Fighting body image stigmatization

Sam Abel showcases her drawing 'Gravitas' at the Fat in Public Art Exhibit.
Sam Abel showcases her drawing ‘Gravitas’ at the Fat in Public Art Exhibit. (MASHIINGAIDZE_Sam Abel_E)

Sam Abel has dealt with stares, embarrassment and harassment from strangers most her life.

“Just a few months ago I was at Yonge (Street subway) station and I was waiting for a train,” she said. “There were a group of teenage boys on the platform and as I got on the train, they said ‘You’re fat bitch.’ … Being fat means your body’s taken out publicly and people feel (they have) the right to comment on it in a way they might not if you weren’t fat.”

Abel is an artist. Last week she showcased three of her drawings at the “Fat in Public Art Exhibit.” She uses her art to showcase bodies the public doesn’t see in media very often.

“I think that fat bodies are vilified in our society. …People look at a fat body and they don’t see something that is attractive or desirable,” she said. “I think counter narratives about that are really important and that can be done through artistic means.”.

The art exhibit was organized by Amanda Scriver and Yuli Scheidt, the creators of Toronto’s largest Squad and blog, Fat Girl Food Squad. Scriver and Scheidt believe displaying bodies of all sizes helps de-stigmatize.

“We’re reclaiming the word ‘fat’ by using it in a positive way,” Scriver said. “I think especially with women, there’s this moral foiling that if you don’t control your weight you have no will power.”

Body image remains a controversial issue. Catherine Sabiston, a kinesiology and physical education professor at University of Toronto, believes the public doesn’t discuss body image nearly enough.

“We don’t hear as much about it today,” she said. “There’s really been no change in terms of how people feel about themselves. The biggest change has been that obesity rates are higher.”

Sabiston believes there is another side of body image, a positive side.

“There’s media campaigns that continue to perpetuate body dissatisfaction, but then on the opposite side there’s a lot of campaigns that focus on trying to help people see … there isn’t this one ideal body type that everybody should look like,” she said.

Sabiston added that sources of body shaming are still the same: from the medical community to the fashion industry, where images and language are used to enforce what is believed to be the ideal body.

“The fashion industry is probably one of the biggest perpetuators, but also … the commentary that goes around in sporting events attire and the uniforms athletes wear,” she said.

Everyone has an opinion on body image, says activist Scheidt, but she believes it’s not always true.

“People regurgitate (opinions of body image),” Scheidt concludes. “They’re almost live tales about how you’re very unhealthy if you’re fat. (But) there’s a lot of new research saying it’s just not true.”