It started happening to me right away when my stand for self-love video went viral last year. Within 24 hours I was getting calls from every major television and news network in America, many of them super surprising ones. Several of them were "health" shows and sources who have traditional been anti-fat and body shaming for years. I said no to a handful of them for this very reason - the history and theme of the program/news organization/show was not conducive to my message and I felt I was being set up for a potentially negative "devil's advocate" type situation. But as I grew stronger and louder I said yes to more.
Even though I knew they may be using me as the token fat girl - an easy way to say to their viewers, "Look at us! We ARE body positive!" only to turn around and have the next guest/ad be for slimming wraps or fat-burning milkshakes or some damn gluten free "clean eating" program. Truth be told, this was happening to the body positivity/fat acceptance movement and activists well before my work became famous. It's certainly happening now more than ever, and not only on a national scale as our revolutionary grassroots movement becomes more mainstream and watered down, as I've seen local "body positive" fitness folks co-opt important radical messaging of the size acceptance movement while promoting weight loss. I've had a slew of people selling anti-aging creams and "healthy lifestyle changes" regimens approach me to buy/like/advertise/represent their products. (To which I politely decline with a you may have missed the point/message of my work and they usually reply some version of you are a bitch.)
Recently Amara Miller wrote a great piece called "‘Oops, We Did It Again!’ Yoga Journal Is What Co-optation Looks Like" dissecting the history of co-optation in the Yoga Journal and how, for many years now, the magazine has faced heavy criticism from body positive activists about the mixed messages and unattainable ideals promoted through their advertising and articles and rightly so. And the Yoga Journal is not the only culprit - it's a big problem in the traditional women's health and fitness industries and the fashion industries. These words of Miller's really struck me:
"In other words, the industry profits from maintaining the same systems that generate inequity in yoga, but because they tokenize a small number of specific diverse contributors, the company gains ethical legitimacy even while nothing substantive really changes. All talk, no walk."
Having been a "token" myself at times in these publications over the past 1.5 years, it's frustrating. It's also super irritating to see phrasing and words and work of mine (and others) co-opted without credit or mention of the grassroots radical efforts behind it. Unfortunately, this also happens within our own body positive circles and I feel it's due to uneducation, laziness and the desire to be seen as the originator of revolutionary thought and content rather than giving credit to those who we learn from.
About a year ago I was approached for an interview at Prevention.com, a magazine and website with a rich history of fat hatred and unfeminist thought about bodies. The female writer seemed slightly secretive about the story, but I felt strong in my messaging and knew that my words, story and work can make a difference - even if it is portrayed as "wrong" or "weird." I'm almost always willing to take the chance that there might just be one person out there who needed to see a loud revolutionary fatty standing strong in her truth.
She didn't give me much information (and after the story came out I realized why), just that she was working on a story for Prevention.com and would love to include my input. "The gist of the story is 'things people who are overweight want you to know.' Many people have misconceptions about those who are very heavy (50+ pounds), and we'd like to try to set the record straight," she wrote.
She told me I could remain anonymous but I demanded she print my whole name and identify me as a body image activist in Boise, Idaho. Here are her emailed interview questions followed by my answers:
-What do you think is the biggest misconception about people who are overweight? That they're lazy? Binge on junk food all day? That sort of thing... And why, given your experience, is that notion off-base?
I don't use or believe in the false notion of 'being overweight.' There is no right or wrong weight. There is also no magical number, either on a scale, in your BMI, or your pants size. You cannot tell someone's health by just looking at them; healthy people come in all shapes and sizes.
-Is there anything you wish your "skinny" friends/relatives would do differently when it comes to your weight/body/lifestyle? For example, does your mom constantly tell you to lose weight and you wish she would stop? Does your annoying aunt email you low-fat recipes and you find it insulting? Does your friend always suggest meeting for dessert and it's harming your efforts to eat healthfully? Etc.
I wish people would not make negative assumptions or comments on my body at all - not what I put in it, what I put on it, or what it looks like. All bodies are good bodies, and there is no wrong way to have a body.
-Have you ever been in a social situation that you found uncomfortable specifically because you were overweight? (Pool party, bridesmaid dress shopping, etc.) If so, what was going through your mind at the time that you wished the thinner people around you would have understood?
Body shaming language and diet talk are so ingrained in our culture that all people, fat or thin, are constantly put in uncomfortable social situations and made to feel bad about how they look and what they eat. I wish all people would be more aware of the words they use and their own biases.
Turns out the story was eventually unfortunately titled "10 Things Everyone Carrying Extra Weight Wants You To Know" and was filled with other fat folks who wanted desperately to be smaller, less than, different. I was the only radically happy voice, and she only included an edited version of one of my answers at the very end with a final quote wrapping up the piece. It was the most hopeful part of the article, a lone voice shouting that there might, in fact, be a new way, a different way to live our lives in these bodies. One that doesn't involve hate, shame or fear.
I don't think that real revolutionary change will ever come from consumer culture or within mainstream media, especially in body positivity, where the fundamentals are a rejection of those very things. I do love, though, that they are learning from us and am hopeful for deeper change. Positivity trumps negativity. Love moves the world more than hate. Speaking truth is better than staying silent. Baby steps are better than no steps. And for that, I'll gladly be your token fat positive girl any day.