Writer: Alysse Dalessandro | A body like mine isn’t supposed to be visible. A body like mine makes people uncomfortable. And being happy with a body like mine confuses people at best and enrages them to the point of harassment and violence at worst. I’ve said it many times but I’ll say it again, it’s exhausting to be a visibly fat person. This has been illustrated to me in a few different ways lately.
In late June, my friend plus size model Natalie Hage stood up to a man who was fat shaming her on a plane. The man’s texts, which were in plain sight to Natalie, said things like “I think she ate a Mexican.” Hage told TODAY about the experience: “I mean, I have a body-positive platform … even I, in that moment, felt an inch tall… On a computer, you can delete it or scroll past it, but to have it happen in front of my face was surreal. The whole flight, I wanted to disappear.”
The video that Natalie took confronting the fat shamer racked up millions of views and a viral response of news articles followed. And I totally get why. In the face of that vulnerable experience of someone’s projections of their own hatred onto Natalie’s body, she decided not to hide. She paid for her seat and she claimed her right to take up space. Watching Natalie’s video brought tears to my eyes because I know how hard it can be to assert that you deserve to be treated with respect when you’re being fat shamed. Even at this point in my self love journey, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to conduct myself with the poise that Natalie did in this situation.
I think we all learn to take up space in different ways. For me, it was learning to be comfortable on camera. I spent most of my youth and early adult years hiding. I was afraid to be visible. Taking selfies was the first step to my liberation from the years of shame I felt towards my body. Selfies helped me learn that I deserved to be visible and take up space. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, your selfies don’t make you selfish. Asserting that you deserve to be visible as a fat person is a bold statement to make.
Just this week, I helped a recently divorced single mom do her first ever boudoir shoot. She wanted to claim a space to celebrate her new independence and self love. Obviously, this was something that I was more than happy to get behind. It was such a positive and empowering experience to witness.
When I got back into my car after the shoot, I was hyped! And then I checked my phone only to see a comment from a man that said, “Women post tons of selfies for people to tell them how beautiful they are. Saying it’s for you is just an excuse to push a feminist message because if it’s for you then you wouldn’t post the pics; you would keep them to yourself but you like the attention of people giving you compliments.”
I corrected his spelling and grammar so it would make sense to read. This is a fraction of what this man said to me which also included “Honestly I don’t care” when clearly he did. The fact that I exist; the fact that I don’t hate myself; the fact that I assert that I am beautiful and I do not need a man’s validation to feel that way is a radical act. I am going to take pictures and I am going to share them. That does not make me less of a feminist.
Self love is a threat to people that don’t know how to make themselves feel good without making others feel small. I take pictures for me and it saved my life. It taught me to take up space and introduced me to powerful women like Natalie who continue to amaze me. And mostly importantly, it gave me a voice that I never thought I could have and that’s something I honestly care very much about it.