On the Importance of Stories
When I was young, there were never girls who looked like me on TV. I mean obviously, there were plenty of white, blonde girls, but none of them were fat. I clearly remember the first time I saw a fat teenage girl on TV. She was a secondary character on Days of Our Lives, and when she showed up on screen, I got so excited because “OMG SOMEONE PUT A GIRL WHO LOOKS LIKE ME ON TV!” Her story was so minor that I can’t remember her name anymore. She was primarily in the best friend role, was a frequent victim of bullying, and I strongly identified with her.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about how long it took me to let go of my anger at a world that judged my worth based on my size and he asked me whether I thought things were changing at all; I realized that I believe they are. Twenty years ago, I was stunned to see a girl who looked like me as a secondary character on daytime television; now with movies like Dumplin’, and Sierra Burgess, plus size teen girls are being given narratives of their own, where they are the star, and their gifts and strengths are celebrated. There are a myriad of YA books out now with protagonists who can be fat, beautiful, smart and strong; fat girls today have so much more than I did as a teen in that regard, and I’m glad.
Yet, it’s also important to acknowledge that there are still many problematic representations of fat people in the media. Recent shows like ‘Insatiable’ perpetuate the ‘fat girl gets thin and finds her power’ trope. The wildly popular ‘This is Us’, reinforces the narrative that all a fat woman can be, all she cares about, all that matters in her existence is her weight, and how to lose it. I’ve heard many praise ‘This is Us’ for it’s inclusivity, but to me, the narrative reduced a person to a stereotype and squandered an opportunity. We’re seeing positive change, but there is so much further for us to go.
(Dumplin, copyright: Netflix)
Over the past five to ten years, since the body positivity and fat acceptance movements have become increasingly mainstream, I’ve seen many articles that rail against body shaming, or that show the diversity of lives and talents that fat people possess. Recently, Victoria Secret, once the kingpin of the US lingerie market, lost business to more body-positive stores like Aerie through its refusal to add different sizes. After openly stating that the company had no plans to sell larger sizes or to include plus-sized or transgendered women in their runway show there was a public outcry, with magazines like Teen Vogue providing lists of alternative places to shop. Ten years ago, it would not have been newsworthy if a lingerie company refused to include plus size women in their runway show, that was the norm and it went unquestioned.
(Fenty x Savage, Getty images)
We’re now seeing fashion designers putting actual plus women on the runway, not just ‘fake fat’ women who are a size ten. We’re seeing a broader representation of body diversity, such as in the Savage x Fenty lingerie show, which included not only fat women, but women of colour, pregnant women and women of a variety of ages. Nowadays, there’s a much wider selection of clothing accessible to people of size, which is an important aspect of self-expression. Gone are my high school days when I dressed like a 30-something working woman, because it was literally all I had access to.
(My last first day of high school, in OAC)
I believe that things are changing. While in many ways the process of change has been slow, it has also been meaningful. As the diversity of bodies in the media and in fashion expands, as people call out discrimination when they see it, and as we see stories in the media about people of size, it makes me feel that maybe this world will one day accept my body as worthy.
Representation matters, and telling our stories matters deeply. For so long, fat people were made invisible, and only now, as the veil is pulled back and we find ourselves included, can we truly begin to feel that our stories, our lives, and our bodies are just as valid as everyone else’s.