[image: dressed up for an outing to a tea room with my mother and some friends. Bright colors. No sleeves. Enjoying the spring day.]
Back in undergrad when I first started learning about size-acceptance and health-at-ever-size, my entrance into that way of thinking was through a fat fashion community on LiveJournal. Eery day I scrolled through my feed and saw pictures of women who looked like me. Even when looking at plus-size clothing advertising, the models are rarely my size. You just don’t see images of fat women looking happy and stylish in the media. These women often posted their size, measurements, and weight. These women were stylish and beautiful and confident. They wore bright colors, no sleeves, loud patterns, short shorts. Modest and immodest. Casual and Chic. Elegant and down-to-earth. The styles varied, but all of them were fat bodies.
I got out a tape measure one day and took my measurements – measured around my hips and waist, my chest and bust. I measured my thighs and my calves. My upper arms and my wrists. I set my camera timer up and took a full length shot of me and then I wrote the measurements on to the picture.
As I scrolled through the fashion photos of these other fat women I started to compare my measurements with theirs. “She is beautiful! Our waists are the same width?” “Oh, that dress is LOVELY. We wear the same size?” Seeing their beauty, helped me to see mine. If they could walk confidently, make light-hearted comments about thunder thighs, then perhaps I too could stride with confidence. Perhaps I too was beautiful?
I soon began posting my own fashion pictures. I had never been the epitome of style, but experimenting with new styles and putting my picture up for a bunch of strangers to affirm was validating in so many ways. There is much to be said for being seen. For having strangers and friends acknowledge your existence – – and no small part of that is for your existence to be acknowledged as it truly is. It does me no favors to say, “You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” as if the two are mutually exclusive. To deny a factual part of who my body is, a part that influences my interactions in this society and this economy on no small level, is to deny a fundamental part of who I am.
Seeing pictures of other fat women, learning to embrace my fat self in pictures, allowed me to say, “I am fat.”
It is a neutral adjective if we are just talking about my body shape. It is a loaded adjective if we are talking about the way this society tries to manipulate me so that I fear my body. It is a loaded word if we are talking about the subconscious and conscious biases that are stacked against me in the job field, in healthcare, in education, in relationship-building – because my body is perceived as “wrong.”
So I do not shy away from the camera. I smile and I act serious or silly. I join in on family pictures and groups of friends. I am intentional about making sure there are full length photos of me, sometimes intentionally catching “unflattering” angles to remind myself that “flattering” does not belong to those who view me only as part of the market.
It’s part of being visible – seeing the photos helps me to remember that my body is fat, and that matters because it’s a political and social statement to be fat and not trying to be skinny.
And I hope that the photos of me that others may see will do what the photos of others have done for me.
What about you? How have the images you’ve seen (or not seen) of others influenced your self-confidence?