The Power of Photos: Claiming “Fat”

[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?

5 Comments on “The Power of Photos: Claiming “Fat”

  1. I’m guessing that was the fatshionistas community? ❤ livejournal, and that community.

    One thing that got me into photos more and not shying away was to remember that photos are often about the memory, not looking good (mainly here meaning photos with family). Which has been influenced by others online who wrote about getting comfortable getting in family photos. It made me realize when I look back at pictures of my family I'm not thinking whether or not that was a flattering photo of my mom, grandma, aunt, et cetera, I'm thinking how great it was to be together at that time, or how miserable we all were together when we got lost and attacked by mosquitoes, or whatever else. And for a long time I would think "I'll be in photos when I lose weight", but then I realized that even if I lose weight later, these photos are meant to capture now and I'm a part of that now at my current weight, and when my family look back at those photos they aren't looking to judge my appearance.

    Now I'm the one trying to get everyone else to take pictures while everyone protests that they don't look good. Who cares! Let's have a photo we can look back on and remember that year we had a small thanksgiving with grandma's nice china!

    Speaking for more photos of just an individual, one thing that really influenced me recently was a lot of different women talking about photos of themselves and how they cringed initially at all the imperfections- which weren't things that stood out to me at all. And it really highlighted that we are our own worst critics. Inspired by that I shared a photo of myself, that initially I liked then I noticed my stretch marks, et cetera, and decided I looked terrible. I shared the photo with that story and had positive comments and people saying they couldn't even see any stretchmarks- like most women I'm just more hyper aware of those "flaws" on myself than any other person would be.


    • It was fatshionistas! Such a great place back in the day.

      And agreed on all points on the pictures! I love being able to see old pictures of friends and loved ones – no matter what they look like. I believe that people love me for me enough that they’d want the same thing.


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