From left: Alex, Jessica Laforet and Ama Scriver. Photography by Jessica Laforet

Reclaiming the word “fat”

A new zine collective tackles issues of language, fat-shaming and what body positive really means.

Jessica Laforet and Ama Scriver first met over coffee in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. It was an immediate photographer-muse situation: Laforet was shooting Scriver, a freelance journalist, for her series This Woman I Know, where she features women who are working to support other women. The two bonded and became fast feminist friends.

Now, they’ve joined forces to launch the Femme Folio Collective, a zine collective of individuals sharing the stories of marginalized folks. Their first zine, created with the help of designer Alex of Monster Cliché, is called “Fat is Enough,” and will profile nine people of diverse backgrounds and abilities who all identify as “fat.”

“Since Ama and Alex identify as fat, we wanted to feature fat folks and make space for them and their stories,” the collective told LocalLove.ca. “Every day, fat folks experience microaggressions, violence and unfair stigma. We hope that by sharing the feelings and experiences of others, we can showcase how wrong this is.”

Scriver and Laforet sat down to share some thoughts about language, safe dialogue and body positivity.

LocalLove.ca: What words do you use to describe your bodies?

Jessica Laforet: My body has changed a lot over the last three years. At times, I struggle with those changes, but I would say that I very much recognize myself as a plus-size woman. More often than not, I now look at my body and love it, whereas before, when I was much thinner, I didn’t. I feel empowered by seeing other women referring to themselves as “fat” and “fat babe.” I think there is still a lot of stigma around this word and I think the more that people reclaim the word fat, the more that will change.

Ama Scriver: I identify by using the word fat. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am in my own body and, to be honest, I’m still navigating my own body journey. Some days are good, some days are bad. But I think it’s important to know that I hold power over those words and recognize that others don’t anymore.

LL: Should the word fat only be used by people who identify as fat?

JL: I think that people should be referred to in the ways in which they refer to themselves, and that nobody should put labels on someone that they themselves wouldn’t use.

I think there is still a lot of stigma around this word and I think the more that people reclaim the word fat, the more that will change.

AS: We need to let people choose whatever descriptors they feel comfortable with. For example, some people do not choose to identify with the word “fat,” but feel safer with the word “curvy.” While I identify with the word fat, I wouldn’t call someone fat who didn’t want to be called that. Another thing [I don’t agree with] is the batch of plus-size models trying to erase the term ‘plus-size’ being used at all, saying it divides us from our peers.

LL: How does size come into play in the #MeToo movement and others like it?

AS: We need to hold space for survivors no matter the size that they are. Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, deals with her rape and her overeating in a very real and, at times, difficult way. It demonstrates how for many folks, trauma can manifest itself in different ways. It doesn’t matter the size of your body, we can’t know someone’s story or their #MeToo moment. All we can do for folks is to hold space and believe them.

LL: How does talk about body size fit into today’s feminist conversation?

AS: The term “body positive” is a popular one and on the surface, this isn’t a bad thing. But body positivity has left out a multitude of voices: queer, transgender and non-binary folks, Indigenous, Black and people of colour, and those with disabilities. Mainstream media has focused so much of their attention on cis white women and the body shaming that they endure without realizing that other bodies exist outside of the cis and hetero frameworks.

We have to ask ourselves: How can we make the body positivity movement more intersectional? The more we keep talking about fat activism and bodies, the more it will change.