CNN, The Talk, Huffington Post and many other valuable media outlets have finally caught on to how “inspiring” a plus size body can be in the spotlight. Each conversation, blog post, and promotional spot featuring a women with no thigh-gap has one thing in common: they mention how that person is healthy and beautiful. As if their only reason for being accepted as a true fat-bodied hero is the fact that they are “fat but healthy” or “full-bodied and gorgeous.” These large-scale media outlets have opened up the gates to reveal a new cliché, “The Good Fatty,” that disparages a good cause similar to the trope of the manic-pixie-dream-girl. When Ashley Graham’s Sports Illustrated campaign is discussed, even by the model herself, they’re quick to mention that they “know my [her] curves are sexy.” Graham’s social legitimacy is directly linked to the fact that she embodies an acceptable form of attractiveness. Her perfectly hour-glass proportion will stand the body shape test of time, and for that, her body is praised as brave, real, and is crowned as the new ideal.
The Good Fatty was created in contrast to the stereotype of the lazy, animal-like, obese sad-sack, or otherwise known as The Bad Fatty. The Good Fatty is visibly plus size, fashion-forward, and most importantly; publicly “cares” about their health. However, The Good Fatty isn’t always the villain. In fact, most of the time it’s the media coverage of the fat human that throws the “health” cloak over an already existing political body. As discussed in Lonie McMichael’s Acceptable Prejudice?: Fat, Rhetoric and Social Justice, being aware of good health in our society is viewed as holding oneself to a higher moral standard. McMichael goes on to note that “by proving that individuals can be fat and fit, fat acceptance is more likely to gain ground.” The Good Fatty trope fixates on the “right” amount of fat a representative of fat bodies can have, and the moral stance that these smaller-size fat supermodels are motivating brave new standards. As long as a person is “healthy size fat” or “sexy size fat,” they’re generally accepted into higher beauty ranks and invited to clique of societies’ big girl heroes. (i.e. Nadia Aboulhosn, Meghan Trainor, Ashley Graham, etc.) As It turns out, many plus size retailers have been using the assistance of body-padding on their models to create a more smooth, fuller look for their clothes, which only further proves how far a company will go to jump on to the body acceptance band wagon, while simultaneously damaging their customers’ self esteem by pushing forward images of “the right kind” of fat. By deeming these models as “real,” our media is alienating the bodies who aren’t glowing white, able-bodied, smooth-skinned, and only slightly chubby. In fact, it creates a bigger fear of becoming a less “real,” larger-size-fat. In these moments, women are prone to compare themselves to the heroic plus size “real”-bodied models and recognize their own body as either the safe kind of fat or the undesired kind of fat.
There are times when I’m truly mesmerized by the social shift our media is taking and I am really proud to live in a time where ads featuring women with visible fat rolls are going viral, but there is still a part of me that knows having pride for these “brave” promotions can be seen as the equivalent to selling my soul to the devil. The body positivity that is sold to us by Dove is consumer based, and still heavily relies on the public knowing that the fat bodies pictured are both healthy and sexy. In any commercial, when the size 8 “plus size,” ethnically ambiguous model traces her freshly shaved, bare leg with her dainty, polish-free finger, the viewer is reminded that she is ours to look at. We are made to see that she is touchable, soft, pure and clean. Words like “nutrient” and “glow” buzz through the speakers of your T.V. and you assume that she is healthy.
What brings me down off of my body positive cloud 9 is the language which is used to report on the hour-glass, white, fat bodies versus the “other” larger fat bodies that do not represent conventional beauty. Gabourey Sidibe has climbed her way as a top actress, with her roles in Precious and American Horror Story, but Huffington Post does not use the word “brave” when reporting on her effortless style, bold intelligence, and immense success (I dare you to find the fat joke–because it’s there.) That article is vastly different from Huffington Post’s coverage of Tess Munster (now Tess Holliday) announcing that she has signed with MiLK Model Management and #effyourbeautystandard’s success. Where Sidibe’s coverage started off explaining a controversy over her weight, Tess’ coverage calls the model a “body-love activist” and praises her for “help[ing] other women to feel confident in their bodies, regardless of their size or what society tells them is beautiful.” Race and body shape do play a role in the difference in their depictions, and it’s obvious that the pale hourglass is seen as the fat to be confident of. Tess’ body love also comes attached to many “inspirational” moments where she goes public about her weekly exercise and healthy habits, which only validate her success and size as a fat woman.
In “body positive” campaigns promoted by advertisers, we are inspired to believe that it is OK to accept any womyn’s body, as long as it is feminine, healthy, and still adheres to most of our standard beauty conventions. While watching an advertisement for soap, we are given a look into a stranger’s medicine cabinet.
I believe in the radical notion that my doctor’s notes should not be public domain in order to be given respect. I’m eager for our current “Body Positive Era” to break free from the shackles of “boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” so that women can start learning that our worth is not reliant on how we are received by the world. Our acceptance as “real” bodies in this world should not have any relevance to our political stance on dieting or workout worship. We do not need to prove our health status in order to be treated like people. Our blood work is no one’s business but our doctors’ and our own. Our bodies should not be compared to any disease, in either defense or offense.
I am a human being, deserved of respect, love, adoration, and tolerance as much as the next person and it just so happens that I am also fat.
I have felt that sometimes, my background of working out at the gym and loving to swim for fun helps me stay accountable as a fat person. In the past, I used to astound fat-health naysayers by reminding them that I work out several times a week. Sure, there were some people who thought I was lying because I was still fat, but I still would announce the facts to prove to them my worth. Now that I’ve blossomed into a blissful young adult, I’m living paycheck to paycheck and I’d rather spend what’s left of my hard-earned money on a nice lunch out rather than a gym membership. I wonder if I’ve lost all credibility as a person, while I eat ice cream out of the carton on my couch while binge-watching Gilmore Girls.
I’ve only recently figured out that I’m not 16 years old anymore. I’m an adult. I determine my own credibility as a person. I live on my own, I cook my own meals, and most of all: it’s 100% my choice whether I’m going to do some Wii U Boxing or lounge with a movie and some ice cream. It’s my choice. Every day, repetitive affirmations [with feeling,] “It’s my choice.” With this realization, I’ve become more sensitive about reading “healthy and curvy” copy because I am aware of the social implications it can have on how fat people identify with their own fat.
In order for the Body Positive era to stick around and be successful, there needs to be more accurate representation. A fair portrayal of fat bodies comes with any other additive you can imagine. Disability, hormones, stress, or just being built that way are a few examples of things that can affect weight. It is harmful to a self-love slogan to have a marriage between fat and “good” health because some people need to learn to love their bodies through their not-yet-good health status. Some people are not privileged enough to be born with all their limbs or all perfectly working organs. Some people are not granted medication to fix hormone imbalances because they’re only “slightly” off but not “fully” off. Some bodies are not born with the parts they should have been born with and some bodies do not feel like the right bodies just yet. Those bodies deserve love too. This doesn’t just apply for the fat girls, this is for all girls. It just so happens that fat bodies are the most commonly linked with bad health from non-doctorate holding citizens of the world.
While not every campaign or example of representation can feature every type of body, we cannot put limits on where the body acceptance ends. “The Good Fatty” is a supportive example of a positive representation for women, but also serves at a cap-off of where self-acceptance is made to end. It is completely alright to be critical of the generally positive social shift because it will help the era to grow. Fat bodies are finally getting some limelight, and it is about time for us to shine. While people are quick to make jokes about the space that larger bodies take up, they are slow to give us that space to live. There are plenty of different kinds of fat, and there are plenty of different kinds of fat people. We are fat and human and worthy of taking up all the space we need, and it is okay to celebrate each and every type of us.