In her debut book, Fattily Ever After, London-based body positivity advocate and writer Stephanie Yeboah (who has over 150k Instagram followers) shares what it’s like to navigate life as a Black, plus-sized woman, encouraging those like her to take up space and teaching us all how to be allies.
Not seeing bodies like hers reflected in print or on screen as she was growing up, coupled with fat shaming from family members and bullying at school, took a toll on Stephanie Yeboah’s mental health.
The author was put on her first diet at 12, diagnosed with depression at 14, and suffered from bulimia that went undiagnosed and treated for years.
‘The worst thing you can do is try to shame someone into losing weight,’ she tells me, via Zoom.
‘Some people call shaming “tough love” assuming it will motivate the other person to change, but it does the opposite, reinforcing the idea that fat people are unworthy, ugly and that they don’t deserve love or success.
‘It only made me overeat – and in turn I was bullied more – that fuelled my disordered eating and the circle of abuse continued.’
But Yeboah was to discover – in the cruelest of circumstances – that dating when plus size is a minefield.
‘A 2014 survey found that women’s worst fears when it comes to online dating is that their date is a rapist, and or murderer, while men’s top fear was that their date would be fat.
‘That just goes to show how difficult dating as a plus-size woman really is,’ says Yeboah.
It’s something she has firsthand experience of, having dated and slept with a guy she subsequently found out had done so to win a dare set by his friends.
Yeboah subsequently wrote about the experience for Refinery29, last year, in a post that went viral.
‘While I know I’m a great person, with a good personality, and my confidence is now on a healthy level, I’m aware that the way I look isn’t popular with men or society,’ she says.
‘I’ve had to accept for the most part only a certain type of guy will find my fat, Black body attractive.
‘It will take a lot of unlearning of stereotypes before my dating experiences stop being based on rejection, humiliation, and fetishisation, because right now I’m either being objectified by men that have a fetish for plus-size women, or I’m being told I’d be so much prettier if I lose weight.’
Yeboah cites writing a letter to her body in 2014 as the turning point in her self-love journey and encourages all fat women to do the same.
‘Writing to my body, apologising for my toxic thoughts and the harm I’ve inflicted on it helped me realise it’s not the enemy – in fact after everything it’s still chugging along and that’s bloody amazing!’ she says.
‘I’m more in sync with my body than ever before and this has done wonders for my mental health.
‘But body positivity isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and it’s important to acknowledge any uncomfortable, negative emotions that will inevitably arise and work through them,’ believes Yeboah.
She also recommends we all diversify what we consume on our very own social media, convinced this will further help all of us to love our bodies too.
‘It’s important to expose yourself to a range of bodies, genders, races, and sexualities.
‘This stops us from seeing life from a singular lens, and to see the beauty in all types of bodies especially those that challenge traditional standards of beauty,’ she adds
Stephanie’s guide to being a body-positivite ally
Don’t say ‘fat’ like it’s a bad thing.
Don’t tell fat women they ‘aren’t’ fat if that is how they choose to describe themselves. Being fat isn’t a bad thing and shouldn’t be considered as such.
By saying ‘you aren’t fat’, you’re low-key telling them that being fat is bad and undesirable, and that you also don’t see them as ‘one of those fat people’.
We are a broad and beautiful category with many multitudes. Don’t tell me that I’m not a part of this group of people just because you like me and hate fat people.
Do not assume that someone has lost weight just because they look great.
‘You look so amazing in this photo! Did you lose weight?’ No Sue, I haven’t lost weight. I just look great. One doesn’t need to have lost weight in order to be seen as attractive.
I can be fat and exactly the same size as I have been, and still look like a snack. Let’s let these toxic behaviours rest.
Speak up when someone body-shames your friend.
If you think that your friend would be comfortable with you speaking up, be ready to defend them when trolls or just horrible people IRL emerge from under their bridges.
At most, it can help your fat friend become more assertive in defending their own beautiful bodies (or, if they choose to not engage, to perhaps use self-care to help prevent themselves from internalising the hateful words).
At the very least, it’ll show your friends that their feelings and body are valid and worthy to you. When someone is being an a*****e, just knowing that you have an ally who respects and supports you can do wonders for your mental health.
Before you speak about fat acceptance – ask yourself if you are talking about the movement in the right way.
If you’re claiming it for yourself as something you get to rant and rave about, then you’re not really pushing a paradigm shift around fat acceptance.
All you’re doing is making yourself look compassionate and smart, building off of the hard work of people more marginalized than yourself. And that’s oppressive.
Please understand the impact and weight of your words.
One of the most annoying things to go through as a fat person is to hear friends or loved ones talk about how huge or fat they are – when they are in my presence and I am clearly the larger person there.
We have been learning to love and accept ourselves, and to let the outside reflect the inside.
It’s something that is incredibly annoying, because there is always the implication that they are ugly or disgusting for having the extra weight.
It always stings and sometimes you can end up internalising it, even if they are completely oblivious to what they are saying.
Stephanie on Lizzo
Hailed 2019 entertainer of the year by Time Magazine, singer Lizzo is unapologetically fat, Black and insanely talented.
‘Growing-up I really needed to see a fat Black women on stage owning it – dancing, singing, playing an instrument – proving we can do anything,’ explains Yeboah.
‘Lizzo has done so much for fat women, and is proof that when you work hard and refuse to be held back by your race or weight it is possible to reach your full potential.
‘She has inspired me to live my best fat life and take up space.’
Fattily Ever After – A Black Fat Girl’s Guide to Living Life Unapologetically is out now.
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