A few days ago, I wrote a post entitled, “This is the bikini photo Instagram doesn’t want you to see“. Long story short, CLEO invited three plus-sized women to pose in bikinis for a story about body positivity. When one of them, a body positivity blogger named Aarti Olivia Dubey (Instagram: @curvesbecomeher), posted it on her Instagram, it was flagged and deleted.
@instagram THIS is the image that was reported by fat shamers and trolls, and YOU deleted it. HOW is this image being hateful, hurtful, abusive, trolling or obscene? Do 3 fat girls in swimsuits equate to gore, porn, racism, sexism? Or is it that people only want to see slim girls in swimsuits? IF this image is reported and deleted again, please trust that I WILL pursue this matter just like @rupikaur_ did when her image of lying in a period stain was removed. I am so disappointed and beyond livid right now. No Thanks to you and the people who had the gall to report this image, for making me feel so badly this Monday morning about my existence as a brown fat woman. My dear friends on social media, if you would like to help, please do so by reposting this image and sharing this post all over social media platforms, as many as you like. #bodypositive #celebratemysize #pizzasisters4lyfe #fuckfatphobia #losehatenotweight #nobodyshame #plussize #effyourbeautystandards #woc #intersectionalfeminism #fashionblogger #sizediversity #sgblogger #igsg #plussizesg #southasian #singaporean #girllove
That incident made me feel many things on behalf of the lovely women who had shared their beauty and their bodies with the magazine I work for. But it also made me think. About my own privileges, and how it’s so easy to take for granted the ease with which I can navigate the world, both real and virtual, while others have to struggle every day to be seen without being judged.
And then I stopped thinking about it, because that is also my privilege. The Instagram incident was just that to me – an incident. But for others, it’s not an incident, it’s every day, and they couldn’t stop thinking about it if they wanted to, because it’s a part of their lived reality.
The point is, the problem goes much further and deeper than Instagram. As I followed the seemingly unending stream of hate, shame and faux-concern that was directed at Aarti after she (a) dared to put her body on social media and (b) dared to speak out about it when it was censored, my eyes were opened to that hard truth. Unfortunately, such vitriol is not new at all to people like Aarti, who constantly risk hate and censure for putting on a bikini, for wearing a dress that celebrates their curves, for not hiding at home, for daring to step out into the world, into social media, for being fat and unapologetic, for being different and unapologetic, for simply being.
I can’t speak for what it’s like to be a plus-sized person on the Internet, a place where terms like “Secret Internet Fatty” are coined to out and to shame anyone who happens to be a different size than the norm. So I had a conversation with Aarti, and I’ll let her say the rest.
Dear @instagram , As soon as I reposted this image while there was a vast amount of love and support – Guess who came in by the hundreds? No guesses? Read that Image! There was a guy with a penis as a profile picture. Men who only post barechested images of them lying down, Men posting images of their ‘package’, Men whose profile states – Love Bbw women, men who postleery comments. And YET, you deleted the image of me and my friends despite the scum I just described and instead of taking action against Them when we report these cockroaches who keep coming back with new private accounts and guises. and to the fella who said “Lmao no big deal” to me being angry over my post being reported and removed – YOU are part of the problem. You have images of your wives and children and families and you still scour women’s pages to say “Mmm nice”. I’m sure your moms are very proud of you lot. As are your sister and wives and daughters. Instagram. Wake UP. #noshaming #nocreeps #wtfisthis #igsg #southasian #plussize #notyourfetish #intersectionalfeminism #woc #bodypositive #mybodyisnotabattleground #effyourbeautystandards
CLEO: Maybe a good jumping off point is all the hate that you got for posting a simple bikini pic. Is that type of hate typical? Is that just what you would expect as a plus size person?
Aarti: Yea, it is.
CLEO: But it’s particularly vicious whenever you put yourself out there in a position of loving/flaunting your body?
Aarti: It is. And you have to constantly remind yourself of the many who are taking it in a positive light. Because these trolls, oh, they will make you crumble if you’re not careful. The malice and wasted energy is pretty unnerving. Online bullying is very real. And it’s actually very draining doing what I do, knowing what it’s going to be like the moment I post an image or anything else.
CLEO: How does that feel? I mean, on the one hand, you have a certain impulse from the feminist side teling women to love themselves and accept their flaws, and on the other hand, there’s a whole other part of society that’s continuously pushing you down and saying no, you shouldn’t accept yourself, you need to change. How do you deal with those extremes?
Aarti: It feels like an exhausting mix of emotions. Where you cannot be too jubilant because somebody will surely rain on that parade. And just not being able to exist, be it virtually or in the real world, without someone tossing an opinion at you. Left, right centre, just constantly. On one hand, the body positive community says I’m doing great and on the other, there is this outrage that I even consider myself worthy of appreciation. You lose friends because they don’t understand how it feels to be covertly fat shamed in public and you have a meltdown. You turn to your online communities and gain strength from each other, remind each other why we’re all doing this. We look out for each other, and when someone is being trolled really bad, we jump in.
The other two girls, Ratna and Rani… this was the first time they experienced this sort of a tremendous backlash. Me? Well for as long as I’ve been blogging, it’s been happening.
CLEO: When you get a comment from someone who fetishizes fat people, or some well-meaning person who tell you your body isn’t “meant” to be the way that it is, what are your thoughts on that?
Aarti: As far as fetishists go, I just get creeped out because classifying us as a fetish is so weird. We are a human demographic, not a pair of toes or a neck. And when concern trolls do their thing, I understand where they are coming from but I remind them that there is a lot more to the story than an image lets on. That doesn’t please them but it is what it is.
CLEO: Why do you think plus size people generate so much negativity from society in the first place?
Aarti: I think people have become so used to acceptable body types and reject anything that stands out. A skinny person is asked to eat more, A fat person is told not to be lazy or hungry. There are so many preconceived notions about body types that the media has made us believe. We’ve been portrayed constantly as slovenly, couch potatoes who live sedentary lives and eat junk food all the time.
CLEO: I read this once somewhere – that fat people can’t be happy with their bodies, because for the average person struggling to “lose weight”, happy fat people are just like a reminder of their own inadequacy or their own inability to love themselves. Do you think there’s truth in that?
Aarti: Seeing happy fat people certainly does incite anger for those reasons you mentioned. It is as if all the struggles they have made in the gym or with their diets or lifestyle are of no consequence if we seem so happy in our skin.
CLEO: How do you keep going on? And – playing devil’s advocate here – why keep putting yourself out there?
Aarti: Trust me, somedays I just want to throw in the towel. But when young girls send me heartfelt messages telling me how I have inspired them to look at their bodies with less hate and more appreciation, when older women who are only beginning to discover their beauty tell me how I inspired them to try a bright colourful outfit they’d never have tried before – those are the things that keep me going. I remind myself of how little representation there is in Asia and I just can’t bail out. This is important groundwork, and it’s not easy but I hope it bears fruit someday in a big way.
CLEO: When you say that you hope the work you’re doing now bears fruit one day – what do you imagine that to be like? What’s the dream or the end goal?
Aarti: I hope there will be a general awareness and education about body positivity and inculcating a positive sense of self. Too often we are told how to ace the exams or nail that job interview but we are not taught how to deal with the intricacies of simply existing as a person. In our bodies, where we should nurture ourselves and show more care than contempt for our form. There’s also just a whole jumble that really feeds into this whole “you’re not good enough” thought process women have going for them. But, just imagine what would happen if we stopped disliking our reflections.
… Imagine that, indeed.
Text: Kit Chua
Images: Instagram (@curvesbecomeher); Aarti Olivia Dubey/Facebook