Modesty, Fat Shaming, and Me in a Bikini
I’m in Wisconsin right now for a funeral. I am at a hotel, and this hotel has a pool, and this me has a niece whom I was told would insist on swimming. I was told by my mom to bring a swim suit.
I brought my favorite one.
My favorite swim suit is a bikini (I tend to like girlmoding with swimwear, if only because it’s easier).
I was told this was inappropriate.
I said, “I’m not going to wear it to the funeral.”
My mom told me that bikinis are for a certain skinny body type.
I have two responses to that. The first one is “FUCK THAT.” The second response is, well, more nuanced. First off, my body is not obscene. It is not obscene, particularly not by virtue of being fat. The fact that my stomach extends beyond the rest of my body, that my shoulders are broad, that my thighs touch and in general I’m a jiggly jello ball, does not make me obscene. Displaying that body to people is not an attack upon their eyes.
I wanted to vent.
I wanted to vent, and also piss my mom off more because I am both an adult who can do what he wants and a teenager who is apparently inherently a rebel. I took a picture of myself in that bikini, looking fat as can be, and put it on my facebook. Here’s that picture I took. Warning, it is apparently horribly obscene:
After the initial Fuck You-phoria wore off, I began to think of all the implications of what I had done.
Those of us who are assigned Female are told we have to hate our bodies. If we’re skinny, we can choose from being vapid or shallow or sluts who be askin’ for it and need to eat a sammich. But when you’re fat, you are downright disgusting, utterly unlovable. Not only will you be told this, you have to enforce these thoughts upon yourself. You have to hide your body, to try endlessly to change it, to treat it as something shamefully obscene.
To show off the unaltered version of that body with no shame to everyone is a radical act of defiance. It is an act of rebellion.
Rebellion, it turns out, is liberating.
I have never truly loved my body. I have superficially insisted that I was proud of it, and maybe sometimes I appreciate the effect that my wider frame has on my abilities to pass as male, but deep down there is always a twinge of self-hatred, of shame in my body.
Just like there’s supposed to be.
Then I took that photo, of myself trying to look as defiantly fat and righteously angry and confident as I could, and for the first time in my life I felt legitimate pride in my body. I can look at that picture and honestly love every curve, every highlight and shadow and dappled patches of cellulite on my body. I can look at that picture and honestly love my body, with no exceptions. I posted it publicly, too, with no worrying who saw because I honestly wanted everyone to see.
For the first time in my life.
It feels like I’ve finally shattered a wall in my life, like I can finally breathe without trying to do so in the skinniest way possible.
I also realized that I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen images of people who look like me looking like that, if I could even count them. I realized that that was a huge problem, that that was indicative of a huge dearth of representation. I realized that maybe, someone who looks like me who hadn’t broken through that oppressive structure would see that picture that I took of myself, and maybe it would help them chip away at the shame in their own lives. Maybe they would be able to see the pride I feel in my body through that picture, and maybe they would feel the same thing in themselves.
Society never thinks of that though. I know exactly the kneejerk response to me posting a non-modest picture on the internet. The response of how the internet is permanent, how any future employer could see that image. How I could regret it later and be powerless to remove it from the horrid eternity of online.
Inherent in those responses is the idea that what I’ve done is shameful. Obscene. Something that an older, more rational, more conservative me will look at and balk at.
I don’t see it. I don’t see how an employer could look at a picture of me being empowered and proud and determine me to be unfit to employ on those grounds… particularly considering that my resume would consist of being an artist focusing on queer feminism, which I think would scare off those kinds of people anyways.
Even with other people aside, I refuse to see how I could look back at myself being happy and feel shame. Even if I determined that posting a picture of myself in a bikini on facebook wasn’t the best course of action, I don’t think I could ever fault my decisions considering how much they have already done for my sense of self worth. I don’t think I could ever fault my decisions that could help someone who looks like me’s sense of self worth.
It is also probably worth mentioning that when I am told that I will regret something when I get older, every time I have looked back on those Oh So Regrettable actions… I have only ever felt pride for Young Me. For instance, once upon an older facebook which has since been humanely euthanized, I posted a picture of my hair, which I had just dyed. I was wearing a tank top– at the time a staple of my outfits– and you could see the thick straps of my bra under the thin straps of the top. Because that is how width and layering works
I was told by a concern-troll friend to remove the image because the bra straps made it obscene. Again, this was a picture with the whole point being “Look at my hair!”
Much like I refuse to be ashamed of my body now, I refused to be ashamed of my having-of-boobs then. If they wanted obscene, I was going to give them obscene. I took the bra off, leaving just the tank top, bent over 90 degrees, and took a boobilicious selfie. I posted that on facebook, with the title “SUPERBOOB.”
I was shamed and yelled at and told to REMOVE THE OFFENDING PICTURE OF… CLEAVAGE, IMMEDIATELY. I did. I cowed to the pressure to conform to our fucked up ideas of what we can do with our bodies.
I only regret one thing about that.
I regret that I let them tell me how to show my body.
But when I think that I took the notion that the mere presence of a bra strap was obscene, and threw their ridiculous ideas of obscenity and modesty right back at them with no reservations, I am proud. I am proud to see that burgeoning feminist that was within me, the me who innately couldn’t stand the idea of body shaming even without the knowledge of feminism that I now have.
So when I am older, I have a hard time believing that I will see a childish mistake when I look back to this. I have a hard time believing I will see obscenity. That is the whole point of that image; To say that my body is not obscene by virtue of being squishy and curvy and not hidden beneath a baggy tent of cloth.
I will see a time in my life where I was brave, despite the world telling me that I was doing something terrible that I deserve to suffer for. I will see a time when I decided to be proud of myself, when I finally managed to love my body in the most thorough and true way possible. I will see myself doing something that so few people are doing, but doing something that could change someone else’s perspective on their body and their life, if they only see that picture. I will see a fracture in the structure that hurts and demonizes people who do not fit into a narrow range of body types.
Perhaps, even, I will see that fracture spread.
There is one last thing I must mention, before I release this post upon the internet like a squishy photograph.
I am not brave.
I am not that big of a person. I am white. I am able-bodied. In that image, I appear to be a cis woman.
I am on the very privileged tip of the entire spectrum of fatness. I played “Post a revealing fatty photo” on easy mode, and that is so important to remember.
Imagine, though, if someone did the same thing that I did (and for the record, many proud fat people before me had done) who was a person of color. Who was a trans woman. Who was physically disabled. Or… all three, or some combination of the two, while being actually fat as opposed to my quasi-fat. Imagine the dents that that would make in the kyriarchy. Imagine all the people who wouldn’t just be able to see someone who is kind of fat like them being proud of it, but someone who actually looks like them being proud of it. It would be huge.
And so I have to encourage people of all types of bodies to, if they are comfortable, show their bodies to the world as the diverse and beautiful parts of them that they are. In a world where the skinniest, most perfect people are photoshopped to be the whitest most able-bodied skinny folks in the world, the best way to fight back is with the exact opposite.
And I have to emphasize that these people would be the brave ones.