Reflections from the contributors of BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies

March 6, 2020 by Christina Myers

Of all the subjects a writer can tackle, our own lives are both the most intimidating and the most rewarding. It requires a unique vulnerability to share our private moments, joys, traumas, and memories. Talking about our own bodies, in particular, can be overwhelming – but also transformative. In creating BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies (Caitlin Press), I was reminded over and over again how much courage it takes to write about ourselves and our bodies. The stories in this book are all so different – sometimes funny, sometimes challenging, sometimes traumatic – but all, in their own ways, powerful because of the courage and boldness required of these writers.

As the editor and caretaker of their work, I have been deeply changed in the process of making this book; many of the contributors have told me that the mere act of writing about their bodies (often for the first time) changed them, too. I believe that readers will also find themselves changed – with new insight about themselves, or about others.

I sat down with some of the contributors in BIG (virtually speaking, since they’re spread out across Canada, the US, and the UK) and asked them to tell me a little bit more about their bodies, thoughts, experiences, and hopes. Their answers, like their stories, are vulnerable and powerful, and I hope that readers will feel inspired to spend some time asking themselves these same questions as they explore their own (ever changing) relationships with their bodies.

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Christina Myers: Why was sharing your story in this anthology important to you? 

Elizabeth Cook: It was important to me because I didn’t want to share it. This fear, this shame is what pushed me. For me, bringing my shame into the light, out of the dark recesses of my consciousness, was necessary to rid its power over me and my life.

Shadoe Ball: Navigating the world in a big body has been something I've struggled with since kindergarten. I thought the struggle would end when I lost enough weight. Acknowledging that the struggle was with how I'm perceived, versus the weight itself, was a huge breakthrough.

Andrea Hansell: I wanted to share my experience using my best coping strategy — my sense of humor. I felt that making my story funny could highlight the absurdity of how the world judges my body and I judge myself.

Heather Van Mil: It was important because it’s so rarely talked about. Yes, there are more fictionalized “fat” characters in movies and books, but they are typically shallow, two-dimensional representations of what skinny people think fat people are like. These were real stories. About real, complicated, amazing people.

Tara Mandarano: Sharing my story was important to me because it means I can start healing the civil war going on in my own body. It gives me a chance to come to terms with the way my physical health and mental health have intersected.

Rabbit Richards: Initially I approached the anthology as "just another submission," but one where I felt uniquely welcome. As I began to write my story and stepped into the vulnerability of sharing, Christina's editorship made me feel BIG would be an appropriate vehicle. Fat people's stories rarely receive gentle treatment.

Jo Jefferson: I've never felt comfortable trying to squeeze into the gender binary, and I've therefore spent a lot of my life mentally and emotionally detaching from or ignoring my body because its size and shape seemed to clash with my own ideas of who I wanted to be. At the same time, society was telling me my body was unattractive, unbelievable, unsuccessful. I'm working towards convincing myself that those ideas are false, and that my body is compatible with my identity, especially my gender. Writing and sharing this essay is part of that process.

Layla Cameron: I think that the medical community as an institution is one of the strongest perpetrators of anti-fat violence. It was important to me to speak about my experiences navigating the health care system — and the implications of current medical approaches to fat bodies more broadly — as an attempt to fight back.

 

 

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CM: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Jessie Blair: Don't approach your life with all-or-nothing thinking. Learn to appreciate the many shades of grey.

Shadoe Ball: I wish I could tell my 14-year-old self to keep doing the activities she loved — hiking, biking and swimming (even in those ugly clothes that didn't fit right). I would also encourage her to take fashion/design classes.

Andrea Hansell: I used to let the judgments of strangers fill me with shame and self-loathing, and I'd waste energy obsessing about them. I wish I had been able to accept and value myself more, focus on the positive energy I brought to the world, and be grateful for all that was good in my life.

Susan Alexander: If I could talk with my younger self I would tell her: 1) that she is perfect exactly as she is; 2) to get some help with her anxiety and compulsive behaviours with a professional therapist and a 12-step group; 3) that most people aren’t actually thinking about her and judging her, they are thinking about themselves.

Rabbit Richards: I'd like young Rabbit to know that they're already doing things "right." I was so anxious always that I wasn't doing enough. But they got me here, and I'm so grateful! So I'd like to offer my younger self some reassurance.

Jen Arbo: It's such a common refrain but truthfully: I wish I had not given nearly the amount of brainspace and memory that I have to times when people told me I had to change to make them happy. I am struggling to remember parts of my younger life these days, but the times someone told me I need to lose weight or be less fat or exercise more — they are seared in my brain. I wish my younger self had seared the moments where I felt the strongest, happiest, and most confident instead.

Amanda Scriver: As cheesy and cliched as this sounds: don’t give up, it gets better. Honest!

 

 

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CM: Society bombards us with advertising and body-shaming messages daily. How do you practice body positivity and self-care?

Emily Allan: I spend time with fellow fat friends who understand my experiences. I’ve overhauled my Instagram feed to feature fat bodies, which is rewiring my brain into seeing us as beautiful. I also run a cheeky fat-positive meme account where I find catharsis and solace with strangers on the internet.

Tara Mandarano: I listen to my husband when he tells me not to cover myself or get undressed in the bathroom. I try to focus on things I love about myself, like my eyes and hair, rather than the parts that don't conform to society's so-called "standards." 

Shadoe Ball: For me, self-care involves ensuring fitness is in my life, without the focus being of weight loss. My fitness goals now are built around improving my strength and flexibility to allow me to return to the outdoor activities I loved in my youth.

Susan Alexander: I’ve thrown away the scale. I talk back to the voices in society and in my head. When I find myself pinching and prodding my body, I can tell something is wrong that has nothing to do with my size. Writing and being open and honest with others who share my issues really helps me. I work daily at getting some exercise, enough sleep, and three healthy meals a day.

Elizabeth Cook: I really try to focus on other attributes of self that are more important to me: the way I treat others and the way I feel is very important for my self care. Being comfortable, physically and spiritually, is something I try to accomplish every day.

Sally Quon: Frankly, I don't [practice body positivity]. I practice self-care and strive to achieve self-love, but the things I like about myself do not include my body, and probably never will. It's too deeply ingrained. Maybe it will be different for future generations. I certainly hope so.

Amanda Scriver: There are a few things: first and foremost, I go to therapy bi-weekly which helps me with my mental and emotional health. Another thing that has also been helpful? Curating my social media feeds with the accounts that inspire me and bring joy into my life. There is no reason to have a feed full of stuff that is bringing you down, just because you feel like you need to follow them. Say it with me: delete, erase, and unfollow! This was one of the BIGGEST lessons that I learned. Finally, I try to commit to one act of radical body liberation per month. It could be as small as reading a book, or as big as trying something new like dance lessons. But it brings joy to my life, and that’s what matters.

Heather M. Jones: I seek out my community of big women and fat activists. We lift each other up with lived experiences instead of platitudes.

Lynne Jones: I nourish my body and soul with good food, long walks, Tai Chi, and dance at every opportunity. Movement makes me feel connected to my body and reminds me to nurture and value it.

Jen Arbo: I listen to myself when I tell my son how to navigate these topics.

Jo Jefferson: Three things I do for body positivity are finding clothes that fit well and feel right (in colours other than grey); believing my partner when she tells me I'm hot; and allowing my body to really play.

Layla Cameron: I have strict rules around the kind of media I consume, to the point where I am blissfully unaware of most advertising and marketing techniques aimed at harming fat people. I see it as an act of self-care to be the gatekeeper as to what (and who) I allow in my environment.

Katy Weicker: That’s the million-dollar question. For me, it’s a deeply ingrained stigma that’s easier to combat some days than others. I’m only just now starting to try and untangle the impact it’s had on me.

 

EMILY ALLAN_BIG

 

 

 

 

CM: What myths or misconceptions would you like to debunk (or challenge) about fat bodies?

Heather Van Mil: The biggest one is always that health does not correlate to size. I have significant health issues, but not one of them has to do with my weight. I had them when I was skinny, I’ll have them for the rest of my life. Health care practitioners are often surprised when they see my blood work that my sugars and cholesterol and blood pressure are all amazing. I eat healthy y’all!

Sally Quon: The assumption I'm most offended by is that fat people are lazy. I've held two or more jobs my entire life. I'm also mildly annoyed when people assume that I must love desserts.

Emily Allan: That fat equals undesirable, unhappy, lonely. This is the whole reason I wrote my piece in this book: though they are so valid and important, most of the fat narratives we hear are about the challenges of living in a fat body. I wanted to write about the joys!

Jo Jefferson: I'd like to challenge the notion that being fat means you can't or don't want to do physical things (like swimming or sword-fighting or sex), or that you are lazy. Also, the idea that being fat means that you automatically want to hide your body. We need to stop trying to erase fat people.

Lynne Jones: That bigger bodies are not fit or healthy. I am very active, I completed a half marathon, and I regularly do mountain hikes. I love bodyboarding, swimming, cycling. Your body will do whatever you allow it to do.

Layla Cameron: Body positivity is not synonymous with fat activism, and until we live in a world that does not vilify fat, body positivity is not possible.

Rabbit Richards: Fat people experience the entire range of human emotions and behaviours. Fat people are people. Fat bodies are normal.

Heather M. Jones: Our health is no one's business and is irrelevant to our worth. Concern trolling is both hurtful and pointless. If people are genuinely concerned about the health of big people, science shows they should be helping us feel good about our bodies at any size.

 

 

RABBIT RICHARDS_BIG

 

 

 

 

CM: What do you hope readers (of all shapes and sizes) take away from this anthology?

Rabbit Richards: I hope that readers who identify with our stories find commiseration and joy. I hope that readers who do not share our experiences become more curious about our stories and the stories of folks with other axes of marginalization.

Jessie Blair: The encouragement that everybody is different. Once we accept that our bodies are different from other people's then we will feel more comfortable in our own skin and hopefully less likely to put down other people.

Heather Van Mil: That they can be proud of themselves. They can advocate for themselves. They can be seen and take up space. They are worthy and valuable and lovable. They are smart and can contribute just as much as anyone. Don’t be invisible or try and make yourself smaller. You are whole just the way you are!

Katy Weicker: The number on the scale doesn’t define us... which is really hard to believe when that number goes down and it feels like that’s all anyone wants to talk about. But in my experience, if you can’t love yourself at any size your self-confidence and worth will not magically increase as the number on the scale decreases.

Sally Quon: Inspiration. Even as I read it, I found myself inspired. Not inspired to start another hopeless diet, but to look at myself in a different way, to see myself, not as a big person, but as a person who happens to be big.

Heather M. Jones: Big women are not a monolith. While we find comfort in our shared experiences, we are as individual and unique as anyone else.

Lynne Jones: I hope readers realize they are not alone, and other people’s opinions shouldn’t dictate how we live, act or be. There are millions of different bodies occupying the planet; there is no template or optimal shape or size, being a size six doesn’t make you more important, sexier, or desirable than a size 16 or 26. You can embrace life, your body and everything in between without battling with who you are just because our society has decided thinness is the current desirable trend.

Jen Arbo: That everyone deserves kindness.

Amanda Scriver: That fat bodies are more than just numbers on a scale. We’re people with complicated histories and feelings and emotions. Being fat is not a negative, and together we can break down the stigma that faces plus-size individuals. We are incredible and amazing and powerful. To whoever is reading this anthology out there: I hope you feel empowered, informed, liberated and ready to take on the world!

 

amanda scriver_BIG

 

Emily Allan: I hope fat readers feel as seen and validated through these stories as I do. I hope non-fat readers gain insight into what it’s like to navigate fatphobia, and challenge themselves to become better allies to the fat people in their lives.

Layla Cameron: For non-fat readers, I hope that they feel compelled to use their societal privilege to act as allies for fat folks, and to do some of the labour that fat people undertake in order to exist comfortably in the world. For example, do you ask your doctor why they are weighing you at an appointment? Do you have fat-friendly seating in your home, or do you consider the accessibility of restaurant seating when dining with your fat friends? (Do you have fat friends?). I hope that fat readers identify with our stories and feel seen, heard, and empowered to take up space!

 

 

 

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MyersChristina_6613A_credit-TwinLens-Photography

Christina Myers is an award-winning newspaper journalist turned freelance writer and editor. After leaving her long-time newsroom post, she turned her attention to more creative work, including both fiction and narrative non-fiction (and sometimes, secretly, poetry too.) She holds degrees in journalism and psychology from TRU and UBC, respectively, and is an alumnus of the Writer's Studio at SFU. She is a fan of vintage collectibles and big dresses with deep pockets, she juggles parenthood and creative work from her home outside Vancouver, BC.

 

 

 

 

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Thanks so much to Christina Myers and the contributors of BIG for talking body positivity and self-care on the All Lit Up blog. BIG is now available for purchase.

 


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