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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Gainesville plus-size community shows effort to progress fat liberation

Local community members use art and social media to protest fatphobia

<p>Groups like Curvy Confidence (pictured) aim to combat the deep-rooted anti-fat discrimination within American culture.</p>

Groups like Curvy Confidence (pictured) aim to combat the deep-rooted anti-fat discrimination within American culture.

In a society that shames plus-size people into hiding and hating their bodies, Shoog McDaniel is rewriting the narrative by showcasing their figures through nude photography. 

Nature’s beauty and tranquility, namely the springs’, inspired the 41-year-old plus-size photographer to illuminate the beauty within fatness by photographing plus-size bodies in the water.

McDaniel’s photography not only influences others’ perspectives, but their perception of themself and the way they view their body. 

“I’m just trying to transmute people's ideas of what beauty can be and provide proof that fatness is indeed beautiful and valuable,” they said.

McDaniel’s social media following — more than 100,000 Instagram followers who pushed their photography series of plus-sized, nude bodies to Teen Vogue and HuffPost — allows them to channel their passion for photography into an initiative close to their heart: fat liberation. 

Originating in the late 1960s, the fat liberation movement represents the plus-size community’s efforts to combat the deep-rooted anti-fat discrimination within American culture. Local community members are rallying to support the movement through different forms of art and media. 

Increased representation of unedited plus-size bodies and attention to the intersectionalities between fatphobia, racism and misogyny are necessary to progress the fat liberation movement through media and art. Until institutions of power like mainstream media begin to embrace plus-size people in marginalized communities, smaller platforms must do so, they said.

“Creating what we want to see in the world is how we get free,” they said. "Our power comes in our collectivism and being able to create community and connections that traverse these hardships." 

JoJo Sacks, a 25-year-old coordinator at the Civic Media Center, hosted a fat liberation reading group focused on creating a safe haven for the plus-size community June 29, with another set for July 6 at 7 p.m. The event aims to breed discussions through its readings, which include the political zine “Fat is Beautiful” by Crystal Hartman and “The Fat Liberation Manifesto'' by Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran. 

Customers inspired Sacks to organize the reading group; they talked about the lack of local resources dedicated to fat liberation.

“The CMC has long been committed to advocating for everyone,” they said. “I want to talk about the discrimination and hostilities that have real implications for [plus-size] people and how we can fight against them.”

Literature focused on fat liberation, like those in the reading group, shifted Sacks’ perspective on their weight and allowed them to accept themselves. They want to use their platform at the CMC to help others do the same.

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“Seeing these types of literature is eye-opening,” they said. “You don't have to live in shame. You can step into your power.”

Sacks also started Fabric Snax, a small clothing and accessory business. The project, which  started as a sewing side hobby, creates garments inclusive of all body types and gender identities.

Kali Geiger, a 28-year-old artist and musician who moved to Gainesville in 2019, recently attended the CMC’s plus-size clothing swap. She healed with the local plus-size community as they reflected on shared experiences and struggles, she said. 

She spent her childhood imprisoned by the unrelenting restraints of fatphobia: the constant pressure to be a smaller size and the ostracizing department store ailes. For too long, she submitted to the idea that plus-size people should use clothes to hide their bodies, she said.

“Clothes shopping can be traumatizing when you're young and trying to fit your body into clothes instead of trying to find clothes to fit your body,” Geiger said.

Community conversations help her embrace her body type, she said.

Abigail “Aby” Deal, a 30-year-old plus-size lifestyle social media influencer, founded Curvy Confidence to curate body-positive events across central Florida. With nearly 160,000 followers on Instagram, her content focuses on body acceptance and mental health awareness. 

“The goal is creating a sense of community,” she said. “A place where people can share experiences and feel empowered.”

Deal started documenting her self-love journey on Instagram while living in Las Vegas in February 2018. She quickly attracted an audience with her relatable content and uplifting message. Curvy Confidence’s concept arose from her desire to make a positive impact with her newfound influence.

She brought Curvy Confidence to Gainesville in 2020. Whether the events are beach meet-ups, body-positive workouts or game nights, the common goal is to build connections and ignite the self-confidence to exist unapologetically — no matter your size. 

Positive feedback detailing her supporters’ heightened self-confidence and self-esteem gives her a purpose, she said.

“We go through so much as a human, and then you look online and see the beauty standard is one specific type of person, body type or skin tone,” she said. “It makes you feel isolated, so making somebody feel like they're represented is so rewarding.”

Contact Amanda at afriedman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @afriedmanuf.

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