I finally became a part of the body-liberation and body-positive community when I stopped hashtagging Instagram photos with #bodypositivity and #bodyliberation while dieting at the same time. I knew logically that dieting while simultaneously claiming body positivity was contradictory, but I’d tricked myself into believing that I could love my body into thinness. Before starting my last diet, I’d assured my therapist that this really was the last one. Statistically, diets don’t work in the long-term, but despite losing and gaining weight so many times, I still believed I could be among that small percentage of people who manage to keep it off for good.
I’ve spent my life navigating an eating disorder, though it wasn’t diagnosed until three years ago. When I began recovery, I met a lot of women who struggle with the same body-image issues. I started reading books that spoke to them (Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Shrill by Lindy West, Hunger by Roxane Gay, and Landwhale by Jes Baker) and following fat activists of all different sizes on social media. The photos they posted of themselves hanging out with friends, eating, swimming, dancing—doing things I thought I couldn’t do in public because of my weight— aided in my recovery. Seeing these women show their bodies without apology made me question my own body shame: If they could do it, why couldn’t I?
I tried to emulate not only the personalities of the women that I admired, but also their fashion—red lipstick, tight dresses that revealed their pockets and rolls of fat, high heels, salon-styled hair. But I found myself almost immediately returning the dresses and skirts I purchased from plus-size sites because they made me feel like someone I wasn’t. After spending an hour on my makeup, I didn’t recognize myself. When I put on a dress that revealed my curves and rolls, I didn’t feel comfortable.
In online support groups for eating-disorder recovery and body acceptance, I asked the question: “Does anyone follow any fat-positive women that aren’t femme? Preferably fat women. I haven’t found a lot of people with my body size that don’t wear a lot of makeup, dresses, etc. I feel like society looks at fat women and says, ‘If you’re going to be fat, you better be as feminine as possible.’”
I got responses and suggestions, but many of those who replied told me that they, too, needed what I was looking for: people as fierce, fun, and fat-positive as the ones I already loved—just less femme. If you’re not already following these writers, athletes, and activists, you absolutely should be.
Roxane Gay is the author of best-selling books including Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and Hunger. Gay’s work focuses on feminism, gender identity, and sexuality. Her Instagram is a delightful blend of selfies, books, and travel shots. On Twitter, you can check out her hilarious musings on pop culture and literature.
Dana Falsetti is a yoga practitioner who tried dieting for many years until she discovered yoga. She found her calling “helping to normalize the diversity of the human condition and give others, especially vulnerable groups, the opportunity for self-worth, self-care and, ultimately, self-acceptance.” Follow her yoga studio and pay what you can for online yoga courses.
SJ Thompson is a coach and writer dedicated to body and fat liberation. Their work helps people understand and discuss health, weight inclusivity, and body image exploration separate from western medicine and diet culture. Thompson’s work focuses on the intersection of “eating disorders, movement, gender, race, privilege, and sexuality.”
J Aprileo’s work centers fat activism and accessibility, and through their blog they offer gender non-conforming fashion looks, recommendations of fat musicians to listen to, and sex and self-care tips. J also offers tips on binding for plus-size babes, as well as and TV and movie reviews.
Katie McCrindle is a fat activist getting her master’s degree in social work, and her research focuses on fat women’s relationships with their bodies. With Cynthia Boyede, McCrindle also produces videos on YouTube about how to deal with fatphobic family members during the holidays and in the course of eating-disorder recovery.
In 2018, Ragen Chastain became the heaviest woman to run a marathon. On Instagram, Chastain talks about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective, Ironman training, and how to deal with fatphobic healthcare professionals. Her Instagram is full of quotes from powerful women on smashing diet culture and learning body acceptance.
Now it’s up to us. Let’s continue to value our femme figures while celebrating non-femmes of all genders, sexual orientations, and races next to them. Every day of my life is a struggle to say “fuck you” to society and diet culture. The best way that I can do that is by working to be myself, and promoting visibility for those who do the same.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect SJ Thompson’s correct name. (04/05/2019 3:53 pm)