(polished draft of something I have posted before)
Round, big, rubenesque, voluptuous, curvy, big boned, plus sized, thick, portly, corpulent, heavy, hefty, plump, large, roly-poly, wide. They’re all just “nice” ways of saying the same thing, fat.
I’ve never been thin. It’s not in my genes. Short and stout generations of German farmers have left members of looking more like Hobbits then the media-ideal likes of Elves. Regardless, most of my pre-teen and early teen years were spent running endless laps around the block, cutting portions, and trying to look like the popular girls. Teasing at school, pressure from my family, and lack of control over my weight, despite all that I did resulted as it unfortunately does in most cases like my own, total self-loathing and depression. By the time I was sixteen I had resigned myself to a life of disordered eating and baggy, ugly clothing I thought was mandatory for fat girls. After a couple very unhappy years, I happened to stumble upon a whole new world of body politics.
Like most of my generation, I spent a large portion of my time on the internet, blogging recycled emo-pop lyrics and pictures of kittens. Somewhere in the midst of this fuzzy, pop-punk period, I found my first “fatshionista.” A fatshionista is a plus sized person (gender is and optional up to said person) who breaks the typical fashion mold for people of their plus-size range. I saw chubby thighs in mini-skirts atop of long, thick muscled, Amazonian legs ending in wide width pumps. I saw bare bulging bellies in crop tops, adorned with tattoos, piercings, and pride. I saw full busts proudly displayed instead of tempered with high collared shirts, minimizer bras, and shame. I was absolutely appalled and disgusted. How dare these fat people like themselves. My stomach looks like hers, and I can’t wear something like that. How dare they take pride in their bodies. They are just promoting bad lifestyles and unhealthy behavior!
Still, I followed these people. I saturated myself with these blogs, personalities, and lifestyles. I didn’t realize at the time my hate was founded in jealousy, and my subconscious was screaming at the top of its metaphorical lungs for salvation in these free spirited fatties. These individuals, despite all my expectations, were not eating pints of ice cream with every meal and sitting on their couches all day. They were yoga swamis, marathon runners, bicycle racers, and dancers. These bodies were healthy, even if they were jiggly, round, and soft. They were fabulous, confident, and happy. For the first time in my life I pushed aside my anger towards my fat body and listened to these leaders of the body revolution. For the first time in my life I looked in the mirror and found something to like about myself.
The most common misconception about weight is that fat equals unhealthy, and skinny equals healthy. The ironically named Linda Bacon, the author of the book Health at Every Size, debunks that and similar myths. She also started the Health at Every Size movement, a pledge to promote body positivity and stop size discrimination. Bacon explains how every body has its own unique natural body weight range. Some people at their healthiest are thicker or thinner than what is seen as average. In fat-activist Hanne Blank’s book The Unapologetic Fat Girls Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts, she explains diet and exercise are important, but things like flat stomachs are not about how many crunches you do, but about your body’s natural pre-disposition towards having a flat stomach. Both women also explain how genetics really is a reason, but not an excuse. For example, I have Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, and a side effect of that is that most of my weight is carried specifically in my stomach to protect my internal organs. So I may have a round tummy, and a reason beyond genetics for my pudge, but not an excuse to be unhealthy. People like these helped to show me that being shapely does not mean out of shape, and that no matter your body type honoring it with good diet and exercise will not only bring you physical health, but mental health as well.
Confidence is key no matter what situation you’re in, and for a lot of people the right outfit can really take confidence the extra mile. When you’re outside of the “straight size” range (sizes 2-12) or the more “appealing” plus size range (sizes 14-20. USA’s national dress size average is a size 14) finding fashionable clothes becomes more like triathlon than a walk in the park. Finding things that are more than just baggy, shapeless moomoo dresses, and ill fitting elastic band pants becomes a real challenge. Here I was looking at all these dashing and daring fatties in clothes I never dreamed of wearing. One woman wore a simple cropped t-shirt that read “Fuck Flattering.” Between Tim Gunn’s eternal wisdom, drag queen superstars, and a host of knowledgeable fatshionistas I learned the only way you’re ever going to truly find your style is to push your own boundaries. I slowly traded jeans and baggy hoodies for skirts and dresses. At first it was like being in a country where you don’t speak the language, awkward and uncomfortable. But for once I felt pretty, I felt sexy. Soon my skirts got shorter, my smile got brighter, and my hips swung with confidence. It’s still not easy to find clothes. Sizes change between brands, more fabric for bigger clothes drives up prices, and a lot to designers still refuse to include plus sized lines. Being a fatshionista means becoming a fashion McGyver. It means thrifting, altering, fashion tape, safety pins, and wearing nice underwear in case you accidentally flash private business. It means knowing the difference between “wrong size” and “wrong fit.” And most of all it means pushing boundaries, yours and everyone else’s.
We live in a world where our own bodies are political tools, and policing someone’s body and the choices they make with it are unfortunately the norm. Bodies are political, constant wars on women’s reproductive rights have turned sex lives and personal choices into highly publicized fodder. The Japanese government, in order to “promote health” have recently made a law about waistsize measurements, if you’re over the legal limit you’ll be fined. Recently a plus-sized clothing and lingerie store, Lane Bryant had a commercial forcibly pulled off the air featuring curvaceous model Ashely Graham because she was “too risqué,” despite other commercials for places like Victoria’s Secret and TV shows on the same network having models bearing just as much or even more. Shows like “Biggest Loser” are mocking overweight people and showing disordered eating and bullying because of weight in a positive light. I have learned that loving my fat body is a political statement because I’m refusing to bow to the ideals of a misguided nation. Being proud of something most people hate is a radical idea. I’ve had little old ladies tell me that I don’t have the “right” type of body for the clothes I’m wearing. Men and women have judged me and made insults towards me based on my weight. My grandmother recently tried to bribe me to lose weight after telling me I was too fat to be worthy of my boyfriend. It doesn’t extend just to fat bodies. Thin people are also constantly assaulted with “They must have an eating disorder/tape worm/drug problem, or how else would they be so thin?” And in a society where there’s no real clear definition of what is too thin or too fat or just right people of all shapes and sizes are made to feel insecure and unworthy. Not just women are subject to this, men are constantly told they must be stronger, fitter, have more hair in the right places and less in the “wrong” places. Being happy and healthy shouldn’t be something we have to fight for or about. Every time I put on a short skirt or frosting-bright lipstick I’m making a statement about who I am, and why I am worthy. My fat body is worthy of love, of fashion, and of happiness. Every body, thin, fat, short, tall, non-gendered, male, female, black, white, freckled, or whatever is worthy of love, respect, and happiess and we need to make that a standard statement instead of hate.