Posted by Jane Janeczko on September 30, 2013
Part of the danger of being so immersed in an online community (namely the plus-size, body-positive online community) is that I often forget that not everyone is as evolved as the gorgeous, supportive, eloquent women (and sometimes men) that I have chosen to surround myself with. I am consistently reminded of this fact whenever some piece of news, blog post, or even the occasional photoset of a plus-size woman goes viral, and suddenly the mainstream takes note of the empowering work that these women are doing – to very mixed reviews.
Someone recently told me that my community could be considered a crutch; that my friends are too supportive, too understanding, too unabashedly confident. They never feel the need to judge or criticize others for being themselves and they deserve to be supremely proud of that fact. Maybe it’s my fault that my friends are just too good or maybe, just maybe, everyone else needs to catch up and get on our level.
When the Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries’ disgusting, body-shaming comments started circulating last Spring, there was an outpouring of thoroughly negative responses from plus-size and standard-size consumers alike. I’m not sure if any of them were as humorous, charming or effective as the open letter that plus-size blogger Jes “The Militant Baker” wrote to Jeffries on her blog, which was then picked up by BuzzFeed. The letter included pictures from a photo shoot that Jes orchestrated and modeled in, featuring herself and a conventionally attractive male model (one of the “cool people” that Jeffries is trying to market to) in various sultry poses with the tagline “Attractive & Fat.”
In her letter, Jes wrote:
“The juxtaposition of uncommonly paired bodies is visually jarring, and, even though I wish it didn’t, it causes viewers to feel uncomfortable. This is largely attributed to companies like yours that perpetuate the thought that fat women are not beautiful. This is inaccurate, but if someone were to look through your infamous catalog, they wouldn’t believe me.”
The unfettered gloriousness of Jes’ prose and images brought a tear to my eye and I scrolled through the letter several times before I noticed the comments featured underneath the page. There were a decent amount of “You go girl!” and “She’s so pretty!” comments under Jes’ letter , but unfortunately, there were the usual nasty, fat-shaming comments like “She is not a healthy weight,” and “Fat is never attractive.”
Many commenters were quick to identify their body type in their comments, such as “I’m overweight, but trying to lose weight,” or “I’m not heavy,” in an attempt to justify their words. Now, there is nothing wrong with healthy dieting. If that’s something that you want to do – go for it. There’s also nothing wrong with not dieting. Weight does not dictate health and the biggest problem with the commenters underneath this article was that they immediately assumed Jes was unhealthy based on her size and, therefore, needed to diet.
If you are not familiar with BuzzFeed’s platform, the site uses your Facebook account when you are commenting, so your full Facebook name and profile picture are visible when you post underneath an article. There is no hiding behind anonymity.
I was scrolling through the comments, getting more and more incensed, when I saw a post by someone who I knew in real life: a girl who attends my university. Her statements were decidedly anti-Jes, and she wrote that “she had no idea” why Jes would do this photo shoot, that “the ads weren’t attractive,” and that “obese people can change if they work at it.”
Aside from the fact that these comments are rude, offensive, and bigoted, her identity was equally hurtful to me. While this was not a girl who I considered a good friend, but I had met her on several occasions and spoken with her multiple times about various school related matters.
It was an eye-opening moment for me. It is easy to brush aside rude comments on the internet when these comments are made by virtual villains. However, knowing that it was someone who existed in my personal, physical world made her offensive comments so much more shocking. Not to say that I have never had someone make a rude comment about my weight before or that I’ve never been a victim of bullying, but to see the true colors of someone with whom you have had perfectly pleasant interactions can be alarming.
So I stopped reading the comments. On this story, and on all plus-size positive news stories. I can’t personally educate every wrong person on the internet (sadly), but I can decide not to let their comments affect my life. Ergo, I surround myself with positive people, I shop with companies that are supportive of me, like IGIGI, I write about issues that are important to me, and I give other plus-size women a platform where they discuss their lives and their bodies safely.