As a size 26+ body, I have grown accustomed to not seeing myself represented in media campaigns. Of course there has been increasing use of plus size models to showcase plus size clothing, but they are still on the small end of the scale. Their thighs might be touching and if we’re lucky they might not even photoshop the double chin to be smaller, but let’s face it: there is an acceptable standard of fat and I am not it.
You can imagine my excitement, then, when I heard about the #IAmAllWoman campaign. Teen Vogue described it as the “body positivity movement the internet desperately needs”. I heard words such as “fresh”, “untouched”, “raw” and “diverse”, and I was so excited that finally somebody in mainstream media was acknowledging that there really IS a “desperate need” for a body positive moment. And then I saw the pictures.
#IAmAllWoman was started by a group of ladies who pre-existed in the mainstream modelling industry. Some have wider hips than others, and you can even see a hint of cellulite on the backs of their legs. But would I call it diverse? Well, the skin tones were slightly darker on some of the models but that was about as diverse as the photoshoot really got. There were no flabby edges. No apron stomachs. No wonky boobs. No stretch marks. No scars. No dark circles. And these are just the basic aesthetics, never mind looking at representation of women with visible disabilities or trans women. Essentially, by photographing that particular collection of models as a representation of diversity which intended to end body shaming, it body shamed every woman who fell largely outside of that category.
Unfortunately, what surprised me most was my absolute lack of surprise. It feels like more companies than ever have jumped on the BoPo bandwagon in 2016, but none of them have done it with the movement in their heart. Instead, we have companies recognising the huge leap in the popularity of fat bloggers and trying to worm themselves in on that action. They want the plus-size community to fall at their feet, thanking them gratuitously, and maybe there was a time that we would have – but now we are sick of crumbs and we have the confidence to stand up and demand the whole cake.
The common response of companies who repeatedly get body positive campaigns so wrong is that they have plans to include a more diverse range (superfats, disabilities, variety of ethnicities) later, following the success of their current campaign. What that tells me is that brands are using ‘acceptable fats’ as a way to piggy-back on our movement, so that when we are successful they can claim that they were there from the beginning. They appear charitable to women who are uncomfortable with their size, reaffirming that fat women (and I mention women only in this post in response to the hashtag) are undeserving of equal treatment, but this one kind charitable company will break free from that mould just to treat them like a basic human being.
So, how do we combat this issue? First, we define what the issue is: we, the fat people of the world, in all of our shapes, colours and abilities, want to be treated as equal human beings. We are NOT invisible (as the fantastic hashtag started by Ready To Stare said in response to this campaign, #iamnotinvisible), but there is little to no visibility of us in mainstream media. We have to fight for good clothing. Clothing that fits us. Clothing that is fashionable, not flattering. We do not want to fight for something that would come easily to us if we were smaller. And the only way to do that, right now, is to make ourselves as visible as possible. Wear gorgeous clothing in your blog posts. Buy from retailers who don’t exclude your fatter friends in their sizing. Organise photoshoots with fellow bloggers. Stop wearing things to make yourself look more acceptable – ‘flattering’ means nothing more than ‘easier to swallow’ – and stop standing in certain positions to hide parts of yourself. We have been conditioned to find certain body types appealing, and it is our jobs to help people unlearn their fatphobia. If we all work hard and we have true body positivity and fat acceptance in our hearts, there will be a time when the “body positivity movement the internet desperately needs” will actually be what it says on the tin.