Amanda Scriver (left) and Yuli Scheidt at the "Fat In Public" exhibition. Photo: Andrew Williamson
This article originally appeared on Mashable.
Amanda Scriver, a heavyset redhead wearing a cherry knit cardigan and a black beanie, looks into the camera. She's sitting in her apartment, head and shoulders in the frame.
"I'm here to talk about the journey I've been through in coming to love my body," she says.
That journey began with Weight Watchers, Scriver explains in the video, called "Ama Riots Against Diets & Loves Thyself." She holds up a notebook she kept in 2009, where she meticulously recorded every meal and exercise session, keeping a tally of calories consumed and burned. "I would get on that scale and see how much weight I had lost," she says. "It's kind of demoralising when … you ask them why you haven't lost anything, they tell you that you've done something wrong.
"After all that, I decided that this wasn't the plan for me. People would need to accept that I loved me, regardless of the size that I was."
Since launching the blog less than a year ago with cofounder and photographer Yuli Scheidt, Fat Girl Food Squad has won a contest with Food Network Canada and has been featured on lifestyle blogs and in magazines in Toronto. The "squads" have expanded to include correspondents across the US, Canada and Australia.
In early February, Fat Girl Food Squad hosted "Fat In Public," a gallery show designed to de-stigmatise fat bodies and provide a space where overweight women (and men) can see zaftig figures like their own represented in art.
The body-positive movement, also known as "fat-positive" or "fat acceptance," is a reaction to the perceived stigmatisation and discrimination against overweight individuals, particularly women. The evidence is everywhere: Photoshopped glossy ads, Tumblr accounts that glorify "thigh gap," National Fat Shaming Week.
"You don’t need a week for fat-shaming, because fat shaming happens every day," Scriver says.
Body positivity is founded on the simple (but controversial) principle that overweight individuals should be free to love and accept their bodies as they are: fat or thin, athletic or curvy.
Scriver and Scheidt launched Fat Girl Food Squad in May 2013. Both women have deep roots in blogging, and often exercised as a duo, with Scriver putting pen to paper and Scheidt snapping the photos. "[The blog] came out of being the only two people of size in the room at PR events and feeling alienated," Scheidt says.
Then, Scriver began Instagramming her meals with the jokey hashtag #FatGirlFoodSquad — an extension of her identity as a fat girl with a love of food and hip-hop (she's a fan of the Gucci Mane/Waka Flocka Flame habit of calling their crews "squads"). She had also mentioned to several friends, including Scheidt, that she wanted to start a site about food and body positivity. After some stalling, Scheidt went ahead and registered the domain name to force her hand, and voilà.
"A lot of fat-positive blogs focused on self-esteem issues and fashion, and we wanted to focus on the food aspect," Scriver says of her vision for the site. "We were going to talk about food, but we were also going to make people realise that you can eat food and have fun and love the body that you're in at any size. "
The blog effectively adds the missing piece to the body-positivity puzzle by mingling a fat-positive message with that very elemental source of fat and fat-shaming: food. With their blog, Scriver and Scheidt want to reclaim the word "fat," which in their view should not be seen as an insult but simply a state of being, a truth about their bodies.
In their writing, the team of around 15 bloggers takes on fitspo, thigh gap and fat shaming. "We started with a main focus on food and having a good, healthy attitude about your body," Scriver says. "Now it's evolved into something more, very organically."
They take their food blogging duties just as seriously, posting event listings, restaurant reviews and Q&As with chefs and restaurateurs — all, naturally, accompanied by delicious "food porn" photographs courtesy of Scheidt. On their YouTube channel, Scriver and Scheidt also host chat sessions with photographers, designers and other squad members.
With "Fat In Public," Scriver says, "We wanted it to be about how we feel in public and de-stigmatizing fat bodies." The exhibit features works of photography, fashion, craft and embroidery that normalize fat bodies. These include a set of pillows depicting fat women having sex, and crocheted pieces embroidered with statements such as "Fat whore" and "You're taking up too much space."
One of Scriver and Scheidt's favorite submissions came from plus-size fashion designer Amarina Norris: a clear vinyl bustier and underwear set called "Sorry, Not Sorry." "It's supposed to represent, 'I'm not sorry for you seeing me in my body, I'm not sorry for you seeing me the way I am,'" Scriver says.
Scheidt contributed four works of photography to the show. Most are images of food being handled — "They're very evocative and kind of dream-like," she says — but she's also contributing a photograph of herself in her underwear, a testament to the fact that the blog has helped her feel more confident in her body.
"I used to think about my body non-stop," she says. "You constantly think of yourself as you're seen by other people. Now, I don't even think about it."
Since Fat Girl Food Squad's launch, she's posed in her skivvies for a professional photographer not once but twice.
Critics of body positivity blogs claim that the fat acceptance movement is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle by encouraging readers to love their large bodies and touting "health at every size", a growing theory among some medical practitioners that a person can be both overweight and physiologically healthy.
Both of Fat Girl Food Squad's founders have said that putting themselves in the public eye has been the scariest and ultimately most rewarding aspect of the project. The positive comments, and the outpouring of fat women who applaud the site and want to form squads of their own, has been encouraging. On the exhibit's opening night, the small gallery was so packed that Scheidt was stuck outside, waiting for the crowd to dissipate.
"The biggest thing I've learned from this year is that if you don't do things that are scary, and you don't push yourself, then you're not going to accomplish anything," Scriver says.
In a society consumed by conversations about obesity and health, it is common to over-politicise fatness without recognizing that fat bodies are still just bodies. They are soft in some places and hard in others. They bruise and scrape. They are imperfect, like any other body. And yet they are rarely the subject of art shows — which is why "Fat In Public" is a step in the right direction.