Let’s Talk About The Transgender Community, Body Positivity, and Fatphobia.

Y’all, I did this super scary thing where I talked, unscripted, for half an hour about the intersections of fatphobia and transness, along with sharing SO many feelings that I have about body positivity.

I did this with the amazing Elizabeth Cooper, founder of the Queer Body Love Speaker Series! You can learn more about it by clicking this link right here.

Their introduction to my interview is super generous and makes me feel important! Check it out:
Sam Dylan Finch

More people have recommended Sam Dylan Finch as a speaker for this series than anyone else. He’s the most famous advocate for trans inclusivity within the body positive movement, and in this candid interview he shares about his own experience as a non-binary trans person who has both learned from and has critiques of the body positive movement. This topic of navigating a fatphobic, transphobic society is SO important and has something to contribute to us all.

Interview highlights:

  • Why “every body is a bikini body” body positive beach photoshoots are exclusive (and how to reframe such projects to be trans inclusive)
  • 2 impactful lessons Sam has learned from body positivity
  • Why Sam literally sits in front of a mirror staring at his body (this is a unique exercise I haven’t heard of before)
  • How to deprogram internalized voices of oppression
  • The difference between dysphoria and dysmorphia 
  • What it means for Sam to be a non-binary trans person & how this relates to his relationship to his body

I’m not sure if I’d call myself famous (read: I would not call myself famous), BUT OKAY ELIZABETH. I am flattered!

If you sign up on the website – which just involves sharing your email address – you’ll gain access not only to my interview, but to dozens of other interviews from queer folks and queer-competent clinicians, talking about the many complexities of queer body image!

And before you tell me, “Sam! You’re only saying this because they paid you,” umm, EXCUSE ME. I did this for free!

I did this because I genuinely believe these are some of the most important conversions to be having right now, in a society which tells transgender people in particular that they are inherently broken, and as fatphobia and gendered ideals fuel disordered eating in our community.

And if you’re not interested in watching my face make weird expressions while I talk about this, or if it’s simply not an accessible format for you, there’s also a transcript available so you can simply read what I (and all the other speakers!) had to say.

It’s rare that I put myself on video without a script to talk about these things, but this was a unique occasion in which I wanted to connect directly with folks who, like me, are trying to navigate body positivity – which is a profoundly cis-centric movement – while also being transgender or non-binary.

So really, go sign up! I promise it’s not a scam (well, if it is, we can be victims together, okay, because I totally signed up too). It’s just a bunch of queer people who want to talk about our bodies in a way that we seldom have the space to do.

And be sure to spread the word! I can think of countless queer and trans people who need access to these conversations. Let’s bring everyone to the table. Let’s support and uplift one another in our journeys toward self-acceptance.

See you there!

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Why Aren’t More Trans People Denouncing Truscum?

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“I’m sorry, are you publicly asking me about my genitals or am I mistaken?” @SamDylanFinch

If you asked me where the vast majority of my online harassment comes from, you might be surprised to know that it comes from other transgender people.

Ever since I published this article on why body dysphoria is not what makes a person transgender, the pushback on social media by a small but vocal minority has been intense.

The efforts to silence me, all on the basis that I am not “trans enough,” has revealed a really dark side to the trans community that I never knew existed.

This minority has consisted of transmedicalists (also referred to as truscum), who believe that the only valid transgender people are those who experience body dysphoria, desire a “binary” medical transition, and are pursuing hormones and surgery.

All other trans people are not considered “true trans,” and are referred to as traps, imposters, transtrenders, or fakes.

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Are you offering to buy it for me? How sweet.

I remember the first time I was ever harassed by a transmedicalist. I had been (desperately) trying to navigate a complicated insurance policy, having been living in Michigan where testosterone was not covered and now being in California with the same insurance but distinctly different laws.

It was an emotionally exhausting time as I tried to figure out what my options were for beginning my medical transition, coming up against legal hoops and road blocks galore.

It was around that same time that a transmedicalist appeared in my Twitter mentions, accusing me of pretending to be trans for attention and tweeting to followers of mine that they should withdraw support from me because I was not yet on testosterone.

Imagine the hell I was already in: I wanted testosterone and I couldn’t access it. I was struggling to figure out how to come out to my family, fearful of rejection. Every day I was trapped in a body that I could not change, sitting on a secret that I was convinced would destroy my family.

And then a transmedicalist – someone in my community – was punishing me for not having the very thing I was trying desperately to get. It was a slap in the face.

I can’t describe the pain to you. After all of my struggles as trans – the self-hatred, the desperation, the dysphoria, the self-harm, the confusion – I was being told that I was faking it.

Faking it.

I hadn’t known up until that point that there were actually trans people that thrived on being violent towards other trans people. I didn’t think a transgender person would ever intentionally misgender, harass, and silence other trans people.

But they’re real. They’re out there. And every so often, they pitch a fit on social media, hurling violent language in my direction. They ask me invasive questions about my body, intentionally misgender me at every opportunity, interrogate my validity as a trans person, and mock my transition.

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Misgendering me AND making fun of gender-affirming surgeries… cute!

It can be tempting to say that these folks are simply an exceptional bunch – not really representative of the community, something we should ignore or disregard.

It can be tempting to write them off as a small minority that poses no real threat to the larger community.

But I’m not here to do that.

I’m exposing this harassment publicly – including just a fraction of some of the tweets I received in one day – because the trans community needs to acknowledge that these kinds of toxic ideologies exist in our spaces.

We can’t maintain the attitude that if we keep them out of sight and out of mind, everything is okay.

It’s not okay.

The reality is that our community can’t continue to ignore a harmful, violent minority that actively excludes, attacks, and misgenders people under the guise of “protecting” transness.

Our community can’t continue to ignore the harassment that non-binary people in particular are enduring because we refuse to speak out against toxic and exclusive definitions of transness.

Our community can’t sit on the sidelines while this violent rhetoric continues to silence, shame, and harm trans people everywhere.

If we give other trans people a free pass to attack our integrity and our identities, what do you think will stop cisgender people from doing the same?

Transgender people are not defined on the basis of their bodies. They aren’t the surgeries they may get or the hormones they may (or may not) pursue.

Transness is an identity, a sense of self in relation to culturally constructed ideas about gender. It’s how we identify; it’s the framework that we place ourselves within to better understand who we are. And it’s fucking personal.

Every person should be able to define their gender on their own terms. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing? We fought to reclaim our genders from those imposed on us at birth. So why would we impose it again onto other trans people?

Real talk: “Transgender” is not an exclusive club that we can bar people from because they refuse to conform to cisnormative ideas about bodies and gender.

When we deny transgender people the right to self-identify, that is an act of violence. How can we demand respect as a community when we aren’t willing to respect one another?

There are countless transgender people who either do not want to pursue a medical transition (their prerogative), or are unable to access it due to financial barriers or abusive caretakers.

They are arguably the most vulnerable in our community, and they are subjected to abuse not just from the outside world but from people in our own community.

If we are not denouncing this kind of violence against other trans people – if we sit idly while they spew this kind of hatred – we become complicit in it.

We allow people in our community to be degraded, erased, and attacked when this kind of behavior goes unchecked and unacknowledged. And by extension, we give transphobic people outside the community full permission to engage with us in the exact same way.

Transmedicalists are not unicorns or make-believe. They attack me and countless others on a regular basis, with more fervor than the time before, feeling emboldened by the total lack of accountability.

It’s easy to say they aren’t really a part of our community. It’s easy to ostracize them, block them, dismiss them.

It’s more difficult – and yes, truly necessary – to realize that underneath the violence is a shaken, fragile, and troubled transgender person who is still a part of our community. For that reason alone, we must call them in.

It’s more difficult to say that, as a community, we must act – because if we don’t, the violence will continue.

Yes, it’s our responsibility to hold them accountable, and to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered at the hands of their abuse.

Because if we aren’t taking care of each other, who is going to stand up for us?

Today, I was harassed. But tomorrow, it could be you.

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Nicole Arbour’s Video Didn’t Motivate Me to Be Healthy – But Body Positivity Did

CW: Fatphobia, disordered eating, mental illness, self-harm


The image features Nicole Arbour, making an

Arbour’s video “Dear Fat People” is symptomatic of a fatphobic culture.

When I watched Nicole Arbour’s video to fat people, I couldn’t help but be struck by her complete conviction that shaming fat folks would motivate them to be healthy.

The research does not back this claim – in fact, it consistently refutes it – and fat folks have asserted time and time again that shaming them does real psychological harm.

So I’m confused on how making people feel like shit is supposed to be encouraging, but okay.

Throughout the video, Arbour takes jabs at the body positivity movement, stating, like many trolls have before, that it promotes unhealthiness (while her very original insults and hatred of fat folks, comments that they certainly haven’t heard before, will definitely promote health).

Yes, against my better judgment, I watched the video. And Nicole Arbour’s fat-shaming did nothing to motivate me as a person who is “overweight.” Body positivity, on the other hand, has motivated me – it has made me a healthier, happier, and stronger person.

I spent most of my life as a very thin person. But secretly, I was also terrified of being fat. Most of my family was, which made me feel like I was constantly trying to outrun my so-called genetic fate, and being constantly praised for being thin made me feel like I had to work hard to maintain it, to make sure I didn’t lose it.

So when I was a teenager, I started skipping meals. And worse, I felt accomplished when I did. I felt like I did something good, something I should be proud of. In fact, if Nicole Arbour had seen me a few years ago – underweight and depressed – she would have assumed I was healthy and applauded me for my efforts.

No one ever told me to diet, but I started restricting my intake anyway. At one point, I wasn’t eating much more than an apple at lunch time and a protein bar at dinner. Because we live in a society that teaches us that there’s nothing worse than being fat. Controlling my food intake gave me a certain kind of pride, a sense of moral superiority to my fat relatives who just needed to “get their act together.”

You see, I wasn’t much different from Nicole Arbour when I was thin. I was an asshole that had a lot of problematic ideas about fat people. And I think that’s why I take it so personally – because it hits close to home, because I know deep down that the problem isn’t with Arbour so much as it is the society that teaches us to fear fatness, to shame fat people, and to reject them as fully-formed human beings.

When we place this morality around fat bodies and food, we create a very toxic culture that lends itself so easily to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and yes, discrimination against and hatred towards fat bodies.

My disordered eating was rooted directly in the ideas perpetuated by Nicole Arbour’s video – a panic and a fear around fatness, a call for self-control even if it means self-harm, and a disgust with fat people – and those same ideas were what led to me being underweight, unhappy, and destructive.

As an adult, after spending years on a rollercoaster of suicidal lows and manic highs, I was diagnosed with disordered eating, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. And after my worst episode of depression, I was finally prescribed a life-saving medication that tamed my depression in a way that I had never been able to on my own.

I finally felt a sense of peace and stability that I needed to get my life back.

But the universe, in some kind of act of karmic retribution, gave me weight gain as a side effect of that medication. I went from being thin to gaining sixty pounds, and hearing a doctor tell me I was “overweight” for the first time.

And despite being in the healthiest place I had ever been – finally mentally sound and capable – people who had never been concerned about my health before suddenly started asking if I was okay, if I wanted dieting tips, and encouraging me to “take control.”

Ah, yes, taking control. You mean when I was restricting, underweight, and depressed as hell.

Internalizing all of that negativity around my weight gain, I started to feel self-loathing and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I debated going off of the medication that had saved my life – because to me, it was better to have unmanaged bipolar disorder with all of its dangerous lows than to be fat.

I think the real sickness in our society is that someone who finally achieved mental health would risk everything just to be thin.

And to the rest of the world that saw my round belly and my big thighs, they, too, would rather me be back in that dark place and be thin than be mentally healthy, happy, and “overweight.”

Attitudes like those present in Nicole Arbour’s video are the same attitudes that I started wrestling with when I looked in the mirror and no longer saw someone who was lovable, desirable, and worthy. Somehow having fat on my body made me “less than,” and made other people treat me as such.

When I finally lost the privilege of being thin, I had to come face-to-face with the fatphobia that I had clung to for my entire life – and I had to acknowledge that I had been perpetuating really awful ideas about fat and fat people, and doing harm to the people in my life that I claimed to love.

I can understand why Nicole Arbour would resist that kind of criticism from viewers, because she, too, would have to acknowledge that she is actively doing harm. It’s not fun to admit that you’re hurting people, that these beliefs that you’ve bought into are actually causing real suffering to people of all sizes.

I, at first, felt helpless when I realized how fatphobic I really was. I didn’t know how to unpack those ideas, and I didn’t know if I could ever feel okay about myself and be “overweight.”

The hashtags that Nicole Arbour mocked in her video are the hashtags that ultimately turned my life around. I discovered the body positivity movement through social media, and realized that my self-worth did not need to rely on an impossible ideal that most of us will never attain.

I realized that being thin is not a requirement for being happy or healthy or fulfilled, and when we break away from diet culture and fatphobia, it can be transformative in the best way.

When I gained weight, I was convinced that it was the end of my self-esteem – I had no idea that it was actually the beginning of an unconditional love for myself.

It’s a kind of love that we all deserve to have, a self-love that is not a privilege reserved for a select few that fit into our norms, but rather, a relationship that we are all entitled to by virtue of our humanity. Outsiders do not get to dictate the kind of relationship I have to my body and myself.

Body positivity taught me that health cannot be measured by a number on the scale, cannot be observed by a stranger, and is something that we, ourselves, get to navigate and define on our own terms. I learned that we all get to exist in our bodies, whatever they may be, and that we set the rules.

Body positivity taught me that love, and confidence, and happiness are possible and do not need to be determined by our size.

Body positivity taught me that I do not need to resort to restricting and starving just to be worthy, and that the real problem was never my weight, but rather, the poisonous conflation of thinness and happiness that I was convinced held the secrets to self-esteem.

Body positivity taught me that hatred disguising itself as “health advice” is still hatred.

Here’s the thing: What people like Arbour don’t seem to understand is that loving myself was the healthiest decision I’ve ever made. Living without shame enabled me to make good choices for myself, because no choice that is rooted in self-hatred is ever sustainable and no choice rooted in self-hatred can ever be healthy.

Being thin never made me feel confident. Being thin never made me a better person. Being thin never made me healthy. But now, with a body that most would consider undesirable, I finally feel happy and I live a meaningful life, one in which I contribute positively to the world, one in which I do everything I can to reduce harm towards myself and others.

And for naysayers who insist that I’m unhealthy because of my size, I can only laugh. Because if it weren’t for the medication that caused this weight gain in the first place, my bipolar disorder would have ravaged what remained of my life until I could no longer bear to live it.

But when you look at me, you can’t see that. Because health is not a size.

Toxic ideas about fat are feeding into an epidemic of self-hatred, disordered eating, and self-harm – an epidemic that Nicole Arbour perpetuates under the guise of “health” – that leaves kids as young as six dieting while they’re still in kindergarten.

If that’s the kind of world you want to live in, you need to own the fact that you are making it that way. You need to understand that these attitudes about fat people are actually harmful and discriminatory – stop hiding behind this so-called “health” crusade – because you aren’t motivating, you aren’t helpful, and you aren’t saying anything novel or new that the diet industry isn’t already profiting off of.

You do harm. And if you can live with that, so be it. But realize that you aren’t helping fat people – you’re hurting them, along with anyone who has ever struggled with their body, because at the root of that struggle is a fear of fat.

Honestly, sure, if I had watched this video when I was younger, I definitely would have felt motivated. Motivated to keep skipping meals. Motivated to celebrate my disordered eating. Motivated to scrape my dinner into the trash again. Motivated to starve myself into oblivion. Motivated to keep being cruel to fat people and making assumptions about strangers.

And if I hadn’t found body positivity, I would have been motivated to reject the medication that ultimately saved my life, because I thought it was better to be thin than to be sane.

And if that’s what health looks like to you… then I don’t want to be fucking healthy.

Editor’s Note: We use the word “overweight” in quotations because it is, indeed, a problematic term that suggests a normative weight. However, it is used for clarity and to make a distinction here because while Sam is not perceived as fat, he is also not perceived as thin, necessitating a term that acknowledges this “in-between” kind of space.

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Why We Should Think Twice Before Idealizing Ruby Rose

rubyroseThe internet is abuzz about Ruby Rose, a genderfluid actor, DJ, and model who appeared in Season 3 of Netflix Original Series Orange is the New Black.

While Rose is undoubtedly stunning and a perfectly lovely person, our idealization of Ruby Rose represents a larger problem in popular culture – the very limited portrayals of androgyny, and more specifically, who is allowed to be androgynous.

When the only celebrated expressions of androgyny are idolizing those who are conventionally attractive, thin, white, able-bodied, and assigned female at birth, many of us who fall outside of these expectations can begin to feel as though we are not enough as we are, and that we are not androgynous unless we can conform.

This is not just about Ruby Rose, either. This is a norm that has existed for a long time. Simply plug “Androgyny” into a Google image search, and you will see an overwhelming sea of white, hollow faces. Thin, curveless bodies will be hiding underneath suit jackets and pinstripe trousers.

The reality, though, is that there are many diverse expressions of androgyny – and they are seldom celebrated, let alone represented, in popular culture.

As an androgynous person myself, beauty norms around androgyny have left me struggling to feel valid. I have curves, I have fat – my body can’t disappear underneath a suit coat, and my cheekbones will never be sharp or defined. The pressure to contort my body into this ideal, though, definitely weighs on me each time a new Ruby Rose is glorified by the media.

It’s alarming that we have such wildly limited portrayals of androgynous and gender diverse people, and on my more pessimistic days I wonder if we ever will. We celebrate a very specific body ideal while leaving countless other folks on the androgynous spectrum to contemplate their validity and beauty.

We’ve been told, through pretty explicit messaging that there is only one way to be androgynous. The reality is that there is an infinite number of ways to be androgynous – many of which look nothing like Ruby Rose.

Androgyny has long been defined by the mainstream on the basis of “passing” – that we be the chameleons of gender, able to be perceived as men OR women. But it is a problematic way to define androgyny because it limits it as an exclusive club, and validates our existence ONLY on the basis of others’ perceptions and cisnormative standards of beauty.

It does not allow for self-determination. It does not allow us to own the labels that best represent our gender identities.

There are androgynous folks of every color and every type of body, but we rarely see them represented. Shockingly, claiming an androgynous identity does not require that you pose with a cigarette in your mouth and suspenders (seriously, why are there so many pictures like that?). It does not require that you be white, thin, able-bodied and conventionally attractive. The only requirement for androgyny is that you identify that way.

Holding Ruby Rose up as an androgynous ideal only reinforces the idea that the only valid androgynous people are those who can pass and conform. In other words, the fanfare around Ruby Rose is part of a harmful ideal that already exists in our society – the rules of who is allowed to be androgynous, and who is not.

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A simple Google image search for “Androgyny” tells us who is allowed to be androgynous and who isn’t.

By all means, we can appreciate Ruby Rose’s divine looks (and great performance in OITNB, no?), but we should be critical of why she is celebrated, while other androgynous and genderfluid people are seldom visible.

And if I haven’t made it clear by now, we should by no means place her on a pedestal for all androgynous people to aspire towards – because it is an unattainable ideal for the vast majority of gender diverse people.

We should push for more and better representation of genderfluid people – not just those who reach this ideal, but for folks of all sorts of diverse expressions of gender. That means moving away from these white, thin, AFAB, “passing” folks and featuring, instead, androgynous people of color, genderfluid fatties, gorgeous AMAB genderqueers, bigender cuties with disabilities, and every intersection in-between.

Holding up Ruby Rose as a sign of greater acceptance of gender fluidity is misleading, because Ruby Rose’s look has been celebrated in magazine spreads and movies long before she was born. This ideal precedes Rose’s fame, and is an ideal we need to break down in order to have true representations of androgyny, and other kinds of gender diversity.

So, by all means, swoon over Ruby Rose. I’ll be right there with you.

But while it’s exciting that mainstream media is having a conversation about gender fluidity, we shouldn’t call this progress. Glorifying a very limited, singular representation of androgyny and calling it gender “diversity” can do more harm to our community than good.

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Fat by Choice: Happy (and Healthy!) At the Intersections of Size and Mental Health

The illustration features a place setting with breakfast foods, and two hands: one clutching a spoon, the other clutching a bottle of pills.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Almost two years ago now, I began taking a medication with the hope that I could finally manage the aggressive symptoms that came with mental illness. I was experiencing despondent, suicidal lows; I felt panicked, paranoid, and inexplicably angry.

But by far the worst part of what was happening was the feeling that I wasn’t a “somebody” and, instead, the host for this parasite known as bipolar.

And it was this feeling – the feeling that I was no longer a person but rather, a shell – that compelled me to try a medication that had not been around for very long.

To the surprise of both my doctor and myself, it worked. It worked astonishingly well. As the months progressed, I began to level out. The loud noise in my head began to dial back. The hopelessness gave way to a hesitant, fledgling optimism. The anger dulled and I was able to problem-solve without coming undone. I began to feel human again.

I remember thinking that it was too good to be true. In every fairytale I’d ever read, miracles like these came with a trade-off. You could have effortless beauty, but give up your first born; you could have strength or immortality or riches, but there was always the fine print.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but when I noticed my body beginning to change, I was convinced that my day of reckoning had come. I could be mentally healthy, sure, but in return, the universe was going to issue me a new challenge.

I know what you might be thinking. No, gaining weight was not the challenge, though at first I thought it was. Gaining weight is not inherently a bad thing. Bodies themselves are not inherently bad.

The challenge was dealing with the internalized fatphobia I didn’t even know I had.

I was a good little feminist. Wait, wasn’t I? I had no problem with fat. In fact, both my parents were classified as “obese” and I had some idea, as someone who considered themselves very committed to body positive activism, of what it might mean to occupy space as a person of size.

And yet, when I went from being a tiny, petite little queer to being a member of the Chub Club, I reacted in such a strong, visceral way, that it became obvious that this body change had come with a lot of baggage – and I’m not just talking about physical weight, I mean, the weight of internalized oppression.

Because, holy cow, the words that flew out of my mouth? I’d look down at my round and protruding belly and say something like, “This is disgusting. I’m disgusting.”

I’d glance at my stretch marks and say something like, “I failed. I should’ve been dieting. I should’ve been exercising. This is my fault.”

As if the fat on my body made me inherently bad, some kind of failure; as if being fat makes me some kind of disgusting and unlovable human being. These are the ideas I swore I’d never think, let alone say about someone, and yet here I was, taking a shit on myself.

Being thin had allowed me to bury the fatphobia and leave it unchecked. But having highly visible fat, rolls, stretch marks – the whole shebang – finally brought to the surface what was there all along. As thin, I had the privilege of not confronting my fatphobia. But sixty pounds later, I had no choice but to examine my attitudes, because there was nowhere to hide.

I not only could see the fatphobia in myself, but I saw it in others around me.

When I was thin, no one had ever questioned whether or not I was healthy. Now that I was “overweight,” people around me started to ask if I was “okay.” As I received my official classification as “overweight,” and doctors began to suggest taking away the medication that had finally stabilized my life, I was disgusted.

Disgusted because it was as if my mental health counted for nothing. At my heaviest, I was undoubtedly at my healthiest – I was mentally sound, happy, eating well, stretching my legs. I had never been this whole, never felt this human. I was able to live my life without the constant, looming threat of bipolar, putting my life in danger and turning me into something I could not recognize.

And yet, the idea was that it was better for me to be thin and suicidal than it was to be fat and mentally healthy.

At times, horrifying as it is, I found myself thinking this same thing.

Many people around me, doctors included, ignored the psychological aspects of health and the risks associated with a relapse of my disorder and, instead, obsessed over my weight. Everyone around me was more concerned for me when I was heavier than they ever were when I was depressed, empty, and thin.

Thankfully, there were good doctors in my life, too, just as there were good people, who assured me that health was more than just a number on the scale. I began seriously investing in my practice of self-love, challenging the fatphobia when I felt it kicking in.

I became an advocate for myself, and discovered what it meant to put body positivism into action – not just as a way to boost my feminist cred, but when I face myself in the mirror and decide if I will smile back or pick myself apart.

To this day, I am still on that same medication that transformed my body. This is my choice. I will proudly remain a member of the Chub Club, and rock this curvy, chunky, fabulous body with pride.

I refuse to return to the days when the thought of ending my life was as mechanical as brushing my teeth in the morning. I refuse to return to the days when depression was a given, and happiness was a stranger. I refuse to return to the days when I had no hope, no desire, and no purpose.

And moreover, I refuse to buy into the idea that health is not possible at every size. I’m healthy in all the ways that count, and I know better than to equate thinness with wellness; I know better than to equate fatness with bad, with ugly, with less than, with harm.

When I look at the stretch marks, pink and fresh and new on my body, I’m reminded of all that I’ve weathered to get to this place of health, wholeness, and happiness.

Why would I ever apologize for that? And why would I choose any differently?

Editor’s Note: We use the word “fat” in the title to be an alternative to “overweight,” as we believe that “overweight” suggests a normative weight and upholds the privileging of some sizes over others (hence placing it in quotations throughout the piece). We in no way seek to undermine the struggles of folks who actively identify as Fat and are perceived as fat in the world, which Sam only experiences to a very limited extent.

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My Body is Not Up For Debate: Part I

I’m used to it by now. Every piercing, every tattoo, every wacky hair color, my exasperated mother tells me that I’m going to give her a heart attack — that my “antics” will be the death of her. She then frowns, and in a melodramatic plea, she asks me, “Can you PLEASE not do this again?”

She asks, as if my body and the choices I make regarding it are somehow up for debate. As if my happiness and self-expression are less important than her comfort with my appearance. It’s kind of wild, because my mother seems very concerned with my happiness most of the time, but the second I alter my appearance in a way that makes her unhappy, suddenly it’s not about me anymore.

And the problem I have with this isn’t so much her having an opinion, but rather, the problematic idea that parents — or anyone else, for that matter — feel entitled to instruct people on the decisions they make regarding their body.

Running interference with an adult’s bodily autonomy is, to me, a big no-no.

In a society with very stringent and unforgiving ideas of what a body should and should not look like, we should be celebrating those individuals who have the courage to express themselves in ways that run in opposition to these standards.

Parents who feel that they are entitled to control the bodies of their children — especially and particularly adult children — are misguided in that they are upholding the idea that their body does not belong to them. Further, this perpetuates the harmful idea that we have all grappled with — that how you look and how others perceive your body is far more important than a personal sense of happiness and fulfillment. This emphasis on an “acceptable” appearance creates an unhealthy relationship with our bodies.

I find it funny that so many parents tell young women in particular that who they are on the inside is what matters, and yet the second they modify their bodies or exercise their autonomy in a way that conflicts with their parents’ ideals, that message becomes irrelevant. I was told time and time again growing up that inner beauty was most important, but the second I stepped outside of gender norms or decided to pierce my nose, my external appearance was ridiculed. Many people in my life felt it was their obligation to tell me how they felt about my personal decisions regarding my body.

When I got my first tattoo, I felt a dazzling, dizzying sort of power. After years of being told how to look, how to behave, and how to be accepted, I made a choice for myself. I did something for me and only me. The idea that I could make a choice, at any time, to permanently install some artwork on my fucking body was a revelation for me. This freckled, vast terrain was my own and I could do with it what I wanted. As I was being tattooed, I felt in awe of all that my body could do and feel and become. I made a commitment — a sincere, ongoing commitment — to do what made me happy, regardless of the opinions and policing of others.

I was fed up with being told that a tattoo or a piercing would “ruin” me, as if my body was a commodity depreciating in value.

Hell no. My body is majestic and my body is mine, and it is not up for debate and it is not accepting feedback.

For me, my body modifications are a way of feeling a sense of connectedness with my body, and a stronger sense of my body belonging to me. I consider tattoos and piercings, among many things, a radical act of reclaiming ownership. In a culture which damns my personal self-expression, I am making a decision to pursue what I believe is beautiful in spite of a stigmatization of this body. This makes me feel empowered. I have chosen my own happiness over the contradicting and narrow ideals of what makes a body beautiful, and instead, I am celebrating my own ideals of beauty. I am adorning my body in a way that makes me feel both lovely and powerful.

If we truly want to raise young people to accept themselves and love themselves, we must stop policing their bodies. Whether it’s their size, their choice in clothing, their dye job, or their tattoos, if we want to be a society that celebrates uniqueness and inner beauty, we must stop being hypocritical and accept ALL bodies. This starts at home, with parents encouraging a healthy body image and exploration of self-expression. While everyone has an opinion these days, it is not your place or job to express that opinion in a way that makes the recipient feel pressured or shamed for exercising their bodily autonomy.

At the end of the day, a person’s body belongs to that individual alone, and it is their right to exist in that body and adorn it however they see fit.

And for the record, I think my purple hair and nose ring look hella cute, Mom.

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