In 2015, talking about body positivity stopped being something I did only on my personal blog, with likeminded friends, or in the privacy of my own brain, and started being part of my everyday interactions. "All bodies are good bodies" slowly became a tagline on almost every article on body image from feminist, progressive sites, while the visibility of plus size voices increased arguably more than ever thanks to social media and those aforementioned feminist, progressive sites.
Personally, I'm thankful for all that. The fact that public attention was actually brought to issues of sizeism in some way feels important. But as we inch further and further into this new year, there are certain areas of body positivism I hope we keep talking about.
I understand why "all bodies are good bodies" has become the slogan that it is. It's an easily digestible mantra — the kind of thing most rational, non-trolling people can't deny. Of course all bodies have worth. We're all human, right? The statement isn't one you'd likely want to risk contradicting — at least IRL.
Even though I think the ABAGB mentality is a great way of introducing people to concepts of self-love and acceptance, I hope we don't end the conversation there. Body shaming, and particularly fat shaming (and the discrimination that comes with it), is still a very real thing. So here are some issues I hope become just as common to read about in our timelines.
1. Many Plus Size Fashion Collections Still Don't Carry A Full Range
Unfortunately, it's still not uncommon for plus size collections to be selectively inclusive. In 2015, it seemed like a new fat-friendly line was launching weekly, sometimes accompanied by "now selling all sizes" chatter. But more often than not, those collections still aren't very fat-friendly at all. Size 20 is usually the cut-off point, thus excluding the entire upper range of plus and the individuals whose hips happen to be larger than 52 inches.
Brands need to start taking cues from indie designers like Mallorie Dunn of SmartGlamour, whose line extends from XXS to 6XL, and is available in custom measurements to boot. Yes, women between sizes 14 and 20 are finally being catered to. But that doesn't give brands the excuse to exclude fat women above a size 20. After all, women between sizes 14 and 34 make up about 64 percent of the population.
2. Plus Size Modeling Needs More Diversity
When curve model Ashley Graham recently landed a cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, controversy erupted on social media. Some folks were calling it a win for the progression of plus visibility, while others felt it conflicting and counter-productive to celebrate the inclusion of a conventionally attractive, hourglass-shaped woman in a men's-targeted publication. There was a lot of talk about her body not being "plus size enough," and of how un-radical her presence in SI really was given her classic beauty.
Graham isn't the problem, though. Plus size models at the smaller end of the size spectrum didn't cause sizeism. And they certainly didn't shape the modeling and fashion industries into the discriminatory empires they are today. It's unfortunate that most of the most renowned plus models in the business — like Graham, Tara Lynn, and Denise Bidot — are all similarly proportioned. But they're just doing their jobs.
The bigger issue is still the industries that appear to continue to refuse equal representation of women above the 12 to 14 range. Consumers are demanding to see more bodies represented in their plus size lines — bodies of all sizes, shapes, levels of fatness, skin tones, etc. Plus visibility in fashion can't stop at size 14, because plus women don't stop at size 14.
3. There Is Still Minimal Visibility For Fat Bodies In Entertainment
When was the last time you encountered a fat character in a film or television show who wasn't playing the self-deprecating role, the goofy sidekick, the comedic relief, the bully or villain, the one to pity? When was the last time you encountered a fat character who was the hero, the "dreamboat," the vixen, the "sexy" one, the one to admire or aspire to?
Personally, Gabourey Sidibe's now-legendary sex scene on Empire in Nov. 2015 is the only time I've witnessed a plus size female character in a sexy situation and in which no mention of her weight was made. Her size was irrelevant to the storyline, which is just as it should've been.
I want to see a fat character save the day. I want to see more fat characters in sexual and romantic scenes. I want more fat characters who make me think, "I want to be just like that," or, "God I want that life." Our entertainment is so limited that white, thin, cis, able bodies are what we see most of. But I don't want that to be true in five years. Hell, I don't even want it to be true next week.
4. We Don't Know Nearly Enough About Health
I don't know about you, but the way I was taught about weight and health was akin to the way the teenagers in Mean Girls get taught about sex. Like, I actually remember my sixth grade science teacher telling me that if I didn't make a life change, I'd be dead by 20. I was 11.
From my experiences, and based on conversations with other humans, weight and health lessons tend to go something like this:
- Fat is bad.
- The more fat you have, the quicker you will die.
- This is because being fat will always lead to diabetes or heart disease or both.
As doctor and Health At Every Size author Dr. Linda Bacon wrote in her piece with Melissa A. Fabello for Everyday Feminism, "Correlation does not equal causation [...] Both dieting and weight cycling — that is, the process of going on a diet, losing weight, regaining the weight (and sometimes more), then going on another diet, losing weight, regaining the weight, and on and on and on — increase inflammation. And inflammation itself is actually a risk factor for many diseases that are typically blamed on 'obesity,' like diabetes and heart disease. And who do you think is more likely to have lived a life of constant dieting and weight cycling? People of size."
But we don't tend to learn about inflammation in school, much like we never learn that "fat" in and of itself doesn't kill, or that there's a clear difference between subcutaneous fat (the jiggly stuff you can touch with your fingers) and visceral fat (the kind that wraps itself around your organs), or the fact that those two types of fat don't always go hand in hand. Instead, it all gets summed up as "fat is bad."
As Dr. Bacon and Fabello also reported, a "2004 CDC-sponsored study stated that approximately 350,000 deaths per year are related to being 'overweight' or 'obese,' second only to smoking. But in 2005, the same journal published a re-analysis with more scientifically accurate results, putting the number closer to 25,000 — a 94 percent difference [...] the fact that it was a mistake and that you have more or less equal chances of dying in a car accident and dying from disease related to 'obesity' isn’t widely publicized to the American people."
5. There Is Little Protection Against Size Discrimination
In 1969, the National Association To Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded as "a non-profit civil rights organization dedicated to ending size discrimination in all of its forms." Almost 50 years after its founding, size discrimination in the workforce and in education still feels incredibly prevalent.
NAAFA reported that in 2004, it was not uncommon for fat employees to make "up to 6 percent less earnings than thin people in comparable positions, and fat women suffer more than fat men." In 2008, "Weight/height discrimination is as prevalent as rates of racial discrimination reported a recent Yale study especially among women." The same year, it was found that "one of three children has experienced weight bias from a teacher." And if we take things all the way back to 1990, "Fat people can be terminated or suspended because of their weight, despite good job performance."
The research isn't as up-to-date as it should be. But you need only look around and talk to fat people to deduce that these issues are still relevant. School bullying? Absolutely. Feeling looked down upon for being fat at work or at home? Definitely. Having no thin privilege that influences how much you have to pay to fly in an airplane, or how comfortable you can be sitting at a school desk, or how often you are told to lose weight by medical professionals before anything is even tested, or being referred to as an "epidemic?" Yeah, that's all still life as a fat person.
6. There Are Biases In The Medical Community Towards Fat People
If you are a visibly fat person, chances are you've gone to the doctor with an ache, pain, virus, or some kind of abnormal symptom and been told, "Your weight is an obvious issue here, have you considered losing some?"
In 2013, a study by researchers at Wake Forest School Of Medicine actually revealed that "medical students have an unconscious anti-obesity bias, mirroring medical instructors, and another [study] showed that obese patients are more likely than normal-weight patients to switch doctors because of negative interactions with their physicians."
If you can't even go to a doctor when you're concerned about some aspect of your health without being boxed into a "weight loss fix-all" remedy before even being tested, what hope can you actually have to feel better and get healthy? When curve model Elly Mayday went to a doctor in 2013, her abnormal symptoms were dismissed. According to Cosmopolitan, "She said her symptoms included extreme pain in her lower back pain, feeling unwell all the time, bladder infections, lower abdomen pain, and pressure in her lower stomach. She said the medical advice she got was to work out more and strengthen her core because her severe back pain was a result of her weight."
She actually had stage 3 ovarian cancer, which she wouldn't have known had she not chosen to trust her body instead of her doctor.
7. More Options Are Still Needed
When writer and designer Alysse Dalessandro of Ready To Stare created her Convertible Cupcake Dress late in 2015, it was received to a lot of conflicting emotions. Some folks even accused her of preventing plus size fashion from evolving away from baggy, body-hiding cuts because her dress was so shapeless.
It's nothing short of thrilling to see a plus size woman rocking a skintight garment with no apologies. But I think as we've started to talk about body positivism and plus size radicalism more and more, we've lost sight of the need for options; for options comparable to those of our straight size counterparts.
I want plus size fashion to evolve to the kind of place where I can walk into a fast fashion store or a high end designer's shop and find an equal mixture of items. From the body-con to the sack-like to the T-shirt silhouettes and even to the A-line, fat women should have the right to dress however they so please.
Back in the day, we didn't have many options outside of the baggier cuts that served to hide our bodies — so I understand the desire some people have to stray as far away from that as possible. But we should be allowed to present our bodies in the ways that feel right. Some people will always find empowerment in a form-fitting dress. Others will feel much the same with something baggy and free-flowing.
8. "Fat" Is Still A Bad Word
The word "fat" has a colorful history. It's long been used as an insult, as a marker of health, and even as a marker of how much we deserve to be treated like human beings. But for many years now, fat positive activists have been fighting to reclaim it as a descriptor, and even as something beautiful, desirable, and worthy.
However, anywhere outside of my feminist office or circles of body positive friends, "fat" is still a bad word. It's still a thing that we fear becoming, á la Daphne in Scooby Doo . It's still an insult thrown at politicians, seemingly in the hopes of making them appear less equipped. It's still the word my female family members use if ever they're feeling unattractive or having a bad outfit day. And the word my male family members throw at anyone they deem not-pleasing-to-the-eye. It's one of the many words that led 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick to take her life after being severely bullied.
And it's exhausting. Fat isn't ugly. You might not be attracted to fat bodies personally, but that doesn't mean your opinion is shared the world over. Fat doesn't even have to be unhealthy, if that's your excuse for mistreating actual fat people. For a lot of body positive and fat positive activists, "fatness" is what's brought us together. For me, embracing my fatness directly correlated to leading a happier life. Fat can be beautiful. Fat can be sexy. Fat can be anything you want it to be. But one thing it should not be is an insult.
9. "Obesity" Is Still A Disease
In Nov. 2013, the American Heart Association, American College Of Cardiology, and The Obesity Society urged doctors to deem obesity a disease from that moment forward. We've been told time and time again by Michelle Obama and many others who follow a similar mentality that obesity — aka "the condition of being grossly fat or overweight" and with a BMI over 30 — is an epidemic. But less than three years ago, it became official. All us fatties are apparently victims of a condition that prevents us from "working normally."
As if fat shaming wasn't prevalent enough, the new guidelines essentially gave a free pass for all the folks who believe trolling is justified under the basis of health concern. It gave fat people struggling with body image another reason to feel bad about themselves. It further perpetuated the idea that there's something inherently wrong with all of us.
Of course, as Dr. Bacon and Fabello reported, someone probably should have mentioned to the AHA that "if you want to use the oft-quoted BMI scale [...] scientific evidence actually indicates that people categorized as 'overweight' live longer than those categorized as 'normal,' and most 'obese' people live similarly long lives as their 'normal' counterparts."
Like all these categories (underweight, normal, obese, morbidly obese), obesity is based on BMI alone. And we know that BMI is inherently bogus. Being fat, in and of itself, can't kill you. And neither can being "obese."
Perhaps "all bodies are good bodies" and sentiments like it are one of these inevitable "baby steps" — the kind that any grassroots activism usually needs to go through before long-lasting and impactful change happens. But body positive activism and radical fat activism have never been simply about convincing the world that we're all pretty or "good." They've always been about deconstructing all of the above. And if that's ever going to happen, we need to keep talking about all these issues — shedding light on them whenever possible.
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