Proof That Fat & Sexy Can Go Hand-In-Hand

For just about four minutes, two plus size models spin and twirl before me on the computer screen: One a size 28/30 woman of color; the other an inked size 24/26 with fuchsia hair. They're wearing lingerie — their rolls on display. No cellulite is Photoshopped. No double chins tucked away. They are visibly, inarguably fat, leaving no room for debate about said fact. Saucye West and Kat Stroud are filming a commercial at Curvy Girl Lingerie in San Jose, California, the only plus size-centric lingerie boutique in the United States. Chrystal Bougon, owner and founder, makes her mission very clear from the video's get-go: "To help all women feel beautiful and sexy."

"The power of the images of Saucye West and Kat Stroud is everything," Bougon tells me via Facebook as we discuss Curvy Girl Lingerie's new video on "Both women absolutely love their bodies [...] They celebrate every single roll, bulge, wrinkle, stretch mark, and pooch. I wanted to show more than the typical 'hourglass' fatty. So many times we see these campaigns with models who are tall, perfectly proportioned, large boobs, small waist, round hips. Most of us are fatties are not hourglasses. Most of us are not a size 12/14."

The lack of visibly fat models within the fashion industry is undeniable, which is what makes this video feel particularly poignant. With the exception of Tess Holliday, Bougon is not incorrect in suggesting that most of the women mainstream body positivity has helped bring into the limelight are "good fatties." They are talented models, for sure. But they also are on the lowest end of plus: Flat-tummied, big-bootied, fair-skinned, and sort of safe. After all, brands won't run as high a risk of the "promoting unhealthy lifestyles" accusation when they use women who are not visibly fat.

Seeing fat women in lingerie, or in any kind of situation remotely pegged to sex or sexuality, is still an uncommon occurrence. As Bougon says, "You never see fat women cast as sexual beings in a movie or a TV show. [But] of course fat women are 'sexy' and 'sexual' because we are no different than anyone else." Yet, with the exception of Gabourey Sidibe on Empire , that representation just isn't there (unless we're talking about fat-suit-clad protagonists whose bodies are not remotely indicative of what fat bodies actually look like, á la Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal). Instead, fatness is perceived as inherently not-sexual: undesirable, unappealing, unattractive, unhealthy.

This video, however, trumps the notion that sexuality is a right given only to those who've earned it (i.e. those who naturally have, or have worked to have, a body deemed culturally aspirational). "In my experience, when a woman can see a fellow fat woman loving her body and embracing her sexiness regardless of size, she is more inclined to believe, 'Well if she can love her body, then why can't I?' Stroud tells me via email. "Once this breaking point happens, we begin to see this beautiful shift from 'I'm not sexy' to 'I'm sexy and I deserve this.'"

The power of imagery is indisputable. In an ideal (non-body shaming) world, it would be wonderful not to have to turn to media for our visibility. But we're living in an era during which Millennials alone are spending about 18 hours online per day. And the images we're consuming will always have the potential to spread some messaging — be they subconscious messages or overt ones. Seeing images of unapologetically fat people living their lives, loving their bodies, and embracing their sexualities? That will always have meaning. Until fatness is not a sin, not a word tied to general morality, and not the worst fate so many are conditioned to believe they can have, it will also remain subversive.

"Media is one of our biggest allies and our biggest enemies," West tells me via email. "So at the end of the day, I will continue to use my presence in social media to do my due-diligence in the movement for fat people to have a voice and not be discriminated against."

One surefire way of showing fat people that they do have a voice — that they are worthy of not only self-acceptance, but sociocultural acceptance and tolerance — is by presenting fatness in positive connotations whenever possible. You know, like showcasing sexy, empowered fatties wearing lingerie, demonstrating autonomy over their bodies, and radically feeling themselves. "I wish we were at a point where we do not need to fight for representation," Bougon adds. "But we are not quite there yet. We have so far to go. I should be able to fly on an airplane, visit my doctor's office, and eat in a restaurant without ever having to worry if they will have a chair or a blood pressure cuff that will work on my arm. I should be able to shop for clothes in my size at the mall just like everyone else. We are making inroads, but we have barely scratched the surface."

Presenting visibly fat bodies in a way that is sexually, consensually, and autonomously empowered, rather than over-sexualized, is likely going to be part of continuing to scratch that surface and de-correlate fatness with inherent undesirability. "We need to break the enforced policing of plus size bodies by owning them and continuing to show the world that we are here and not going anywhere, that we will not be silenced or pushed to the back of the crowd and forced to hide in moo-moos," Stroud says. "We are not excusing our size, nor apologizing for it. We are embracing our bodies from head to toe and in turn we hope to help women realize the raw beauty they all possess. You can have rolls, you can have a visible belly, and you can feel sexy regardless of size."

The be all and end all of fat acceptance conversations shouldn't end with beauty, of course. If we can all agree that beauty is a construct, then striving for it — or to have others perceive you as such — shouldn't necessarily be the priority. But normalizing fatness in such a way that will breed tolerance is essential in any capacity. And one way to normalize the stigmatized is to show it. Show it again. And show it some more. Ultimately, people cannot confront the stigmas and stereotypes unless they're routinely presented with those stigmas and stereotypes. "[We need to] own our space and our sexual freedom and not [be] ashamed or afraid of what anyone has to say," West says. "We will also empower and inspire. We will empower that wife who may think because she gained some weight that she is not as desirable to believe in herself again to love and embrace her new curves and crevices. We will inspire women to see that they should never be afraid to use the word fat."

This video is precisely the kind of fat positive work that has the power of helping de-stigmatize the loaded F-word. For many, Gabourey Sidibe's recent lingerie shoot in V Magazine felt more subversive than seeing Ashley Graham in MaximSidibe being visibly fat, non-hourglass, and a woman of color — and seeing West, Stroud, and Bougon come together feels very much the same. As Bougon tells me, the message fat individuals most often receive is, "Be obedient. Go and hide, fatty. Go on a diet and then you can dress sexy." The women in this video are doing precisely the opposite.

Something that makes this video feel especially important is the unapologetic focus on fat bodies: The creation of a space for fat bodies. When Forever 21 recently created a plus-specific Instagram account, for instance, on which the brand would specifically celebrate its visibly fat customers alongside more standard curve models, many fat women — and specifically voices in fat and body positive conversations — were all for the creation of a platform that celebrated their bodies in the way thin bodies have long been celebrated. Curvy Girl Lingerie is that kind of space, only in the physical realm.

"[We must] begin to create more inclusive and diverse body positive communities where we can celebrate our beauty and style in a safe place, easily accessible and represented in the same way straight women are," Stroud tells me. "I don't see this as segregating straight from plus, but more along the lines of celebrating plus size bodies and keeping things positive, [so] women can come together and see similar body shapes to their own."

When so many fat women never see themselves represented, having spaces and videos such as this one that showcase fatness a purely positive, purely empowering, purely self-loving way is impactful, if not entirely essential. The message here is simple: There is no right way to have a body. There is no right way to have a fat body. And no body type should ever prevent you from exercising your right to worth, acceptance, fair treatment, and sexuality.

Images: Courtesy Chrystal Bougon/Curvy Girl Lingerie