When I was in high school, I was overweight. I lived in a town of 5,000 outdoors-loving, hockey-playing, very athletic peers who judged my size and lack of athletic ability. I hid my body behind Size XL B.U.M. equipment t-shirts and oversized baggy cargo pants with drawstring waists, until one day I woke up and realized I had discovered “fashion” – in magazines like Elle, Flare, W and Fashion I would read the articles and drool over the cashmere and shift dresses, only to know deep down inside that size 20 girls could never wear these beautiful garments. I wanted to be a fashion journalist at one point until it occurred to me that I could never be a size 20 dumpy writer, constantly surrounded by beautiful, thin, judgmental, bitch, fickle people. And so that dream died the minute it lived.
I would have given anything back when I was a size 18/20, to see a girl my size be confident and comfortable in her own skin and super sexy. I didn’t have any plus-size role models back then – only Kate Moss staring at me from her perfume and clothing ads, judging my size, looks and awkwardness.
Fast forward twelve years and today, at the gym, I watched a show called “Big Sexy” on TLC.
The previews of “Big Sexy” made it look like it was profiling a bunch of BBWs who were big, loud and proud and ate what they wanted and copped ‘in yo face attitude’, which I felt would be really off-putting and furthermore, presenting more negative portrayals of big girls as freaky, attitude-filled, Z-snapping antagonistic fetish objects.
Instead, what I got was a show about confident, intelligent women with dreams of changing the fashion industry; of walking down a runway with those emaciated girls that we all see that make us feel like total shit when we’re too young to understand airbrushing and femininity and body image and embracing one’s self. These women are battling these negative stereotypes — in the fashion industry, in dating, in New York City.
One girl on the show says to her friends, “Wow, I could eat like… a whole chicken right now.” And hearing a woman say this on TV was validating, liberating and very brave to me; I’ve eaten a whole chicken before. To hear a fashionable, confident, sexy ‘big girl’ on TV saying this same thing validates for me that it’s okay that I’ve done that. And that I’m not alone, but that it’s okay.
According to these women, being “big girls” in a city like New York, in the fashion industry, isn’t easy; they deal with douchebags who admit to only hooking up with “big girls” when they’re drunk; and creepy “BBW” parties that are totally demeaning and unappealing to the personalities on the show, and who admit on camera that they often come in contact with creepy “chubby chasers” who look at them as a sex experiment. One girl says out loud that she often wishes actually, that she could ask men she’s dated why they never called – to find out if her size is the problem. I’m not as “big” as the girls on the show anymore; but I was. And I’ve always been single, and I’ve always been faced with this question as well. Hearing someone else say that was a wonderful thing.
And so I salute TLC for taking a chance on these girls even when the fashion industry passes the buck; I hope this show changes people’s perception of body image and allows these fabulous, gorgeous, smart, wonderful women a chance to achieve their dreams.