Being overweight once meant you were shunned, laughed at, and discriminated against. Now a group of large and increasingly vocal and powerful women are leading the campaign to reclaim the F-word as a positive.
One of them is Kat Henry, who came third in last year’s Miss Great Britain beauty pageant. Her dress size is 16-18, and she’s FAT.
That three letter F-word used to be taboo, but there’s now a burgeoning ‘fat acceptance’ movement sweeping the world. The new emphasis has elevated the movement from its humble beginnings – a ‘fat-in’ which included the burning of diet books, held in New York’s Central Park back in 1967. Since then, it’s largely been under the radar, but that’s no longer the case.
The new wave is led by a group of young, beautiful, plus-size women who are fat and proud of it; they are championing a different, more inclusive beauty ideal than the traditional, skinny one, promoting body positivity and self-love.
Many of them are achieving breakthroughs for plus-size women, from catwalk appearances to appearing on the covers of Vogue and Playboy, and they are helping to turn a neglected fashion market for large people into one worth US$ 178 billion globally.
Last weekend, the UK’s Sunday Times featured its plus size power list of women who are at the forefront of the fat acceptance movement and who, it said, are sparking “conversations across the world about back fat, cellulite and every inch in between.”
Among them are Hayley Hasselhoff, 28, the daughter of actor David and one of the world’s best-known plus-size models (she’s a UK size 16-18), who has just graced the cover of Playboy. Other pioneers include model Ashley Graham, 33, (the first plus-size woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Vogue, and to make Forbes’ highest-paid models list) and Tara Lynn, 38, who is represented by the IMG modeling agency.
And like Henry, who’s from Croydon in South London, they’re big. Sorry, fat. “I don’t find the term fat negative,” Henry explains. “I used to in the past when I was growing up, as I associated it with negative connotations, but as I’ve got older I’ve realized it’s just a descriptor. It doesn’t define me, but it is something that I am.
“It takes a lot of soul searching and self-worth to know that term doesn’t have to have negativity – you can take back ownership of it.
“I wouldn’t recommend overall use of the term without knowing the end point. It wouldn’t offend me personally to be called fat, but for someone else that could be hurtful and carry a stigma.
“But your body is not the only thing that defines you in this world.”
Henry, 37, wants to raise awareness even more by winning Miss Great Britain this year. However, even if attitudes are changing, a beauty queen of her size still struggles to buy clothes.
“It’s important for me to be out there representing people of color and plus-size women, as usually the women that are picked at pageants are slim, slender with statuesque beauty – I’m trying to shatter ceilings by winning.
“When I was younger, there was only one shop, Evans, I could go to, but all the clothing was bland, it wasn't fashionable, it was tent-like. We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were, but are we there yet? No. A lot of shops just accommodate oversized clothing and assume that’s ok. We should be allowed to wear fashionable clothing like our smaller counterparts. It’s nigh-on impossible for me on the high street to pick up something off the rail.”
Another plus-size model Noxie Matthews, from Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, shares the experience of how her body has been interpreted. She recalls: “Back when I was in primary school, I developed much quicker than the other kids and I got teased by the boys for the way my body looked, but when I got to high school it completely changed.
“All of a sudden my wide hips, big bum and boobs were now cool and acceptable, which was weird and caused a lot of self esteem issues which I would say I ‘outgrew’.
“The older I got it became very important for me to be happy with me, not for other people, but for myself, because I’m stuck in this body, so if I don’t love it, who will?”