I was in third grade when I first realized I was fat. It was 1994 and I spent most of my time listening to TLC’s CrazySexyCool on repeat and writing Jonathan Taylor Thomas fanfiction. I didn’t really think much about my body, until my third grade teacher pulled my dad aside and told him that he needed to buy me a bra because my chubby little boobs were getting “inappropriate”.
Soon after I was wearing my first-ever bra and starting my first-ever diet.
Fast forward 25 years. As I finish up my first watch of season one of Shrill and listen to Lizzo’s newly released singles “Juice” and “Tempo” on repeat, I can’t help but wonder how my life might be different if 9-year-old me was magically transported to 2019, where decades of fat activism have made it possible for “body positivity” to be a mainstream concept.
Now, I’m not going to act as though there weren’t fat role models in 1994. Queen Latifah was a phenom, and her character Khadijah James on Living Single was a plus-size powerhouse with a very active love life. Just a few years later, Camryn Manheim won an Emmy for her role in The Practice and, award raised in the air, yelled “this is for all the fat girls!”
But these little glimmers of representation were few and far between when I was growing up, and I started aggressively yo-yo dieting when I was 12.
Back in 2019, Lizzo — a fat, black, beautiful, and undeniably talented dancer, singer, rapper, and trained flautist (!) — is the fattest woman ever to appear in Playboy Magazine (and only the second plus size person in its pages since the magazine started in 1953). Lizzo makes music that is both infectious and explicitly fat-positive.
Kissing on my mirror— “En Love” by Lizzo
Staring in my eyes
Appreciating every curve and crevice
Smack my thighs
Smack it twice, watch it jiggle
You a bad batch cookie, cream filling in the middle
Meanwhile while watching Shrill, the Hulu tv series based on Lindy West’s memoir of the same name (and co-written by a personal hero, the freaking amazing fat black queer writer Samantha Irby) I saw something I had literally never seen on mainstream television before:
A topless fat girl straddling her boyfriend, back fat and rolls in full view. “You’re so hot,” he says in between kisses.
I recognized that girl. Because that girl was me.
It was a lot like how I felt in 2015 when Gabourey Sidibe, an actress much closer to my size, bared her bottom half for perhaps the first ever fat sex scene on network television — let alone the first sex scene to feature a very fat, dark-skinned black woman.
Up until now, these moments of recognition have been just that — moments. But something feels different about 2019. Maybe it’s the culmination of it all, or the fact that I’ve been doing fat positive activism for over a decade now. Or maybe, just maybe, the culture is actually changing.
“The important thing is making sure this shit don’t become a trend,” Lizzo tells Playboy. “Body positivity has to be mainstream.”
It is undeniable that “body positivity” was co-opted from fat activists by corporations eager to exploit the plus size dollar. But I can see clearly how this co-option, along with the decades of activism that preceded it, has led us to where we are today.
When I was 9 years old, no one I knew knew what body positivity was. Today, I have a visible chest tattoo that reads “riots not diets” and no one bats an eye.
And sure, we are nowhere near close to fat liberation. Fat people still make less money, are still discriminated against at the doctor and in education settings, and still struggle to find clothes, chairs, and other items of daily living to fit our bodies properly. But when all of that gets to be too much to bare, I can go on the internet and watch Lizzo’s fat, jiggly body as she and her plus size back up dancers tear it up on stage, or re-watch all six episodes of Shrill and feel like I’m finally seeing myself represented as more than just a moment.
Fat girls have always existed, have always thrived, have always loved and been loved. It’s just that now everyone else knows it, too.