Writer: Alysse Dalessandro | The comments section of a written post or underneath a social media post can quickly turn ugly and even violent for women. And when the writer or poster happens to be a fat woman, I’m prepared for a lot of non-doctors to voice a concern for their health or for strangers to express their disgust and hate towards the body that fat woman happens to love.
I would love to avoid the comments section completely of my own posts and on some days, I totally do. But I also think that the way people express their fatphobia in the comments under the veil of internet anonymity can serve as an important illustration of all the work that still needs to be down surrounding size acceptance. Sometimes the comments are blatant and others may appear to be compliments but are actually doing more harm than good. There’s one word in particular that’s really been irking me.
It never fails that simply posting a photo of myself in a bikini will result in everything from “YESSSSS” to “Looking at this makes me want to throw up.” But one word that I see often is “confidence” and particularly the question, “how are you so confident?” When I first started receiving this question, self-love was so new to me that I was just happy to be feeling confident. I assumed people were just noticing that I was feeling good about myself too.
But the more that I learned about societal fatphobia and the way that these beliefs become so deeply ingrained in the way that we think, I started to begin to challenge what this question really meant. I realized that this was another “you’re pretty for a big girl” because asking “how are you so confident” doesn’t actually affirm what I know about my worth or my beauty; rather, it continues to call it into question.
This was a connection first made for me by Gabourey Sidibe in her 2014 speech at the Ms. Foundation Gala: “…when you ask me how I’m so confident, I know what you’re really asking me: how could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rihanna, asshole!” says Sidibe brilliantly to end her speech.
I’ve certainly called myself confident and identify as such but people who know nothing about me other than the fact that I shared a picture of my fat body in a bikini will call it confidence and that doesn’t sit with me. They don’t know I live with depression and anxiety; that I am a sexual assault survivor and that I still struggle to feel worthy and deserving of love. They don’t know anything about my journey.
If they are really asking this question (which they aren’t), I would need way more space than a comment would allow to actually begin to answer how I continue to learn to love myself. But someone even asking this question feels like a disservice not only to the work that goes into healing from personal trauma but also to what goes into un-learning the societal bullshit beauty standards that made me question my worth in the first place. And devoting any word space to how I would answer this question reminds me that I don’t actually owe anyone an explanation for a question that really has nothing to do with me.
The question itself is just what’s on the surface. It’s more about what motivates people to say things like “I wish I had that confidence,” “her confidence makes her gorgeous,” or “she is just hiding her laziness behind confidence” as responses to the exact same photo. I am much more understanding of the first comment because while comparison may be the thief of joy and viewing someone else from this standpoint can possibly set up a false hope, I also know what it’s like to see something in someone else and want that for yourself. I understand that sentiment and knowing that someone else seems to feel a way about themselves that you wish you could can serve a purpose. But I have little tolerance for the last two comments. These show me that my body is merely a tool to continue to perpetuate assumptions about fat bodies and the way our society views them.
Activist Virgie Tovar sums perfectly in 2014 Yahoo! Health interview the feelings behind this strong reaction , “’Fat’ is just the current catchall word for all the things that we as a culture are afraid of: women’s rights, people refusing to acquiesce to cultural pressures of conformity, fear of mortality. They see body love as a move toward people taking charge of their lives and choosing what they want to do, no matter what the culture says. This is really scary to a lot of people. The anger they express is actually toward themselves.”
If you see a picture of a fat person that startles you, scares you, makes you mad, or makes you envious, I challenge you to think about why you are having that reaction. Who told you that a size 22 fat girl couldn’t wear a bikini? What’s stopping you from doing the same? These are difficult questions but tackling these will be more personally productive than trying to dissect my body and the way I feel about it. You can’t control the way I feel about my body and leaving a comment about it isn’t going to make me feel worse or you feel better.
When I post a picture of myself existing as a fat person, trust me when I say that I am not asking for confirmation of my beauty, my confidence, my sex appeal or my health. I’m proud of who I am and where I’ve come in my self -love journey and while I will share parts of that journey online, the way I feel about my body is fluid and it isn’t something up for debate. Some of these comments may seem harmless enough, but if my visible fat existence is still seen as the exception and not the norm then we still have a lot of work to do collectively to dismantle fatphobia.