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I am one of the lucky fat women. I have a strong core of like-minded (and bodied) female friends, even if they are flung across the States and the rest of the world. I have a mate whom I am incredibly attracted to. I know where to get clothing that fits me, as well as how to style it. I spend my time trying to lift other women up and teach them to love their bodies. I have bad days, as well. Sometimes I hate my belly, my big thighs, my calves that never fit into boots. I hate that I can’t always fit into seats at movie theatres without the sides digging into my hips and having to pretend that everything is okay because I am too embarrassed to inconvenience the rest of the group. I dread flying and I always fear that this will be The Trip, the one where “they” fat shame me in front of everyone and force me to buy two seats or I have a rude flight attendant that makes a big deal of bringing me a seat-belt extender. Luckily, due to very conscious habits as to how I consume my media, those bad body image days are in the minority. It’s time-consuming, but worth every change.

People ask me how I can remain so body positive. First of all, I don’t have cable. We have televisions in our homes, but we don’t actually watch tv. We rent DVDs from the library, Redbox, and watch Netflix and Hulu when possible. Even Hulu is a culprit of body shaming with their advertising – it’s disgusting! I limit the amount of media which I have no control over so that companies cannot profit by putting me down. It does eventually erode your self-confidence.

#DropTheTowel This Summer!

My second, possibly most important tip for those of you who are of the Internet Age and spend a tremendous amount of time around social media: curate it carefully. You owe absolutely nothing to that jock from high school that makes casually racist comments and fat jokes. You do not need that kind of toxicity in your life, even if it is on the periphery. Unfriend! Have a friend that is dieting? Good for them! You do not have to read about it in your feed if it makes you feel crappy about yourself. Simply unfollow and check back in with them in a couple of months on social media. Go have a drink with them in REAL LIFE with the caveat that they do not talk about weight loss (if it triggers you), but make sure that they know you are proud of them for taking the steps in life that they need to take in order to find their happiness. A real friend will understand that you are doing that yourself by setting healthy boundaries.

[RELATED POST: Dear Virgie: “My Husband Diets & I Don’t]

Part two of that is to make new social media friends.  Now, I’m not saying to objectify and collect people like Pokemon – I see that all of the time with Fat Admirers and white liberals who are just dying for a token black friend.  If there is someone whose work you appreciate, send them an email or message on Facebook to tell them how much you appreciate their work. Let them know how it has affected your life and set groundwork for an actual friendship or networking opportunity.  On a more casual level, if someone posts awesome stuff in your friends’ threads, you shouldn’t be shy about thanking them for their positive insights/political commentary/hilarious point of view and reaching out to build a relationship with that person.  My Facebook feed is comprised of old friends, a small number of family members and coworkers, hilarious people with awesome stories, social justice warriors, and fat babes – the best ones overlap several of those categories.  My Instagram feed is full of beautiful, diverse bodies and faces. And cats.  Lots and lots of cats.

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So many amazing things about this photo! #pudgepdx

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Take advantage of the groups on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet.  Don’t have local pals who are into the same things that you are or share similar political beliefs, be they body or otherwise? Find them on the internet!  Listen, Al Gore didn’t slave over all of those ones and zeroes to create the internet just for trolls to start fights and secretly haterbate to the women whom they are terrorizing. When I lived in Portland, PDX Fatshion served as a catalyst for my involvement in the body-positive group “PudgePDX”, which was created by people in “PDX Fatshion” who wanted to see fat bodies in a calendar that was reflective of our lifestyles and fashions that we embraced.  We took the initiative to create images of people who did not fit the mold and are ignored in the media. That is one of the things that I love about Wear Your Voice – I get to continue that mission here, as seen in the #dropthetowel campaign and beyond.

[RELATED POST: Drop The Towel Tackles Food Shaming]

Through that calendar, I met a ton of like-minded people, created what I hope to be life-long friendships, and created a strong professional network whom I still continue to work with even after moving to California. Since relocating to the Bay, I have become a member of “Fat California,” “Flawless Fat Babes,” “Anti-Oppressive Queer Fashion,” as well as “San FatCisco, East Babes, and Beyond.” I continue to build strong allies with others who have positive body attitudes or are working toward it.  A friend of mine in Utah lost all of her money in a move gone wrong and lost her job, but because I was part of those communities and had spent time networking with other fat babes, the rest of us banded together and have been able to collectively furnish her with a new-to-her wardrobe, as well as job leads in the area!

Using the internet to create a support network instead of allowing businesses to profit off of insecurities is integral. When I was a young teen living in the middle of conservative North Carolina, the only internet provided the only network I had aside from a handful of local friends that were equally as desperate to leave. Message boards, progressive writing, and new music were the light at the end of the tunnel for me, beckoning me from afar. I had strangers with similar ideas and love for similar things reaching out to me, telling me that it was okay to be different. I will forever be grateful to those people who gave me an outside perspective. I reached out to other fat young women via LiveJournal when I moved to Florida at the age of fifteen, one of whom I am still friends with to this day.

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Photo by Suma Jane Dark at In Other Words

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You do not always get to choose who you allow to influence your life. Why would you take that for granted when you have settings right in front of you? Don’t be complacent. Get rid of the toxic people from your feed and seek out beautiful minds and bodies that the media does not show. Your self-esteem will improve over time and you will thank yourself for taking the initiative to make the change.

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Laurel Dickman is an intersectional feminist, plus size model, stylist, and fat activist that can also be found via her blogs, Exile In Dietville and 2 Broke Bitches. She grew up in the south between Florida and North Carolina, migrating to the Portland, OR in 2005. All three places inform her perspective of the world around her a great deal. While in Portland, she worked with the Alley 33 Annual Fashion Show, PudgePDX, PDX Fatshion, Plumplandia, and numerous other projects over the near decade that she was there. In August of 2014, she moved to the Bay area with her partner, David and trusty kitty, Dorian Gray. She continues her body positive and intersectional feminism through various forms of activism, fashion, photography projects, and writing from her home in the East Bay. She can be reached at laurel@wyvmag.com and encourages readers to reach out to her to collaborate!

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