Mission impossible: can middle- and working-class people eat healthy in America?

Fruits and Vegetables

I heard these are supposed to be good for you.

Lately I’ve adopted a new mission: eating better. This is easier said than done, of course, especially in my case.

I am (sadly) a very picky eater.

I have been since I was a kid. I’ve gotten better as the years have gone on but there are still many foods I find completely inedible.

In spite of this, I’ve pushed on, pouring through blogs in an effort to find new recipes to try.

The good news: I’ve found a few promising options.

The bad news: I’m remembering how difficult it is to find healthy foods on a budget.

For example: on one site I saw several recipes that used quinoa. I figured this would be something worth trying out. The worst possible outcome, I thought, would be if I just didn’t like it. No big deal.

During my next trip to the grocery, I stopped in the health food section and found what I was looking for.

Quinoa, cooked

Quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah

It was eight dollars for a ten-ounce package.

Eight dollars.

Ten ounces.

I am a poor college student. I work within a limited budget. I can’t afford to spend eight dollars on a tiny box of food.

I suppose this might seem like a lot of outrage over a little matter. But this is indicative of a much larger pattern affecting millions of people.

There is a statistical relationship between poverty and obesity. According to the Food Research and Action Center, “wages were inversely related to BMI and obesity in a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 adults.” This means people with lower wages have higher BMIs and an increased chance of obesity.

This is odd, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it make sense for those with lower incomes to have lower BMIs?

Admittedly, the relationship between obesity and poverty is a little more complex and depends heavily on race, gender, and age. That being said, those with low wages are much more vulnerable to obesity.

Some of the reasons for this might be obvious. As I said before, healthy food often costs significantly more than junkier and processed foods with refined grains, added sugars, and fat.

Many people don’t even have access to groceries and farmers markets where they might buy healthy foods—or if they do, the food is of lower quality.

Lower-income neighborhoods often have an abundance of fast-food restaurants and a limited number of healthy options.  Many low-income families don’t have time to make a home-cooked, healthy meal. Instead they depend on the convenience and low cost of fast food.

Burger and friesWith all these factors working together, is it any wonder that obesity is such an epidemic in the United States?

As I said, I’m a poor college student, but I do all right. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is going to come from. So if it’s a struggle for someone like  me to buy healthy food, how hard is it for someone working two jobs? For someone with a family to support?

The sad truth is that as long as junk food is cheap and abundant compared to healthy food that is expensive and difficult to obtain, poor nutrition and obesity will continue to be prevalent. There has to be a fundamental change in the way things are.

—Lauren Bunch

Jennifer Lawrence: doing her part to fight body shaming

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Lawrence made waves when she publicly said she wouldn’t “starve” herself for a role. In the years since she’s spoken out about body-image issues and fat shaming. She’s been quoted as saying, “I just think it should be illegal to call someone fat on TV.  I mean, if we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?”

She’s further criticized the media’s negative impact on body-image: “We have the ability to control this image that young girls are going to be seeing. They see enough of this body that they will never be able to obtain and it’s an amazing opportunity to rid ourselves of that in this industry.”

Amen! This issue is near and dear to many hearts and it’s great to see a young actress speaking out and making this issue more well known.  It’s also great to see a highly-visible celebrity talk about food in a healthy way.  The first step in changing things is talking about the problem, and Jennifer is doing her part to continue the conversation.

—Lauren Bunch

The inherent misogyny of photo leaks
… and what we can do about it

It seems like everyone has a cell phone these days. Most of us walk around with nice cameras in our pockets, fully equipped and ready to blast our image to whomever we choose. This incredible technology is so commonplace we don’t even stop to think about it.

As I’ve said before, I am pro-selfie. But the selfie has taken on a more sinister connotation over the past month. The ultimate tool of self-love has been turned into a tool of hatred and exploitation.

Again.

Yes, I am talking about the latest celebrity nude “scandal.”

Over Labor Day weekend, a hacker (or a group of hackers) breached the iCloud accounts belonging to several celebrities. The victims include actress Jennifer Lawrence, model/actress Kate Upton, singer Rihanna, and many others.

Before we move on, I’d like to note that there is not a single male on the list of people who’ve had their pictures released. Let’s hold onto that thought for a minute.

Not a single male had his photo hacked.

The leaked photos have been released on sites such as Reddit, 4chan and imgur.

In a situation like this, a celebrity has a scant few choices as to how to react. The first is to deny, as Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice did last month:

Option 1: Deny

Option 1: Deny

The second choice is simply to ignore the leak and go on like nothing has happened. Third is to “laugh it off” as no big deal. Fourth and final is to go after the hackers via lawsuits. This is the strategy that seemed to work for Scarlett Johansson a couple years ago—the person who hacked her photos and leaked them is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence.

Lawrence and Upton have both released statements confirming the photos and announcing intentions to prosecute the offenders. Lawrence’s spokesperson responded to the leak with this statement: “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”

Jennifer Lawrence

Any sane person would agree that these leaks are a massive violation.

There are plenty of people decrying the leaks and insisting those responsible be brought to justice. That’s easy enough to agree with. But with situations like this, hypocrisy abounds. Some of the people complaining about the invasion of privacy are the ones scouring the internet for links to the photos. What really troubles me are the people who insist these women “had it coming.” Even those expressing sympathy will turn around and mock the victims for being stupid enough to take pictures of themselves.

In the culture we live in, victim blaming is so common it’s almost expected. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see dozens of articles popping up on various websites insisting that the violation is offensive but inevitable. If you take pictures and allow them to be uploaded to the cloud, they reason, you should be prepared for them to be seen by everyone with access to the internet.

How on earth does this make sense?

These pictures were taken for private use. They were stored on devices with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such technology isn’t impenetrable, of course, but that doesn’t mean people should live their lives in constant fear of being hacked. And if they are hacked, it’s certainly not that fault.

Imagine your credit card information was stolen. How would you feel if someone told you this kind of thing was inevitable—that you knew the risks when you went to the ATM or the grocery. How would it feel to be blamed for the crime someone else committed against you?

It wouldn’t feel good.

It’s also important to consider the fact that many people don’t understand exactly how “the cloud” works. A person can buy an Apple product and take a picture without ever realizing that photo was automatically uploaded to the cloud. Even deleting the photo on one’s phone won’t take it off the cloud.

What’s really frightening is how common this is. It doesn’t just happen to celebrities. There are plenty of “revenge porn” websites where disgruntled people can send risqué photos of their exes. Unlike celebrities, the women this happens to—and the victims are, of course, overwhelmingly female—don’t have the power and money to go after the men who share these images and post them all over the internet.

It’s a disturbing trend, and it’s only getting more pervasive.

This kind of violation is a virtual sex crime. Some of the hackers held photos hostage until they received deposits to their BitCoin or PayPal accounts. This is, simply put, the commodification of women’s bodies, and it’s happening completely without their consent. This isn’t just about sex for the viewers of these images—t’s about the power they feel from seeing women naked without their consent.

Earlier I mentioned the fact that none of the pictures leaked have been of men. The only male depicted in this “scandal” was Upton’s boyfriend, baseball player Justin Verlander, and he was shown in a picture next to Upton. I find it unlikely that a massive undertaking like this (the hacker said it took him two years to build his collection) wouldn’t produce some pictures of men. It’s more likely that the hacker did obtain some male nudes but chose not to share them.

Kate Upton

Yes, women were deliberately targeted. Again.

There are so many hurdles facing girls today. They’re constantly bombarded by a media that tells them their bodies aren’t good enough. And “scandals” such as these drive home the message that their bodies don’t just belong to them. It teaches girls that society wants to rob them of their agency and is cruelly invested in taking away their power.

It’s a scary world to live in. There are things we can do though.

The first is to refrain from clicking on these pictures. These women have already had their privacy violated—there’s no need to violate them further.

The second is to not let anyone get away with these attacks. This includes legal action, of course, but it also means calling out those who continue to spread the images. This is something we can all do. We have to make it known that this kind of breach is unacceptable, and that viewing and spreading the pictures is just as bad as leaking the photos.

Lastly, we need to look out for each other. In the weeks since the initial leak, the hashtag “#leakforJLaw” has been trending on Twitter. Ostensibly this was a tag started by women where they would post topless photos of themselves in support of Lawrence and the other victims of the leak. This was, of course, a hoax made up by some 4chan members in an effort to get more photos of naked women. It’s not unthinkable that some women might think of this as a legitimate way of showing support for the victims.  That being said, blatant deception like this has to stop. That means we need to protect ourselves and each other and call out schemes like this.

Time will tell if those responsible for these leaks are brought to justice.  In the mean time, the inherent misogyny in our culture has to be fought against and weeded out.

—Lauren Bunch

In Defense of the Selfie

The Mona Lisa gets the duck face treatment

The Mona Lisa gets the duck face treatment

 

A month ago, my dad and I were vacationing in Toronto, Canada. After a thrilling minute-long elevator ride, we were finally at our next destination: the “lookout” level of the CN Tower, 1,136 feet above the ground.

The views were spectacular.

There were so many things to look at—the Art Gallery, the lake, the hotel where we were staying. I pulled out my camera and snapped picture after picture of the view. After I had almost completely exhausted my memory card, I started looking around inside.

Normal tourist activities were going on. Families were crowded around the windows. Some people were buying overpriced snacks. And, of course, countless numbers of people were taking selfies. It was a bit overwhelming to see so many people simultaneously engage in this activity. Backs leaned against glass, arms raised to get the perfect angle.

I am not a selfie-hater, but in that moment I was frustrated by what I was seeing. I thought that these people should be enjoying themselves in what I thought was the appropriate way. For a moment my thoughts flew out of my control.  These people (most of them women) were self-absorbed and self-obsessed.

After we were done upstairs, we took the elevator down and started browsing through the gift shop. During that time my frustration had become focused on myself.

Who was I to judge these people? I didn’t know anything about them.

And I had to admit I was being hypocritical, of course. I’ve taken plenty of selfies and somehow have managed to avoid becoming a self-obsessed monster. But the question remained: Why was I so mad at these women?  Why was I judging them so harshly?

I realized that I was buying into a very pervasive attitude. Society has infected me with its fanatical scorn. The selfie is subject to rampant derision and mockery. Women (especially teenage girls) are blasted for self-absorption and lack of perspective when they take a selfie. Duck faces and peace signs have become unspeakable offenses.

Think about it. What kinds of words are used to describe the young women who have the audacity to cultivate and enjoy their own image? They’re desperate, conceited, and proud. They’re narcissistic attention whores, and they are ruining society.

All this is heaped on us for such a small crime – the crime of declaring and celebrating our own existence by striking a quick pose in front of the camera lens. And why?

Because the more pictures we take of ourselves, the more dangerous we are. The more we look at our own image and say Damn, I look good, the closer we get to loving ourselves and forgetting what society has taught us about beauty.

Every day, the media sends out more and more messages with the same idea: if you are a woman, you aren’t good enough.

You need to lose weight.

You need to get rid of your wrinkles.

Cellulite is gross.

You need to wear more makeup.

If you don’t get your skin cleared up, no one will ever love you.

And so on.

And we buy into it! I know I do. I bought into it so much, I started judging other women for daring to push the norms society has put in place for us.

Well, no more.

Between my cell phone and my computer, I probably have over a hundred selfies. Most of them stay private, though I have a handful smattered across Instagram and Facebook. I keep them private not because I’m ashamed of how I look. I keep them private because they’re for me and me alone. They make me feel good about myself. If I’m having a good hair day or my makeup looks great, you bet I’m going to record it. Stuck inside my pocket or purse is my portfolio: the proof I can give myself that I am beautiful.

So keep taking selfies, ladies! And don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not good enough.

by Lauren Bunch

“Anaconda” barely misses the mark for empowerment

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.09.45 PM (2).jpg

Nicki Minaj in her music video “Anaconda”

 

If you have a Tumblr account or access to the internet at all, you no doubt have seen gifs—if not the actual video—of Nicki Minaj’s newest single “Anaconda.”

Me and Nicki have had a difficult relationship.

Some days I feel like we are the same person and all of her songs speak directly to me—those are the days when I can just sit in awe of her talent.

Other days I feel like she doesn’t even care about gender equality, but rather just about getting ahead.

Most days, though, I acknowledge Minaj is an artist with some feminist leanings, and I respect her for everything she does.

With “Anaconda” popping up all over the internet, I cannot ignore the fact that so many women are feeling empowered by something as simple as a music video. Especially in comparison to the light­hearted and probably poorly timed release of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” Minaj’s “Anaconda” video seems like just the thing we all need to love big “buns, hun.”

The sexual content of the video seems as if it is only there just for show, but, like her more recent videos, Minaj takes hold of the idea of the male gaze and turns it on its head.

Her music video for “Looking” is one of my favorites. She is obviously talking about men who ogle her curvy frame, expecting something from her, but she rebukes them, acknowledging that she doesn’t exist for their pleasure but for her own.

In the video for “Anaconda,” Minaj does the same—at one point going so far as to cut and throw away a banana, opting to eat a strawberry instead.

I could go on for days about how “Anaconda” mirrors numerous videos that sexualize the ethnic body but do so critically, but instead I would like to focus on something that has seemed to stir up a lot of controversy on my social media feeds.

And that is, what about thin­-shaming?

In the conclusion of “Anaconda,” Minaj thin­shams, taunts, and laughs maniacally while saying:

I said, where my fat ass big bitches in the club?

F*** the skinny bitches!

F*** the skinny bitches in the club

I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the motherf***king club.

F*** you if you skinny bitches WHAT?

Minaj seems to know what she’s doing. It’s not like Meghan Trainor’s “All
 About the Bass,” which includes only one example of thin­shaming and then takes it back by saying, “kidding.”

Minaj is actively thin­shaming. Maybe in response to all the articles that criticize thin­shaming? Whatever the reason, she wants us to know that skinny women do not belong in this specific representation of feminine bodies.

While it is obvious why this kind of othering is problematic, does thin-shaming go deeper than just hurt feelings? Many responses to “Anaconda” have written off women’s feelings as basically whining; however, their criticism is about a lot more than just the crocodile tears of a skinny white girl who’s been shamed for twerking.

an00099425_001_l

In the black community, there is an appreciation for curvy women. In hip­hop, it’s known that the desired female aesthetic features big butts, big hips, big thighs, and the assumed typical aspects of an Afro­centric female. Think back to your lesson on female sexualization from Women’s Studies 101 when you learned about Sarah Baartmen—the woman from Africa whose very curvy frame was literally studied for science.

While many women of color have this body type, the hip­hop ideal is drastically different from that of mainstream society. In mainstream society you’re either Scarlett Johansson or you’re Cara Delevingne. Being skinny and black means you’re not conventionally attractive. However, large women are still not perceived as conventionally attractive either. If you look at Minaj, she’s got a small waist, flat stomach, and she barely has rolls or flab. That means that what Minaj is pushing is not body positivity but the idealization of one type of body that is often only achieved through genetics or surgery. Yeah, squats equal a nice backside, but does it equal Minaj booty? Certainly not.

While this aspect of her song obviously causes negative feelings for many women of many different races, it would not be a Minaj song if there wasn’t something else she was trying to say.

In case you are not familiar with Nicki Minaj, recently she’s had a “beef” with Iggy Azalea. Minaj has spoken out about how she thinks rap has lost a lot of authenticity because of rappers like Azalea, Macklemore, Kreyshawn, and many other white rappers accused of cultural appropriation.

iggy-azalea-cover-07-2014-billboard-600

Iggy Azalea

 

This problem was made clear this year at the BET Awards when Minaj pleaded that the awards stay “authentic”—in other words, stay black.

But the BET Awards have always included performances by a couple of white singers and rappers, like Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, and Eminem. So as far as the awards go, diversity and talent is the key, not so much a “people of color only” sign.

taylor

Taylor Swift in her new video “Shake It Off”

 

The thin-shaming part of “Anaconda,” though, attacks the cultural appropriation of hip­hop dancing, black culture, and twerking—the kind of cultural appropriation with which so many white celebrities have become obsessed. Society seems fascinated with the sexuality of black women as well as their bodies. This fascination has turned black women’s bodies into a comical act, as well as a fetishization. Minaj dares to fight this concept with her own sense of female empowerment.

nicki-minaj-drake-anaconda-instagram-pics-4

While “Anaconda” maintains plenty of of YAAAASSSSS­factor and slays me every time I watch it (which is a lot more times than I care to admit), I cannot help but acknowledge the problems I have with the video. This includes the expectation of ethnic body types being similar to that of video vixens, and the video’s lack of recognition to the variety of bodies that exist in the black community.

While I have never been the kindest critic of Nicki Minaj, I think the overall intent of “Anaconda” was mostly accomplished, and for that reason I’d be happy to have the music video play on a loop on my tombstone for eternity.

by Leah Railey

A message for my younger self

Middle school graduation, 2004

Last August, I decided to go through my family photos. It had been almost a year after my mother’s death, and I finally felt ready to look through the twenty-two years of precious memories I was fortunate to share with her. My favorites were placed in a pile to be taken to my new apartment.

For most of my life, my parents were quite diligent about taking photos.  The major events were all recorded: birthdays, holidays, vacations. I poured through boxes and envelopes full of pictures, admiring images of a simpler time. There was newborn Lauren, a thicket of dark hair covering her head. There was Lauren on the first day of school, eager and clad in brand new clothes.

Then I came upon a picture that surprised me. I immediately recognized the photo—my dad had taken it on the day of my middle school graduation. My mom was next to me, arm draped across my shoulder.  She smiled largely while I had a hint of a grin on my face. My brown hair came down past my shoulders. I wore an orange sundress and my face was riddled with a handful of red pimples.

It was astonishing to see this moment that had been housed in the fuzzy corners of my mind. I didn’t remember looking like that. The most pervasive memories of my pre-teen years are stained with anger and frustration.  I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I felt like my body was out of my control.  I didn’t fit in and was teased constantly.

As a result, the feelings that picture brought up were completely unexpected. I felt regret, but not for the reasons I might have thought. I felt regret because I had been so very hard on myself.

Clutching that picture in my hand, I wished I had been kinder to myself back then. The girl in the photo was not a monster. She was not the massive waste of space she thought she was. She was an awkward, gawky, chubby, normal girl. And she was lovely.

I have two ongoing goals that I would like to work on this semester during my internship with I Will Not Diet. One, I want to encourage women and girls everywhere to be nicer to themselves. The problems we have with our bodies aren’t going to be solved with anger and self-flagellation. I truly believe that when you feel good about yourself, personal health follows. If we can stop beating ourselves up and try to love ourselves, we’ll all feel so much better.

With that in mind, my second goal is to be kinder to myself. I want to be able to love myself no matter what shape my body is. This is obviously easier said than done, but I am committed. I hope that other women and girls will join me as I learn to love what I see in the mirror.

by Lauren Bunch

Welcome to our new intern!

Lauren

It’s the start of a new semester, and that means a new intern at I Will Not Diet. Woot!

This semester’s intern is Lauren Bunch, a junior at Western Kentucky University, majoring in creative writing with minors in English literature and professional writing.

Lauren was born and raised in the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville. In her free time, she likes to read and cultivate her love of horror movies, especially The Conjuring and Night Watch. She is a fiction writer at heart but enjoys writing in many genres and about numerous topics.

I hope you will all support Lauren by liking her posts here and on our Facebook page this semester.

Welcome, Lauren!

Friendship is magic: reflecting on the semester

My favorite movie right now is Frances Ha, a film about a 28-year-old woman who has a little trouble growing up and finding someone she truly loves. The movie could very easily be turned into a movie all about a landing a guy, but instead it’s about friendship and taking your time to develop into the woman you dream of being.

frances

Frances and Sophie from Frances Ha

 

I bring this movie up because when I think of what I have learned this semester as the intern for I Will Not Diet, it’s that friends are so important. It’s easy to pretend that I love myself all by myself, but that’s not the truth. The truth is we all have good and bad days, and there is something that keeps a lot of us going even on the bad days.

Some of the people I have talked with while working on The Real You Project have told me stories about how they grew to love themselves. Many of the stories and advice they give reinforce the importance of friendship.

Regardless of the importance of having a positive body-image, I have been not so nice to my own self-esteem lately. It is easy to tell others how beautiful they are and be completely honest about it. It’s not so easy to tell yourself that. That is where I am in life. I can say a hundred mirror mantras, wear the cutest clothes, and take a million selfies but something is still missing. Part of it is loneliness and that goes hand in hand with the fear of never finding someone who loves curvy bodies as much as I want to love my own. Part of it is isolation as well as separating myself from the people and things that make me feel pretty and happy.

me and hil

Leah and her friend Hilary

 

After being down for a while I just got out of the apartment. I went to a few parties. I talked with wonderful people.

It was like magic.

I still am not in the best mood about how I look, but the change that took place was drastic. For the first time in my life I was having conversations with people I barely knew, and I was smiling authentically.

The medicine that got me to that point was friendship.

It sounds clichéd, but at the end of the day returning home to an empty house with mirrors everywhere and nobody to talk to can get exhausting. Whenever there is someone there who is willing to watch silly horror movies on Netflix and eat cheese-sticks and fried mushrooms, it can turn a bad day into something great.

I have learned that sometimes a good friend is the best antidote to a low self-esteem, and a best friend is the only thing that can boost a Monday.

—By Leah Railey

 

The Real You Project is now looking for photos and videos

Visibility is a key part of the body-revolution.

Putting yourself out there and claiming that your body type—along with the body types of endless others—is beautiful and should not be ignored. Many body types have been kept out of the media for years, and the best way to change that is to put ourselves into the media.

We here at I Will Not Diet created an online project a while ago called The Real You Project. Before the project, we asked people to submit pictures of themselves that they liked, but also were not filtered or altered in any way.

This year we’re changing that structure of The Real You Project a little bit by adding videos and self-love photos.

The videos The Real You is now featuring are ones in which people discuss their personal stories about how they have learned to love the way they look. The story can be told just by talking to the screen or in a more creative way such as a poem or song. These videos are designed to encourage you to find your voice and share it with us. And then we’ll give you a place to be heard in the hopes that your story will make someone out there feel less alone.

tumblr_n1q6d6PY951rlbmtco1_500

The self-love photos are simply photos in which the person pictured holds up an index card or whiteboard that explains what they love about their body. This will hopefully become a tool in which readers and patrons can show positivity about themselves and embrace all types of love for their bodies.

Ideally The Real You Project will include as wide a variety of people as possible. Your submission of a photo or video can help make visible the various types of people that exist in this world and allow you all to share your very different stories.

We would like to encourage you to be a part of The Real You Project, and help keep the body-positive revolution strong.

To do so, please email your photo or video to realyouproject@gmail.com.

Taking up space:
Why plus-size actors on television are important

For a period of my life I was told by my peers and by society that I was always in the way.

Being bigger means taking up space, space that belongs to people who are thinner, blonder, and supposedly prettier. Even in the body-positive movement, anti-fat-shaming activists are often told they take up too much space. 

I’ve had some experience with this myself.

In my university’s campus-wide newspaper, a recent cover story featured a thin girl who shared her feelings on thin-shaming, saying that these campaigns make her feel bad about being thin. But the article missed its mark, not because her feelings aren’t valid, but because it fat-shames those who aren’t thin, not to mention the fact that it was the first body-positive piece on the front page of the paper and did not even touch on fat-shaming except as it compares to thin-shaming. 

I replied with a very agitated letter-to-the-editor, and almost immediately someone else replied with another saying that my letter was thin-shaming yet again. 

And the accusations didn’t stop there.

I was bombarded by people who claimed by “have class” with the young woman featured in the story, and they all swore to me that she’s not dumb, which I never even implied, and that she must have been misquoted or something. I felt like I had to defend myself every five minutes.

I felt, once again, like I was taking up too much space.

But I really wasn’t because what I had to say was a valid representation of how I have felt all my life—first as a girl who was never less than chubby and now as a woman who always seems to get in the way.

Taking up space on television

This is why shows like The Mindy Project, Girls, and My Mad Fat Diary make me feel so good about everything. They force viewers to look at their bodies, bodies that have likely been ridiculed by the community of misogynistic, body-shaming bullies that exist in this country.

Now that viewers are being made to look at women like this has made me feel more comfortable in my own body. 

As a woman who has been made fun of for her weight, one of the biggest things I have battled with is my sexuality. How can I be sexy when I don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model? How can anyone love a body that rolls and folds and flaps and jiggles? My body even made me question what was wrong with guys who were attracted to me. I actually thought only a screwed-up guy would think fat is cute.

real rae

Rae Earl the author of the book, My Mad Fat Diary, that the television show was inspired by.

But women like Kaling and Dunham either disregard that idea or take it and flip it on its head.

In one Girls episode, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham’s character) wears a neon string bikini the entire episode—allowing the viewer to see cellulite everywhere on her body and watch as the bottom of her suit rolls up her butt. Despite this, I realized she looked just as good as everyone else in the episode.

lena

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in tv series Girls

Actually I thought she looked better.

In that moment, I not only wanted that bikini, but also wanted to wear it everywhere  I went—even when I didn’t have to.

While Hannah is prancing around half-naked on Girls, Rae on My Mad Fat Diary has a romantic life with boys her age that like her for who she is. She doesn’t only have sex; she is also admired by so many male characters that it makes me feel simultaneously envious and proud. Rae thinks that boys won’t like her because she’s brash, loud, funny, and fat, but actually that’s why they like her.

rae earl

Sharon Rooney as Rae Early in the tv series My Mad Fat Diary

In the “Inappropriate Adult” episode, Rae is sexually harassed by a guy she’s been seeing, and he tells her that she should appreciate his coming on to her because no one else will think she’s attractive. She responds so brilliantly because she tells him off and leaves the party. She didn’t break down and she acted with such strength that I cried for the rest of the episode because I knew, if that were me, I probably wouldn’t be as strong.

In the show, Rae chooses when she wants to have sex. Sometimes it’s not always the right choice, but it’s the result of her self image rather than being because of a poor body image. We also realize that a poor self image is the reason her skinny best friend has problems and makes the wrong decisions too, showing us that thin women can struggle with insecurity too. It also shows that insecurity goes beyond looks sometimes. 

Ultimately the popularity of these shows—and their characters’ bodies—allow women to take up the space they need to feel whole. 

And that means, for once, I want to take up space, I want people to tell me, “You’re in my way. Move, fatty,” so that I can respond by taking up more space on their favorite TV channels, their favorite TV shows, their favorite award shows and in their water cooler conversations, their text messages, their blogs, their Facebook cover photos.

I want them to see me so they know that their ridicule and bullying has not stopped me from being talked about, praised, criticized, and acknowledged.

After all, if we don’t take up that space, who will?

—by Leah Railey