TV Shows Movies Pop Culture

Why are plus size women always relegated to the comic relief sidekick?

We all know the trope. The main character is skinny, white, pretty. She can be goofy, but rarely at her own expense. Her love stories are the focus of the plot. She always has a funny sidekick, often a woman of color, and most commonly a plus-size woman. She’s there to provide emotional support and a witty one-liner or two. Think of Sookie in Gilmore Girls, who plays second fiddle to thin and quirky Lorelai Gilmore. Or think of Etta Candy in every incarnation of Wonder Woman. Even children’s shows, like Total Drama Island, Good Luck Charlie, and Austin and Ally repeat these tropes. Don’t fat women deserve better?

It’s nice to see fat women in the media, for once, but why do they always have to be funny? Almost every larger woman in TV or the movies is basically a walking joke. Sure, it’s gotten more diverse, but the representation itself has barely improved. Fat women are still relegated to comic relief or goofy sidekick. You might say we’re a long way from the Fat Monica gags on Friends, but that’s not true. Think about Insatiable, featuring Debby Ryan, which treats its main character as a joke until she loses weight. That’s the same formula, isn’t it?

Let’s consider some of the most popular plus-size actresses around now. Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson both broke into the mainstream years ago, and their popularity has rarely floundered. They’ve both been in dozens of TV shows and movies, usually playing comedic roles, which they do brilliantly. Rebel Wilson just recently had her first starring role in a romantic comedy, for which she garnered critical praise. Melissa McCarthy won an Academy Award for her dramatic lead role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? However, if you ask most people, they primarily think of them as comedic actors or side characters. Why is that? They’ve both shown that they have range, and both immense comedic and dramatic talent. They’ve both played lead roles. So why do we relegate them to comedic side characters when they’ve proven that they’re capable of so much more?

These two women are success stories, however. Most plus-size actresses never get the chance to expand into dramatic acting. Skinny comedic actresses have plenty of opportunities to break into dramatic acting, even if they’re not particularly talented actors. Skinny comedic actors also get totally different treatment. Actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick are in plenty of rom-coms, but when they’re funny, it’s quirky and cute. They’re rarely the butt of a rude joke. Furthermore, these skinny comedic actors are able to break into dramatic roles with ease. Plus size actresses have to prove over and over again that they’re worthy of serious roles, whereas skinny actresses can easily transition from comedy to drama and vice versa. 

The problem I see with this is that plus size women constantly have to prove their worth to others time and time over to be taken even remotely seriously. They need to be funny and willing to make jokes at their own expense in return for our consideration. We require humor and self-deprecation from fat women, in return for the common human decency we all return. Fat women don’t need to put on a performance to earn their keep. They are capable of the same range of emotions and humanity as the rest of us.

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We deserve more fat women on television, and not just as comedic sidekicks.

I want fat women in periodic dramas, with pretty dresses and dramatic love triangles. I want to see fat women in rom-coms, having meet-cutes and falling for handsome heartthrobs. Let’s see some fat girls in coming-of-have fantasy stories, as the chosen one, as the hero.

Plus size girls and women have every right to just as beautiful, dramatic, and tragic as their skinny counterparts. For once, I’d like to see a version of Gilmore Girls where a plus size mother and daughter are the protagonists, and get to be cute and quirky and fun. I’d like to see a fat Wonder Woman too.

A woman’s value should never be dictated by her size, and that’s true in television as well as in real life. Let the big girls be the heroes for once. They deserve it.

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Best Friends Forever Life Stories Life

I took a break from my best friend, and now we’re closer than ever

Holding the phone at my ear, I picked at a frayed thread on my couch throw.

On the other end, a close friend of many years was recounting a story about her day, how she had run across the whole city for an assignment then gotten lost with her group members.

“And then what?” I asked, but I was thinking of something else, I had called her to say something. But I quickly found myself doubting it mattered, plus she seemed to have a lot to share. The story eventually shifted to her family at home.

“Why do you think she said that?” I robotically asked her. 

After a while, I got up to blow out my candle, still cradling my phone. My phone lit up against my cheek, the battery was drained. It dawned on me, at that moment, that an hour had passed and I had scarcely said much more than, “But why?” or “Okay, then?”

Something was completely off. Or had it always been like this? The balance between giving and taking had, somewhere along the way, been skewed.

I was slowly turning into a sounding board, an echo that answered back.

It had been a tough time in my life. I felt adrift in college. My roommates were dispersed around the world studying in their chosen fields while I stayed behind, picking up the pieces after a last-minute change of plans with my major. I was mentally drained from my own struggles, so hearing my friend constantly speak about hers exhausted me.

“My ears are bent.”

This is the life-changing phrase that stumbled upon me in a Journalism class. Through it, I realized that I was always the ‘listener’ in relationships, and I couldn’t ignore this fact any longer. I was slowly turning into a sounding board, an echo that answered back.

I knew I wasn’t being a good friend. Good friends don’t get tired of listening, do they? I knew she also needed my support but I couldn’t find the energy to do much more than listening. 

After that night, our conversations felt– and it hurt me to admit this to myself– tedious. I felt irritated that she didn’t notice that there was no space for me to contribute anything. Not knowing how to bring it up, I kept it deep inside. Until I found my chance when one day, there was a lull in the conversation. My friend seemed to search for something to say while we sat across from each other on the couch.

“Do you know anything about me anymore?” I asked. I wasn’t exactly sure wanted I to say, but I needed to say it. She looked at me, perplexed.

Figuring it out as I went, I told her, “Listen, for the past month, I hadn’t been able to get a word in.” 

She seemed ready to interject, but I wasn’t ready to stop speaking again. “When I’m with you, I just listen. And it’s fine, I care about you. But at the same time, I am taking in all your problems when I have enough of mine.”

She suddenly seemed so far away.

“What do you mean?” she asked me.

“I don’t know when, but spending time with you has started to feel like a task, a job,” I replied. Seeing the look on her face, I immediately wanted to take it back and say it wasn’t true. But it was.

“Do you know anything about me anymore?” I asked.

 And that’s when I received the biggest reality check.

“Well, if I don’t say anything, we’ll sit here quietly.”

She was honest, maybe even brutally so. She admitted that she was filling in for my silence. From her perspective, I was still reluctant to open up and she was exhausted from trying to pry me open. Where could we go from here? 

Sometimes it takes a little discomfort and time apart can help things heal. 

Our friendship had met a standstill and, for a while, we took some time apart. I had to confront my hesitance with being vulnerable which was rooted in the fear of not being taken seriously or worse, sounding boring.

My deteriorating sense of self-worth was eating away at my relationships. I didn’t feel what I had to say had value, so I just let myself fade away. As a consequence, those around me had to be taking up all the space in the foreground. 

I reached out to her after a couple of weeks because I knew I couldn’t change without my closest friend. We both agreed to make a conscious effort to try to keep a balance between us, which at first was incredibly awkward.

She paused ever so often to ask me, “Well, what about you?”

Yet, eventually over time, it became organic. Once again, I confided in her about the big things like relationships and anxiety about the future, as well as the smaller things. 

As we grow closer and we can add more years to our friendship, I am so glad I was able to bring it up when I did. Had I let all those feelings fester away inside my head, I would have not only never confronted my own self-worth but also could have lost someone very important to me.

Sometimes it takes a little discomfort and time apart can help things heal. 

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Food & Drinks Life

Cooking makes me feel guilty about food and here’s why

One hot summer afternoon, a hollow void was growing where my stomach had been. I was starving but had been putting off rectifying it after consulting the kitchen cabinets and finding nothing that I could eat with zero cooking. Even the early-2000’s America’s Next Top Model could not distract me and I began to feel lightheaded.

I could easily fry some paratha and be more or less satisfied but thinking of all that oil on the sizzling pan made me feel sick. From the corner of my eye, I spied an unopened box of couscous. Somehow, I had the patience to let the water boil before I poured in the couscous, adding in the tiniest pinch of salt. I brought half a bowl’s worth of plain couscous with me and returned to my little nook on the couch. 

The thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me.

It wasn’t laziness that had caused me to be this way. Well, not entirely. Preparing food is always perceived as such a technical and calming thing. Some people even plan their days around exciting meals. Yet, there is actually a recognized phobia of cooking that comes in many forms, ranging from the fear of following recipes to the fear of harming one’s self in the process.

I am not entirely sure if what I experience is a medical phobia, but the thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me. One on hand, I may be internally defying forced gender roles by refusing to be good at an act traditionally taken on by women. However, I know the real reason is something far more complicated and twisted.

When I’m in the kitchen, I am hyper-aware of the ingredients that are being put into my food and feel almost sick to my stomach. I can’t bring myself to follow recipes correctly because who knew everything needed so much butter? I skim down on the ‘unhealthy’ ingredients when I cook, and predictably, the food doesn’t turn out right.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while I have tried tracking what I eat, I mostly allow myself to indulge in food that I enjoy. Yet, in order to do that, I have to adopt a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset. I don’t want to see how my food is being prepared so that I don’t feel as guilty when consuming it. Knowing how much sugar went into it is sure to make me feel too distressed to eat it. When I don’t see it, I can fool myself into thinking it’s not a big deal. It is a coping mechanism I need.

Preparing food for myself triggers something toxic within me. If I am being honest with myself, I am scared that it will blossom into a condition that is more serious. Right now, I am just wary of cooking for myself. Yet, it could escalate into being more strict with calories, or skipping meals completely. I know I can’t continue having this relationship with food. I am holding myself back from enjoying life by refusing to be self-sufficient in this simple way. 

My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

Acknowledging this behavior of mine has been crucial to overcoming it. Having someone cook alongside me as helped to ground me in reality and hold me accountable. A friend had told me, “Well, like it nor not, we need to add butter otherwise the carrot cake will be a sad brick.” Their words are brutally honest and correct. Why bother cooking if I am going to consciously mess it up anyway?

But more than that, recognizing the source of my cooking-induced anxiety is important in defeating it. While I could dismiss ANTM as a silly, ironic pastime, it does wire my brain a certain way. The bodies that these shows promote or bash creep up on me. These things subliminally plaster onto my mind, without me even consciously recognizing them. In an era of self-love, it may be difficult to recognize the self-criticism that lurks beneath. My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

I know it will take a while for me to unplug the wires and reset them. With time, I hope to confidently cook food that I will enjoy without breaking a sweat about the amount of butter in the recipe. Continuing to learn how to cook can break me out of this cycle of guilt. While I don’t think I will get to the culinary level of needing a personalized apron, I am hopeful to see where this journey takes me.  

Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

Health Care Culture Beauty Wellness Life

I decided to step off the treadmill and let my body be

There are a couple of sounds that instantly take me back to a simpler time in my life; the music of onions frying in a kitchen, U-Roy playing on a loop and sneakers being tied. I grew up in a family that took exercise seriously. In every single office that my father has occupied, he has a photo of him completing the Boston Marathon, a smile gracing his damp face, one arm raised in celebration of his achievement. My sister would stretch this way and that before she would go on a run. My other sister used to be a dedicated swimmer.

Suffice to say, part of our identities were tied up in exercise. It’s something that I didn’t embrace until I was much older, which elicited annoyance from my family.  But that time did come. For me, it was almost like a siren call. The gym beckoned to me, promising to be a place that I could solve my problems and cultivate the discipline that I desperately needed and, in the beginning, it was. I learned that I was much stronger than I looked and that I could push through discomfort to lift a heavier dumbbell. It turns out those were valuable lessons for me to learn. As I’ve aged, I’ve been put in situations where I have to push back against my discomfort and stand my ground. I honestly do not think I would have been able to do that without stepping foot into the gym.

But then Instagram happened. Ah, Instagram; the bane and yet the light of our modern society. I was never an avid user of Instagram until about two years ago. I was so opposed to the app that a friend used to run my account. I didn’t see the less savory side of it until I started looking for workout videos on the app. While those videos were helpful, I couldn’t help but notice a pretty obvious pattern. All the women’s bodies looked the same. An extremely flat and toned stomach with a round, curvy butt that seemed to defy gravity paired with strong muscular thighs.

These Instagram fitness coaches preached about taking time for yourself and investing in your well being in between adds of slimming teas (which are laxatives, don’t let anyone tell you any different). In between all the weightlifting, yoga classes, high-intensity exercises, and skincare tips that I came to follow, something changed. My body never looked better, but my mind was messy. No matter how much muscle I had gained or every achievement, it wasn’t enough for me.

I was miserable. I began looking at myself in the mirror just after showering, handling my body unkindly and asking myself how come my butt didn’t look like theirs? Why weren’t my arms growing at a faster rate? How come I hadn’t hit a certain number of calories burned on the treadmill?  I didn’t realize that part of the wellness culture online is cultivating the feeling that you could be better and that your best self is just around the corner. If you can hold out for just long enough and spend a little more money, use more derma rollers to firm up your cellulite or wear these leggings while doing weighted rows, your life will change.

Months later and I was burnt out. Not just physically but emotionally. Deep down, I knew something had to give. So I did the one thing I needed to do; I took a break. I ate whatever I wanted, and that includes ice cream for dinner because why not? I only exercised when I felt like it and not a minute more. I let my body be, with no expectations attached. Through this process, I discovered A Swole Woman‘s Instagram account. Her only goal is to teach people about the strength of their bodies even if they don’t see it or feel it. Through her, I have learned to focus not on the aesthetics of my body, but the strength that it holds.

I am currently still on my break from exercise. I am dedicated to refocusing my joy on what my body can do and not what it looks like. I am also relearning that my body does not need to be on a constant track to something better. Through this, I’ve learned to love my body more, even if I don’t necessarily like it all the time. Soon enough, I will walk into a gym again in the cold and put my hands on a squatted rack the same way I did a year ago. But the reasons for it will be very different and so much better.

Health Care Wellness

Your body deserves better than Before/After photos

How many times have you come across a social media post where an individual sets multiple photographs of their body side by side in comparison? How many times have you witnessed the claims “I am so happy with my body now” and “I believe in body positivity” uttered within the same breath? You might be wondering what exactly is wrong with either of these statements, and that is exactly why a conversation about this phenomenon and its implications is necessary.

While many of us undertaking fitness journeys claim to be body positive, our public treatment of our past body betrays an explicit disdain for it.

The example I mention above is a result of a culture driven by a need to constantly be in progressive motion. The very existence of the Before/After binary depends on seeing one side as superior to the other. It connotes that the Before image is something to be reviled and altered, while the After image is the one to aspire towards. Many claim that such a comparison merely functions to motivate the self and others to achieve difficult goals, but this is a common and harmful misconception that we unknowingly fall into.

While many of us undertaking fitness journeys claim to be body positive, our public treatment of our past body betrays an explicit disdain for it. Often, this past body is the bigger body, the fatter body—the “uglier” body—and celebrating its transformation into a thinner, conventionally more beautiful body vehemently opposes the notion of all bodies deserving respect. 

While there is absolutely no harm in establishing goals for personal betterment, either for physical or mental health, it is critical to recognize the line between personal projects and the way they are publicly celebrated. In a society where fat-shaming is increasingly common and socialization dictates that all must conform to certain bodily standards, the public shaming of our own bodies contributes to the same regressive notions. Too many people keep engaging in discussion about their bodily transformations in a manner that actively excludes those who have failed to meet the same standards.

Often, this past body is the bigger body, the fatter body—the “uglier” body. 

When someone openly shames their own unfit body, they automatically convey the same message to others who may also be struggling with their own body image. In cheering our own transformations, we propagate that those with even bigger, and hence “worse” bodies, are automatically in need of changing.

The same is the case with a common tendency to constantly refer to our bodies as “fat” or “ugly” while interacting with others. Too many people, especially young girls, are in the habit of publicly degrading their own bodies while talking about them. I am certain many of us can admit to sharing our photographs with a disclaimer like “I look fat but…” without a second thought.

In truth, when we publicly self-shame, even as victims of conditions like body dysmorphia, we unintentionally end up reproducing the same standards that oppress us. In vilifying our own bodies, we pass on the same message to others who may, in turn, compare our bodies to their to their own. It’s an endless cycle where everyone suffers.

Of course, those producing this self-shaming discourse are its own primary victims. By setting a standard of progress that is rooted in physical transformation, we tie our own self-worth to our body image. In instances where we fail to consistently replicate similar progress, we shame ourselves for failing. Many times, the strive from a Before to an After results in a never ending cycle where every After is a new Before, and no ultimate satisfaction is achieved. 

In vilifying our own bodies, we pass on the same message to others who may, in turn, compare our bodies to their to their own

The constant need to always be doing better is a pressure that most of us are victim to in today’s fast-paced world, where personal worth is inherently tied to productivity. Fitness journeys, fad diets, and Before/After transformations exist within this very context, and necessitate us to be in constant flux. It is normal to fall victim to the standards that are constantly pushed onto us through media, societal conventions and our own interactions, but it is time to question our own role in reproducing them.

It is entirely possible to celebrate achieving our personal goals without shaming our past selves in the process. If we must strive towards betterment, then let it be in our treatment of our bodies. Verbal narratives hold power, and it is never too late to start being mindful about how we talk of our bodies. Let us start a healthier cycle of kindness to ourselves and, in turn, to others.

TV Shows LGBTQIA+ Pop Culture

15 LGBTQIA+ tropes that need to be retired yesterday

Queer representation is having a good year (Valkyrie “needs to find her queen”! David (ew) and Patrick! Robin Buckley!). However, we’re still backsliding. There are still too many LGBTQIA+ tropes and trends in television that reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate a complete lack of awareness when it comes to the queer community. Negative characters and oblivious portrayals are as disheartening as they are harmful.

And yet, Emmy season after Emmy season, we pat incremental change and mediocrity on the back, calling it progress. That needs to stop. No more trophies until it actually gets better. So, Hollywood, here’s a list of what could be, should be, has to be improved because you clearly need help:

Beware of spoilers!

1. My body is your body

The cast of <em>Queer Eye</em>, five men of similar build dressed in suits.
[Image description: The cast of Queer Eye, five men of similar build dressed in suits.] Via Getty
There are bears and otters and butches and femmes everything in between, but they’re rarely seen on screen. The Queer Eye hosts pretty much have the same body type. Darren Criss or Ben Whishaw could dead dropped into the majority of LGBTQIA+ roles and no one would notice. There is little to no deviation and that’s not representation. 

2. Language 

A brown-haired, white boy responds to someone off-screen, saying: "I'm not gay."
[Image description: A brown-haired, white boy responds to someone off-screen, saying: “I’m not gay.”] Via Derry Girls on Netflix
Somehow “gay” is still slung like it’s damaging to one’s masculinity. In Netflix’s Derry Girls, James is repeatedly called “gay” for no reason other than perhaps getting a rise out of him. The series is set in the 1990s, but this detail doesn’t get excused as world building. It doesn’t add anything and it doesn’t help. 

3. This is going to take ALL episode

A shirtless, white man is drenched and seated on a stage. Behind him is a woman lying down.
[Image description: A shirtless, white man is drenched and seated on a stage. Behind him is a woman lying down.] VIa It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia on YouTube
Coming out storylines are still important; however, they don’t always have to take the entire season to come to fruition. Let that character do something else with their story arch. Not everyone needs a Puppy Episode

4. One dimensional queers

A brown-haired white man in a blue button-down and red bowtie says: "Uh, my friend Eric and then my ex John, and then Eric again."
[Image description: A brown-haired white man in a blue button-down and red bowtie says: “Uh, my friend Eric and then my ex John, and then Eric again.”] Via Grace and Frankie on Netflix
The Damiens and other gay-best-friends are being swapped out for those with more depth, like Sex Education‘s Eric. Queer characters deserve development beyond being gay, give them hobbies and all the trivial bits that are written into other characters.

5. Acceptance = Flawless Allyship

A white man in a cap and brown shirt looks stoically at his son.
[Image description: A white man in a cap and brown shirt looks stoically at his son.] Via Glee on YouTube
The super chill attitude of parents/siblings/partners is refreshingly positive, but it leads to a the assumption that Love Is Love and the conversation doesn’t need to go any further when in reality there’s a lot more to be done for gay rights. 

6. Heteronormativity with all the trimmings

Two white women - one blonde, the other black-haired - in prison are having a conversation while seated on the floor. The blonde one says to the other: "You're really telling me you didn't miss me at all?"
[Image description: Two white women – one blonde, the other black-haired – in prison are having a conversation while seated on the floor. The blonde one says to the other: “You’re really telling me you didn’t miss me at all?”] Via Orange Is The New Black on Netflix
Queerness often appears as a straight relationship simply rewritten so that both partners are of the same gender. Not everyone can or wants to assimilate to that norm. There isn’t a boyfriend and a girlfriend when there are two girlfriends.

7. She wears a hat and you know what that means

A woman in a blue striped shirt, suspenders, and a newboy cap is seated in a dark restaurant.
[Image description: A woman in a blue striped shirt, suspenders, and a newboy cap is seated in a dark restaurant.] Via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on YouTube
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Susie is the example of presentation standing in for conversation. Her character feels too much like a benchwarmer for when the show decides to get political. 

8. One lone queer character amid masses of straights 

Two dark-haired white men - one in a suit, the other in a red bellhop uniform - are staring each other down.
[Image description: Two dark-haired white men – one in a suit, the other in a red bellhop uniform – are staring each other down.] Via Mad Men on Netflix
There’s never an abundance unless it’s the L Word or Loking. There are partners and exes, but rarely just everyday other queer people. 

9. Queer-baiting

A blonde girl and a black-haired girl kiss. They're dressed in a yellow-and-white cheerleading uniform.
[Image description: A blonde girl and a black-haired girl kiss. They’re dressed in a yellow-and-white cheerleading uniform.] Via Riverdale on The CW
A potentially queer character or couple is usually hinted at or teased. Too often the scene seems to have been written just to draw in a potential audience. The entirety of BBC’s Sherlock, anyone?

10. “I’ve never done this before.”

Two women are lying in bed looking at each intensely. One has her arm outstretched, cupping the face of the other.
[Image description: Two women are lying in bed looking at each intensely. One has her arm outstretched, cupping the face of the other.] Via Killing Eve on YouTube
The fluidity of sexuality deserves screen time, but currently the bed’s a little crowded with “straight” people. This I-normally-wouldn’t-but image feeds into the whole queers are here to steal your wife stereotype. 

11. Strategic camera pan

Two white men in suits are on the dance floor, their foreheads touching as they gaze lovingly into each other's eyes.
[Image description: Two white men in suits are on the dance floor, their foreheads touching as they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes.] Via Modern Family on ABC
The camera tends to look away during even remotely intimate moments between queer characters. Or deny by omission that they even have sex. Equal screen time or bust. The Shadowhunters fandom erupted when Malec was denied a sex scene in season 2. The writers tried to make up for it in season 3.

12. Lesbian sex involves a lot of clothing

Two women in bed cuddle after sex. The one on the left side-hugs the one on the right who says: "Hello."
[Image description: Two women in bed cuddle after sex. The one on the left side-hugs the one on the right who says: “Hello.”] Via In The Dark on Netflix
This costume quirk is obviously an attempt to keep it PG, but come on. Straight couples have had strategically draped sheets for decades. Will no cameraperson attempt to hide the nudity of two women on screen? 

13. Repression & Hate = Closeted Gay

Two high school football players - one black, the other white - mock two other students dressed up in costumes.
[Image description: Two high school football players – one black, the other white – mock two other students dressed up in costumes.] Via Glee on YouTube
Characters like Sex Education‘s Adam illustrate the tired trend of tortured high school bullies being the result of their own self-hatred. Scripts need to stop assuming the best of hate and homophobes. 

14. Bury your gays

A dark-haired, brown woman stared coyly at her blonde friend.
[Image description: A dark-haired, brown woman stared coyly at her blonde friend.] Via You on Netflix
If your script includes the death of a LGBTQIA+ character, go back to the writing room. Remember what happened in The 100‘s fandom after Lexa was killed?

15. Queerness is overwhelmingly white

Two white women in tank tops are drinking in a low-lit dining booth.
[Image description: Two white women in tank tops are drinking in a low-lit dining booth.] Via Gypsy on Netflix
Thankfully shows like Pose, Queer Sugar, Dear White People, Black Lightning, and The Bold Type are changing the game.

In general, television has come a long way since shows like Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, and Ellen. LGBTQIA+ representation no longer finds itself confined to the first two letters of the acronym. Of course, there’s still lot’s to learn, but in the meantime, support the series that get it right and show the world what it needs to see. 

Mind Love Wellness

The body positivity movement is nothing without fat acceptance

I remember the first time someone criticized my weight.

I was in fourth grade, and for some reason, some girls in my class and I were going around in a circle talking about what made us pretty. I said I was happy with the way I look, and a girl in that group that I would be prettier “if I lost a few pounds.” That’s the time when my insecurity with my weight started. As I’ve gotten older, I have grown increasingly aware that even while many people talking about body positivity – fat acceptance is often either left out of these conversations or ignored altogether.

Well, it’s time that this changes. Besides the fact that everyone’s body should be celebrated – no matter what they look like – fat activists actually started the body positivity movement.

According to Time Magazine, the fat acceptance movement started in the 1960s, at the same time as the Civil Rights movement and second-wave feminism.  Time Magazine wrote that these activists  “staged [an] event in New York City’s Central Park, dubbed it a ‘Fat-In’ and ate ice cream while burning posters of über-thin model Twiggy.” While this event was important invisibly promoting fat acceptance, shamming Twiggy for her stature was unnecessary.

The term “body positivity” came around in 1996, roughly 30 years after the fat acceptance movement started. Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, founded The Body Positive, a nonprofit, to encourage people to have more healthy and peaceful relationships with their bodies. Connie’s own experience with an eating disorder when she was a teen and her sister’s death from an eating disorder inspired the two women to create the nonprofit, according to its website.

Nothing about the nonprofit itself promotes fat-shaming, but fat acceptance somehow got lost.

Fat acceptance is needed more than ever, and one can look at the media to see just how present fat-shaming is. You don’t have to look far to see a celebrity being fat-shamed in the tabloids or social media, like how  Kim Kardashian was fat-shamed on the covers of weekly tabloids when she was pregnant. Fat-shaming also has financial implications for people outside of the public eye. The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination found that “workers who are heavier than average are paid $1.25 less an hour. Over a 40-year career, they will earn up to $100,000 less before taxes than their thinner counterparts.”

Any discrimination should be illegal, so it’s absurd that people who are deemed to be heavier are paid less.

Despite fat acceptance not being as prominent as it should be, people are definitely fighting for it. Model Tess Holiday is a fat acceptance activist, and she fights weight-based discrimination in the fashion industry. Holiday, who has a large following on social media with 1.8 million followers on Instagram, refuses to “walk in a show unless they were actually making [her] size,”  which she believes encourages designers to be more diverse in their sizing.

Fatventure Mag founder and editor Samantha Puc, who was interviewed by The Tempest, shared with us that she created her publication because she wanted to share her experiences and others’ experiences “about leading an active lifestyle” as a self-identifying fat people.

We have a long way to go in terms of embracing fat acceptance.

To work to get there, let’s stop judging people for their size. We never know what anyone is going through – whether it be battling a disease that makes them lose or gain weight,  having an off month, or they’re the happiest at that size – so let’s be kinder to each other.

Gender & Identity Life

Embracing my curves was necessary after years of being slut-shamed

Even though I’m afraid to admit it sometimes, I think about my appearance a lot. I look in every mirror that I ever see and check my reflection in windows. No, this does not stem from feeling confident in my appearance and loving my outfits. Instead, this is a product of me having been slut-shamed from the age of 10.

I went through puberty earlier than my peers. I remember going bra-shopping at the start of fifth grade with my mother. I had only had trainer-bras before, you know, the $10-dollar kind from Old Navy. The person working in the bra section of Macy’s measured me, and I learned that I was a C-cup. I honestly didn’t care about the information that I was just told and wouldn’t have given it a second thought until my mother made a comment. She told me that I would have to start dressing more modestly to hide my cleavage.

At my mother’s insistence, I bought some new clothes that day, but her comments did not stop there. Before and after my soccer practices, she would criticize my decision to wear tank tops in 80-degree weather. I had told her I was comfortable, and it was hot. She had brushed me off and said that I was being inappropriate.

My mother was, unfortunately, not the only person who criticized, or slut-shamed, me. At my middle school, we did not have a dress code, but we did have dress code regulations. I, on more than one occasion, was criticized by my guidance counselor for my clothing choices. On many occasions, this was when I was wearing t-shirts. Even though it should not be a problem if I did, I did not show any cleavage. At the same time, my t-shirts were not incredibly baggy. This sent me one message: My body, because of its curves, is in itself inappropriate.

Well, that’s one message I should not have been given, and no one else should be given. There is nothing wrong with my appearance. I hated my body for years because of criticism from adults. Fortunately, that period is over, and I am trying to reclaim my appearance now.

What does reclaiming my appearance mean? It can be different for everyone, but for me, it means dressing in clothes that make me feel comfortable and that I think are cute. It means embracing my curves. If I show some cleavage or wear something form-fitting, that’s fine. If people have a problem with this, that’s on them, not me. Sure, I definitely do follow societal norms when it comes to attire — I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. I’m going to wear formal clothes when I go to a job interview, but if I’m just studying or going out with friends, I’m not going to care if my clothes are “appropriate.”

Unfortunately, I am far from being alone when it comes to slut-shaming. Many schools across the world are guilty of slut-shaming and teaching girls that their bodies are inappropriate. This can often be seen in dress codes or guidelines, where there are often more rules pertaining to girls than boys. For example, some guidelines insinuate that girls cannot wear yoga pants because they would distract boys. Instead, why don’t we teach boys to not view girls as sexual objects? Sounds like a better place to start. Confronting notions, like dress guidelines, which either promote or lead to slut-shaming is crucial.

Being slut-shamed sucked, and I get annoyed now when people make comments about how I need to be more modest. It’s a work in progress, but I’m working on embracing my body, specifically my curves. This includes looking at my reflection and telling myself that I look amazing. Because I do.

Love Life Stories Wellness Inequality

Here’s why we need a Fat Acceptance Month – and how you can help

Note: Denarii Grace uses both she/her and they/them/their pronouns.

As someone who is Black, disabled, and fat, Denarii Grace runs into a lot of spaces that aren’t welcoming or accessible to her. They have used that discomfort to teach others about what our identities mean and that just because we don’t conform to the status quo doesn’t mean we aren’t still worthy of self-love. Her activism runs through the intersections and asks us to consider what we can do to lift each other up.

I was very lucky to snag a few moments of Denarii’s time recently to talk about what why she’s working on a Fat Acceptance Month.

1. What do you feel is the most common misconception about being fat and the fat acceptance movement?

I think that the most common misconception is the idea that fat people – especially fat people who adhere to the fat acceptance movement – don’t give a shit about our well-being.

Health is relative and there are many of us who will never be what an ableist society considers “healthy.” “Health” should never be a marker of a person’s value. This is how ableism and fat antagonism go hand in hand. I’m a multiply disabled fat person. I’ve been fat pretty much my entire life. For me personally, I measure my “health” (if we wanna call it that) primarily on metabolic stats: my blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, liver and kidney function, that kind of stuff. Based on that, I’m super healthy despite the fact that I’m 5’7″ and weigh about 275 lbs in a society that claims that, at that size, I’ve got one foot in the grave.

Of course, as someone living with seasonal depression and PTSD, among other things, and living in a society that hates me for my size, race, skin color, disabilities, sexuality, spiritual practice, and a host of other identities, I also measure my “health” based on my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. None of these things can be separated from each other: so-called physical “health” is tied up completely in our mental well-being and our experiences with oppression.

2. What is the difference between body positivity and fat acceptance?

Like so many movements, body positivity was co-opted by thin privileged people (and so-called “small fats”), and turned into a movement about our “feelings” and our looks (which is part of it, but not the be all, end all), and then capitalists did what they do best – exploit and water it down until it’s practically meaningless.

Fat acceptance is about liberation from harmful, oppressive ideas about beauty and health. It’s about a “healthcare” system that acknowledges the painful, traumatic relationships that many fat folks have with food and our bodies and treating us as whole beings instead of shoving diet culture down our throats. It’s about representation in media and politics. It’s about creating spaces that are physically and mentally fat-friendly. It’s about creating a society in which size diversity is both celebrated and inconsequential, which sounds like a paradox, but I believe that that world is possible. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do the work that I do.

3. I know you’re working on creating a Fat Acceptance Month in 2019. Can you share a bit about that?

It’s in the beginning stages. I want it to be observed every January. In a Christian, Western context, the beginning of January is seen as the “new year” season, a time to dedicate ourselves to setting various goals and hopes for the upcoming year. In a fat antagonistic society, this means being bombarded with diet and weight-loss messages.

My hope is to counteract that messaging with healthier messaging about weight-neutral wellness, discussions about systemic thin privilege and fat oppression, and various other issues that we face that are rarely highlighted, even in so-called “progressive” communities.

Right now, I’m looking for folks to get involved in different ways. It would mostly be an online, digital, social media campaigns, infographics. Hopefully, I’ll get some articles written, interviews like this one, etc. I’m hoping for in-person events, too.

4. What do you wish you could tell your younger self or a teenager struggling with their weight?

“Fuck diets. You don’t need them because you’re perfectly fine and fabulous just the way you are. You aren’t on a collision course with death and, even if you were, your life holds value way beyond the numbers on any scale. Fat and fabulous is the way to go, love!”

I never heard any messages of this sort until I got to graduate school in my mid-20s and discovered Health at Every Size. That’s a long time to be starved (pun intended) of self-love and bombarded with erroneous ideas about the body you live in every single day.

To keep in touch with Denarii, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and Patreon. To join the Fat Acceptance Month listserv, shoot her an email.

Gender & Identity Beauty Lookbook Life

I stopped shaving more than a year ago – here’s why I’ll never go back

During Mardi Gras, conventional rules of behavior are thrown out the parade float.

In the early carnival season, known in most parts of the country as “winter,” my shaving habit had faltered. As stubble turned to scruff, I decided to take the advice gleaned from the first hour and a half of the audiobook version of Sheryl Strandberg’s famous work and lean in: I grew out my armpit hair.

In early middle school, when the peach fuzz under my arm first turned to kiwi fluff, I gleefully, and sometimes painfully, removed it, feeling one step closer to initiation into the woman club.

A year ago, as I let my hair grow fully for the first time ever, I was fascinated. I feel many things about my body, but not often wonder. I don’t usually find armpits particularly poetic, but finally allowing a function that had been denied for the past decade was in some ways awesome.

That Mardi Gras, my last as a college student, I flaunted my new underarm garden. I highly recommend glittering one’s pits while waiting in line at a Rally’s or another fast food establishment. I wore my pits hairy and glittered for every parade I attended, and a fair share of my poses in pictures from that year are pit first, an under-utilized pose in my opinion.

Animated GIF
[image description: illustrated gif of purple haired naked woman leaning to one side with one arm raised displaying her armpit hair which is growing into flowers]
While some seasons have ambiguous ends, with Christmas trees staying up notoriously past Christmas, Mardi Gras’s is distinct. To mark it I decided it was time to prune my beautiful petunias.

I regretted it immediately.

Shaving was remarkably uncomfortable, like stroking sandpaper or, say, dragging a blade against the grain of your hair in an area of your body not used to many touches.

As it grew back, the discomfort continued. I was angry at razor companies for convincing me that parts of my body were wrong, a scheme I had been aware of but had not fully internalized until stabbed by my own vengeful follicles in the first days of Lent. I decided not to shave my precious pits for the foreseeable future and lumped my legs in for good measure.

During Mardi Gras, the decision not to shave had felt silly and on-theme, but post it felt rebellious, empowering, and at times, vulnerable. Walking to class, I’d feel delighted by the breeze through my leg hair, like fairies dancing across my shins, and then self-conscious upon arrival that my classmates might stare. Getting dressed to go out, I’d put on a feminine tank top, and then while examining my look in the mirror, I’d flash a pit much to my own amusement.

I prepared to have men reject me, feeling preemptively both hurt by these imaginary critics and spiteful towards them. “My body, my choice!” I’d misuse in my mental retort. However, when it came to actual romantic interests, none of them were swayed by my hairiness.

As it turns out, my attractiveness and general appeal have very little to do with my body hair.

Animated GIF
[Image description: illustrated gif of a purple haired naked woman with both arms raised waving her hands and dancing]
In my current life, my legs remain generally shaved, though with far less fear of stubble than in my teen years. However, my armpit hair flows, a small act of rebellion under my conservative work attire. Though my opinion of my body changes hourly, the patch of hair under my arms reminds me that it is mine alone to live in and enjoy and adorn as I please.

Health Care Health News Love Wellness

Don’t be fooled: WW is still out to ruin your self-esteem

Weight Watchers needs no elaborate introduction.

The company was founded in 1963 by an American homemaker in Queens, New York and has grown in the following decades. Today, it has branches in 30 different countries and a 2017 yearly revenue of $1.3 billion.

But Weight Watchers has a problem.

These days, consumers don’t like the word “diet”. Case in point: January usually sees the highest number of new subscribers to Weight Watchers as people set weight loss goals for the new year with sign-ups increasing yearly. In January 2015, though, new subscribers dropped by 20% when compared to January 2014. This prompted a flurry of investigation and research. The results were in: diets were decreasing in popularity.

It’s pretty great that fewer people are investing in diets. Put simply, diets don’t work.

In fact, weight loss attempts, in general, do not work.

The science on this is pretty clear. Somewhere between 95 – 98% of weight loss attempts are unsuccessful, a woman classified as ‘obese’ has only a 0.8% chance of achieving a ‘normal’ weight and no country in the world has reduced its obesity rate.

Diets are particularly notorious, with two-thirds of all dieters ending up gaining more weight than what they started with.

Weight loss may also be wholly unnecessary. We usually equate thinness with health, but that’s a false equivalency. A 2007 UCLA review of 30 diet studies seemed to support this conclusion, with the head researcher remarking, “Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people”.

Another study found that between one-third and three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy whilst a 2016 study posited that plus-size fit people are two times less likely to be diabetic than skinny people. Overweight people may also not face greater mortality when compared to normal-weight people and fit people (regardless of size) were likely to be healthier than those who were not fit.

A growing body of research asserts that weight-stigma – not weight – may be the primary reason why plus size folks suffer.

Weight stigma increases the risk of chronic disease and diabetes via a culture of shame that makes larger people suffer mentally and physically. Many doctors refuse to see plus-size patients and those that do often have shorter appointments with them, make disparaging comments about weight and ignore their primary pressing health concerns.

Weight stigma, therefore, prevents plus-size folks from seeking timely medical care and can lead to yo-yo dieting and eating disorders which are associated with a host of mental and physical diseases. It also brings with it significant anxiety and depression in navigating a fat-phobic world that sees a larger body as a moral failure.

When Mindy Grossman became CEO of Weight Watchers in 2015, the body-positive movement had already started changing the way people see diets. 

Slowly but surely, more people have realized that diet culture is harmful, thanks to the fat-acceptance movement and radical plus-size activists who have been arguing against diet culture and weight-based discrimination for decades.

So Grossman decided to rebrand. Weight Watchers became WW in 2018. Now it will make money off “wellness.”

Same shit, new package.

This is diet culture, which “worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue” and “demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others”. Most of the modern culture’s obsession with ‘healthy’ eating and ‘lifestyle changes’ is just diet culture without the d-word to make it more palatable.

Weight Watchers acknowledges this upfront with their senior vice president Deb Benovitz saying, “We realized that if we talked about [Weight Watchers] differently and we upped certain things and played down other things, we would really be giving people pretty close to what they wanted.”

So, Weight Watchers has the same philosophy as WW. It’s just differently worded.

If diets don’t work, what approach should we take to health?

One way of being healthier is the Health At Every Size (HAES) initiative.

Started in the 1960s, the technique has ties to the radical fat acceptance movement. It encourages intuitive eating and making peace with each individual’s relationship with food and the space their body occupies. Proponents encourage exercise and listening to a body’s natural satiety clues. A study comparing dieters to HAES members found that the latter had many sustainable health benefits while the former did not. These benefits included a lower LDL (low-density lipoproteins, also known as ‘bad cholesterol’) and better self-esteem.

It’s time to hold companies accountable for making a profit off the scam that weight loss is mandatory and achievable, even if they attempt to disguise their strategy in newer, ‘woke-r’ words.

We deserve so, so much more than a culture that punishes larger people simply for existing in their bodies.