One of my more work-safe Adipositivity photos.
Hi, I'm Alison. I'm 29 years old. I live in New York. I work a 9–5ish job, I sing opera sometimes and drink martinis sometimes, and rush home to catch "The Vampire Diaries."
And I've posed nude. AND I'm fat. But more so, I've posed nude because I'm fat.
I'm not an exhibitionist or a porn star. I hate shopping for bathing suits, let alone wearing one. I get fully dressed in the bathroom after taking a shower. But you can find pictures of my big old butt on the Internet.
You may have heard of the Adipositivity Project, if not as an existing fan of Ms. Substantia Jones’ work to promote size acceptance and to further the idea that fat bodies can be beautiful bodies, than perhaps as a reader of Jezebel or a fan of Tosh.0 (or, more likely than that last one, feeling bored or less than sober at 3 am and accidentally catching a Tosh rerun before bleaching your eyes and rocking back-and-forth in horror).
Either way, as you may or may not be aware, actress, model, and activist Janie Martinez's beautiful photo (in which she -- a very fat woman -- is wearing a gold string bikini and hailing a cab in the rain) from adipositivity.com was cropped into a caption contest last week for any vapid online denizen, offering short-lived fame to the person who could come up with the most hate-filled phrase to describe the image.
This photo taken to promote self-acceptance was now twisted into a tool to incite bigotry and cruelty, becoming a lesson in group-think with the fat woman as the well-worn target of lazy and unoriginal hate speech.
“She ain't hailin’ a cab -- she's hailing a flat bed!!” Get it? It's cause she is so large she needs heavy machinery to transport her! Cause she is FAT! That's why this is so funny and creative!
Thanks to Tosh and his dedicated cheap-shottin fans, I became keenly aware of just how visible the photos on the Adipositivity Project were and that they could do more than inspire those who might benefit from them.
Panicky thoughts gurgled up inside me: about how the woman in the photos felt as she read these hideous comments that went so far as to suggest that she head to Occupy Wall Street to be raped; what action Ms. Jones would take against Tosh.0; and, of course, about my own vulnerability as a model and the potential for my photos to be shown the same treatment.
Come on, y’all, of course I was worried for myself here -- if your dimpled badonk was just a few clicks away from Comedy Central and a seething army of lame wisecracks, you’d be hand-wringing and nervous laughing too. “Rolls to serve as target in anti-fat agenda” was never included in the contract I had signed before my first shoot; I had done this for myself, first and foremost, and I was not ready to admit the power of these photos on more than my own self-image .
Like most people, I didn't always accept my body, or even acknowledge it. Before I posed for Ms. Jones, I refused to wear anything above my knees and wouldn't leave my apartment without sleeves (or a shirt, for that matter).
In fact, for most of my life, I passed mirrors with my head down and would only look at my reflection in the window of my parents' car or in a small brown compact to apply thick eyeliner every morning before school. Like most painfully insecure girls, I navigated picture days and Kodak moments by hiding my body behind anything that was available, making sure that only my head was visible, trying to push out my collar bone or put one leg in front of the other to slightly angle my body in any way to disguise its width.
The rare photos that I took of myself were purely comprised of Fat Girl Angle Shots, taken only from above but -- and maybe I'm still proud of this -- deftly positioned so as to attempt to trick the viewer into not immediately seeing that the floor was parallel to my face.
I was introduced to Ms. Jones and the Adipositivity project by my friend Abby after she herself became a model. Abby emailed me her photos and urged me to participate, with the kind of annoying enthusiasm that only a girl much smaller than me could have.
I opened the first email attachment cautiously. My initial thought: Wow, I've never seen Abby's boobs before. Her areolae look really different than mine. And then: How did she get her body into that position? Is that even possible? I wonder where she took the photo? Oooooh is that her cat? He's so cute! Aw look at that kitty! Awww aw aw aw! And then: I can't ever do this. Oh my god, there is no way in hell.
Instead, I began the process of preparing for lap band surgery, which means I had to visit a clinic every month for at least half a year to weigh in and track my loss (or lack thereof), meet with a nutritionist, a psychiatrist, get a sign-off from my primary care physician, full blood-work, talk to a surgeon and, finally, schedule the date of my procedure. Within about 8 months, I had completed all the requirements and was deemed “fit for surgery” by a licensed MD whom I had met for all of 30 minutes.
When the date of my final visit arrived, the one in which I was to schedule my surgery, I had to cancel due to a work conflict or obligatory martini binge or some combination of the two. For the next appointment, I found a reason to reschedule. And the next came and went, and the next. After a few weeks, the clinic stopped calling. I didn't remind my boss of the time-off I had requested but never used, and I avoided my parents' questions about the big day and their looks of goofy pride when they discussed my thin future.
Now, maybe this seems a little too perfect, too formulaic or frilly, but I tell you that when I booked that first photo session with Ms. Jones, I had every intention of still going in for surgery. Because, at the root of all of my actions, I just wanted so desperately to love myself and who I was. Maybe not even love -- just be OK with myself. Just a little.
And I was willing to do whatever it might take, whether chopping off a hunk of my stomach or looking at my body through the eyes of a woman who amazingly didn't think fat was ugly -- it was all the same direction for me and it was the only way I could travel. But, unlike my doctor's appointment, I did not cancel my Adipositivity shoot.
I remember sitting restlessly on my lumpy green couch, waiting for the stranger to come to my apartment, a request that, in and of itself in New York City, caused enough anxiety.
While I waited, I ran a mental list of all the people who had seen me without my clothes on. Doctors, of course, though only in pieces -- poking at my stomach or breasts while asking why my pulse was elevated. Definitely not anyone at the gym or even back in gym class. Admittedly, a few men, but only ever in the dark and under a blanket. And what was the statute of limitations on my parents -- one decade? Two? Plus my cat. OK, in total three cats (I was a cat slut, above all else).
But never, never had I waited in the sober light of 11 am for someone to come over to my apartment just to -- what? Look at me? Take pictures of some rolls?
A few of the rolls in question.
I laid my photo shoot fun-time costumes on my bed to occupy myself -- a mangled petticoat (thanks, cat #2), a netted fascinator from a friend's recent wedding, and a long black gown that I used for singing opera. Was this what she wanted me to wear? And what about underneath that? I had a few pairs of non-holey under things, but the most recent time I had shown someone my business he had laughed -- literally laughed -- at it. Though in his undeserved defense, how much sex appeal does a Lane Bryant T-shirt bra really afford a girl, anyway?
The woman who arrived was short and brash, with bright red curly hair. She shuttled her equipment through my doorway, plopped it in the living room and began pacing around my apartment. When she had picked out a few places that she decided had the best lighting and naked-fat-girl ambiance she asked plainly, “Are you ready?”
I'm pretty sure I looked at her with some mixture of sheepish excitement and nausea. She may have said “You're going to do just fine,” or she may have cracked a joke about our mutually curly hair or she may have thanked me for participating or explained how the shooting would go or described all the women who had posed for her, those who needed coaxing and those who greeted her at the door naked.
And somehow, amidst all of this, I found myself in my underwear in front of a woman I had just met.
Ms. Jones told me to turn my head, my hands, move my arm or foot. She was respectful and kind, easily excited and quick to praise. She coached me, gently and enthusiastically. By the time we were downstairs in the lobby of my building for my final shot, I felt comfortable moving on my own. Tossing my hair and thrusting my head to the side.
And then it was over. I felt like I had made a friend, a kinship born out of a literal physical exposure and intimacy, and what would be the first of many sincere and honest conversations about fat acceptance and body positivity. I look back at that shoot as something like a gateway (non-drug) to my now more rigorous involvement in the fat community -- until then, I did not even allow myself to have a single fat friend, for fear that the only conversation we could have with each other would be about our mutual desire to lose weight.
But in Ms. Jones, and in the other fat men and women who would soon come into my life, I found an understanding of myself to a degree that I was unaware could be possible.
It seems obvious, but once every part of you has been exposed, straight-on and without a spare friend to act as a shield, you start becoming more aware of the way you hide yourself every day. Why did I cover my upper arms, my thighs, prevent people from seeing the way my fat bulged out just above my knee? It is just the shape my body, curving in the same way that my butt curves or my breasts or my wrist, but one shape felt embarrassing, and one alluring or feminine or just plain appropriate. But WHY?
So I started, slowly and still eyeing people behind a pair of dark sunglasses to gauge their reactions, I started hiding less and less. First wearing a tank top WITHOUT a cardigan, then a strapless dress, then a skirt that hit just above my knee (aaah!!!). And then clothing that no longer hid my body at all, no longer disguised the way my stomach was shaped, or my legs, that no longer attempted to create a more “ideal” shape, one that was symmetrical rather than honest.
And, during this daily undressing, my back fat and dimpled ass soon appeared on Facebook and calendars across the country. But before the theft of Janie Martinez’s Adipositivty photo occurred last week -- over a year since my first shoot -- I maintained the belief that adipositivity.com was the Emperor's new website, only visible to those who would appreciate and benefit from it and my body. That the site somehow existed only in a tiny pocket of the Internet, tucked under a fat positive blanket, all rolled up in love and cuddles and nuzzled in happy thoughts.
Of course, the visibility of a site full of naked folks does more than stir up controversy and garner negative attention, it informs people of the potency and importance of size acceptance and of simply displaying fat bodies while bolstering the support of fans and followers. Through the Adipositivity Facebook page and Ms. Jones's, as well as other activists like Marilyn Wann and Velvet D'Amour, the fatties and our allies began to rally against Tosh.0 and Comedy Central, posting links to report the stolen photo on the Tosh.0 site and demanding its removal, and stressing that there would be legal repercussions for the theft.
My newsfeed was full of posts about the article, but I still wondered how one small fat corner of the Internet could stand up to the international machine that is Comedy Central.
Even some of the hate-filled commentators on the Tosh.0 site laughed at Ms. Jones and her coterie for fighting back -- saying their cries would go unheard, that she and others should just ignore the site if they did not like it.
And still we the fat people fought back. Emailing Comedy Central, posting on whatever social media outlets we could to spread word of the illegality and of the distorted purpose of the photo itself. The next morning, Jezebel got wind of the story, and added another visceral cry to the pack.
And then, mid-day, the photo was gone. It seemed to disappear -- without an apology letter or even a note on the site.
The Internet was left with no more than a chubby pinky toe of what had happened, but the fat community could do the whole body hokey pokey in the triumph of 1,000+ deleted comments and a huge media network that had, without saying it of course, admitted to its wrongdoing.
I felt proud to be at the front lines (OK, maybe at the lower mid-lines, but I'm tall so I can see the front) of this victory. A victory that made me more tuned into all that the Adipositivity Project affords us, that any fat woman or man who is not afraid to deviate from a flattering angle, to jiggle an upper arm and let the shape of your belly show through a tight skirt affords us. We can take back our bodies, one roll at a time.
I also wear clothes!
I would be remiss if I did not share with you that my lap band surgery has not and will not be booked. I'm committed to being in the body I have, taking care of it through exercise and healthy food, but never disassociating from or denying my stomach or my thighs or the rolls of fat on my back.
I no longer believe those things should be hidden from view. I don't believe in flattering, in hiding or masking or Spanxing. I believe in belly outlines and flabby arms all a flutter, in jiggling double chins and stretch marks and cellulite and rolls aplenty. These are our true bodies, the ones that everyone keeps shrouded in cotton invisibility cloaks, except for the occasional decolletage or bared calf.
But what are we hiding from and for whom? And if we showed those things, would anything change? Did no one know I was fat when I wore long sleeved caftans and wide-leg pants? To this still newbie and sometimes naked model, fat activism and acceptance is not one movement or campaign, but is found in each exposed dimple and unfettered belly.
And so yes, I pose in my underwear, and in my less than underwear, and in a fluffy skirt and netted hat. But each person in a miniskirt (fat or thin or inbetweenie) is a triumph, each exaggerated belly and bold print over bolder ass a statement, and we, of all shapes and sizes, should not be afraid to speak out.