Is Fat Fabulous?

New plus-size icons, as well as bloggers are triggering a changing view on the mainstream beauty ideal. Campaigns like “EffYourBeautStandards” or slogans like “Fat is Fabulous” call for more acceptance and recognition of people suffering from adiposity and a new definition of beauty.

Nana-sculptures by Nicki de Saint Phalle in Hannover. (Foto: Doris Gabel)

Characters like the plus-size-model Tess Holliday or fashion- and lifestyle-bloggers like Garner Style, Nicolette Mason or Ashley Graham, shape a new movement of self-acceptance and self-love for obese people. Especially in the Internet and social media platforms campaigns like Hollidays“EffYourBeautyStandards” or slogans like “Fat is Fabulous” attract wide attention.

History of the Fat-Acceptance-Movement
The American Fat-Acceptance-Movement goes back to the sixties, when also the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded. The goal was and is to point out the unfair treatment of overweight people and to fight stigmatization and discrimination. The NAAFA particularly demands the acceptance of obese women, who are mostly under the pressure to conform to the prevailing beauty standards. The association also demands an end to the obsession with body image, the slimming craze and diets. The feminist group “The Fat Underground” coined the saying “A diet is a cure that doesn’t work, for a sickness that doesn’t exist.”

In the following years the movement kept growing and gained more attention from the media, thanks to publications by Marilyn Wann or NomyLamm, as well as conferences and an increasing number of activist groups. Especially women became more involved and demanded an end to stigmatization and prejudice against corpulent people. With the advent of the Internet blogging culture feminists and fat-activists have got closer: They discussed issues such as positive body image and the variety of – mostly female – beauty in all shapes and sizes.

Everybody can be beautiful and fashionable
Already in 1979 Carole Shaw created the term “Big Beautiful Woman” (BBW) that also appeared in her (discontinued) lifestyle“BBW Magazine” and spread widely in the fat-acceptance movement. Until today the lack of choice in fashionable clothing in the plus size-department makes it difficult for overweight people to feel attractive and desirable. Fashion-bloggers like Garner Style or Luciana Blümlein are using their blogs to show that it is possible to dress stylish and sexy – independent of body weight.

This acceptance of one’s own body is also part of the battle against the widely spread psychological problems of obese people, such as self-hatred, shame and lacking self-esteem. The new movement draws a counter-image of the omnipresent ideal of the slimm body, displayed in magazines, catalogues and movies. The idea that only slimm, well-toned bodies can be perceived as beautiful - embodied by actors, models and other celebrities - becomes more and more challenged.

The plus-size model Tess Holliday attracted a lot of attention; she landed a contract with the model-agency “MiLK Model Management” in January 2015. Holliday is the founder of the “EffYourBeautyStandards”-campaign, whose main goal is to fight the uniform perception of beauty. By her own account she was tired of getting told what or what not to wear to appropriately cover up her body due to its size. By now the campaign has more than 168.000 followers on the social media platform Instagram. Women use the hashtag to show pictures of themselvesposing in stylish outfits – independent from what media and society would call “suitable” for their body size. Holliday succeeded in helping many overweight people to accept their body and start to feel pretty again.

Acceptance instead of self-hatred
Another campaign is the “No Body Shame”-campaign by Whitney Way Thore. The passionate dancer started posting videos of her choreographies on YouTube. One of these clips spread like wildfire and the positive feedback inspired Way Thore to found her campaign to promote acceptance and self-love. She wants to show that a corpulent body is able to move in an attractive and athletic way. Thore states: „I do want to lose weight. I’m not naïve to the health risks that are going to come to me at almost 400 lbs. But does that mean I’m going to hate myself in the process? No!“

Critics of the fat-acceptance-movement
Of course there are critics of the fat-acceptance-movement and its protagonists like Holliday. A common objection is: obesity is associated with many health-risks and it leads to enormous costs in the healthcare system due to its secondary diseases. The risk for these sequelae, such as type-2-diabetes, articular trouble, hypertension, arteriosclerosis and fatty liver are much more likely if the person is morbidly obese (BMI > 35kg/m²). Those diseases burden the patients physically as well as financially and restrict them in their professional and private life. The majority of obese men and women are affected; just one fifth stays healthy even with too many extra pounds.

Critics demand that obesity should not been whitewashed or made socially acceptable. Especially juveniles and young adults should not been deceived into believing that overweight is harmless. Even in younger age groups the risks of adiposity should never be underestimated. It is possibly to be a healthy obese 20-year-old, while suffering from secondary diseases 10 or even 20 years later.

What has to change?
The fat-acceptance-movement is right in demanding to stop stigmatization and social rejection of overweight people. Even if there are the health risks of adiposity there is no reason to judge obese people and label them as unattractive or ugly. A changing social view onto obesity could allow for a wider sense of beauty. Without “blinders” it would be possible to see the beauty and the character of corpulent people. The bigger social acceptance of different body sizes and forms would also reduce the psychological strain of patients and alleviate the craze for thinness. The rejection of obese people would decrease, if the myth vanished that obesity is purely self-inflicted and that patients are just undisciplined and lazy. It is scientifically proven, that rejection and stigmatization have a negative impact on the efforts to become healthier.

It is still a long way until we reach equal treatment. The motives and goals of the fat-acceptance-movement are understandable. It has already initiated a discussion about the discrimination of body forms and sizes that have been marked unattractive by society. The movement has also polarized the groups of supporters and critics. Thus, this issuewill remain exciting.

Sandra Strahlendorf
Doris Gabel


Interview: The Guardian mit Tess Holliday

Interview: People mit Whitney Thore

The Telegraph: The cynical lie that ''fat is fabulous'' and why plus size bloggers should never be considered role models for young women