First, there was Natalie Hage
, a plus size Instagram model from Texas. According to Hage, she was traveling on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, when she was seated next to a man who was disgruntled by her size. Before take off, she claims the man made his disdain for her larger body obvious by shifting, grunting and exchanging cruel and demeaning text messages about her with someone on his phone. Rather than shrink in shame, as caught on video
, Hage stood up for herself by confronting the man and pointing out that his actions were hurtful and that his judgments of her size were based on fat bias not facts.
A few days later, on the Fourth of July, Grammy award winning singer Kelly Clarkson
tweeted a thank you to all those who have served to protect our independence and freedom. While this should have been a kind but fairly innocuous tweet, Clarkson's body size drew the ire of a fat shaming Twitter troll, who responded by telling Clarkson she was fat. Clarkson's response was simple, "... and still f---ing awesome."
Both Hage and Clarkson have embraced a rising cultural voice that is a byproduct of the fat activist and body positive movements -- the empowered fat voice. A group of informed fat people are starting to realize that the shame and stigma directed toward them isn't justified, and they don't need to remain silent in the face of disrespect.
These two instances aren't anomalies. In just the last few months I have seen other examples of fat people refusing to let fat bias in the culture stand. Consider the marketing for "Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs,"
a forthcoming film starring actress Chloé Moretz. The film is a fairy tale, a retelling of Snow White that features a pair of magical red shoes. When Snow White wears the shoes she is attractive but when she removes them she is her true and ugly self. In the billboard and the trailer for the film, the shoes are removed and the major change in Snow White's appearance is that she becomes fat.
The tag line next to fat Snow White on the billboard reads, "What if Snow White was no longer beautiful...?," and in the trailer two dwarfs hiding in Snow White's bedroom are appalled when she removes the shoes to reveal her fatness. The marketing team was mistaken in creating giant billboards and a trailer, which implied that a fat version of Snow White couldn't be understood as beautiful.
Because beauty matters in our culture, directing this message at children -- that fat can't be beautiful -- encourages an understanding of fat people as less valuable than thin people and unworthy of our respect. This is not only a terrible lesson that can affect individual struggles with self esteem but also allows for justification of bias behaviors, such as bullying.
Like with Clarkson and Hage, this fat-shaming incident did not go unrecognized. Instead, the empowered fat voice rose again. This time in the form of plus size supermodel, Tess Holliday, who took to Twitter
to call out the film's marketing as fat shaming.
Holliday's tweet alerted Moretz, who immediately recognized the issue and distanced herself from the project, noting that she did not approve of the marketing campaign. In response, in late May, the campaign was pulled and the producers of the film issued an apology
In this case, the sound of the empowered fat voice alerted onlookers to fat injustice anwd there was resulting action taken: the marketing campaign was pulled or, if you will, the offensive and bias representation was discontinued and therefore harmed far fewer people than it could have. That's powerful stuff, right?
Please don't misconstrue my point -- the culture appears to remain as hateful toward fat bodies as ever. Fat people still have to endure systemic prejudice -- bias from doctors, employers and educators
, as well as hurtful daily interactions, snickers and demeaning comments. The media
still relies on degrading fat stereotypes.
And I'd be hard pressed to go a day without hearing someone belittle either his or her own body or another's body based on size. Honestly, I imagine that for every empowered fat person, there are still many who suffer silently while the culture ridicules and discredits them. But there is something happening, the rise of a powerful undercurrent, a collection of souls who've heard what body image activists are preaching and have chosen to step up and stand up for the notion that every body deserves respect