If you were hanging around Central Park in 1967, you would have been treated to an absurd but delightful sight: over 500 people gathered together to stage a "fat in" to protest the discrimination faced by obese and overweight people by eating junk food, burning diet books and effigies of Twiggy and wearing horizontal stripes. But nearly half a century later, the fat acceptance or fat positive movement is still a fringe movement — even among people and companies in the plus-size fashion industry.
This couldn't have been clearer when a sales associate at an Edmonton plus-size women's retailer, Addition Elle, used the F-word — "fat," that is — on Facebook, landing herself in unexpected hot water. Connie Levitsky proudly wrote in her bio that her position at Addition Elle entailed "Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time." But her district manager at the Reitman's-owned store wasn't happy and demanded she take it down (according to Levitsky's account of the situation on Facebook). The consequences didn't stop there, though. First, Levitsky found out her shifts had been suspended, and the next thing she knew, she was fired — all for using the word "fat."
"Friends, in case you have failed to notice, I am fat. I have been fat my entire life," writes Levitsky in a powerful Facebook post that's since gone viral. She explains that when she uses the word "fat," she's attempting to cast the word in a positive light. But if getting fired proved anything to her, she writes, it's that "internalized hate and stigma against fat bodies still runs rampant." She says that she was "so excited" to work at Addition Elle, given that they cater to women with diverse body types, but following her termination, she was left feeling "angry and disheartened."
Levitsky says she has had some negative feedback on social media for her attempt to reclaim the word "fat."
"My comments regarding the clientele of Addition Elle were not meant to harm anyone in any way," she explains. "I also understand that not everyone is OK with being fat or being referred to with that particular word."
For Levitsky, accepting her body type has been a painful but rewarding process: "I have spent years hating the way I look. The word 'fat' used to cut me like a knife," she writes. But now she encourages other women to embrace the fat acceptance movement, too, using the hashtag #IAmFat.
#IAmFat and my body is my own to define and I refuse to be told my body is a bad word— Andi Sweet (@tandisweet) April 5, 2016
Levitsky is certainly not the only fat positive social media user to deal with negative backlash about her online presence. While the hashtag #fatpositive may turn up tons of fierce photos on Instagram shared by users proudly showing off their curves, the comments on those posts almost always inevitably have people trolling these users. For instance, Instagram user @shayracha says that while she received plenty of positive messages about photos she posted about herself, she still receives several messages from people suggesting that she kill herself. So, given the extent to which fat positive bloggers and social media users are trolled, Levitsky is adding to a much-needed conversation about body positivity.
Since sharing these photos I've gotten a lot of positive comments (thank you all!) but I've also gotten a lot of negative ones. Fat. (no shit, sherlock). Ugly, disgusting (opinions)... And told to kill myself. Repeatedly told to kill myself. Again and again... Just because of how I look. Sooooo sorry to disappoint you all, but I won't be killing myself. See, I love my life and have worked entirely too hard to get to this exact point in it to deprive myself of the rest of it. If you would have caught me a decade ago, you might have gotten your wish. Suicide was on my mind a lot. See. I was tired of the torment. I was tired of being mocked and harassed, just for existing in this body. I had a lot of issues that harassment from strangers and even family that made suicide seem like a viable option. Why I didn't kill myself? Two reasons: my mother, who I love more than any of you saying these things could ever love anything. And because I wasn't going to let the negative people win. Now I'm at a place where no negative comment can affect me. It's a great place. But not everyone is at the same place. Some people are still struggling, like I was. And if those people kill themselves after your harassment? That is on YOU. Their blood will forever stain your heartless hands and I like to think you will pay for it eventuality. Your words, your actions are despicable. And to another they may be fatal. The next time you go to say anything to someone, think. Stop and think about what it could do. Stop and ask yourself why you feel the need to comment in the first place. And if you still do it, you still have to make the comment? Stop and realize you're the problem. Not the person you feel the need to be cruel to.
After her initial post went viral, Levitsky says Addition Elle contacted her to apologize, assuring her that the company did not condone the handling of her particular situation and had taken steps to prevent other employees from having a similar experience. They even offered Levitsky her job back, but she declined the offer.
"I think this has become so much bigger than me getting fired from my job this morning," says Levitsky in a video on Facebook. "I honestly can't tell you how amazing it feels to have so many positive comments and people sharing my status."
It looks like, in her own way, Levitsky is still managing to "conquer the world" and inspire others by spreading the word about body positivity "one well-dressed fat lady at a time."
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