Article and art by Amelia A. J. Foy
Happy “New Year, New Me!” season, where everyone signs up for a gym and posts about how bad carbs are.
Now, let me clear one thing up: you do what you want with your body. Want to work out? Work out. Want to eat more veggies and down more protein shakes? Power to you. What I absolutely will NOT be dealing with in the year of our Lord 2019, however, is you backing up these actions with fatphobic, body-shaming attitudes, or achieving your goals through an unhealthy relationship with your body and food.
THE ISSUE: Fatphobia & Diet Culture
We have all grown up being told that being fat = being unhealthy. What comes along with that is the implication that fatness means laziness, means a lack of self-control, means you “let yourself go”. This is the basis of fatphobia: the hatred and oppression of fat people.
This is a term that a lot of people roll their eyes at - how can fat people be oppressed? Well, just the same as any other oppressed group: systemic marginalisation. Fat bodies aren’t visible in media unless they are there to be mocked or degraded (or fetishised - shout out liking thicc women only when they suck in their tummies!). Fat people aren’t catered for in our straight-size fashion industry (which ends around a UK size 8-12, with “plus-size” as 12-18, then a solid “lol, good luck” for everyone bigger). When a fat model makes it, such as Tess Holliday to go with an obvious example, we see a million and one think pieces on “BODY POSITIVITY PROMOTING OBESITY” and the comments of thousands of locals on the person’s social media talking about how “unhealthy” they are.
This whole discussion of “fat people aren’t healthy” is a key part of fatphobia. It disguises hatred and fear (fear of becoming fat, that is) as health concern. But none of these people are Tess Holliday’s doctors - they don’t know if she has x, y and z health conditions because of her weight, so every comment is an assumption, founded on fatphobia, fed to us by our culture. Just because diabetes is associated with being fatter doesn’t mean every fat person has diabetes - and doesn’t mean a skinny person can’t be diabetic. You would never look at a thin person and say, “you’re going to have a heart attack!” even though they could be genetically predisposed to it or eat a high-fat diet - and most importantly, you would never say they “brought it on themselves”.
Being fat doesn’t equal being lazy. Being fat as a result of overeating or not exercising doesn’t even equal being lazy. Our eating habits are much more than eating till we’re full - they’re formed by our upbringing, culture, financial circumstances, disabilities or mental health problems, the amount of spare time we can dedicate to working out, our jobs themselves, so on, so forth. Really, what I am trying to get across to you is that our eating habits are complicated, and how our food relates to our health and body mass is also complicated. Therefore: don’t be scared of being fat. It’s not a death sentence. It’s not a reflection of your work ethic. Fatphobia is an accumulation of stigma against gaining weight - but it’s literally just weight. (And makes for an excellent pillow.)
Yet here we are, with this pervasive, internalised belief that fatness is wrong. That we should hate ourselves for being fat. This is the work of diet culture, which I believe Christy Harrison sums up well on her website: diet culture “worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue”, promotes weight loss as a way to achieve a social status, demonises certain ways of eating, and oppresses people who don’t fit the “ideal body” - which, as Christy rightfully points out, disproprotionately hurts “women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities”. Thus, this isn’t just a weight issue - it’s a social justice one. It is an issue of oppression.
Around new year’s, diet culture really does the rounds, more so really than any other time of year. You see it in every “I got fat over Christmas!” meme, every “Gym day 1” facebook post on January 1st, every “no, I’m on a diet” when you eat with your friends. I just want everyone who’s resolution is to “lose weight” to ask themselves: why? Has your doctor told you to, or do you just hate what you see in the mirror? Are you actually overweight, and why do you care? Are you aware of the people around you when you say “I feel so fat!” and what thoughts you could be planting in their heads? Why are you so scared of your own body changing? Why are you so scared of looking like me and people much bigger than me?
And do you know that your diet isn’t actually going to work?
According to the vast amount of research, diets are not a sustainable way of losing weight. In fact, 95% of people put their weight back on within a few years. They also don’t actually teach you about “healthy eating” - it’s about restriction of fatty foods, which further leads to your diet lacking the nutrients you need. As for solutions like Flat Tummy Teas, they are literally laxatives - it’s not a diet, it’s your food passing right through you without your body absorbing the goodness it needs from it. Maybe it works for the Kardashians with their nutritionists on standby, but not for us regular scum. (Seriously, stop giving them money.)
Dieting (and regular weight check-ins) also makes you x8 more likely to develop an eating disorder. The mental illness with the highest morbidity rate is anorexia. All in all, it really isn’t worth harming yourself and others around you because you ate a couple more roast potatoes than you thought you should in December. If you want to “get healthy”, do so healthily, not by calorie-counting, denying yourself food, constant self-criticism, and to combat ever-present fear of being fat.
SURVIVING THE ISSUE
1. WORK ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOUR BODY AND FOOD
Our eating is tied to our mood in more ways than how we feel looking at our bodies. It gives us energy, lets us grow and get in the essential nutrients our brain needs to function. We have been taught to view food as “bad” and “good”, usually based on calorie-content, which doesn’t reflect how food works, and doesn’t allow us to also eat for pleasure. Thus, eating becomes a source of stress. You feel guilt for craving “bad” food, which comes from depriving yourself of it in the first place, and denying yourself praise unless you eat only the “good” stuff.
When looking to dismantle these ideas, it is good to start at home: how we sit in our bodies and eating habits. We need to be aware of what our body needs each day (and accommodate any deficiencies or disabilities we may have) and realise that we don’t need to eat within strict confines constantly to nourish our bodies. We need to allow and respect space for our bodies to feel good about eating “bad”. Tasty food is one of life’s greatest gifts!
We also need to realise that we are all built differently, and the ideal body is unattainable for the masses. The images we are fed are edited and sculpted to “perfection”. The models on runways are cherry-picked as close to this ideal as possible. The bodies we see aren’t diverse and they aren’t you - and that is entirely okay. You don’t need to fit into a size 6. Size 6 isn’t even real. It’s a number that shifts between stores based on how accommodating they want to be of different body shapes.
But most importantly, prioritise your happiness. When you are happiest, your body will look exactly how it should.
2. CONSUME BODY POSITIVE MEDIA
Is all you see when you scroll flat tummy teas? Lucky you, I have some recommendations!
It can be so difficult to find ourselves in others in this diet-culture-saturated world. This is deliberate - it isolates us, makes us feel like everyone else is “perfect” and our bodies are somehow broken or faulty. Luckily, through social media, we can build ourselves a space of diversity and body positivity, and punch diet culture right in the face.
@bodyposipanda - Megan Jayne Crabbe
SETTING THE MOOD FOR 2019 LIKE 💃🏽💃🏽💃🏽 this is your handy January survival guide: when diet culture comes along & tries to make a profit by selling you insecurity about your body, kick it in the face. 💜💙💚🌈🌞 • [video description: Megan is dancing in a rainbow tassel bodysuit while various diet culture messages such as "lose 10 pounds in 6.2 seconds!" fly onto the screen and she kicks them or whips them away with her hair] #bodypositivity #bodypositive #newyearnewme #instavideo #riotsnotdiets
Source of education, joyfulness and jiggle, Megan is the perfect start to curating a body positive feed. She is always talking all kinds of truth on her feed and in her advice column (from diet culture to eating disorder recovery), whilst being aware of the intersectionality needed when discussing body positivity. I especially love how she platforms other marginalised bodies on her feed, thus uplifting their voices and not speaking for them. She also has a book! Buy Body Positive Power here - way more in depth than this article could ever be.
@nabela - Nabela Noor
Years ago, my dream of working at the United Nations crumbled after realizing I couldn’t afford to attend American University, where I had been accepted into their Honors College. I remember feeling absolutely gutted and resentful that we didn’t have the funds to afford the university I worked so hard to get admitted into. I quickly applied to Penn State and eventually earned my Bachelors in Sociology and Spanish. All the while indulging in my love for beauty, fashion and advocacy online. Little did I know my online passions would blossom into a career. Fast forward to now, I am speaking at the United Nations, for the second time this year. I have been able to use my platform and my voice to work with them in meaningful ways and speak up about refugees, immigration, tolerance, and how to use your platform for social good. Remember when I thought my dreams to work with the United Nations were crushed? If you ever feel like your dreams are out of reach because a door is closed in front of you, I encourage you to remember my story. I will never forget when a member of the UN told me that I could have an even deeper impact working with the United Nations now than if my original plan came to life. Sometimes we don’t get what we want, in the way we want it, when we want it. And that’s okay. Because we will always get what is meant for us. What is meant for you will always find it’s way to you. If life isn’t responding to your desires in the exact way you envision, do not lose hope. Have faith and keep going. God has a plan for you that is beyond what you could imagine for yourself. I am now living all of my dreams out loud. I am blessed to be able to advocate for causes I believe in and help build bridges of understanding in an often divided world. I wouldn’t be here without you and I hope my story encourages you to keep going. The best is yet to come.
Bangladeshi-American beauty guru Nabela Noor makes me so happy. She radiates positivity, power and killer make-up skills. Follow her for posts about her body journey, combating fatphobic hate, and her experiences as a South Asian woman - and see her thrive!
@luhshawnay - La’Shaunae Steward
battling mental illnesses, eating disorders, and depression all at once while trying to have a career and follow your dreams is crazy. i see people watching my struggles, and judging me. i see people watching my struggles, and telling me what i should and shouldnt do. i feel alone a lot, and i feel like im making a fool of myself everyday, but i havent given up. stop telling me im strong and stop telling me you wouldve k*lled yourself by now if you dealt with the things i do. it isnt encouraging. i cant be vulnerable or speak on anything without people telling me to be quiet. im 22 years old and i feel like life is passing me by just because of everything i’ve had to deal with since childhood and seeing all the people around me tell me what i’m not capable of. this post isnt a cry for help. im just thinking.
Fashion model and designer La’Shaunae is entirely open with her struggles as a fat black woman breaking into the straight-sized, white, entirely too-narrow fashion world. Her outfits are killer and her words cannot be silenced - she speaks about the things that those in the industry are told not to, and knows what she is worth. I can’t wait to watch her thrive this year.
@shooglet - Sugar McDaniel
In my imagination, in the future there is a place where our wildest dreams are realized, we lean on eachother and we love deeply and without caution, we swim together nekkid in otherworldly freshwater springs and laugh so loud we can hear our echo through the oak hammock. The photos in #fatfutures are about exemplifying my hope. #fatlib
Trans creative Sugar is an artist and photographer bringing fat bodies to the forefront of their work. Their photographs feature all kinds of diverse fat bodies existing, especially queer ones, usually in nature, in all their beauty. It’s so rare to see this kind of content and my feed is so much better for it - I love all that this account produces and all the positive affirmations it gives us: our bodies are natural, are powerful, are entirely worthy of the space they occupy.
@scarrednotscared - Michelle Elman
What do you think your life will look like when you become body positive? People see photos like this and picture being body positive as looking in the mirror and going “GOD I FREAKING LOVE MY BODY” every single day you wake up. But it’s a lot more quieter than that. Body confidence is ... 🔥 being able to go on this photoshoot and not controlling what I eat the day before and worrying about how bloated it will make me. 🔥 walking past a mirror and not stop in front of it to analyse your flaws. 🔥 getting dressed in the morning and choosing what you want to wear, without considering whether it makes me “look fat”. 🔥Leaving the house without makeup and forgetting that you are makeup free. 🔥Having sex with the lights on. 🔥Not assuming everyone who looks at you on the street is staring for a negative reason. 🔥 Choosing the larger size because it looks better and not caring about the number. 🔥 Opening the door to the new guy you are seeing in a hoodie, glasses and a messy bun and not thinking he will like you less for it It happens in the quiet moments. And one day you find yourself doing something a year ago, 3 years ago, you would have never dreamed of. And that’s when you realise all the work you’ve been doing and representation you have been absorbing had an impact. But it was quiet enough and gradual enough to not notice instantly! The end goal you are likely picturing, is not reality. I know because I pictured it too! It’s a lot simpler than you can ever imagine. It’s like you’ve gone back to the way you were always supposed to be and THAT I believe is more beautiful. What was your quiet moment of realisation that your body confidence has shifted? • This photo was taken at the #UnderneathWeAreWomen shoot in New York. #ScarredNotScared • 📷: @underneath_we_are_women
Michelle is a force of nature. She uses her platform to talk about all things body confidence and body positivity, on her social media, in her podcast and on her YouTube channel. Follow for daily truths and affirmations and buy her book, Am I Ugly? (available here) to read about all things wrong with diet culture and the ways society has conditioned us to look at ourselves - it’s been on my reading list for a while, I can’t wait to get it!
@enamasiama- Enam Asiama
@tshegue_official 'muanapoto' is my entire mood for 2019! 🐾 ●•° #ewurajaja #LTKstyletip #timessquare #nyc #travelnoire #sneakerhead #nike #trainers #asoscurve #laquansmith #streetstyle #psootd #psblogger #fatgirljoy #fatgirlmagic #curvygirlsrock #blacknatural #afro #fashion #plussize #model #BlackGirlMagic #photography #beauty #LTKshoecrush #universiodamaquiagem_oficial #LTKcurves #LTKsalealert #dance
#FatQueerFemme icon Enam is everything we need in our lives. As a fat positive activist and model, she fills my feed with all the glamour and style that is so rarely afforded to fat people - it makes me so happy to see her out here thriving and smiling, showing fashion isn’t just a skinny person thing, and neither is happiness. Follow her for her lqqks and her invaluable voice and activism.
There are so many more accounts out there - this is just a few on Instagram, of some truly amazing people. Get following!
3. CUT. THE BODY SHAMERS. OUT.
This is easier said than done, I know that. And it doesn’t mean a harsh, “I will never speak to you again.” But if an individual in your life, or a celebrity you follow, is making you feel like your body is wrong, or your eating habits should be a source of shame, it’s in your best interests to make a more healthy space for yourself. This could be anything from unfollowing them on Instagram, to muting their stories, to not hanging out with the, or it could be having a real conversation with them about how their actions make you feel.
Until you’re ready, however, focus inward on your relationship with your body, food and appearance; try replacing/countering their fatphobia or body negativity with body positivity and anti-diet-culture education.