In the last few years, it would seem at first glance as if mainstream media has finally embraced women of all sizes. And to a degree, it has. Ashley Graham, a plus-size model who starred in DNCE’s music video for their single “Toothbrush” has gained international recognition. In addition, Canadian plus-size clothing company Addition Elle made a big splash at New York Fashion Week this fall.
But Toronto activists say there is so much more to body image and living with a plus-size body than the media show us and they’re doing their part to make sure the message isn’t hijacked and muddled by brands.
Yuli Scheidt is a freelance photographer and co-creator of the blog, Fat Girl Food Squad. She says she doesn’t even like using the term “body positivity” anymore. She feels it has been adopted and commercialized by clothing brands and the media and that, unfortunately, they still stick to so-called beauty standards.
“Their best intentions are not for actual fat women or fat people,” Scheidt says. “Where are the sizes 26 to 40? I want to be seeing those people in campaigns.”
Ama Scriver, who created Fat Girl Food Squad with Scheidt, wants to see more diversity within the depictions of plus-size women. Scriver says there is a serious under representation of LGBTQ people, trans folk and women of colour.
“What I’ve noticed, speaking as a cisgender white woman, is that body positivity is focused mainly on white women and that’s it,” she says. “We have to sort of check that and realize that other people need to be drawn into the conversation.”
Jill Andrew and Aisha Fairclough, the co-founders of the Body Confidence Canada Awards (BCCAs), have spearheaded a ton of projects to help create a more inclusive, more authentic body confidence culture. They started the Curvy Catwalk Fashion Fundraiser, the Bite Me! Toronto International Body Image Film & Arts Festival and are currently working on FAT Monologues, a theatre production.
Andrew and Fairclough agree that the media could do with a reality check. Even plus-size models have to fit into a certain standard of beauty, they say. They have to have the right kind of curves and adhere to a hyper-feminised beauty regimen.
“They don’t actually colour that far out of the lines,” Andrew says. “What we’re trying to do with our own activism is try to colour outside of those lines.”
Andrew and Fairclough are attempting to go beyond the commodification of women’s bodies to teach that body positivity is not feeling happy about the way you look everyday. In fact, Fairclough says there will be days when you hate your body and that’s okay. But it’s about creating a space that’s more liveable for yourself and for others to just be who they are.
“Body confidence is about how you use your voice,” Fairclough says. “Are you doing film, are you writing, are you in fashion, in theatre? It’s many different things. It’s not just what you see in the ads. It’s your entire life.”
Body confidence and body positivity has to be about more than just physical appearance. Andrew says the world will tell women and girls they’re not enough, no matter what they do. She wants instead to be part of a movement that says not only “look at me”, but also “look what I can do.”
“It’s almost an irony,” Andrew says, “when showing women’s bodies becomes the only type of activism we do. Because that’s actually the problem, is that all women’s bodies tend to be used. So, with the BCCAs, we’re not just showing bodies. We’re not just prancing around as pretty girls and pretty women in plus-size clothing from Addition Elle or Pennington’s or wherever, but we are prancing around as people who are actively doing things in the community to make it easier or make it more livable to live in bodies that are different.”
In fact, Andrew and Fairclough hope to make the community more liveable by getting size discrimination recognized as a form of discrimination, and therefore illegal under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
“People make assumptions of what you can do - how smart you are, how much education you have, whether you’re a good woman or not a good woman,” Andrew says. “All kinds of crap is assumed about you based on how you look.”
They have started a petition with Change.org that has over 8, 000 signatures. They’re optimistic the whole country will sign, but they know it’s still a long road.
“It just has to get done,” Andrew says. “You have to roll up your sleeves and do it.”