Bigger female bodies are being praised by the mainstream media and fashion industry now more than ever. Last year, Sports Illustrated put plus-size model Ashley Graham on its cover, a highly celebrated editorial move. It also recently featured another popular and curvaceous model, Hunter McGrady. Dove has long been a presence in the movement to show "real" bodies in its ad campaigns; brands like Lane Bryant and Aerie have followed.
It's impossible for me to peruse Instagram these days without feeling bombarded by accounts that sexualize women's curves, thickness, fatness—whatever you want to call it. In the comments on these alternative thirst traps lie a parade of heart-eye emojis and watery squirts meant to symbolize ejaculation. In a fucked-up way, that's what we fought for, isn't it? Yet something still feels off about it all. This brand of body positivity makes me feel left out, because there's something missing from most of these models' bodies: bellies.
The bodies I'm seeing touted by "woke" advertisements and body-positive campaigns tend to show women with larger thighs, fuller figures, bigger butts, and wider hips. That's all fine. But until we let the stomach join in on the fun, we have a long way to go when it comes to breaking free from problematic female beauty standards.
Of course, there are plus-size models with bellies, like Tess Holiday (who was proclaimed the "world's first size 22 supermodel" on a 2015 cover of People and has only seen more well-deserved success since). They're just vastly outnumbered by models with shapely hips and visible abs. Which makes me feel like yet again like I could not compare, but now it was worse, because I'm being made to feel like I should finally feel that way.
I refer to my body type as "perpetually six months pregnant." Back when I gave a shit, every weight loss tactic I tried proved unsuccessful at getting rid of my gut. My family has tried desperately to help, too—for my 18th birthday, my mom bought me a Curves membership, thinking that was something I'd actually want. Ironic, seeing as my body type is largely determined by genetics, as most are.
Most women in my family are fellow members of the gaping gut committee. But that's never stopped me from blaming myself for my stomach—I'll admit that even when I began to embrace body positivity and my own curves, the one thing I still secretly wished I could get rid of was my gut. It was the albatross hanging around my waist. I ate nothing but quinoa and cabbage and wondered why it wouldn't just leave me alone.
My stomach was something I still tried to hide in photos. I designed entire outfits around it. I figured that was OK behavior as long as I took pride in the rest of my body—we all have something about ourselves we wish we could change, no matter how confident we feel otherwise, right? But after further self-reflection, I realized exactly why I hate my guts (literally): It was the one thing preventing me from looking like those inescapable plus-size bodies that have cropped up at every turn since the dawn of this decade. I was supposed to love my body, but I still wasn't the "right" kind of fat.
Sarah Murnen, a social psychologist and gender studies professor at Kenyon College in Ohio who has studied the sexualization of women over the past 25 years, said she believes that "body positivity" doesn't actually give rise to fatter bodies. Instead, it's given rise to what she calls the "curvaceous ideal," a bigger-sized body that's bigger in all the right places. "The curvaceous ideal is about being sexy," she explained.
The issue lies in the fact that these curvaceous bodies are often marketed as a progressive step forward for women while still managing to exclude body types like mine (and various others, too). That doesn't mean we should stop promoting those bodies—until the last decade or so, the rail-thin fit ideal has been pretty much all we'd see on TV and in magazines.
It would be good to see even more inclusivity, and this inclusivity has to come from us, women who don't fit that plus-size model mold. It can't come from companies with a product to sell or publications trying to be woke. And while some might argue that sexualizing the gut (or whatever other "undesirable" aspect of the female body we're not seeing promoted today) is just as problematic, the fact remains that we have to think deeper about how we differentiate sexual objectification from empowerment.
We can't feel ashamed when we want to feel desired, and it's not wrong to want sexual attention—I yearn for it pretty much all the time. In the past, I tried to get it by forcing my body into that plus-size ideal. I'd hide my gut (as well as my stretch marks, cellulite, and body hair) because I continued to fear how men would see them. It wasn't empowering, because I was still giving power to what I felt others wanted to see from my body. If things were truly up to me, my gut would have been the star of the show.
Now I present myself with a freed FUPA. My belly is no longer locked in captivity. I've been exposing my body, belly, and all.
I feel fuckable. And I like feeling fuckable on my own terms. I couldn't really care less about whether people dislike what they see. If you don't like it, then I'm not trying to fuck you, so your opinion is irrelevant.
Of course, people will be mean. If I've learned anything from being an opinionated woman online, it's that they'll tell you to stop and work hard to shit on your parade. But if we work together to support one another while they try—if we build one another up as we display our "unconventional" bodies—the negativity will drown out until all our bodies are conventional.
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