How the “Inspiring” Good Fatty Hurts the Body Positive Movement

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.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY KRISTIINA WILSON; MODELED BY KRISTA COHEN AT JAG MODELS.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY KRISTIINA WILSON; MODELED BY KRISTA COHEN AT JAG MODELS.

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.

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17 thoughts on “How the “Inspiring” Good Fatty Hurts the Body Positive Movement

  1. Wow. Great article. Informative, analytical, eye-opening, and well written.

    Loved the breakdown of the language used when discussing Gabby vs Tess.

  2. The problem here as you so eloquently pointed out is the commercialization of the body love campaign. There is no money to be made if fat people love themselves therefore the commercial entity must create some aspiration driven desire within the consumer so that they will spend money trying to achieve some impossible goal. Loving ourselves has nothing to do with our size, good health or bad health it is all about choice. A choice that hits companies in the profit margin. I have worked in marketing for many years and the lengths that companies go to trying to ensure we keep spending is horrific and at no point are any of them held accountable for the damage they do. I personally am a 400lb+ fat black woman who has had good and bad health but I made the choice as an overweight teenager with the support of my father that no matter what I would love me. As women we struggle not only with our own image and the issues that society tries to force on us but we are also at the mercy of the generations of women in our families and their body image issues, and the emotional toll that takes can not only last a lifetime but also cause more damage. So to everyone regardless of race, size, culture or even gender, Remember the three A’s
    Acceptance – without it we cannot move forward. Accept who you are and the body you are in – it’s the only one we will get
    Acknowledgement – Acknowledge that you are a work in progress and that life is about the journey not the destination. It’s about choices and remember you can always change your mind
    Approval – The final and most important A of all – Approve of your choice to live happy and free of someone else’s belief of who you should be. That is a choice only you can make – no one else has lived your life, experience your joys and sorrows, and NO ONE CAN DO WHAT YOU DO!!! So give yourself the approval you deserve to live survive and thrive as you see fit in any given moment.
    It has taken me a long time to understand this is the true gift of life, in fact it took being told that cancer was trying to rob me of that life to make the choice to live and let go of the hurt.
    LOVE THYSELF – You are certainly worth it 🙂

  3. Thank you! I am so tired of feeling like i have to come with a disclaimer. I work out for my mental health and heart health…but still eat pizza and bread and candy ect. I am learning to be happy with my size 18ish self. I’m tired of feeling like i have to explain my daily habits to strangers. There is nothing wrong with how i look. And I’m super fed up with the “plus size” models who aren’t heavy. And it saddens me Tess feels like she has to tell folks up front oh i work out and eat right. No she doesn’t. I did a photo shoot with her. Snacks provided: cookies, candy and donuts. And she ate Wendy’s……just be HONEST! It’s no ones business!

    • Including yours, Ashley B. Do you think everyone eats healthy every meal of every day? How about supporting instead of tearing down. Really? She has no obligation to adhere to a diet you, or anyone else, approve.

      • I think Ashley’s point, while a little misworded, is simply that it’s frustrating to see a false portrayal in the media when one knows the truth. While Tess owes no one an explanation of her diet and exercise (and you’re right, Melodious, that includes us, her followers, and the media), I feel that it is quite harmful to project a false image of the acceptable fat woman into the media. It’s unfortunate that it’s only after she assured everyone of her healthy lifestyle that she became an acceptable fatty. To both Ashley’s point and the point of the author of this post, I simply wish she didn’t feel obligated to discuss it at all. I suppose that would be the ideal: fat bodies (ALL bodies) accepted and respected regardless of the individual’s choices (or lack there of insituations of inherent conditions) that affect that body. Unfortuantely, as the article and an earlier commenter pointed out, the media doesn’t work that way, and Tess (among other) doesn’t feel comfortable simply saying, “Fuck of. It’s none of your business.” And instead she has to maintain the ideal portrayed by the media in hope of keeping folks dissatisfied with their bodies and always striving to meet an agreed upon standard, hopefully spending piles of money on beauty products, clothes, weight loss while working to meet that unattainable goal.

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  6. Reblogged this on Rachel in Veganland and commented:
    ” 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 very rarely “reblog” things here on Veganland, but this is just too great not to share. I’ve always been wary of advertising campaigns such as the Dove Real Beauty schtick. (My undergraduate Women’s Studies 101 professor pointed out that the company is owned by the same folks as Axe Body Spray which really put me in perspective.) This article is beautifully written, provides great additional links and successfully problematizes the fetishization of the curvy body, one that is still idealized and only of a certain physical, racial, and “healthy” type. This fits in perfectly with my series “The (Vegan) Body.”

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  8. If you love yourself, you love yourself. You wouldn’t need anyone else to do it for you nor seek validation elsewhere.

    So go on and love yourself and don’t be bothered by what you see around you. Don’t mind others’ thoughts and actions; just your own. Only in this way will you embrace the body you’ve been blessed with.

  9. We can’t control the world; we can only control ourselves. Body positivity can only start within you. If you rely on others for validation, that isn’t loving your body, it’s asking and expecting people to love it. We can’t control people.

    So just love yourself and your life. Be happy.

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