Ellery Rosenzweig: Hey, I'm a fat person

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - 5:54pm

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Sifting through the sales rack, I could hear her laughing closely behind me as she organized the clothing on hangers. When I asked for a dressing room, she looked at the yellow jumpsuit in my hand and gave me an awkward smile. Staring at myself in the mirror, I pulled the jumpsuit up my legs and over my butt, noticing a small hole. The jumpsuit was cute but a little too tight, so I decided to return it to the front counter. As I waited for my friends to finish changing, I spent some time looking at the jewelry. There, I overheard the saleswoman ask her manager, “What am I supposed to do with this big hole?” She looked at me and laughed again. I quickly looked down at the earrings, trying my best to ignore her. My friends finished paying and we continued shopping down State Street.

Later that day, laying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, I could not stop thinking about the interaction with this saleswoman. She made me feel like there was something wrong with me and brought back thoughts of insecurity I had been fighting for so long. I was angry she had the power to make me feel bad. But then it came to me: She’s just afraid. She is scared of being fat. It made me feel bad for her.

As someone who identifies as being a fat, curvy, tall person, I have been fighting my internalized fatphobia for as long as I can remember. I spent so much time trying to be smaller because I believed if I was smaller, I would be happy and love myself. But the truth is no diet, workout plan or change in weight has ever made me happier than when I stopped fighting and started accepting myself. My mindset did not change all at once, but over time I have had a fundamental shift in the way I see my body and the other bodies around me.

Last year, my roommate showed me a YouTube channel called StyleLikeU in which a mother and daughter interviewed different models, artists and activists about their styles and accepting their bodies while they stripped down to their underwear. After watching so many of these videos, I was in awe of how vulnerable the participants were about sharing their stories and bodies. I started searching for more videos of activists like StyleLikeU guests Iskra Lawrence and Barbie Ferreira and followed their Instagram accounts. They led me to a greater community of body-positive activists who were using media platforms to combat diet culture and fatphobia by uplifting each other with bodies that challenge the mainstream ideals of beauty.

With this whole new ideology in mind and the support of an online community, I began talking to my friends who look and feel the way I do about our experiences with our bodies, beauty and shopping. We share websites to buy clothes like Fashion Nova Curve and ASOS. We also support each other on difficult days when we still struggle to accept ourselves. Since the day with the saleswoman, my friends have been there reminding me why I am beautiful exactly the way I am. But even with all of this amazing support, I still live in a world where people are afraid of those who radically love themselves without trying to change their bodies. I still have to deal with doctors, family members and strangers who think they know more about my body than I do and are worried about my health in relation to my weight.

Last week, in my Bodies Studies psychology seminar, I shared the body-positive community on Instagram with my class, hoping to help more people find supportive accounts to follow like one of my favorites, @bodyposipanda. However, a classmate interrupted me saying she thinks posts from activists like Tess Holliday are problematic because they perpetuate obesity and she is worried about their health. It was exactly what I had been preparing to respond to, but I found myself at a loss for words. I couldn’t stand up for myself and advocate for my identity because I felt targeted. But my badass graduate student instructor saved the day and shared some findings from an article she read mentioning one’s weight is not the only indicator of health, and we cannot make these assumptions about people’s bodies. I was lucky to have her support when I couldn’t fight for myself.

Now that there have been more plus size and curve models in mainstream campaigns for beauty and clothing lines, it may look like our society is comfortable with bigger-bodied people; however, there is still a lot of progress to be made with representation. For example, the Netflix show “Insatiable” had a fat character, played by an actress in a fat suit, who lost weight by having her mouth wired shut, thus perpetuating fatphobia. We need to see fat people doing more than just dealing with the fact that they are fat. We need to see fat people  living their lives and having complex storylines. Also, there is a movement in the body-positive community for more representation of fat men because most of the activists and accounts are run by women.

This has been the hardest column for me to write because bringing any attention to my body has always been negative. But I know by writing this, I am helping myself own my fat, curvy identity and creating a space for others to think and unpack the false narratives they have learned about fat people.

Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at erosenz@umich.edu.