Fat. For many of us, that apparently simple three-letter phrase conjures up painful childhood memories of being teased on the playground. This is a “before” photo from the weight-loss program we attempted. In the changing room, there was a moment of humiliation.
Turn on any channel, open any fashion magazine, or scroll through any social media page, and you’ll find yourself in a world where slim people are glorified and obese people are absent. Despite this, fat people make up the great majority of Americans, a phrase that is increasingly and purposely used to de-stigmatize and eventually empower them.
Fat people are regularly told that they are unworthy in a world where discrimination can range from hurtful (fat people are routinely the brunt of jokes in everything from casual conversation to big-screen Hollywood movies) to outright dangerous (doctors routinely advise weight loss to fat patients without further analysis while recommending blood work, CAT scans, or physical therapy to patients of smaller size experiencing the same symptoms). The vegan community isn’t exempt from this divisive attitude.
For years, veganism and diet culture have been conflated, and as the movement becomes stronger, the prominence of health-focused messages paired with widespread body policing is only harming people. How can we separate plant-based activism from society’s all-too-common anti-fat attitude and strive toward a movement that is size-inclusive? First, we must examine how we treat obese people. And it’s a major issue.
Lizzo is undoubtedly the most prominent agent of change when it comes to changing the dialogue surrounding fat bodies and turning society’s damaging fatphobic gaze on its head. In a world where fat bodies are expected to cower and hide in shame, the 33-year-old pop star is as well-known for her advocacy for radical self-love as she is for her chart-topping hits, frequently celebrating her sensuality and proudly flaunting her body across Instagram—in and of itself a radical act in and of itself a radical act in and of itself a radical act in and of itself a radical act in and of itself a radical act in and of itself a Then there are some that leave comments. The more outspoken her detractors grow over her near-naked social media images and strong captions (“the next time you want to judge someone for drinking kale smoothies or eating McDonald’s, or working out or not working out, mind your own business,” she writes), the more vocal she becomes.
But, as with any challenge to the current quo, Lizzo’s no-holds-barred attitude makes some people uncomfortable, particularly those who have made a living creating thin bodies. The impact was serious when Jillian Michaels, star of The Biggest Loser, complained about Lizzo’s public displays of self-adoration on BuzzFeed’s digital morning program. “Why are we celebrating [Lizzo’s] body?” questioned the fitness celebrity. “‘Cuz it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes. […] Like, I love her music. […] But there’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘And I’m so glad she’s overweight!’”
Celebrities and commentators weighed in on what Lizzo—who became vegan in 2020 and routinely shares plant-based meals to over 14 million TikTok followers—should do with her physique in the days after Michaels’ attack. Though such discussions about other mega-famous singers whose bodies conform to a social norm are few and far between, something about Lizzo flaunting her curves unapologetically while twerking in a bikini was just the type of boundary-pushing that awoke a society that had been largely asleep when it came to confronting their complacent role in fat-shaming.
The Body Positive
Lizzo’s body-love platform has sparked a wave of interest in a movement that has exploded in popularity in recent years, due to the hashtag-happy culture that helped popularize it. Body positivity existed before #fatacceptance became popular.
The Body Positive group, which was founded in 1996 by novelist Connie Sobczak and social therapist Elizabeth Scott (both of whom are not obese), prides itself on educating individuals how to reconnect with their intrinsic body knowledge in order to have “more balanced self-care.” “Declaring your authentic beauty” and “cultivating self-love” are two of the mission’s feel-good pillars. Though hailed as a response to women’s hatred of their bodies, the movement has been criticized. It has spread well beyond the original organization and has become an independent social media trend (with approximately 16 million postings using the hashtag #bodypositive).
Author Aubrey Gordon lays out what she perceives as a significant gap in body positivity forums in her 2020 book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.
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