by Briana Hernandez
As a plus-size blogger, I have basically made it my calling to put myself out there for visual scrutiny. And as we all know, the Internets are rife with trolls. So this can be a scary job, particularly when I wear outfits that dare to bare some skin. But let’s be honest. As fly as I feel when I dress this way, I often find myself a little afraid to walk around in public looking like this. Will people be cool or will they stare, sneer, laugh or worse?
But I do it anyway. Do you know why?
I’m brave as fuck.
Bravery: “The quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening.” Walking down the street in an outfit that outlines, highlights and flaunts your body is, in a vacuum, not a brave act. It’s putting on clothes because we have long lost our ability to grow fur and going outside because we kind of have to leave the house in order to work and stuff.
But outside of the vacuum, in the real world, where many fat women don’t have to be fashion bloggers to be mocked, bullied, even assaulted just for daring to be seen by strangers in public, that’s where the danger and the fear comes in. We have learned, rightfully and logically, that there is always the chance someone will shame us just for existing.
It is as real a possibility to me now as it was the day my mother was spit on at the mall. Some kid hocked a loogie on her from a balcony overhead. At the time, I didn’t associate it with her obesity. It wasn’t until a little later, when much older kids walking down the street hurled insults at me and “concerned” adult strangers would tell me how unhealthy I was — all before I reached double digits in age — that I started to connect fatness with shaming and visibility with danger. I often wonder why the hell I continued to become an outgoing kid, a flamboyant teenager and a take-no-shit adult. Because it wasn’t for lack of fear. My vulnerability as both a woman and a fat person has always been ingrained into my identity. So what else could it be but bravery?
Here’s where we seem to get tripped up with the word “brave.” As with the Mindy Kaling crop top incident, being called brave tends to read like a backhanded compliment — especially when it comes from those of body privilege. Basically, when your friend with thighs the size of your upper arms sees you slaying in your belly-bearing OOTD and she says, “OMG you’re so brave. I could never wear that,” you take it to mean, “I could never wear that if I were you. Your weight. Your size. You. No way in hell.”
First, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong for feeling your fat-shaming Spidey senses tingling. But here’s how I break down the possibilities of what’s really going on here:
1. We’ve got a legit, intentional backhanded compliment. Don’t sweat it. If that’s the case, fake friends like this will out themselves in due time and all will be revealed.
2. She’s truly impressed but only because she knows you’re doing something society (and O Magazine) tells you is inappropriate for your body, i.e. she KNOWS you’re brave.
3. She would not dare wear that outfit in her current body. Even thin-thighed women have their body issues. Don’t forget that.
We also get confused by the dreaded “shoulds.” Should it be a brave act to walk down the street in a revealing outfit? No. It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t because the world shouldn’t tell you that, as a plus size woman, you just can’t. Women shouldn’t be taught to take up as little space in the world as possible, whether through sizeism or manspreading on the subway. Not to mention: women who are sexually assaulted shouldn’t be asked what they were wearing when it happened. But lo and behold, all these things happen.
Calling ourselves brave for doing things everyone else does can feel melodramatic, I know. And the cautiousness or fear we feel while doing so can look a lot like paranoia to those who haven’t lived our special brand of societal disadvantage. Are we really so paranoid that we need to muster up all our courage just to be seen? No. We’re not paranoid. Fat shaming is REAL. We experience it. We hear about it from our sisters. We’re only sensitive to it because we’re prepared for it. It’s not paranoia. It’s just the ugly truth.
Just because we shouldn’t have to be brave doesn’t mean we aren’t. If you have ever presented yourself in a way that caused you just the slightest trepidation, you are brave by definition. Every time you rock a VBO, every time you speak up against bullshit beauty standards, every time you hold your head up high when you’re tempted to hang it in shame, never forget that all this is the gift of bravery. It allows you to be true to yourself and live life as you define it, by your rules, not by everyone else’s. So, yas, Queen. You are brave, bold and beautiful.
Briana Hernandez is a plus-size fashion, body positive blogger at Mamafierce (mamafierce.com). She lives in Oakland, California with her husband, 3-year-old son and tortoiseshell cat, Divvy.