Around this time last year, a fellow writer at a holiday party asked me what subject I most enjoy covering. My go-to response to this question is usually "body positivity" or some derivative thereof; but when I offered her these two words, the look on her face was one of sheer puzzlement. "What is that?" she asked, with an almost-detectable level of condescension, not remotely impressed when I told her about the term's roots in body image activism and size acceptance.
Fast forward to a year later, when I was asked the same question by a middle aged gal on my morning commute. "Oh! I've been hearing about this all year. I think the first time was through that model. Tess, right? I love what you guys are trying to achieve." Even if these are only two experiences with two women over the course two years, the difference still feels pretty tangible.
Although 2014 saw a lot of highs in body image politics — from Haley Morris Cafiero's "Wait Watchers" photo series to plus size model Denise Bidot walking New York Fashion Week — it was in 2015 that the term became something of a buzzword. There are risks associated with this new status, of course. Like people (or brands) co-opting the word for profit or clickbait without understanding the politics behind it. But for the most part, I think the mainstream popularity of body positivity signals that the call for visibility is gaining traction.
After all, the more we talk about how fucked up beauty standards and marginalization really are, the more we're hopefully inching towards a culture that promotes self worth, in which individuals are not taught to hate their bodies, but to love and appreciate them for everything those bodies do. Out of the many times "body positivity" made headlines in 2015, these are 21 moments that stand out.
1. Tess Holliday Being Signed To Milk Management
Before January 2015, the thought of not just a plus size model, but a visibly (and unapologetically) fat plus size model being signed to a major agency would've seemed more unlikely than Glenn surviving that bed of zombies.
Tess Holliday broke more barriers than one when she became the first model above a size 20 to land this kind of contract. The moment she joined London-based Milk Management signaled a cultural shift, and we've been seeing "body positivity" make headlines every since. Often thanks to Holliday herself, who landed the cover of People only five months after starting something of a revolution, making a fat, confident woman a household name for the first time possibly ever along the way.
2. Laverne Cox Shooting Nude For Allure
Laverne Cox baring it all on such a majorly renowned fashion mag was a revolutionary moment for a lot of people, from women of color to transgender individuals to anyone who's ever felt oppressed or stigmatized for their body. As she told the publication, "Trans women certainly are not told we're beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks. There's beauty in the things we think are imperfect. That sounds very cliché, but it's true."
Nudity can be an incredible source of empowerment, especially when the nude body in question has been victim of marginalization. Cox is not only a vocal activist for the transgender community, but a proponent of body positivity and its intersection with LGBTQ individuals, most of whom still rarely see relatable figures in their media consumption.
3. Plus Size Superhero Faith Landing Her Own Series
The world of nerdom has long been a paradoxical one, especially as it applies to comic books. On the one hand, there is plenty a plot line that promotes gay rights and the importance of diversity. On the other, there are those that only further project impossible beauty standards onto female characters. But Valiant Comics' Faith is set to change that.
November's announcement that comiclandia would soon have a plus size protagonist star in her own series was a groundbreaking one for an industry in which women are often depicted as having gravity-defying breasts or waists smaller than a baby's wrist.
4. Whitney Way Thore's Increasing Popularity
Dancer extraordinaire and My Big Fat Fabulous Life star Whitney Way Thore has been gracing our screens for two seasons now. But it was in 2015 that I started to hear people really talk about her. And not just members of the body pos community. But many folks who likely wouldn't have ever been introduced to the crazy theory of self love had it not been for Thore and her show. To put it simply, she brought body positivity into the living rooms of Americans nation-wide.
Additionally, Thore has been fearless in opening up a dialogue about the intersection of weight loss and body positivity. Her willingness to talk about a subject that can so easily make people uncomfortable just goes to show that there are many ways to exist in one's body and remain body positive.
5. Gender Neutral Undies Being Exhibited At A Major Museum
The Victoria And Albert Museum touts itself as being the "world's leading museum of art and design," and in November, it announced that gender neutral undies by Acme Studios would be on display come the spring. Part of the "Undressed: A Brief History Of Underwear" exhibit, these knickers are just one embodiment of the fluidity of gender: A subject that got some much-deserved airtime in 2015.
As reported by The Telegraph, this "exhibition [aims] to explore how underwear reflects contemporary ideals." For such a world-renowned museum to acknowledge that the gender binary is inherently flawed is kind of groundbreaking. The inclusion of these undies suggests that deconstructing gender as most of us have been taught to define it is a principal contemporary concern. And here's hoping this remains true as we move forward into a new year.
6. Gabourey Sidibe's Sex Scene On Empire
When was the last time you saw a plus size woman featured in a steamy sex scene on your TV? One in which there was no mention of her weight? And when was the last time you saw a plus size woman of color featured in the same? If your answer to all of the above is "never," then you'll likely understand just why Gabourey Sidibe's sex scene on Empire was so groundbreaking.
The amazing thing about this moment in television was that Sidibe was having sex with someone considered attractive by mainstream standards, yet not once was the situation made to feel "abnormal." Because it wasn't. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and styles have sex with each other. Not only is this allowed, but it's just reality. We need to stop conditioning people to believe that body types should stick to their own unless we want homogenization rather than diversity to become our norm.
7. Meeting Caitlyn Jenner
Caitlyn Jenner made her formal introduction this June when she covered Vanity Fair while wearing a gorgeous, almost vintage-inspired lingerie set. The cover was historical for more reasons than one, from its celebration of a trans woman on a mainstream and world-renowned publication to its celebration of a woman above the age of 60 to its celebration of a woman above the age of 60 sporting sexy underwear. The body positivism of the shoot was radiant, but Jenner's involvement in trans visibility and activism in the months since has been even more impressive.
Jenner has openly acknowledged her privileges as a white, affluent individual with access to high-cost medical procedures. But there's no doubt that the rising popularity of a transgender woman associated with one of the most famous families in the world has done wonders for bringing conversations about the fluidity of gender and sexuality into homes everywhere.
8. Ashley Nell Tipton Winning Project Runway
The 14th season of Project Runway not only presented us with the first plus size designer to compete in the U.S. franchise, but with the first plus size designer to take the crown. Ashley Nell Tipton's success has marked a huge moment for plus size fashion and size acceptance: A moment in which an alternative, unapologetically fat woman of color whose feminism and body positivism have always been about promoting intersectionality shook up the norm.
There's no telling what gloriously kitschy, sparkly, and pastel wonders Tipton will have in store for consumers next year. But as Project Runway's judges noted, she'll undoubtedly be bringing something new to the market.
9. Jamie Brewer Walking New York Fashion Week
Actress and disabilities advocate Jamie Brewer and designer Carrie Hammer made history this February, when Brewer became the first model with Down's Syndrome to walk a New York Fashion Week show. Through her Role Models Not Runway Models show, Hammer has been able to provide inspiring and radical women of all backgrounds, abilities, ethnicities, and sizes with a platform. And it's a platform that's shaking up the industry from within.
Brewer walked the A/W show with all the confidence, poise, and energy one could've expected from the American Horror Story veteran. IMO, her inclusion in the show marked a shift in the way we conceptualize "runway models," and it's a shift that is reminding the world that the right to self love is for everyone.
10. Drake Bringing "BBW" To The Mainstream
Although Drake's utilization of the term "BBW" has been critiqued, the simple fact is that he sparked some much-needed convos surrounding the word, its history in porn, the pros and cons of validation from others (read: men), and the need for plus size visibility. Whether Drake is actually getting it on with fat ladies or not, "BBW" is a term that needs to be talked about. And thanks to the whole "I like my girls BBW" thing, that's exactly what ended up happening.
There's a lot more to this acronym than seedy corners of the Internet. But whatever your own personal feelings about being called or calling others a big, beautiful woman, there are many women who self-identify as such and who have found empowerment through those three little letters. And that is most definitely something worthy of celebration.
11. Lea DeLaria's What's Underneath Video
In August, Orange Is The New Black's Lea DeLaria starred in a What's Underneath video in which she reclaimed the term "butch" as her own. Although DeLaria recounted her experiences with bullying and harassment for being a "butch dyke," and expressed dissatisfaction with the stereotypes associated with the term ("media has always portrayed us as fat and stupid and we beat our wives and we cause fights, drive trucks..."), she also makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with subscribing to the butch identity.
The actress and comedian also made some fabulously poignant remarks about fatness. Like, "Fat is not ugly. It is, in fact, quite beautiful." Simple yet so hard-hitting.
12. Target Featuring Its First Male Plus Size Model
Plus size male model Zach Miko made his first appearance on Target's website in October. Although many folks might look at Miko's image and deem him an "average" dude rather than a "plus size" one, the reality is that modeling industry standards and sizing rules are sort of a world of their own (and could still use a hefty dose of body positivism). Regardless, Miko is a larger model than we're accustomed to seeing on major retail sites — and that's kind of a big deal.
Men are sometimes left out of the body positive conversation, likely because the oppression women face regarding their bodies is infinitely more socially ingrained and a "normal" part of existence, but Miko's work is a reminder that when we talk about "visibility," we should be talking about visibility for all bodies, all genders, all sizes.
13. Ariel Winter Opening Up About Her Breast Reduction
When Ariel Winter underwent a breast reduction earlier this year, social media began exploding with commentary — much of which seemed to criticize the 17-year-old for succumbing to plastic surgery and thus somehow implying that all teenage girls should also have plastic surgery. But when the actress opened up to Glamour about her decision, it became clear that her choice was an incredibly personal one — and one that would lead to her emotional and physical health and wellbeing. "I was 15 years old with [size] F [breasts]. It’s like, ‘How do you navigate that?'" she said to the publication.
Most of us can probably agree that the pressure women and feminine people often feel to change their bodies — sometimes through more extreme measures like surgery — is a problematic one that could do with total social eradication. But as Winter proved, there's nothing wrong with taking steps to change your body when it's a choice you're making for yourself. Not because you feel you "have" to. And not because someone is telling you that you "should."
14. Gabi Gregg & ASOS Collaborating On A Lookbook
For its fall 2015 lookbook, retail giant ASOS collaborated with OG plus size blogger Gabi Gregg. For years, we've been seeing Gregg share #OOTD shots of herself sporting ASOS threads, even before the Curve section was a thing. As Gregg wrote on her blog, "I feel like it’s not even necessary to say how much it means to me to be a part of this — you guys know how much I love ASOS." Her connection to the brand was pretty evident when looking through the images, but this was also a major moment in plus size fashion and body positivity on its own.
For ASOS to team together with a blogger who is arguably responsible for the popularity of plus size blogging overall seems to imply that it really cares about getting the message right. And considering this is a brand so many plus size fatshionistas cite as their go-to, it couldn't be a more welcome one.
15. ModCloth Launching A Size Inclusive In-House Collection
From signing a no Photoshop pledge to featuring a transgender model to putting together an employee swimwear lookbook, ModCloth has long been hailed a body positive retailer. But in July, the brand also launched a size inclusive in-house collection, with designs manufactured in sizes XS to 4X. It's not often that a brand's plus size offerings are one with its main collection; with sections usually remaining separate, and options for plus being markedly reduced. But ModCloth's namesake line is all about breaking those boundaries, giving women of many sizes the same options.
Equality in fashion has long been tied to the efforts of the body pos community, and it's collections that don't create unnecessary divide that tend to stand out most.
16. Amanda Bingson Covering ESPN's Body Issue
It's not often that one sees plus size athletes represented in media, but fitness, health, and activity are not "one size fits all" constructs. Earlier this summer, however, ESPN featured Olympian Amanda Bingson on the cover of its Body Issue, and she's done a hell of a lot since when it comes to proving that athletes come in all sizes — and that bodies of all sizes look damn good naked.
In this world of ours, athletic women are often still the targets of a lot of flak. Whether they're deemed "butch" or "unfeminine" or all-around "unsightly," the stigma against female athletes is very real. So when the major sports programming organization featured Bingson, it — be it intentionally or otherwise — forced people to acknowledge that no one can put a size limit on being a badass.
17. Jes M. Baker Publishing Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls
When activist Jes M. Baker of The Militant Baker started hinting at the publication of a book, there was little doubt that it was going to be a masterpiece. From analyzing body currency to diet culture to the how's and why's of fatness becoming a so-called "epidemic" to the political impact of fat ladies in bikinis, Baker delved into body positivism in an analytical yet funny, educational yet relatable kind of way.
This "handbook for unapologetic living" holds exactly the sort of lessons I hope future generations of women are taught from Day 1. In the aid of making the kind of content contained in these essays common knowledge, it's a book we should read and gift to everyone who's ever been told their body is wrong. Although the focus is deconstructing fat phobia, there are few people who couldn't benefit from Baker's words.
18. Harnaam Kaur's Shoot With Rock 'N Roll Bride
Although one in 10 women in America alone suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, some of its side effects — like thick body hair growth — are not often talked about. That's why body image activist Harnaam Kaur's bridal shoot with Rock 'N Roll Bride was so important. There still exists a pretty severe double standard when it comes to women rocking body hair, so to see someone embrace theirs so beautifully feels nothing short of radical.
In the time since, Kaur has also joined the #EffYourBeautyStandards movement, Tess Holliday's social media campaign aimed at deconstructing body shame. There's no telling what this gem will do next year.
19. Lillian Bustle's Tedx Talk
Burlesque performer Lillian Bustle isn't shy when it comes to talking about body image. Hell, she's not shy when it comes to rocking nipple pasties on stage, letting her VBO get some much-deserved airtime. In her Tedx talk this year, she delved into the importance of finding an outlet that allows you to feel limitless. For her, this is burlesque.
Although the entirety of Bustle's talk is filled with poignant points about the history of burlesque and the consequences of body image insecurities, it's her introduction that reels you in. "I am fat," she began. "I happen to use this word as a self-descriptor and I don't say it to put myself down. And I certainly don't say it in the hopes that someone says, 'Oh no, you're not fat [...] We as women are programmed to tell each other that we are not fat because for too many people — men and women — fat is the worst thing you can be."
Her reclamation of the F-word was inspiring, and the fact that she was doing it on stage, in front of an entire audience, was quite the moment for the taking-back-fat mission.
20. Erica Jean Schenk Covering Women's Running
Much like ESPN's Body Issue was a groundbreaking moment for athletes of size, we also got to see plus size model Erica Jean Schenk covering Women's Running this year. Female athletes who deviate from the slender prototype we're often taught to associate with sports really had a moment this year, and Schenk was part of that.
What was so encouraging about Schenk's cover spot, however, was getting acquainted with her hope for the future. "It takes generations to change ingrained ideas of what 'should' be,” Schenck told Bustle. “We've taken slow, even paces to get where we are and we aren't slowing down now!”
21. The Pirelli Calendar's Re-Vamp
The seemingly impossible happened this December when Pirelli revealed the subjects of its 2016 calendar. Although the calendar has historically been about upping the sexy factor and shooting women in lingerie with pouty lips and legs open, the content this time around was a little bit different. From Serena Williams to Yoko Ono to Amy Schumer, the women chosen were selected for their accomplishments above their bodies.
The inclusion of a diverse pool of ages, skin colors, and sizes was hugely body positive, and also incredibly groundbreaking. Considering this is a calendar available only to an exclusive group of 20,000 VIPs (generally musicians, politicians, and royalty), it's evidence that the body pos conversation is no longer limited to vloggers or Tumblr.
While these moments were all revolutionary in their own right, they only signal a beginning. Body positivity activists have been fighting for a long time — decades, really — and there's still a shit ton left to do. Visibility for (some) marginalized bodies is increasing, yes, but it still isn't enough. Personally, I hope that a list such as this will be impossible to put together someday. I hope that the pool of options extends to thousands of experiences rather than a couple dozen. But for now, it's important to celebrate the humans doing things right and helping us get there.
Cheers to a new year, and may progressive body image politics be ever by your side.
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