As the old adage goes, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” It’s not surprising that this notion is a truth for many women in a society that equates thinness with beauty, wellness, goodness, and self-control.
But ideas are changing as more and more women choose to throw diet culture out the window and embrace themselves as they are. Fewer women want to lose weight than they did a decade ago in America, which is a positive sign for those of us fed up with fatphobia and bigotry. And at the forefront of this revolution of self-acceptance are visibly plus-sized women who are showing us how fierce, beautiful, and brilliant they are. These inspiring, plus size babes will make you want to ditch your diet for good.
I first learned of Virgie Tovar through a mutual friend on Facebook, who liked a post of hers about fatphobia — a word I’d never heard — but immediately resonated with me. And ever since then, I can say that following Tovar on social media has made my life a better one.
Tovar’s fight against fatphobia is multi-faceted. She’s the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, & Fashion, an anthology of pro-fat essays by activists, performers, poets, and writers. She’s also the founder of Babecamp, an online course that helps women break up with diet culture (another phrase I learned from her). And she writes a weekly column about fat issues called Take the Cake on Ravishly. And she just gave a Ted Talk which I’m dying to see!
Her Instagram features travel adventures with her friends, her gloriously unapologetic fashion posts, some food porn here and there, and most importantly, enduring reminders that fat is not a moral failing! Fat can be as fabulous as you make it. So, as Tovar says, “Lose hate, not weight.”
You just can’t miss the gorgeousness that is Precious Lee. She’s one of the first plus size, black woman to appear in the famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She was also the first plus size, black woman to appear in Vogue. She’s also a model for Lane Bryant, and has starred in their #ImNoAngel, #PlusIsEqual, and #ThisBody ad campaigns.
Lee’s beauty goes far beyond skin-deep, as is evidenced by her defiance in an industry that demanded she conform. When she first pursued modeling, her agent suggested that she change her name to something more conventional (Victoria). And while she did, initially, after a short time she went back to her given name. She also cut her hair, which made her agents unhappy, but also allowed her to be herself and live her authentic truth. And it paid off, big time. Now she’s a successful model who’s showing the world that plus size and black is beautiful, and helping us see our own beauty in ourselves. Need a little inspo? Check out her Instagram.
Some women really do it all, and Kitty Stryker is one of them. She’s a “writer, antifascist activist, and queer sex educator.” On top of that, she’s the editor of the upcoming book, Ask: Building Consent Culture, a compilation of essays from badass folks about the importance of consent in all aspects of life. And that’s not all. You can also catch her speaking at conferences and universities about a variety of issues, from body positivity to pornography — or even teaching Juggalos about anarchy!
Stryker is also open about being a survivor of both rape and abuse, as well as a survival sex worker. This kind of candor is vital, as it empowers survivors not to be ashamed, and provides strength and empathy to so many people who need it. Additionally, she’s open about having an eating disorder, specifically anorexia, while being fat.
One of my favorite things about Stryker is her ever-evolving look. From her hair, which is always changing colors, to her costuming, which is incredible, to her stunning sense of fashion (even for protests!), she’s the shape-shifting queen of aesthetics.
Rye Silverman first graced my screen when I learned that she was selected as the first ever transgender model for Modcloth’s #fashiontruth campaign — where she absolutely slays with her curls, her coy smile, her killer legs, and her perfect skin — all Photoshop-free. Silverman was featured by Modcloth in 2015, the year they ditched “plus size” as a label, and integrated all of their clothing into one sizing system. And while while Silverman may not be conventionally plus-sized, she shows us how good you can look in non-standard sized clothing.
Silverman has understandably gotten a lot of attention for her modeling, but her primary work is in comedy, where she’s performed a poignant and personal bit about flying while transgender.
Her wit is biting but gentle, and her comedy is refreshingly self-aware. With a candor that invites people in to laugh and be entertained — even when she’s doing sensitive material — it’s no surprise that she continues to find success as a comedian. All that, and she’s doing it while living her truth as a transgender woman, something it took her many years to realize.
I credit Lesley Kinzel with being the first person to bring awareness of fat-acceptance into my life. It was 2012, and I had just moved into a new city and was working a new job. At the time, she was a staff writer at xoJane, where she published pieces on everything from fashion (I got so many good tights because of this article), fat-shaming (this one about doctors and fat-shaming is a must-read), dieting (this homage to diet foods she ate as a child is everything), and pop culture musings about games, movies, and more. She also wrote and published a book, entitled Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body that year, and I read it immediately when it came out.
Kinzel left xoJane in January of 2016, but because she’s a rock star and a total fangirl, she landed a gig working on the Netflix reboot, Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show as beloved now as it was when it originally aired in the ’90s. Kinzel’s found incredible career success, all while being fat and completely, 100 percent cool with it.
Let’s get this out of the way first: did you see her stunning and beyond-sexy photo in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, for the #swimsexy campaign?
Philomena Kwao is one of those women who is as smart as she is sexy. She has become an icon in an exceedingly thin-centric industry that’s only recently diversified to include a variety of body types and skin tones. Plus she’s legit brilliant: she holds a bachelor’s degree in economics, as well as a master’s degree in global health management. On top of that, she speaks openly and candidly about her journey to self-acceptance as a black woman navigating a society that prioritizes “thin” and “light-skinned” as beautiful. She’s also worked with Women for Women International, a non-profit that helps marginalized women around the world affected by war.
It’s hard to miss Lindy West these days, and that’s a good thing! Her 2016 book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, was a New York Times bestseller, and was ranked as one of the best books of the year by NPR, Esquire, Newsweek, and the LA Times. She was also featured on an episode of This American Life entitled “Tell Me I’m Fat,” during which she discussed her experience as a fat woman and read from her memoir. Additionally, she writes a column for The Guardian, where she discusses politics, feminism, popular culture, and of course, fatness.
West’s been very public about her battles with trolling, from which she has emerged downright heroic. She discusses it in her book, and has penned articles about online harassment and bullying. She even spoke to one of her former trolls, and had it broadcast on the radio.
West famously left Twitter at the beginning of the year, but it wasn’t because of her trolls — it was “the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them.” But you can still find her on Instagram.
Shay Neary made history in 2016 when she was selected to model for the well-known plus size brand, Coverstory. She was the first ever plus size, openly transgender woman to land such a campaign. More recently, she booked a UK campaign for Yours Clothing, a plus size clothing company that sells up to a size 36. She also gives style advice on their site, so if you’re a walking fashion faux pas like me, she can help.
The importance of her visibility in the modeling world is definitely not lost on Neary, who often speaks out about the importance of diversity in the modeling world. Additionally, her collaboration with these designers validates and gives voice to the existence of plus sized, trans women everywhere. And this is only the beginning of her career, and of the movement!
Beth Ditto is the feminist, punk rock goddess we wished for, for so long. And when she finally turned up in the mid-’00s as the lead singer of Gossip, she was even better than we could have imagined. She just released her first solo album, Fake Sugar, in June, after several years of radio silence and the dissolution of the band. Thank goodness she’s back.
Ditto is a multi-faceted woman who has defied convention just by being herself. She’s an out-and-proud lesbian, who legally married her wife in 2015, once same-sex marriage became legal in Oregon. She’s fat, and she’s not ashamed — in fact, she has reclaimed the word for herself. As she told NPR, “I’m big and I’m fat, and that’s just what it is, and that’s OK!” Don’t worry — if you’re not quite there yet, her advice just might tip the scales.
And to top it all off, she’s not just a singer! She has her own (super cute) clothing line for plus size women, and she’s a published author. Her book Coal to Diamonds: A Memoir with the amazing Michelle Tea, came out in 2012.
Last, but certainly not least, is the brilliant Marianne Kirby, one of the leaders of the contemporary fat acceptance movement. She was at the forefront of the blogosphere in the mid-2000s, writing about fat acceptance and ditching diet culture for something better. This led to the genesis and publication of her book Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body, co-authored with Kate Harding.
Kirby has been featured in a host of publishing outlets, from The Guardian to xoJane, and on television shows such as Dr. Phil. And more recently, she has written her debut novel, Dust Bath Revival, a YA reader about, well, zombies, set in her native Florida. She completed the novel on an Amtrak train as one of their inaugural writers-in-residence, who were selected to spend two weeks riding the rails and, of course, writing.
The future is bright
With so many foxy women getting out there and being heard, it’s true: the future is bright. Fatphobia is real, but now all of us have some sheroes to look up to — whether we aspire to write a book, be a comedienne, smash the patriarchy, become a model, release an album, or just realize how good we look in that outfit we took so long to put together.
These women are out there doing the work not just for them, but for all of us. So buy the two-piece swim suit, smile at what you see in the mirror, and have the courage to live your own, unique, beautiful truth.