I post a lot of photos of my face and its chins on social media, sometimes next to ones of my fat belly or clothes decked out in cute cupcake prints. What you won't see me posting is gym selfies or photos of myself in adorable plus size activewear (sans two blog posts done in collaboration with a size inclusive activewear brand in 2013-2014, because its mission was and remains a pretty great thing). I personally believe that by posting photos of yourself on the Internet (especially if you identify with a body type that's remotely marginalized) you can often inspire a little self love both in yourself and perhaps more importantly in the other people who see themselves represented in your image.
However, when I see hashtags on social media that tell me "healthy is the new skinny" accompanied by a gym selfie, I don't feel empowered. I don't feel like people are finally understanding that all humans deserve their humanity. It's more like the beauty standard narrative has shifted. As activist Jes M. Baker wrote in her book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls , "[...] Really, what we're doing is taking the same exact process of body oppression and giving it a new name." She goes on to note that equating health to beauty and to morality is no less exclusionary of entire groups of people than equating beauty to weight:
"Who is instantly exiled the second health becomes the top measurement of worth? People with physical disabilities. People with chronic or incurable ailments. People who live in poverty and can't afford balanced meals. People who don't have the resources or education required to learn about how to take care of their bodies [...]"
And the list goes on.
Although I would love to find ways of encouraging a healthy lifestyle for people of all sizes (maybe one day I'll start a cookery vlog) as a fat woman operating in a public space the reason I don't post gym selfies has nothing to do with my actual fitness routine or lifestyle, but everything to do with the choice not to seek validation as it pertains to this subject.
This is why gym selfies feel different to me than a photo of my nonexistent thigh gap or precious Star Trek dress. When it comes to the battle for size acceptance, a common criticism one often hears is that there is nothing beautiful, good, or noble in promoting "unhealthy" lifestyles. The narrative is that fat people are all unhealthy, and the world should not be giving them any motivation to feel beautiful, good, or happy because they have bodies that are ugly, bad, and depressing.
Just as bad as thinking all fat people are inherently unhealthy is the "It's OK if you want to be fat, as long as you're healthy" mantra commonly upheld by the less vicious trolls of the Web and the IRL. There are a whole heap of problems with this mentality, namely that we can't gauge someone's health simply by looking at them, "health status" should not be correlated to morality or worth, and health also encompasses mental and emotional wellbeing. The implication that a fat person is allowed to receive acceptance if and only if they prove their clinical health is equally uncool.
I don't need to post photos of my rolls drenched in workout sweat to prove that I have a healthy lifestyle, because I shouldn't need to prove anything at all. I've seen comments like, "Oh, it's OK that she's fat, because she clearly works out," or "Obviously she just can't help being fat," on the photos of bloggers with a similar stature to mine, and I'd likely encounter the same if I did post a workout-wear selfie to Instagram. But I don't need those.
Of course, there are plenty of fat women posting gym selfies or workout videos or a snap in their favorite neon leggings who aren't seeking validation. As Georgina Horne of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust tells me via email:
"The way I see it, I'm never gonna keep everyone happy. I always share snippets of my life, and the gym is part of it. People are always vocal when they hate something, but I get so many emails thanking me for my content because others have felt inspired to join the gym and feel great as a result. I encourage self love, [and] that's at any size."
I remember when Horne began posting workout-centric photos online in 2014. As a plus size, body positive blogger, her personal choice to lose weight and share that journey on the Internet was bound to result in controversy. I remember seeing comments from supposed proponents of body positivity who were upset that she was losing weight. They were so clearly judging her — even deeming her a phony. But here's the thing: There's nothing inherently wrong with making changes, going to the gym, and sharing your experiences at the gym if all of it's coming from a personal choice and not a shoved-down-your-throat beauty standard you're not even sure you want to uphold.
For me, however, there's a clear distinction between posting gym or workout-wear selfies in front of a mirror that have the potential to give off, "Hey, look at me: I workout too, so you can stop shaming me now," vibes than posting beautifully executed videos and images (like the ones Horne or bloggers like Glitter And Lazers often post) that are actually combatting the bigger problem that is body shaming and weight stigma. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction and happiness when I see fat people proving that they can do so many of the things many other people assume become sheer impossibilities when you're over 200 pounds.
I love encountering folks who prove that fat people can do yoga; that fat people can do splits; that fat people can be dancers; that fat people can, can, can. Anything that fights stigma and stereotype has to be a good thing. When I look at some of these humans, I don't feel like they are posting photos of their yoga routines because they're seeking validation or saying, "I'm healthy, honest!" They seem to be posting out of a genuine love for the workout and for body positivity. The fact that they ultimately prove that "fat people can't" is total BS is like an added bonus. Whatever their reasons, they're de-stigmatizing notions associated with fatness and fitness that need to be de-stigmatized. IMO, they're total badasses.
However, I differ from these women in that, at the moment, fitness is just a routine for me — a mundane part of life, rather than a passion of sorts. And if I wasn't fat, I wouldn't be expected to make it seem like it is. Yes, I'd still be surrounded by diet talk and proclamations of clean living if I was thin, but proving myself a loyal member of the gym wouldn't be a demand nor a condition for acceptance. Proving that I did more in a week than sit at my desk job in the days and watch Netflix in the evenings wouldn't be something anyone needed to hear before telling me that how I look is OK.
For now, I'll continue to think of the folks posting in-action shots of themselves doing a split or a high jump as rule-breakers and activists and revolutionaries. As for me, I feel there's very little that a photo of myself in rainbow spandex could accomplish other than proving that I look cute in rainbow spandex.
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Images: Marie Southard Ospina/Rachel Crittenden Photography