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Obesity Shaming Disguised as Activism
10/28/2015

I was dismayed this morning when I logged into the MyBodyGallery.com administrator dashboard to complete our regular rounds of image approvals/rejections, which includes images flagged by community members as inappropriate or otherwise problematic.

An act of shameful internet “activism” had happened overnight—40 of our community members’ images had been flagged as inappropriate. Every one had been identically reported because, according to the “activist”, each image “promotes morbid obesity”. While we at MyBodyGallery.com appreciate and respect social activism (including creative internet-based forms), this type of shaming goes against everything we are working for: that ALL bodies of ALL weights can be represented in a positive manner, without shame and with transparency.

 

I’m not going to post the images in question, but here’s a peek at what I had to confront, 10 times over.

In each of these 40 images, I saw women bravely putting their bodies out there as reference for others. Many were smiling. Some were clearly awkward.

For all our unknown “activist” knows, some of these women were uploading these images as personal reference for weight loss goals. (We know from some of the body stories submitted by users that many people use the site for this purpose—to track their weight loss progress and offer comparative images for others to find.) And yes, some of them were clearly and excitedly celebrating their bodies, comfortable in their skin. On the flip side, we also often get images of incredibly thin people flagged for encouraging eating disorders. These equally maligned images have been uploaded for a wide variety of reasons too (from weight gain journeys to symbols of grappling with disease), all of them empowering.

To say that users are “promoting” any particular weight is completely missing the point of MyBodyGallery.com. No image on our site is promoting anything other than body acceptance. We encourage our users to accept who you are in the moment and to invite others to accept you. Even if ultimately a community member has goals to be a different weight eventually, everyone should be able to start their journey from a healthy place of acceptance.

All weight groups have body image issues, and all of the people on our site have been generous to share their images with the public in an effort to combat the manipulation (and subsequent body dysmorphia) caused by our Photoshop-happy media. But individuals on the heavier end of the weight spectrum are unfortunately more maligned than others, and so the community members who uploaded these images are among the bravest.

So please shamers posing as activists, find another target. You may have succeeded in taking those images offline for a few hours, but we’ve happily restored them now.

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My Body Stories Hoping for Empowerment
All my adult life I've been 5'7" and weighed between 125-130 lbs. I have a small frame but had enormous breasts. I hated them. I took being slender for granted as I never dieted, ate whatever I wanted and never really had a "formal" workout plan, though I was active and I'm not a snacker. In 1994, right after I had my second child (I had gained about 30 lbs. with him and was almost down to my pre-pregnancy weight), I found out my husband of 8 years was having an affair. We divorced soon after and due to stress, I weighed in at 115 lbs. and wore a size 4. I stayed at that weight for about 4 years when I married my dear husband and had 2 more children. My weight crept up to 130 lbs., which is still well within acceptable for my height. Due to stretch marks and my giant breasts, I didn't dare wear any revealing clothing and felt quite self conscious about my body.
Strength and Empowerment
I've struggled with weight my entire life. By the winter after high school graduation, I weighed 195lbs. This was mortifying to me. Within 5 months I lost 60 lbs. by doing cardio 6 hours a week and "eating clean." I was skinny! But I hated my body composition: flabby stomach and arms, no "toned" appearance.. and the weight loss never stuck. I regained and lost 15 lbs. for probably 3 years before I regained almost all of the weight due to my dietary and exercise lifestyle being unsustainable.
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In 2010, Odessa Cozzolino had a vision—what if women could band together to produce a crowd-sourced database of images of female bodies unmanipulated by media forces? She wondered: would it be possible to create a safe, online space where women could browse pictures that their peers took of themselves to gain an empowering assessment of the wide variety of bodies out there in the world?
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