Plus-size blogger: Go ahead, call me fat!
When plus-size activist Jes Baker was in fifth grade, a bully egged on a gang of tweens to start calling her “hippo” in swim class.
Over her 31 years, the size 22-24 writer has been labeled everything from “cow” and “elephant” to the slightly more imaginative “brontosaurus.” But she refuses to feel insulted, claiming that all the creatures she’s been called are “amazing” because of their resilience, strength and intelligence. So it wasn’t difficult to come up with the ironic title, “Landwhale,” for her new memoir, since the mammal is one of her favorite animals.
“Huge, loud, communicative, singing, leaping bosses of the sea with a supportive community? I see no difference between us,” Baker writes in the book, which is also part manifesto.
In the same way that the body-positive movement is reclaiming the word “fat,” she shrugs off what many people might perceive as slurs. To her, they are just unoriginal nicknames.
“Comparing me to a fat animal isn’t an insult because I know I’m fat,” she tells The Post. “It’s pointless. But I’m constantly surprised how folk twice my age think it’s important to inform me of the fact.”
Baker, a heavily tattooed blogger, made headlines in 2013 when she posed for mock Abercrombie & Fitch ads with the tagline “Attractive and Fat.” She challenged the clothing store’s “beautiful people” marketing strategies and elicited an apology from then-CEO Mike Jeffries, who had previously said he only wanted cool and popular kids to shop the brand.
Since then, she has become a prominent spokeswoman for body positivity, frequently appearing in the media and organizing empowerment conferences for larger women. Last December, she was a keynote speaker in Paris for the launch of the city’s first anti-fat phobia campaign.
“It’s almost a national pride for French women to be slender, so to acknowledge fat bodies that have always existed is a huge step for them,” Baker says.
The trip helped her realize how far America has come in its accommodations for fat people — for example, our elevators are spacious compared to those in Europe — but also how much further it has to go.
Baker — who insists her own health issues such as depression and polycystic ovary syndrome are not related to her weight — is particularly disturbed by American medical professionals who continue to adhere to the body mass index system as an indicator of health, and by restrictive diet solutions.
“We know that the vast majority of diets don’t work; it’s been proven over and over again,” she says, dismissing the times she tried to unsuccessfully reduce her own food intake as having “been in Diet Land.”
“Yet, even though we are now recognizing the negative effects that come from these practices, they are still prescribed to anyone whose BMI is above what our medical system thinks it should be.”
Despite her fighting talk, she nonetheless describes dealing with the issues surrounding body image as being “hard.” She believes she is meant to be the size she is and that society should accept that, but she still has moments of self-doubt.
In her book, she admits to momentarily having fantasies about lap-band surgery after not fitting into a Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios.
“I’m not what you’d call a ‘bulletproof fattie,’ ” Baker says, describing someone who has an interminably thick skin when it comes to weight critique. “I have been conditioned for decades to hate my body. My brain has been wired to blame my body for everything. It takes a lot of work to re-wire your brain.”
She hopes the fact that she is still in the process of accepting herself will help other fat women relate to her.
“It’s not about the end goal, the destination,” she says. “Instead of calling to people from the finish line — like I have everything figured out — I am walking them through this journey.”
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