Curate Your Feed with Diverse Body Positive Accounts on Instagram

Photo, Resilient Fat Goddess Instagram

by Sarah Thompson, Resilient Fat Goddess and Lauren Muhlheim, Eating Disorder Therapy LA

“Body positivity can’t be just about thin, straight, cisgendered, white women who became comfortable with an additional ten pounds on their frame.” —Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Shape magazine (July, 2018).

Eating disorders are about so much more than body image, but the current diet culture, idealization of the thin ideal, and “war on obesity” make it much harder for people with eating disorders to recover. We are barraged on a daily basis by media images of people who represent only a small portion of the population.

As Dr. Muhlheim discussed in a previous post about fat photography, the mainstream media images we see are not diverse, and the images we do see of larger bodies are often portrayed in a particularly negative and stigmatizing way, adding fuel to the fire.

Thus, an important exercise for people of all sizes in recovery is to curate their social media feed by removing accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and expand the range of body sizes and types to which one is exposed. Adding diversity to your social media feed isn’t only important for people in recovery, it can be just as important for partners as Sarah Thompson wrote about here. It would even be useful for parents and family members of those recovering.

The term used to describe the absence of representation in media was coined by George Gerbner in 1972. This phenomenon is “symbolic annihilation.” Gerbner was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and communications professor who researched the influence of television trends on viewers’ perceptions of the world. According to Coleman and Yochim, Gerbner explained that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” Representations, or lack thereof, lead to assumptions about how the world works and who holds power.

Gerbner did not assign symbolic annihilation to any particular group, so it has since been applied to many different identities. We can apply the concept to non-dominant systemic identities, such as larger bodied people, people of color, trans and gender-expansive people, disabled people, etc. If we don’t see bodies like our own represented, we may come to believe “my body doesn’t matter”. Often, this can turn into “I don’t matter”. This means that for people whose bodies are marginalized in any way, it is essential to see images of people that look like them.

We have developed a roundup of Instagram accounts to help you on the journey. While it is not comprehensive, it is a starting point. What follows are some Instagram accounts that show body-positive images that celebrate diverse bodies in ways that mainstream media does not.

At the time of this posting, these accounts are free of body shaming, fat shaming, food shaming, and disordered eating. Some are people in recovery from eating disorders. If we missed one of your favorite accounts that consistently publishes photos of bodies at the margins, please email us and let us know!

Larger-bodied women

@madeonagenerousplan

@iamdaniadriana

@themilitantbaker

@fatgirlflow

@fatwomenofcolor

@cosmiccollette

@bampowlife

@danielle_bex

@fatlippodcast

@shesallfatpod

Larger-bodied men

@bigboysarecute

@johnasavoia

@abearnamedtroy

@chubstr

@bear_skn

@zachmiko

@300poundsandrunning

People of color

@iamivyfelicia

@onebeautifulyes

@thefriendineverwanted

@nalgonapositivitypride

@sonyareneetaylor

@virgietovar

@genizeribeiro

@ihartericka

@diannebondyyoga

@mynameisjessamyn

@biggalyoga

@sassy_latte

@adydelvalle_

@melissadtoler

Gender diverse people

@transfolxfightingeds

@comfyfattravels

@chairbreaker

@thirdwheeled

@alokvmenon

@nonnormativebodyclub

@shooglet

@resilientfatgoddess

@thefatsextherapist

@watchshayslay

Older people

@efftheiragingstandards

@idaho_amy

@lamplight.space

@gidget3304

@glitterglama

@fruitbat5150

@26kleisen

@finally_bopo

People with disabilities

@the_feeding_of_the_fox

@dietitiananna

@theonearmedwonder

@rollettes_la

@disabilityisdiversity

@the_hapless_roller

@spookyfatbabe

@disabled_fashion

@princesscakep0p

@everybodyisworthy

Multiple Identities

@thebodyisnotanapology

@decolonizingfitness

@subversesirens

@fatkiddanceparty

@adipositivity

@underneath_we_are_women

@lkt_consulting

@flourorchalk

Other body positive accounts to follow

@sweetamaranth

@iamannachapman

@nolatrees

@bopolena

@bopo_watercolour

@shoogsart

@shelby.bergen

@neoqlassicalart

@lovefromdanica

@bopo.boy

Source

Coleman and Yochim. The Symbolic Annihilation of Race: A Review of the “Blackness” Literature. Perspectives. Spring 2008. http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/prba/perspectives/spring%202008/Means%20Coleman-Yochim.pdf

Fat Positive Photography

Fat Positive Photography
Representation Matters

I’ve recently returned from the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) Conference and I’m reflecting on all I’ve learned. I’ve wanted to share and further explore Substantia Jones’ keynote, “Fat Visibility Through Photography: the Who, the How, and the Hell Yeah.”

Jones is a photographer, a “Fat Acceptance Photo-Activist,” and the proprietor of the Adipositivity Project.  She started Adipositivity in 2007 to “promote the acceptance of benign human size variation and encourage discussion of body politics” by publishing images of women, men, and couples in larger bodies. Substantia is passionate about the fact that fat people don’t see a balanced representation of themselves in the media—as she says, “Humans need visibility. Positive and neutral visibility is being denied to fat people.”

So many of the media images we see of larger-bodied people portray them in negative and stereotyped ways: unkempt, unhappy, eating fast food, and often headless—as if they are ashamed to show their faces. At the same time, the range of body types provided by media images does not really represent most bodies. The media typically culls the thinnest or fittest sliver of the population, and then proceeds to photoshop the images of these bodies.  According to the Body Project, “Only 5% of women have the body type (tall, genetically thin, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, long-legged and usually small-breasted) seen in almost all advertising. (When the models have large breasts, they’ve almost always had breast implants.)”

In September 2009, Glamour included a photo of Lizzie Miller, a model who is a size 12-14. The photo showed Lizzie nude and looking joyful while displaying a roll of belly fat. The response was overwhelming—American women were thrilled to see a woman who looked more like them and was happy to boot.

While this was groundbreaking, the average American woman is a size 16. So where are the images of the upper half of the weight spectrum? It should be noted that it is not only larger bodies that are marginalized; other bodies are often not portrayed in mainstream media. These include bodies that are darker-skinned, disabled, aging, and gender diverse.

It is important that people in larger bodies see images of people that look like them. It is also important for all people to broaden their aperture on what people should look like. This includes viewing images of fat people who are happy, sexy, desired, and beautiful and engaging in all the activities that make up a fulfilled life.

Those working in the field of body acceptance confirm the therapeutic value of seeing attractive images of larger-bodied people. Unfortunately, these images can still be hard to find. One must look outside of the mainstream media. With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to provide resources for beautiful, artful photos of people living in larger bodies.

During her keynote, Substantia shared photos from several of her favorite fat-positive photographers, including those that inspired her. Below I list some of the photographers she shared and where to find their photos and information about them.

  • The photography of Patricia Schwarz can be found in Women of Substance – Portrait and Nude Studies of Large Women, published in Japan in 1996 by The Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts. Little has been published about her aside from this article, which states that Schwarz, who belonged to the fat liberation community in the 1980s, specialized in full-color photography of fat women. The book features women posing in domestic, natural and urban settings in various stages of clothing and nudity.
  • Laura Aguilar is known for her photographs of people from various marginalized communities (including fat, lesbian, and Latina). She is particularly known for portraying her own nude body as a sculptural element in desert landscapes.
  • Leonard Nimoy (yes, that one) published The Full Body Project, a collection of black-and-white nude photos of members of a burlesque troupe called the Fat-Bottom Revue. According to Nimoy, the purpose of the book was to challenge the harmful beauty ideals promoted by Hollywood.
  • Catherine Oakson was described in an obituary as a creator of “artistic self-portraits—some playful, some sensuous—and messages of body positivity.” Unfortunately, since her death, her photographs are extremely hard to find. Her website, “Cat’s House of Fun,” is only available via web archives (web.archive.org). Search for the website, http://catay.com and look at screen grabs prior to 2017
  • Shoog McDaniel, an artist and photographer living in Florida, was also present at the ASDAH conference, and their art was used in the conference program. Shoog was featured in this article in Teen Vogue which described them as “the photographer pushing the boundaries of queer, fat-positive photography.” Shoog states “the work that I do is about telling the stories of people who are marginalized and not usually put on the forefront, and whose lives are beautiful and important.”

Although Substantia’s presentation did not touch upon it, it’s worth mentioning Representation Matters, the world’s first website providing high-resolution, royalty-free, stock images of diverse bodies for commercial use. (The image in this post is from Representation Matters.) They specifically include larger bodies portrayed in a positive light. These photos are available for purchase.

Unfortunately, diet culture and thin privilege are alive and well, and those in larger bodies remain marginalized and excluded from most mainstream media. I hope you’ll check out these resources and come to appreciate the vast diversity of the human body. I purchased some photography books to share at my office. Together we need to work to challenge the notion that there is a best way to have a body and learn to celebrate the beauty of all bodies.

On a closely related topic, I’m thrilled to see that Meredith Noble has a great list of body positive artists to follow.

Source

Baker, Cindy. 2013. “Aesthetic Priorities and Sociopolitical Concerns: The Fat Female Body in the Photography of Patricia Schwarz and Jennette Williams A Review of Patricia Schwarz: Women of Substance, by Patricia Schwarz, and The Bathers: Photography by Jennette Williams, by Jennette Williams.” Fat Studies 2 (1): 99–102. https://doi.org/10.1080/21604851.2012.709447.

Checking Our Own Weight Biases as Parents

 

Weight bias parentingWeight bias is a preference for thinness. In the words of psychologist Ashley Solomon, Psy.D., CEDS, “Weight bias is insidiously interwoven into the fabric of our culture.”

Like many of us, I grew up in a family that possesses a great deal of weight bias. When I gained weight just before puberty my mother put me on diets. My paternal grandfather bribed me to lose weight with the offer of a car. I realize my family members meant well. They stated at the time they were worried I would not be well-liked if I was overweight. At 101 years of age, my maternal grandmother still weighs herself daily and credits the diet she started in high school as the cause of my grandfather falling in love with her.

I have already recounted how I helped my older daughter gain weight when she fell off her weight curve at the age of 12—despite her pediatrician’s misplaced admiration, “You’re just how we all want to be,” (75%ile for height and 25%ile for weight [= thin for your height])” My son and younger daughter gained weight before their growth spurts, which led to that same pediatrician warning me about weight gain and risk of obesity for the two of them. This succinctly illuminates our culture’s weight bias: obesity is a far greater concern than anorexia nervosa.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2 years after the obesity warning for my younger daughter. Nearing the end of her height growth spurt, she has fallen off her weight curve. What is an FBT-trained professional therapist and enlightened mother to do?

She is about 10 pounds below where she should be according to the weight graphs (ignoring the single spurious plot point when I got the obesity warning). She is definitely slender. She does take a medication that could reduce appetite. However, even when she doesn’t take it, she has a small appetite. She does not show any other signs of weight or body concern, eats a range of foods, and is not very active (unlike her older sister when I intervened on her behalf to restore weight).

I notice my admiration for her current shape. I notice the temptation to leave her alone and let her remain on the thin side. After all, my son has gained weight now that he is no longer in high school sports. I notice a stronger urge to react to his food choices than I did when he was thinner. And with some larger relatives in their genetic heritage, I have had the fleeting thought that I would rather keep my daughter thin. WHAT?! I caught my thoughts unconsciously falling into programmed family and societal beliefs that I do not actually agree with on an aware and conscious level.

I examine my feelings and beliefs about what weight gain means for my daughter. I quickly recognized my over-valuing of her slenderness and my own projected anxiety about her potentially being larger. After questioning her pediatrician, who is, not surprisingly, unconcerned, and obtaining a print-out of her growth and weight curves, together we (my daughter and I) settled on adding a daily liquid supplement and mild encouragement to eat more. And, my daughter seems to feel it is a fun challenge.

I do what I ask the families I work with do, which is challenge the bias that thin is better and focus on keeping my daughter on track on her own weight curve, which I know is healthiest for her long term.

Book Recommendation: “Dietland” by Sarai Walker

Marti Noxon and Joy Nash at Dietland Luncheon in Los Angeles

Dietland

This summer (2016) I read the novel Dietland by Sarai Walker. It’s rare to find a novel that is both relevant and sensitive to the concerns of my patients, rarer still one that features a main character in a large body whose happiness is not predicated upon successfully losing weight. I found the book so empowering, I’ve been recommending it to patients.

The book tells the story of Plum Kettle, a young 300-pound woman who lives in New York and works as a ghost-writer answering angsty emails to the editor of a teen magazine. She has been on multiple diets and is planning to have weight loss surgery. While living in the crowded city, she tries hard to not be noticed. Rather than living in the present, she focuses on planning for her future life as a thin person. She orders clothing online that will fit her future thin body.

Walker vividly portrays the stigma and unjust treatment faced by people who inhabit larger bodies. Like many of my larger patients with histories of repeated dieting, Plum suffers from depression and oppression related to being in a larger body. Living in a larger body in a world consumed by diet culture means not physically conforming in certain situations (think restaurant booths, waiting room chairs, and airplanes) and leads to shame and fear of being persecuted in social situations due to one’s size. Not surprisingly, people in larger bodies often have histories of dieting to try to make their bodies conform to the thin cultural ideal. However, because dieting doesn’t work and weight suppression ultimately drives eating disorders and weight regain, people in larger bodies often experience weight regain binge eating, and anxiety and depression.

Out of fear of being teased about her weight, Plum avoids parties, clubs, bars, beaches, amusement parks, and airplanes and, painfully, spends most of her time alone, answering emails either from the café or at home in her apartment.

Through a series of unconventional events, over the course of the book, Plum gains the strength to resist the unrealistic cultural archetype. She turns her anger outward, confronts weight stigma, and stands up to the pressure of society. Ultimately Plum finds her voice and becomes empowered. She learns to accept a body that does not fit the thin ideal, stops putting her life on hold, and starts living her life as she is:

It felt good to be free. With unexpected power in my legs, I kept going, racing ahead with the wind and the sun on my face, taking a leap into the wide world, which now seemed too small to contain me.

While the treatment I offer to patients is more traditional than Plum’s journey in the novel, I hope my patients will undergo the same transformations. In my work with all patients of every size, I employ CBT for eating disorders, but I supplement this evidence-based treatment with a weight-neutral approach and education about the impact of diet culture and weight stigma. I help clients to cultivate a more accepting and compassionate relationship to their bodies and to turn their anger outward, holding up a new lens through which to see the world. I seek to empower them to advocate for their needs while challenging diet culture. This transformation is profound and exciting to witness.

My favorite passage in the book is a line of questions I want to ask my clients:

“I want you to consider something, hon. What if it’s not possible for you to ever become thin? What if there is no one day? What if this is your real life right now? What if you’re already living it?”

The book is both fun and inspiring.

Addendum: June 2018: And, it is being turned into a television show which premieres on AMC on Monday, June 4th and stars Joy Nash as Plum Kettle. Appropriately, the tagline is “Join the Revolution!” I hope you’ll join me and tune in. I was fortunate to attend an event with Marti Noxon, the producer to discuss some of the important issues that will be highlighted by the show, including weight stigma.

 

Lauren Muhlheim and Marti Noxon at Dietland Luncheon 

When is it ok to comment on another person’s body?

When is it ok to comment on another person’s body? Spoiler alert: Never!

By Elisha Carcieri, Ph.D.

As a relatively new mom of an 11-month-old, I’m on the tail end of almost two years of a complete metamorphosis. In nine months my body grew to accommodate another human, delivered that human into the world, and has since been slowly returning to its original, albeit changed, form.

Something bizarre happens when you’re pregnant. For some reason, people take this as an opportunity to comment on physical appearance, especially size and weight, perhaps more so than they do with non-pregnant women. Most don’t mean any harm, and most of the time no harm is done. But even so, I ask…why do it? And I beg…please stop! For the most part, commenting on another person’s body size is, at the very least, unproductive and unhelpful, and at worst a triggering assault on the already high-jacked consciousness of an eating disorder sufferer.

Oftentimes pregnant women will receive comments such as, “looks like you’re ready to pop!” or, “any day now, huh?” But what if that’s not the case? Saying this to a woman who has many months of pregnancy ahead of her has the potential to bring up all sorts of emotions and uncertainties. I recall a stranger stopping me on the street to give me her business card for prenatal water aerobics. She asked me how far along I was and promptly added that I was “showing early for being only 6 months along” and could therefore especially benefit from her services.

As a society, we’re generally obsessed with weight loss, wellness, thinness, and, with regard to pregnant women, “bouncing back.” I think there is an assumption that if you’re saying someone is small or thin, then its fine. But my caution against body comments rings true for comments about thinness or smallness just as much as it does for fatness, largeness, bigness, etc. It can be difficult to understand how comments about smallness might affect someone. We all want to be thin, right? But for a woman carrying a baby, being told you’re looking small can be scary and can bring up unwarranted uncertainties and fears. I can recall being told at the end of my pregnancy that I looked small. “What a tiny baby bump,” “you don’t even look like you’re about to have that baby.” (Mind you, this was the same body that elicited the above “big for 6 months” comment.) These comments came after my doctor told me that I was, in fact, measuring small during that particular week of pregnancy. It took some work to cope with and wrangle the anxious thoughts running through my head. I went on to deliver a 9lb baby…further illustrating the fruitlessness of sharing our flawed perceptions of another person’s size or shape.

The truth is that you just don’t know what another human is dealing with at any given moment. You’re also not likely to be telling them anything they don’t know already. So what’s the point?

Experiencing these comments on my body during and after pregnancy has had me thinking about how difficult it would be to tolerate for someone with an eating disorder, and how difficult comments on body shape and size must be for those with eating disorders even in the absence of pregnancy. I do want to clarify here that no eating disorder is caused by comments made by another person or even necessarily by the negative body image that can result from being on the receiving end of body-focused comments. We don’t know what causes eating disorders. Eating disorders are likely the result of a myriad of genetic/biological, social, and psychological factors. However, we do know that for many men and women suffering from an eating disorder, there is often a core overvaluation of weight and shape in the person’s overall self-concept that places them at risk for engaging in efforts to control their weight or shape. This dieting or extreme restricting food intake can result in binge eating and subsequent control behaviors such as vomiting/laxative use/over-exercise/further restriction of food intake, resulting in a vicious cycle.

For a person in the throes of an eating disorder, a positive or approving comment on weight loss can serve as fuel to the already burning fire that is the eating disorder mindset. Also, what is the message we are sending when we comment on another person’s appearance with approval only when there is an observed weight loss? Isn’t the underlying message that that person is not worthy of approval when their weight is higher? Why would you want to send that message to a loved one? Alternatively, for someone in any stage of recovery from an eating disorder, comments on weight gain can be difficult to manage. I’ll also say that even for those of us who are neither suffering from an eating disorder or in recovery, fielding, and processing these comments simply sucks.

So, the next time you feel compelled to comment on another person’s body shape or size, no matter the circumstances, just don’t! Ask them about themselves, share something about yourself, tell them how great it is to see them, or comment on the weather if there is nothing better to talk about. There is little to gain and much to lose from body-focused comments, no pun intended.