When I started sharing my eating disorder recovery journey on Instagram, I never expected that one day I’d be verbally attacked for doing it.
I’ve worked hard to build an online community filled with safety and inclusion, and the overwhelmingly positive response to my work has shown me that I’ve succeeded in many ways at achieving that. Inspired by the original roots of the body-positivity movement, I’ve also chosen to publicly advocate for the inherent rights and dignity of anyone walking around in a body that society has deemed as “less than.” I also speak out about the atrocities of fatphobia and diet culture, joyfully celebrate living freely in a larger body, and work to end the stigma around mental health and overcoming trauma.
I’ve learned the hard way that no matter how well intentioned a person can be, not everyone will like or agree with what you stand up for, especially if it goes against the societal status quo. While I expected to receive some pushback from health shamers on my page, I never in my wildest dreams thought that writing about my painful past in a thin body would lead some folks to accuse me of skinny shaming women.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Last month, I posted a side by side image of myself. On the left was a photo of me as a young adult grappling with body dysmorphia and extreme dieting. On the right was a picture of me now as I exist in the fat body I’ve spent the past three years learning to love. My goal was to turn the traditional “before and after” weight loss comparison photos on their head and to share that I’ve realized my natural born worth and lovability in a body most people don’t aspire to attain.
“I used to live for a flat stomach and a skinny body,” I wrote. “I used to believe that weight gain was a sign of weakness & failure… I used to restrict my eating so much that the idea of intuitively eating was too uncomfortable to even consider… I used to harshly judge anyone in a larger body. And worse, I used to believe I too had a larger body while living in excruciating thinness.”
I explained that not a single moment while living in a skinny body was a happy one. I never felt comfortable with myself, and I was always aiming to lose more weight. All that changed when I gained 75 pounds after two pregnancies.
“These days, I feel so at home in this current version of myself that weight loss or restrictive eating is out of the fucking question,” I shared. “I love my fat body with such fierceness and such compassion that doing anything to jeopardize that love is totally off the table. My body may look nothing like it once did. But I couldn’t be more grateful for it.”
My main goal in posting this image was to help anyone struggling to love their larger body to challenge the societal conditioning that have led many of us to hate ourselves. I wrote my post for younger Lindsay, who never believed she would be valued or respectfully seen in a fat body. I shared my story because I know that other women like me are suffering in silence with eating disorders and desperately need more of us to create positive visibility of how recovery can look.
One woman saw my post and immediately assumed the worst, however. Her words shocked me to my core and challenged the very nature of the work I do online.
“Do you not think you’re shaming the ones who are skinny like you used to be?” she asked. “Do you not think that we’re happy because we aren’t fat? Do you honestly think your body weight determines whether you’re happy or not?”
Needless to say, this was quite a lot to unpack. I did what I usually do when negative comments about me are posted. I immediately deleted her words and privately reached out to her, respectfully advising her about my “no hate” policy on Instagram. Sometimes I block someone if they’re only on my page to tear me down, but this seemed like something different. I felt the pain in her words. I encouraged her to only follow me if it felt good to do so, and I told her I was curious why she’d think I was ever shaming anyone for existing in a thin body by merely sharing my story and truth.
The conversation that followed blew my mind.
After a few uncomfortable interactions, this woman began to trust that I could be a safe harbor for her and slowly leaned in to being vulnerable. She revealed that she’s been living in crippling thinness like I once did. But it’s not because she destroys her body or even diets to get there. She is desperately trying to gain weight and deals on the daily with anxiety from not being physically able to pack on the pounds. She has resorted to shopping in the kids’ section of clothing stores, something she reluctantly shared with me. Seeing me speak out about my shame in a thin body triggered her deeply. Here I was, a fat babe smiling brightly, and this lady felt envious of my inner freedom and ability to live large (metaphorically and literally).
I’m grateful to say that I hung in there with her and tried to help her determine what was at the heart of her reactive comment. Four days and many messages later, we not only came to a loving understanding, but she bravely allowed me to share our private interaction on Instagram.
In a video update to my followers, I explained how I responded to the human being who initially saw discrimination and divisiveness in my post. I went to great lengths to help this woman understand that there is a key difference between inner shame in a thin body and the societal shame of existing in a fat one. While her feelings and struggles were valid, it was important for her to realize that living in any kind of thinness comes with a certain level of privilege. Our world has demonized larger bodies to the point of fear-mongering and spreading profit-driven propaganda to keep us small. We reward people in thin bodies with constant praise and the dangerous assumption that they’re always healthy. Fat folks have also been culturally oppressed for far too long, and it is so critical for activists like me to openly call it out.
It’s one thing to hate yourself because of the inherent pressure to conform to diet culture. It’s quite another to hate yourself because diet culture doesn’t value your very existence based on your size. Once I made this powerful distinction to the woman, she started to connect the dots. I’m tremendously thankful that she did.
Of course, I don’t plan to go into endless dialogues with everyone who misinterprets my journey. But I’m sure glad I did with this amazing human being. Women living in thin bodies, especially the white gals, need to pop their personal bubble and see beyond it to those who are being harshly judged and demeaned on the daily in fatness. No matter what you’ve been through or how abusive you or others have been to force you into thinness, you’ve got to also educate yourself on the devastating challenges of being someone who fears simply walking down the street and being ridiculed for their size.
If anyone reading this is wondering what they can do to be a fat ally, I have some suggestions. Check yourself before you decide to ask a larger person if they take care of themselves. Educate yourself on the fatphobic roots of diet culture. Open your eyes to the ways you have benefited from the privilege of living in a skinny body. Check out the growing list of statistics out there for the youth who are inheriting our toxic societal obsession with thinness. Support fat folks in your community and speak up for those who face prejudice. Most importantly, do whatever you can to heal your own relationship with your body no matter what size you are.
I had no clue what thin privilege was until I no longer had it. Now that I know what I know, I can only work to heal what once was broken. I’ve made it my mission to advocate for marginalized bodies and human beings. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s all consider the revolutionary idea of giving a big, juicy middle finger to the profit-driven institutions that are keeping us more divided than united.
And finally, please enjoy my new take on an old adage. If you don’t have something nice to say, dig deep and ask yourself why.