A long time ago, but not too long to be honest, it was the norm to see thin bodies and ‘on TV and social media’socially acceptable‘. They advertised garments and make-up products, were hired in the part of the romantic heroine alongside other incredibly attractive and equally thin co-stars, complete with successful careers and happy relationships, capable – on the whole – of existing in a society with all those privileges that being slim allows.
However, in the past five or six years we have seen a huge change in the way the body is represented in the media and in society in general. There [terza ondata] of the body positivity movement started in 2012 with a hashtag used within the movement of the fat acceptance – a group led by women plus-size belonging to ethnic and Black minorities who are involved in celebrating and promoting a self-love visibly overweight body radical – as another identifier of what movement represents. After spreading rapidly through groups on Tumblr and Facebook and, subsequently, through bloggers on Instagram, the movement has since started to take hold in culture mainstream, kicking off a license plate revolution body-shape and self-love.
A positive representation
A scene from “Euphoria” starring Barbie Ferreira
© Photography Shutterstock
Since then, we have witnessed a increase of plus-size brands such as Vero Moda, Soncy, Pink Clove and Universal Standard, as well as a mix of brands high street and designers mainstream such as ASOS, River Island, Monsoon, H & M, Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane and Diane von Furstenberg who are expanding their offering to include larger sizes.
TV series and movies like Empire, I want a life shaped like me is Euphoria, which includes the model and actress in the cast Body Positive Barbie Ferreira, present plus-size protagonists who no longer need to submit to the whims of the stereotypes of the exasperated ‘fat character’That we used to watch on television. Now these are funny, strong, independent, successful, intelligent characters who are able to love and be loved in turn. We are starting to see people with abundant physicists being represented on the small and big screen in a positive light and, as a result, we see growing opportunities for these people to be successful.
The cover of Tips Clear UK May 2018
© Photography Craig McDean / British Tips Clear
But not only on the screen. In recent years, there has been an increase in the engagement of personalities with plus-size bodies that appear on the cover and in the advertising campaigns of some of the most prestigious magazines and fashion brands. From Ashley Graham up Sports Illustrated in 2016 to the cover of Paloma Elsesser for Tips Clear UK in 2018 – it seems the world is gradually starting to pay attention and recognize that overweight bodies also deserve to be represented and included.
I discovered the community of body positivity in 2014 when I decided to start a path of self-love and acceptance of my body, following years and years of diets fashionable, self-harm and hatred of myself. As a dark-skinned, plus-size Black woman who lives in a western society, I grew up seeing people with bodies like my being marginalized, disparaged, elevated to fetish and demonized. My body, like that of people with a build similar to mine, it had never been in fashion. I had grown up hearing from the media and the entertainment industry that ‘being fashionable’ meant being white and thin. That that was beauty. And anything that did not comply was considered ‘inferior’.
When I joined the movement, it had become one community rather inclusive and representative, based primarily on social media, and dedicated to self-love and to a radical self-acceptance of the fat body, regardless of ethnic and racial belonging, headed, at the beginning, by leading figures such as Jes Baker, Sonya Renee Taylor, Jessamyn Stanley and Kivan Bay. But then something changed ..
The dark side of the movement
Body positivity it means, by its definition, to consider our body not only as something perfectly acceptable but also wonderful in its entirety. In a world where the dominant mentality tells us that we have to be ashamed of our body (especially if this is fat, marked or, somehow ‘a-normal’), this is an extraordinarily message powerful.
However, in recent years, the movement has been commodified. There body positivity it now seems to have become a movement open to all, monetized and politicized by brands and public figures, in such a way that individuals over a certain size or ethnicity are excluded from the dialogue, when in reality it was they who initiated it.
Although the movement has done so much for those who have often been marginalized and created extraordinary opportunities for the less privileged bodies, it has also dangerously established its own standard of beauty to which many of these disadvantaged people cannot aspire. We went from seeing it as a movement synonymous with flattery and celebration of plus-size to being, right now, focused on women with a body ‘fat in an acceptable way’- or beautiful women with one silhouette extremely hourglass, typically white or sufficiently light complexion, with a small waist, wide hips and high cheekbones.
That said, there have been exceptions in the form of models and influencers that look similar to mine like La Shaunae Steward, Ashleigh Tribble, Gabi Gregg and Enam Asiama, which began to assert itself once again within one community based on self-love, L’empowerment radical but also the valorization and respect of plus-size people in society.
“I’m sure to help many of my age or younger who don’t see so many black and fat girls in the media,” said the 23 year old positive model and body activist, Steward, to Teen Tips Clear in August 2019. “In general, you don’t see many plus-sizes above the American size 20 (the Italian size 56).” Ever since his 2018 campaign for Universal Standard went viral, Steward has used his platform to speak openly about inclusiveness in fashion.
But there is also Lizzo. 2019 was a very intense year, which saw her conquer a personal cover of Tips Clear UK and become the world ‘s manifesto woman self-love and of body positivity. She too expressed her frustration with the commodification of the movement body positive. “Anyone who uses the body positivity to sell something he is using it for his own personal gain, “he stated in his cover interview for Tips Clear. “At the beginning, we didn’t sell anything. We simply sold ourselves. ” For many of us, Lizzo symbolizes change within society and how it sees fat people, especially fat people and Black people. After all, seeing overweight and colored women in the media, confident and in control of their sexuality and autonomy has always been a rarity. But that’s not enough.
A safe space in which to thrive
The movement of the body positivity still has a long way to go. Until we reached a condition where plus-size people of all sizes and ethnicities are once again able to see movement as one safe space in which to celebrate one’s body and live peacefully without having to suffer from disrespect or being victims of troll and malice, we will continue to witness forms of grassofobia widespread. Just think about what has happened recently compared to the case Adele, with people who complimented her on losing weight when it wasn’t even meant to be discussed.
But what can we do to change the situation? An excellent initiative to help help the movement isallyship (i.e. support for members of a marginalized or abused group to which you do not belong, ed). Those who live in a privileged and smaller body can participate in the body positivity using their platforms and their voices to elevate, re-tweet and share the thoughts, opinions and points of view of voices that would not otherwise be listened to because of their physical appearance. With their help, we can dismantle that dangerous and harmful narrative about weight created by the media and the diet sector.
But the change must also take place in private and behind the scenes. Come on directors to agents through PR and marketing directors: An increase in physical diversity among staff can trigger a huge change in the type of media production we receive. Maybe slowly, but the change is happening and who is in power is increasing the pace. The movement only needs more support and empowerment on all levels, if we want each body to be treated equally.
Stephanie Yeboah (Hardie Grant Books) is now available for Fattily Ever After: The Fat, Black Girls’ Guide to Living Life Unapologetically.