Annette Richmond is the founder of Fat Camp, a body-positive camp for fat people that isn't focused on dieting or exercise. Instead, a weekend at Fat Camp is one full of affirmations, self-love practices, and fun outdoor activities. "Fat Camp is an opportunity for people to experience camp in a way that they are in control," says Richmond.
Broadly visited the first annual Fat Camp in Henderson, North Carolina to see what it looks like when the idea of a traditional "fat camp," which generally focuses on weight loss and shame, is flipped on its head. There, women camp goers shared with us the way people's perceptions of their bodies have shaped the way they see themselves. "I am sort of coming to terms with the word 'fat'," Alyssa Gully, a camper from Kentucky, tells Broadly. "You have that first gut reaction, and then I have to think and tell myself that it's not a bad word."
For a lot of the campers, Fat Camp is the first time they'll be surrounded by other women who they can relate to in terms of shape and size. "Usually in my everyday, I'm with a bunch of women who are smaller than me. They're so gorgeous, and I feel uncomfortable being around them," says camper Josie De Anda. "I think that because we [at the camp] all have similar experiences, we're celebrating ourselves here."
At the camp, women share the hardships they've faced due to the stigma of being fat. "I genuinely didn't care if I was sick, I wanted to be thin," says camp speaker Liz Black. De Anda recalls the difficulties she had growing up with a thin sister who once told her she had "a skinny personality."
While at the camp, attendees go paddle boarding, swimming, do yoga, and jump onto inflated rafts—all activities Richmond says can be uncomfortable for plus size people to do in front of straight size people. "When you're in a situation where people have bodies similar to you, it's so much easier to feel comfortable and to get the courage to go out of your comfort zone and try something that you maybe never imagined trying before," she says. The women also attend a bonfire where they write down the negative things they tell themselves on paper before burning them.
"I think this weekend is what I needed to be brave," De Anda tells us as the camp comes to an end. "I feel like I would tell my 12-year-old self that I'm strong, that I matter, and that I'm supposed to take up space."
This article originally appeared on Broadly.