Fat and the Bikini Body Meme

[Content Note: Fat hatred; body policing.]

It's again that time of year where a popular meme starts showing up on social media. It tends to feature silhouettes of what are meant to be read as female bodies, including or sometimes exclusively very fat bodies, and text which is some variation on: "How to Get a Bikini Body: Step 1: Buy a bikini. Step 2: Put it on your body."

Let me first say, once again, that fat women are not a monolith, and different fat women will have different reactions to this meme. I don't purport to speak for all fat women, some of whom like this meme very much, and I am not seeking to police or criticize their individual reactions to it.

I do, however, want to do some awareness-raising on behalf of the fat women who aren't so keen on the meme, because I know there are a lot of thin and in-betweenie women who spend time in this space who want to do good fat ally work and may not have considered some of the reasons not all fat women find it a strictly positive or supportive message.

So, here are a couple of things to consider before you share this image under the auspices of being a fat ally (or even as a fat person):

1. Not all fat women can buy a bikini. That's not just a consideration of financial realities, which are always at issue in consumerist memes, but it's also a reflection of the fact that even off-the-rack (or off-the-website) "plus-size" bikinis have a finite size range.

There are sites who will custom-make bikinis for women of any size based on their individual measurements, but that is, of course, a costly option. And naturally there are women who are skilled enough to make their own bikinis, but that is not an option for anyone who lacks those talents.

Casually suggesting that all fat women can just go "buy a bikini," without any acknowledgment of the fact that purchasing a bikini in one's size might not be an option, especially for very fat women, is not supportive. It also reinforces the idea that there's an "acceptable" level of fatness which tops out at the maximum size of most "plus-size" fashion lines, and anyone whose body exceeds those standard sizes is thus "unacceptably" fat.

2. Putting a bikini on one's fat body is not just about the physical act of getting into a swimsuit. There are all kinds of cultural disincentives to be a fat woman in a bikini in public, and we are obliged to navigate them no matter how much we might love our own bodies.

There is a vast difference in being a woman who has insecurities about a body in which she sees imperfections but is broadly culturally acceptable, and a woman who has insecurities about a body that significantly deviates from what is considered culturally acceptable. That is not to diminish, at all, the seriousness of body insecurities no matter what one's size. It is merely to observe that even if fat women get okay with their own bodies, there is not an existing cultural space in which we are accepted.

There's no equivalent for fat women to the narrative "we all have flaws!" No deviation from some impossible ideal should ever regarded as a "flaw," anyway, but fat is not regarded as a mere flaw.

And we are not, outside fat acceptance spaces, celebrated for a willingness to show our bodies "despite" their imperfections. We are not considered brave. We are harassed, shamed, policed, threatened, attacked.

The thing about "love your body" campaigns for my fat self is that I can love my body all the fuck I want, but the bigger problem for me is other people hating my body.

It's so much more complicated than just putting on a bikini, for lots of fat women. We need to respect and recognize that.

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This isn't a comprehensive list of potential objections. I hope if fat women share in comments any additional concerns they may have with the meme, not-fat women will listen to their perspectives.

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