I can’t even imagine what my relationship to my own body would be if it weren’t for Jessica Luxery.
Like so many other women, I found so many valuable voices and resources through the internet—particularly on Tumblr—and the confident, political fat women I saw on the site helped me to break down the years of hate that I’d built up when it came to my body.
They taught me, not just to accept my body, but to be positive about all that it is and could do. Body positivity was such an important discovery for me. My friend Bethany recently wrote about it on her blog, and offered this handy definition if you’ve not encountered the term before: “Body positivity does not mean you are positive about your body, or positive about some bodies, or positive about the fact you have a body and aren’t a disembodied voice floating in the ether. It means radically repositioning how and what we think about which bodies are good and important and valid and worthy of praise.”
In real life, magazines and movies and people at my school told me I wasn’t good enough unless I existed in a smaller body. But here, on the internet, on Jessica’s blog and Bethany’s and many others, I was told I was more than okay how I was. I spoke to Jessica to give you more information on the concept of both Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance.
It’s there in the name, but for people who’ve never encountered the fat acceptance movement before, can you describe what it’s all about?
I guess I would just explain Fat Acceptance as the act of unlearning body hatred.
That’s so interesting, because you hear the word “acceptance” and you think, “that’s something I should do; I should be accepting,” but it’s the unlearning of everything we’ve been taught about our bodies that’s the new and revolutionary concept.
Yeah, and I really don’t love the term “Fat Acceptance” because, like, is “acceptance” what I want? I don’t want you to just accept that I’m here, but we have so much further to go before it’s like “Fat Celebration” or something. The “acceptance” word is what’s really irritating to me. It’s kind of bare bones.
Finding your blog and other resources online taught me so much and really helped me learn to love myself. What was your introduction to this community?I posted an ad for friends on Craigslist and this woman, Brenda, responded. She’s this fabulous super-fatty with such great style, she makes so many of her own clothes and she exposed me to Fatshionista on LiveJournal, which was like more than 10 years ago now. [Fatshionista was, as body politics academic and author Lesley Kinzel described it, “a LiveJournal community founded by Amanda Piasecki for the purposes of carving out space to discuss fat style within a politically-savvy, social-justice-minded, fat-friendly context”] People were always telling me I was really pretty for a fat girl, and once I found the online community I realised that I could be learning so much more than where to find the proper wide-fitting boot. I started reading Lesley Kinzel, and Virgie Tovar was writing on her blog, but I mostly started posting outfits and being around LiveJournal fat people. That was my introduction: via Brenda and through LiveJournal and outfit-posting.
So the internet was really essential at that point in your life?Oh yeah! I still think it’s so rare to have friends in your real life who are fat and like themselves. It’s still so virtual for me. Even though I have a partner, I still feel so isolated in my daily life.
After being in this bubble of internet positivity that is so special and so important and changes the way that you think, do you ever go out in public and encounter less-positive people and realise, ’Oh yeah, this is what people are like’—like the bubble has burst?Yeah, it’s really hard and I think that’s why I took a break from more formal blogging: I just felt really frustrated that I put all my time and energy into interacting with people who were looking to me for this guidance, but I was spending all this time on the computer. We all only felt powerful there. I thought, ‘Where are these people? Why am I not seeing them in my real life?’ I was just having a really hard time figuring out how to move from the computer to the outside, so I took to organising events where fat people could be together in real life, and finding ways to have those conversations in real-life with real people. That’s where my heart’s at right now.
Summer—and the clothes and swimwear that come with it—really amplify that fear and anxiety people have about being fat in public. As the originator of the term “fatkini”, how do you deal with summer and the heightened body-policing that comes with it?Well, the creation of fatkinis and bikinis that come in fat sizes has not changed the culture of violence against fat bodies; having more options available is empowering and I don’t want to discredit that, but it’s still socially acceptable for the layperson at the beach to share their negative opinions with a complete stranger. I’ve literally been fat most of my life now, and I’m still, every single time, surprised that people feel not only entitled, but like it’s their moral duty to say something about your body.
I do think there’s a power in knowing you’re worth it and hearing that you’re worth it and having messages about your inner beauty, but there’s still that disconnect when a complete stranger is like, “You’re a gross pig.” You’re like, “What did I do to you?!” That stuff still catches me. I am really lucky to have a quick rebound, and I’m super into shaming people back—like, ‘You want me to be ashamed of my body, but I want you to be ashamed ofyourself as a person.’
I always think it’s super important to remind yourself, the minute after that happens, that those comments are 100% always about that person and never about you.
So I always just try to ask myself what it’s worth, like when you’re wearing a sweater and it’s 30 degrees but you want to cover your arms, who is it for? People will always have a problem with your body, whether it’s in a cardigan or whether it’s in a tiny bikini. They will always find issue, so just figuring out a way to make peace with that has been a really important survival skill for me in summer. Also: investing in a good pair of shorts that don’t ride up and migrate towards your crotch.
I just always relish in that feeling of the wind on my skin and now that I know what it feels like to wear shorts and a crop top in the summer, I just can’t see putting myself back in pants and sweaters when it’s so hot out. Knowing the other side and knowing that nothing I do will change anyone’s mind about me is really liberating. It makes it virtually impossible at this point to go back.