Recently, I sent a tweet that I thought was pretty innocent out into the world: I’m gonna get so fat self-isolating because I don’t know how (or won’t) ration.
The response was hardly mind-blowing. Seven people liked it and one friend replied with a picture of donuts. (He works at a donut shop.) Then one person — someone who doesn’t follow me, and whom I don’t know personally — retweeted it with a comment that said: What an insensitive thing to tweet.
This person describes herself as a “fat freelance writer and sometimes model”. I have, in the past, written about body inclusivity and covered shows that portray fat bodies in positive ways. I, myself, am fat. Though, I’m not sure I’m allowed to call myself that because I’m often corrected — told to say “curvy,” “full-figured” or other glossy words that just mean “not skinny.” Because I’m not skinny, but I’m not fat enough for many in the body positivity movement. At a size 12, I’m somewhere in between.
I don’t dwell on this. I have. I used to. I sometimes will and I might again. But on the day I tweeted, I wasn’t dwelling on it. I was simply making a joke that wasn’t all that funny or revelatory, but it was mine and it was a comment about myself and my own body.
Isn’t that what body positivity is all about anyway? Being able to objectively look at our own selves and say whatever we want about it?
Well, apparently not. Because I’m not the only person who has realized that weeks spent indoors with as many snacks as I can stockpile might lead me to put on some weight — and people like me are now being “called out” en masse. Plus-size model Tess Holliday has blasted people for talking about their potential weight gain in quarantine, telling us we should have “better things to worry about”. Allure has dedicated an entire article to how jokes about getting fat during quarantine are “not funny”, “harmful” and “fatphobic”. Across Twitter, people making innocent allusions to their own bodies are being policed by fat activists or those who profess body positivity. But what’s body-positive about assuming every single reference to weight gain is negative?
The person who responded to my tweet automatically assumed it was an insult I was giving myself. Her own projections of fatphobia seemed to take over and she couldn’t read the message in my tweet any other way. In reality, I am happy with my body. I don’t mind if I put on weight, or lose it. I've already gone up and down a bit over the last two weeks and I'm sure it'll keep fluctuating. I’m able to joke about it. I’ve celebrated fat bodies in all their beauty and splendor many times in my work and my personal life in the past.
There are countless memes and takes on things like #QuarantineLife and #CoronavirusLife across social media right now, and there are lots of people talking about how to maintain fitness and healthy eating while stuck inside. It’s all gotten me thinking about how I am supposed to act during a pandemic. In this time of unprecedented political, social and economic upheaval, there are a whole bunch of people and companies and brands and “influencers” telling me to be my best self. But I don’t feel the need to be my “best self” even when I’m not on lockdown. Because the notion of the “best self” is not related to the self at all. It’s something all those people and companies and brands and influencers make up in order to sell us something. My “best self” changes by the day — sometimes by the hour — and sometimes it involves a 90-minute yoga sesh, but sometimes it involves an entire bottle of Pinot Noir.
All the articles popping up telling people they shouldn’t put jokes on social media about getting fat inside their own home kind of argues their very point: that people should feel free to be whatever size they want to be. When I tweet something like “I’m gonna get so fat,” I understand that for some, that might spur in them shame and fear. For me, it does not. I am just trying to make fun of a very not funny situation. I realize I am not a very good comedian, but it’s still my right to tell a bad joke.
We all handle anxiety differently, and our coping mechanisms for stress are individual as well. If I want to tweet that I have a problem with food rationing, I should be able to without reproach. And if that person wants to tell me I’m insensitive for saying it, they’re entitled to. But I’d argue that they’re censoring my speech and I’m not censoring anything, especially my fat body.
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