As a kid, coming home from school was my favorite part of the day. A space free from playground bullies and even parents (at least while our mom was still at work), the house really did feel like a haven for my big brother and me. There, we'd play soccer indoors, turn on the Nintendo64 for some MarioKart, and switch on the TV to watch any number of scary movies I wasn't actually allowed to watch. Little body shaming was to be found in those moments, unlike back in class or in conversations with our mom. But what I remember most was the TV.
In an era before touch-screen TV guides and recordable shows, we were left to scroll through the programs (40 of them or so) one by one in the hopes of finding something rule-breaking to watch. I still remember keeping count. Channel after channel, I'd wait to see someone like me on the screen: Someone with a double chin, someone with a jiggly middle, someone whose thighs clapped together when they walked; someone who might serve as proof that the kids at school were wrong. That maybe I wasn't ugly or broken or stupid; that maybe "fat" didn't have to be a bad word.
That person never came; not really. It'd be a decade before a visibly fat, redeemable character made it on my radar in the form of Gilmore Girls' Sookie St. James, played by Melissa McCarthy. Even 20 years later, there are few fat actors on screen, few fat actors on stage, few fat models in magazines, few fat female news anchors on primetime, few fat queers on LGBTQIA+ publication covers.
Aspirational beauty tropes still govern the body image of many people of all genders and all sizes. When the imagery we're being presented with all around us insists on reiterating the idea that one body type, or one skin color, or one height is intrinsically superior, it makes it pretty easy for anyone outside those boxes to feel just a bit sh*tty.
My daughter is only 2 months old, but the world isn't that much different now than it was when I was a kid. Not in terms of body shaming and fatantagonism, anyway. My partner and I are committed to raising her body positive and fat positive, but neither of us necessarily believe that we alone will be able to educate her on the intricacies of fat biases in this world and the way they affect us all, regardless of our individual size.
With that in mind, I'm hoping to eventually introduce her to some body positive — specifically fat positive — individuals whose work in radical body politics is inspiring AF. With the help of these nine empowering starting points, we can all stand to learn a little something about the way we treat one another based on the size label in our jeans.
I have no way of knowing whether my daughter's style aesthetic will err on the side of feminine or masculine as she develops her own tastes. But I am willing to bet that she'll love animals and OTT cuteness, because who doesn't?
Once she's old enough to appreciate pictures, I'm definitely putting Georgina on her radar: A self-described fat blogger, crafter, and lover of cute stuff. Georgie's got a talent for DIY and personally designs plenty of accessories that'll make you feel like you've entered your own fairy kingdom jam-packed with precious woodland creatures.
But her style is also hugely Lolita: A contemporary aesthetic that generally offers a kitschier, more colorful take on Victorian and Edwardian styles. She can often be found in pastel shades like baby pinks and blues with locks to match, alongside handbags in the shape of kittens or dogs, with a headband collection to rival Blair Waldorf's.
And she's plus size. She's proof that experimenting with fashion is for everyone who wants to participate. Through people like her, I hope to teach my daughter, Luna, to accept the manifestation of all style aesthetics in humans of all sizes — and perhaps to treat them as opportunities to admire art.
This introduction might have to wait a decade or so, but I'm counting down the days until I can play Luna every single episode of Bad Fat Broads, a podcast by radical voices in body politics Ariel Woodson and KC Slack. I cannot know for sure what the landscape of body positivity will look like when Luna is a pre-teen, but what it looks like now can often bring on a dose of disillusionment.
What was arguably once a bold movement meant to empower those most marginalized because of their bodies (and a movement undeniably born of fat acceptance activism) now feels far removed from anything of the sort.
I want my daughter to be someone who fights for more, though. Regardless of what she looks like as she ages, and regardless of what privileges she herself has, I want her to know that visibly fat people, differently-abled people, people of color, indigenous people, and queer people need to be seen; need to be tolerated in a way they simply aren't. Not yet, anyway.
The Bad Fat Broads don't shy away from having the tough conversations; from fighting for more. If just a little bit of their wisdom makes it into Luna's life, I'll be a very happy parent.
Kathryn Mallow, whose art can be found under the name Murder Of Goths, is an illustrator whose work is precisely the kind that I want displayed all over my household. Because we still don't see a whole lot of people who aren't cisgender, white, straight, and able-bodied in our mainstream media consumption, I am very passionate about creating an alternative narrative for Luna.
Mallow's work generally celebrates all of the body types and identities we're not usually taught to celebrate. What's particularly special is that she tackles these sensitive subjects in a hugely accessible way. I do not doubt that her illustrations would be immensely eye-catching to both a child and an adult. But by introducing my kid to such images early on in life, I can only hope that these body types and identities will become inherently normalized to her.
A poet, a writer, a beauty maven, a fierce voice in radical body politics (and all politics, TBH), Ushshi Rahman is precisely the kind of role model I want for my daughter. Too often, it can still feel like women are taught that they must fit into a box. If they are interested in pretty dresses, they cannot be interested in international news. If they are fat, they cannot be intelligent. If they are a writer, they cannot be rocking a highlight game so strong that it might blind passerby.
Rahman, however, exists at the intersection of many interests and many fields — one of those being her work in fat acceptance. Whether she is blogging on Dress Carcass or tweeting about why that supposedly "size inclusive" collection isn't all that inclusive, she is an eloquent voice with a lot to say that a lot of folks need to hear.
Not only would I want Luna to learn from Rahman's words, but I would also want her to learn from Rahman's images. "Beauty" is regularly thought to be off limits to fat individuals in more ways than one. But Rahman's reclamation and empowering use of cosmetics serves as a reminder that the ways one utilizes clothing and makeup are entirely personal and subjective. But most importantly, that we are all entitled to those choices in the first place.
Vintage blogger and DIY angel Ragini Nag Rao of A Curious Fancy embraces traditional femininity in a way that has the power to stop me in my tracks. At a time when "femininity" often still seems correlated to weakness and fragility, and when weakness, fragility, and sensitivity are so often deemed negative attributes, her willingness to strike delicate poses, wear delicate lace, and be a delicate human does not go unnoticed.
I'm not sure how Luna's personality will develop, nor can I know what her body type will be as she ages. What I do know is that she's been born into a world that still operates largely on "good fatty" archetypes. If fat people are to be accepted, they must compensate for their body types by being loud and funny. Or by dressing in baggy clothes that conceal their figures. Or by apologizing for those figures in the first place.
What's particularly inspiring about Nag Rao is that she does not cater to any of these tropes. There is a quietness to her that I — as an introverted fat person — can undoubtedly relate to. But there is also a strength. It can be found in her plus size #OOTD posts, in her legendary writings on diet culture and body image, and in her refusal to change her aesthetic to fit into someone else's narrative of what a fat girl should dress like, or be. That, Luna can definitely learn from, no matter what size she is.
Mother-to-be Courtney Mina is a plus-size writer, blogger, and proponent of sex positivity alongside fat acceptance. As many of us know, female sexuality remains largely condemned to such a degree that many men in many rooms the world over still sit around to discuss our bodies and what we are/are not allowed to do with them.
To say that this leads to a whole lot of fear and repression surrounding the female form feels like an understatement. But when you add existing in a body type that society, by and large, also condemns with fervor, one's feelings about sex and sexuality can grow all the more confused and conflicted.
There will likely be many, many years before Luna is interested in sex herself. That said, I sincerely hope to raise a young woman who does not fear her body. I hope to raise a young woman who knows that sex (consensual sex, of course) can be a beautiful and empowering thing. And most of all, that it's for anyone.
Not only do I not want her to fear her own body, but I don't want her to fear the bodies of others. If kids around her joke that fat people don't have sex — or that they are not sexually appealing in general — I want her to be able to shut that sh*t down. I want her to see the beauty in all figures as well. And I know that voices like Courtney Mina — someone who so freely embraces and celebrates her body (often in precious lingerie) — can help her get there.
There's a pretty big chance that Luna won't be fat herself. Her dad is very, very thin and small-boned. So are many of her relatives on both sides of the family. And regardless, there are so many factors that go into a person's weight that her future body type could literally be anything. But no matter what it is — albeit especially if she is not fat herself — I want her to know all about being an ally. This, I believe, she'll learn from people like Melissa A. Fabello.
An activist and scholar in the fields of body image, feminism, and sexuality, Fabello is constantly writing, tweeting, and speaking about the complexities of our relationships with our bodies. But she also tackles fatantagonism, in particular, from the perspective of someone with a lot of thin privilege. Instead of dominating the space that might go to those more marginalized than her, however, she lifts those people up. She educates anyone who reads her stories on Everyday Feminism about how to better treat those around us (particularly those who need the most allies), and in the process, how to better treat ourselves.
No matter what size she herself is, I want Luna to know that fat people can be anything. Princesses? Yes. Business executives? Totally. Fashion designers? For sure. When the dominant narrative teaches kids (and grownups alike) to believe that fatness is always bad, and fat people subsequently always flawed, Luna will know otherwise. And Jonquel Norwood's illustrations will certainly reiterate the point.
Specializing in plus size and feminine figures, Norwood's badass ladies can be witnessed doing all sorts of rad things. From rocking the latest trends to marching on Washington for women's rights to dancing to Beyoncé, there is no activity that is "off limits" because of weight alone. Her fat babes are undoubtedly empowered babes. And they make no apologies for their booties or muffin tops.
Leah Vernon of Beauty And The Muse is further proof that women need not box themselves into anyone else's idea of femininity or womanhood. Like all of these radical humans (and many others), she cannot be neatly packaged into a cube. Her interests and identity intersect many interests and identities. And she is a sight to behold.
As Vernon wrote in an Instagram caption, she gets quite a lot of sh*t for being interested in fashion and beauty, for vocalizing strong opinions, and for being fat all alongside being Muslim. "I [...] get those other people who insert themselves between myself and my religion, questioning how I can call myself Muslim and wear tight clothes or smear lipstick on my lips or go on dates," she wrote. "How I can write about semi-vulgar topics or FB live myself getting a Brazilian wax. They insert themselves into my diet, not knowing that I frequent the gym. They inquire about my family which I try to conceal since it's broken due to mental illness."
Despite such toxic and close-minded intolerance, however, she keeps going. Her body positivity doesn't waver. Her faith is not questioned. Her lipstick is not smeared. Thanks to people like her, my daughter will know that she needn't be just one thing. And that even if people do give her crap for it, there is no better revenge than being unapologetically yourself.
And that is ultimately what all of these humans will teach her.