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My Fat Liberation Is Not a Trend

two women in colorful dresses
My Fat Liberation Is Not a TrendGetty Images/Natalie Craig/Khadija Horton

I’ll never forget the first time I felt carefree and unstoppable in my fat body. I was 22, and seconds away from stepping in front of the camera in a pink checkered swimsuit on the Steve Harvey Show for a segment on plus-size fashion. Appearing on national television in skimpy swimwear with no time to prepare could make anyone self-conscious or nervous, but not me—not anymore.

It was 2014 and I’d spent the last six months discovering body positivity and writing about the fat acceptance movement for my college newspaper and my budding fashion blog. Both were a revelation to me: the fat acceptance movement had been working for decades to advocate for fat people's rights and educate the public on anti-fat bias, while body positivity, which promotes an affirming view of bodies of all shapes and sizes, had been gaining traction on social media through the work of mostly brown and Black women. Finally, I felt free from obsessively idealizing thinness, which had kept me in a cycle of self-hatred and low-esteem since second grade.

Before I found these movements, I spent my free time counting calories, microwaving Lean Cuisine meals, and overperforming in every relationship just to prove I was worthy. I got a doctor’s note to join Weight Watchers before I was of age and even underwent hypnosis for weight loss when I was 19—something that my dad recommended and paid for. I thought this was the life I was destined for as a fat woman: always chasing a small body, never feeling good enough, being excluded from fashion, enduring constant bullying, and eating shitty microwave meals that always left me hungry and unsatisfied.

But from the moment I stepped onto the Steve Harvey set, everything I did was to prove the world—and myself—wrong about fat people. I rebelled against the notion that plus-size women should hide, quiet down, settle for less, and lose weight. Instead, over the next decade, I wore what I wanted, dated, fell in love, enjoyed food intuitively, traveled the world, climbed the career ladder, and grew my fashion blog to reach thousands of women across the world—changing the narrative of curvy bodies in fashion along the way. I was owning my fat body and using it to take up space, and it felt incredible.

Body positivity and the fat acceptance movement didn’t just change my life; it loosened the grip of unrelenting beauty standards for millions of women. Eventually, the fashion and beauty industries took note, too, as brands launched size-inclusive campaigns. In 2017, Ashley Graham became the first plus-size model ever to land a Vogue cover, while Paloma Elsesser starred in Glossier’s Body Hero campaign. And by 2022, plus-size model Precious Lee was gracing a Jimmy Choo ad in a swimsuit and walking for Versace and other luxury brands. It all felt transformative because plus-size models were usually relegated to the back pages of department store catalogs—if that—and now they were being used to advertise luxury. We were finally making inroads in a notoriously brutal industry…or so I thought.

But the writing is on the wall (and on our timelines and For You pages): thin is creeping back in. I’ve noticed a palpable shift from my perch as a plus-size fashion influencer. Just look at the 18 billion views on TikTok for “heroine” thin bodies, most of them glamorizing the prevailing aesthetic of Kate Moss ’90s once again. It’s not like the unrealistic beauty belief of “nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” ever truly left or that we achieved true, full liberation—we live in the era of FaceTuning after all—but at least there was a blissful, albeit brief, moment, when people didn’t say their most toxic fatphobic thoughts out loud.

It’s starting to become increasingly apparent how many people and brands were simply using body positivity and curve-washing as zeitgeist-y marketing ploys. If it’s any indication of what’s to come, many influencers—who previously used body positivity to build a career and land brand deals—are coming right out and telling us how they really feel. Over the past few months, I’ve seen some of my fellow fat content creators getting weight loss surgery or clamoring for newly FDA-approved weight loss drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro. It’s painful to see people carelessly abandoning the body positivity and fat liberation movements that they built communities on, diminishing the change we’ve worked so hard to catalyze.

I felt betrayed and gutted as I watched a viral TikTok from a prominent plus-size influencer saying, “I don’t care how trendy, or cute, or fun it seems to be fat…it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I actually feel kind of guilty for being a part of this movement.” I knew this video would encourage people to be even crueler IRL and online and I didn’t have to wait long for my prediction to come true. On the heels of this shift, I’ve noticed more hate comments on my own content than ever before. Whether I’m putting an outfit together, making pizza with my boyfriend, or working out, men and women feel entitled to let me know that I should lose weight, stop promoting obesity, and even die. All because I’m fat.

It’s easy to limit my exposure to hate on social media with comment filters and simply putting my phone down. But attending New York Fashion Week in the fall was another sobering reminder of the current backslide.

During my first NYFW in 2019, I was electrified by theCURVYcon, a three-day event intended specifically for plus-size women, and the numerous runway shows that showcased dazzling, diverse fashion for bigger bodies, including 11 Honoré and Christian Siriano. I’ll never forget model Tess Holliday stunting down the catwalk for Chromat in a white dress with a fitted bustier that had “sample size” written all over it, a bold clapback at an industry that had long ignored the average American woman, who—to be clear—is plus-size. I felt so optimistic about the future.

chromat springsummer 2020 new york fashion week runway show
Tess Holiday walking at NYFW in 2019.Mike Coppola - Getty Images

Flash forward to 2023, and according to the Vogue Business size inclusivity report, less than 1 percent of the looks shown during fashion month in New York, London, Milan, and Paris were worn by plus-size models. As I walked into shows in New York this past fall, I noticed photographers pointing their cameras down when I came their way. People even questioned my right to be in these spaces.

Like clockwork, the fashion industry has decided that my body is just a trend. One season, thigh gaps are all the rage; the next, it’s big butts. Were our bodies, and the fact that we refused to hate them, just a passing fad, only valuable as long as they were profitable?

A few weeks ago, I was presenting a lecture about inclusive styling to faculty at a college with a notable fashion design program. I talked about how body positivity helped evolve fashion and styling beyond just dressing figures for flattery. Shockingly, I was met with incredible pushback from faculty who insisted that women not only want to but should dress to slim and shrink their bodies. I couldn’t believe these were the attitudes shaping the next generation of designers. How will fashion evolve if fatphobic rhetoric remains in the classroom?

I would like to say that these shifting winds haven’t bothered or affected me. I understand that not everyone feels comfortable embracing their bodies, especially after being accosted with a different message for the majority of their lives. But the backlash I’ve personally experienced recently and the noticeable public shift away from fat acceptance over the past year has even made me question myself: Do I need to go back to being quieter and smaller about what fat acceptance has done for me and my life?

But I know these movements weren’t a mere moment for me. They permanently reshaped how I feel and think about my body for the better. And I’m not going to abandon their principles just because fashion and pop culture are once again valorizing smaller bodies to the exclusion of everything else.

I recently read about Maggie Ervie, a 15-year-old girl who’s been put on Victoza, an early predecessor of Ozempic and Wegovy, to give her a shot at “typical life” as a teenager. It brings back memories of being the only teenager in a Weight Watchers meeting, and I’m reminded how difficult it can be to exist as a fat young person. Kids are mean, unrealistic beauty standards are pervasive, and there is nowhere to hide in the age of social media.

I wish I could go back to the younger version of me, that sad and scared kid who was constantly reminded that her body was nothing to be proud of, and tell her to celebrate and cherish the vessel that would carry her forward. There is so much more to life than trying to adapt the one body we get to fit the latest viral hashtag. Regardless of what’s next in fashion, beauty, or weight loss drugs, I know one thing for sure: my body, and the freedom I’ve finally found within it, will never be reduced to a trend.

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