How Realizing My Own Plus Privilege Made Me A Better Fat Activist
When composing an article about plus privilege recently, I was presented with the observation that some of us who refer to ourselves as "plus size" — models or otherwise — will often still be able to fit into straight size clothing. Even though the small fat, larger fat dichotomy is a controversial topic, the concept that plus sizes might have a size limit was previously never one I thought applied to me (even if some people might look at me and not immediately think "she's so fat").
Regardless of my waistline, I've always perceived myself as a fat girl. Yet even now, sitting a pretty 45 pounds heavier than I was only four years ago, my body might not be counted as "plus size" to some because my clothing does not purely consist of plus size ranges. That feels totally fair. But before coming into this essay, I was rather self-righteous in my position as a plus size woman.
Now I'm unsure as to where I fit in as a woman who has always identified as fat, but who still has the privilege to shop at a lot of fast fashion favorites. "Plus size" is an identity that I've associated myself with for the past couple of years. It's an identity I've fought hard for in terms of my own personal self love journey, as well as through online activism and writing. It's a community that I (and many similar in size to me) feel applies to my body more than the thinspiration perpetuated by mainstream media. But although I might not be slender, I'm aware that I might not be classed as fat either. And I'm left wondering where my in-between self most fits in.
I've come from a long line of fat women. I was a tall, round kid and a chubby, loner goth teenager. I used to obsess over my weight in a way that wasn't remotely healthy, flirting with disordered eating. Even when I got down to a size 6, I was restricting myself to 500 calories a day just so I could pretend that that's how my body looked naturally... because I thought that was how my body should look naturally.
Becoming a part of the body positivity movement changed my relationship with my body to a point where I learned to accept how my body wants to be naturally without living a lifestyle that I don't want to live. I don't eat or live in a way most would consider healthy, but neither do my thin friends. So why should I put in extra effort to look like them, when I have finally grown to love looking like me? By accepting myself as fat and realizing that being a fat person doesn't make me any less human, I learned to love myself.
I'm about the same size as mainstream plus size models — most of whom are "between a size 6 and 14" according to APlus — yet I often envy them for their beauty and bodies nonetheless. I am, you see, a different shape. My weight is not evenly distributed between my ass and my chest. Instead, I'm top heavy with a lovely, chubby tummy. (Thanks PCOS!) I can understand that most of the fat community can't empathize with the plus models in mainstream ads, so how can I expect any sympathy as a fat woman when I can still squeeze into the larger sizes at any given Forever 21?
I have an undeniable privilege that many others don't. While I can flit from plus size store to straight size store and find something to wear in both, that reality isn't true for so many fat individuals. And so, I sometimes worry my fat activism could come off as fake or forced. My body is far away from the traditional beauty standards of the Western world, sure. But similarly, my body is far away from most of the women who make up the plus size consumer and community. Like the majority of American women, I fall somewhere in between.
For me, being fat has never been entirely about my waist size. Even when I was a size 6, I saw myself as fat, and saw that as a negative. From the bullies at school to the comparisons I'd draw between myself and women in the media, I considered my body fat long before it actually was. But turning said negative into a positive has led me to live a happy and free life at a size 14.
For many in the world — be it "thinspiration" proponents or mainstream media — a size 14 is fat. But to some within the fat community, it's not "fat enough." To them, my contributions to fat acceptance might seem like an outsider's point of view, but I don't believe that means all my work towards preaching body positivity suddenly falls flat. What I love about body positivity is its inclusive nature. The movement isn't just about fat bodies or just about thin bodies. It's about all bodies.
Maybe my right to be involved in the fat community doesn't always feel so secure, but that doesn't mean I'm going to hide behind my privilege and stop preaching fat acceptance. It's an issue that's affected my family and me for as long as I can remember. It's an issue that I'm passionate about. And it's a passion that shouldn't depend on my own personal clothing size.
My place is not to argue with members of the fat community who might not consider me to be fat. Instead of clawing my way into either fat or thin groups, I'm going to focus on making my space in the in-between as body positive as possible. I'm comfortable enough with who I am to respect the efforts and issues of those larger than me and their right to calling out the problematic nature of small fats being the only ones allowed to represent the entire fat community in the mainstream.
All this being said, I want to continue to label myself as a fat, plus size woman. While there are some people who may not deem me as such, I can find a whole room full of peers I went to school with who would happily confirm my fatness. I don't need to post nude photos of my 186-pound self to confirm my identity to anybody else, because my identity is mine.
I've fought not just with the world, but with myself for the right to exist as a fat woman, and I see and own my plus privilege. But surely acknowledging this shouldn't revoke my right to an adjective that's made up a large part of my identity for years. Instead, I'm going to be focusing on adjusting my body positive fight to be more inclusive, regardless of my own balancing act between straight and plus.
Image: Georgina Jones (1)