The #Fatkini Hashtag Is Well Intentioned But Only Serves To Fetishise Fat In The Same Way As Thin
The Debrief: Plus size blogger Gabi Fresh started the well-intentioned trend, but isn't it just perpetuating the idea that it's ok to comment on people's weight?
The other day someone asked me if I had any top tips for a beach body. As far as I was concerned, there’s only one that works, which is ‘Go to the beach!’
In all honesty, 90% of me has, literally, a balls out approach to swimwear, body confidence and letting it all hang as it will. I plan to take my cellulite on holiday with me and park it up as I get stuck into the Aperol Spritzes and Mr Whippys. Imma flaunt my lumps, and spend less time worrying what people think of my thighs than I shall spend worrying about what they think of my choice of beach reading. (Jilly Cooper’s Rivals, for the 47th time. What of it?) If you can’t handle me at my wobbly worst then you don’t deserve a decent sun lounger.
However, a negligible but noisy 10% is thinking ‘It’s 11 days until we go away. If I don’t touch bread, or booze, and go to Bikram every day, I might be able to wear a bikini without causing small children to cry and drop their Calippos. And I still have that vaguely dolly bird-y cream lace cover up, which I can deploy strategically, maintaining the illusion that I am a hot piece of ass and not someone who is supplementing her 5:2 fast days with Ryvitas drenched in Baconnaise.’
As someone who has experienced eating disorders and writes about body confidence a lot, I feel I have a responsibility to love my sodding curves, in the same way that lollipop ladies have a responsibility to not walk into the paths of incoming cars. Which is why my own reaction to the #fatkini trend surprised me. The hashtag has been trending globally, and is believed to have originated with plus size blogger Gabi Fresh, who wrote a post encouraging women of all sizes to wear any bikini they want. I believe Fresh has the very best of intentions. ‘Don’t let body shame keep you from having a good time,’ she writes.
Fresh, and the hashtaggers who have followed suit in their droves since, all look undeniably gorgeous in their two pieces. Equally undeniable is the bravery that some of the posters have demonstrated. (I have posted exactly half a bikini selfie on Instagram in my lifetime, and there was more cropping, filtering and blurring than you’d get in a time lapse photography based documentary about harvest time.) But I worry that the #fatkini movement is creating as many problems as it is solving.
I believe that we’d all be happier, healthier women if we stopped focusing on our bodies - specifically, the way they look - and moved the discussion onto other areas entirely, like our talents, passions and strengths. Fetishising fat is no more healthier or more admirable than fetishising thin. Ultimately, we’re still judging ourselves, and other women, on the way we look. If ‘real women have curves’ is the tip of the iceberg, #fatkini might be the icy, ship sinking, problematic glacier. We definitely need to see a wider range of bodies in the media and elsewhere, but the problem we have is the polarisation of shapes. We’re fascinated by the extremely big, and the extremely small.
‘I can understand why #fatkini is an inspiring trend for many women, but it’s part of a problem I’ve noticed for a while - it turns every viewer into a voyeur and seems to give us all license to find each other “too thin” or “too fat” or “just right”. People I don’t know sometimes approach me and ask me if I eat enough - and I’ve been catcalled by guys shouting “Where are your tits?” says my friend Jenny, who is naturally very slender.
‘I think it all comes back to sex. It’s socially acceptable to say things like “men want something to grab onto” and #fatkini perpetuates this idea that sexiness increases with every cup size. I don’t want strangers to think they can rate my lack of sexiness. Equally, I have bigger friends who get a lot of comments that basically mean “Don’t worry about not being skinny, I’d still have sex with you!’” even if they’re just in Costcutter buying bog roll.’
Jenny concludes: ‘Essentially I think #fatkini is exacerbating an existing problem, where we’ve ended up thinking it’s very important to praise the attractiveness of bigger people, at the expense of everyone else, to be politically correct. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be sexy, or desired, but I do worry about the number of creepy guys who are scrolling through the hashtag, rating these women.’
Every #fatkini picture I’ve seen features someone who is beautiful, sexy and immaculately styled. I hope every women taking part feels as beautiful as they appear. But from where I’m standing, the trend seems hyper feminine. If you think flowers and false lashes are fun, fair play to you - I do too. But I struggle to reconcile the tension that falls between my own enjoyment of being a girl - the lengthy, endlessly absorbing discussions about Rogue Allure versus Lipstick Queen, is a Clarisonic really worth a hundred quid (YES, IT IS!) and what makes your bath smell best - and the grim, bleak sense that women are expected to be hyper feminine, and we need primer, foundation, powder, a figure flattering outfit and thick, shiny hair, just to be normal. And larger women are under more pressure than most to distract, flatter their figures and ‘accentuate the positives’ - at least, that’s what I’ve learned after watching hundreds of programmes in which Gok Wan wields a panstick and a waist cinching belt. I’m sure that there are many women who have scrolled through the #fatkini pictures and felt a familiar, weary pressure to be hot.
Another problem that #fatkini tiptoes around is obesity. Adult obesity weights have quadrupled in the last 25 years, and they’re rising still in developed countries. We know that being overweight puts a strain on your heart, A doctor would advise an overweight person to reduce their calorific intake and do more exercise until their body mass falls within a healthy range. If someone is overweight, making them feel ashamed of this isn’t the answer, but I’m not sure that celebrating it is the right approach either. Making fat sexy does not cure heart disease. We’ve forgotten what ‘an unhealthy weight’ means. No matter how stunning you are, whether you’re underweight or obese, there’s a strong chance that your diet might make you dangerously ill. No-one will care about how you look in your bikini if you’re wearing it over a hospital gown.
I’ve been overweight and underweight, and both problems were fuelled by my obsession with the way my body looked. Being celebrated for the way I wore a bikini would, at any point, have been detrimental to my physical and mental health. I believe that we will all only be truly body confident when we stop focusing on the way our bodies look and the comments people make about them, and work on what our bodies can do instead.
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