m gonna do that thing that they say you shouldn’t do: Start a blog post with a definition. (Who are they, anyway? And are they actually reading my blog? Hi! Can you get me on HuffPo?) Here’s a definition of perfect:
Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
Okay, so perfect is about meeting some seriously high expectations. Whose? The same “they” who hate the way this post started? Society? Your mom? My mom? Whoever decided on these required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics, I would like to have a strongly-worded conversation with them. Because, frankly, the pursuit of perfection seems to be making us pretty miserable.
Play a little game with me. First, take a look at some synonyms of perfect: ideal, flawless, ultimate, optimum, unspoiled, unblemished, correct, right, true. Now, consider those words in relation to yourself. How does they make you feel? Do you measure up? Does your life? Does your body?
I know so many strong, funny, smart, kind, compassionate, generous women who are doing their best in their lives, who are raising families, succeeding at their careers, pursuing passions, even just getting out of bed in the morning (which can be an incredible act all on its own), but who are constantly down on themselves because they aren’t perfect spouses, mothers, siblings, daughters, lovers, employees, women.
It’s time to let go. Because there is no such thing as perfect. (No, not even Beyoncé.) There will always be something more, just outside your current reach. Spend five minutes scrolling through Pinterest to see what I mean. Your pantry could be more organized, your wedding favors could be more crafty, your children could be dressed like tiny fashionistas and tops in their class and sports, your fingernails could be works of art, you could have a jar full of date-night ideas for you and your husband, you could be kicking butt at a plank challenge. But even if you do manage to fit all that in? Your life still won’t be perfect. You will find something else that you haven’t done right or enough.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pursue things, have dreams, hope and work for more or better in your life. I’m all for that! Rather, it’s about letting go of the idea that there is some ideal way to pursue things, have dreams, and to achieve more and better.
The part of the definition that’s missing is: perfect is an unattainable state. It’s constantly shifting, perpetually in motion. Check out this breakdown of the “perfect” body from the past 100 years. If there was a truly perfect female form, why would we have all of these variations over the years?
If there is one thing I wish for you, my lovely readers, it’s that you abandon the pursuit of perfection. I promise that you will be so much happier if you do. Your marriage will never be perfect. Your children – and your relationship with them – will never be perfect. Your body, your job, your complexion, your love life, your wardrobe, your downward dog, your food, your vacation, your friendships – they will never be perfect. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay! Because once you let go of the idea of perfection, you will have room in your life for so much more: more joy, more wonder, more adventure – and more mess, more grief, more heartbreak. After all, the sorrow helps us to truly appreciate the sweet.
Abandon perfect. You can’t hold on to it, so why not let it go?
It’s time to have your say! The word fat has proved to be pretty problematic for a lot of people, so I’m curious: What word would you prefer me to use when describing my body? I’m not asking what word you would use to describe yourself, but rather what word would make you feel comfortable to hear another person using when describing themselves.
So tell me: What word would you rather I use instead?
We’ll talk about the results – and why I don’t like any of these choices better than fat – next week.
Do you ever do that thing where you know you shouldn’t look at something, but you do anyway? I’m not just talking about the kind of rubbernecking you might do when you pass an accident on the highway. I’m thinking in particular about the kind of peeking that happens in the comments section of, well, practically anything on the internet. You just know it’s going to be a cesspool of bile, posturing, and ignorance, but you look anyway. If you ever want to see how petty and mean your fellow humans can be, just click View Comments, sit back, and cringe.
I know I shouldn’t read comments on articles about fat. I know it, and yet morbid curiosity gets me almost every time. Maybe I’m hoping that body acceptance is creeping into the mainstream. Maybe I’m hoping that kindness and compassion can overcome ignorance and hate. Maybe I just want to get my blood pumping! Regardless of why I read comments, doing so has led me to the conclusion that many people are super reluctant – and often outright refuse – to believe what fat people say.
No matter what fat people do or experience, there are hundreds of commentors out there crying foul. Here’s a personal example: Last spring, Reddit took brief notice of me, because I participated in and wrote about No Diet Day. I talked about the last time I attempted intentional weight loss – while also training for another half marathon – and fat-hating Redditors decided that I was lying about how little food I was eating and how much I was moving my body. They don’t know me, but they were absolutely certain I was lying. Because thermodynamics, because physics, because blah blah blah. There is a subreddit whose entire purpose is to discredit and mock the things that fat people say and do.
I have experienced this same disbelief in a hundred small – and large – ways, from the doctor who insisted I read an article to help me deal with my obvious fast-food addiction, to the doubtful, suspicious look in some people’s eyes when I talk about my activity level and eating habits. And from reading the comment sections of fat articles, I’m far from alone. If a fat person dares to talk about Health at Every Size, or body acceptance, or their own health habits – unless that habit is “trying to lose weight at any cost, all the time” – they will be declared a liar. They will be bullied and shamed and told that their experiences are untrue, invalid.
And that begs the question: Why? Why do people doubt what I – and all the other fat people who talk about their experiences – talk about? Why do they refuse to accept, or even acknowledge, my truth, and the truth of countless other fat people? There is something at the core of who they are that recoils at who we are, and that manifests itself in disbelief, hatred, and fear. (It’s at this point that I need to thank my parents for teaching me to not fear what I don’t understand.)
I hope that the more I talk about my experiences, the more people will listen – and believe. I hope that the more fat voices that speak up and call out to be heard are listened to – and believed. This isn’t about you and I experiencing the same things. The ways in which we experience and interact with the world are not the same. What your body is, does, and is capable of and what my body is, does, and is capable of are different. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand and appreciate each other, does it?
This is not about you walking a mile in my shoes. It’s about you never having walked in my particular pair of shoes, but still believing me when I say they gave me blisters. This is about hearing each other, about listening to each others’ voices. It’s about being kind and compassionate to our fellow humans. Those things shouldn’t be reserved only for people of a certain size.
By now I’m guessing you’ve heard about the ad in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that has everyone talking. In case you haven’t, here it is:
I know I should probably be really excited about this. I mean, it’s a non-thin woman in a bathing suit – a bikini, even! – in the world’s most famous (infamous?) swimsuit-themed magazine. And in a way, I am excited. I’m glad to know the millions of people who “read” this issue will see some body diversity (because sorry, Kate Upton doesn’t count). But I also think we have to keep a few things in mind, including the fact that Swimsuits For All paid for the ad. It’s not like SI suddenly decided to jump on the plus-size bandwagon of their own accord.
And also, Ashley Graham, the woman in the ad (and shown above), is a very atypical plus-size woman. After all, I don’t know any fat women in real life who are shaped like Ashley Graham. The fat women I know are not extremely well proportioned. They do not have small arms, smooth, flat stomachs, and hourglass figures. Hold on, though. I know that women who wear straight sizes rarely see their bodies represented by models either. What percentage of thin women are as thin, beautiful, and perfectly proportioned as models? So maybe I shouldn’t complain about plus-size models like Ashley representing such a narrow (no pun intended) range of fat women. But I will! It’s my blog.
(Side note: When I say “flat stomach,” I don’t mean thin. I mean a stomach that does not have rolls, where the belly button is visible. Because – fat fact check! – there are millions of fat women who have rolls and whose belly buttons are not visible. Those women are almost never seen in media, or even in body-positive images.)
I’m more excited to hear that Tess Munster has been picked up by a major modeling agency. You probably recognize her name from the times that Beverly has talked about her here on BFD, but here’s a refresher:
Tess has a large chest, and is pretty proportionate (someday, there will be a small-chested fat woman in the public eye!). But she is also has fat arms and legs, and is in general much fatter than almost all other “plus-size” models working today. So cheers to MiLk Model Management for being open-minded and giving Tess a chance to share her beauty with the world. It will be interesting to see what clients use her, and in what capacity.
It’s absolutely great that we are seeing more body diversity in media. But here’s the thing: We can also expect more. I’m not content with baby steps. I want giant steps, stereotype-smashing steps. I want to see non-proportionate women, I want to see women with what we ridiculously call “flaws” but that we all (fat and thin) actually have, like rolls, stretch marks, and cellulite. If we saw those things on a regular basis on bodies in the media, think of how much less we’d hate them on our own bodies! So more like the bottom image, and less like the top (with thanks to Dear Kate):
Someone told me that advertising is about fantasy, that we want to see what we aren’t, what we don’t have, so that we will spend money in order to be and have it. I don’t buy into that. I am much more willing to give my money to companies who showcase the wondrous diversity of humanity and the human body, who want to help me be more myself and less like some airbrushed, impossible version of someone who most decidedly isn’t me.
What do you think? Are you cheering for Ashely? Over the moon for Tess? Or, like me, are you ready for more?