Ever since Teen Vogue became the go-to publication for ‘woke’ liberals some time last year, I’ve been keeping an eye on their output to see where the limits of their ‘wokeness’ are.
My hypothesis: being an offshoot of Vogue, a magazine not exactly known for its progressive politics or encouragement of positive body image in all women, Teen Vogue falls flat when it comes to body politics.
After going through their ‘body positivity’ tag and their ‘Wellness’ section, and dealing with one of the editors myself, I fear my hypothesis has been proven correct.
For balance, I’ll start with the articles I found that included or mentioned actual fat people — not size 8 models who are considered fat by the twisted fashion industry, but people whose bodies are stigmatised as a result of their weight (people like me).
Those are the articles I was able to find that were about people who are actually fat. I found it interesting that most were sad; obviously, fat hatred isn’t a happy topic, but if you’ll follow me to my next segment, you might notice a difference in tone…
Body Positivity — Who Does It Belong To?
I have largely abandoned body positivity as a concept and community, because it has become dominated by Instagram activists and models who are conventionally attractive and focused on things like loving their cellulite or small belly rolls or whatever. Fine, but not for me, cheers.
Unfortunately, this is the brand of ‘body positivity’ that Teen Vogue has embraced, and the ambassadors it chooses to feature on the site again and again all have one thing in common: they aren’t actually fat. They’re pretty, they’re tall, they’re ‘plus sized’ by fashion industry standards, but not particularly by normal human standards.
(The last three are all about the same Instagram activist, @bodyposipanda. I’m sure she’s a nice person, but there’s a point where you’re hogging the spotlight that should be on those who pioneered the movement you’re championing.)
Then there’s just the articles that were downright harmful:
Phew. My screenshot dump is complete. Now on to the analysis!
By featuring conventionally attractive Instagram #BoPo activists and celebrities as the faces of body positivity, Teen Vogue replicates the beauty standards so rigidly enforced by its parent magazine. When it does feature actual fat people, it’s usually a sob story that’s gone viral rather than an essay from their point of view about their experiences (there are two outliers, both from the summer of 2016. Not exactly current.)
Full disclosure: I write. I pitched to Teen Vogue. I mentioned in my pitch that I felt TV was falling behind when it comes to actual fat positive content (see Refinery29 for an example of a site with fashion origins doing a good job on this), and I’m sure that’s why the editor who responded said this:“I encourage you to take a look at the Wellness section! I think you might find more of the body-posi stuff in there.”
I took that editor’s advice on board, and looked at the Wellness section. I left feeling disappointed. I think this post proves why.
This is part of a larger (no pun intended) issue where politically-minded people are either unwilling or unable to take body politics seriously. Sure, they’re good for an Instagram hashtag or two, but actual fat activism that discusses discrimination at the hands of medical professionals, the inability to buy clothes, weight-based street harassment, the increased likelihood of fat people being poor and unemployed, or surviving in industries that make hiring decisions based on looks is completely overlooked. Instead, body positivity is reduced to its most commercialised, toothless form.
I’m not writing this because I want to be published by TV. There is no possible way they’re ready for the radical body politics I would try and bring to the table. I’m writing this to highlight two problems: using ‘wokeness’ to enhance ones brand, but only when it remains convenient to do so, and the fact that these ‘woke’ progressives routinely ignore body politics.
I don’t doubt that the site’s intentions are good when they talk about things like #NoDAPL or police brutality. I do wonder why, when they’re so progressive in other areas, they continue to disappoint when it comes to body politics.
Perhaps body issues are simply seen as not as urgent? I can understand that. Except when you’ve heard as many stories as I have of fat people not receiving adequate medical care because of their weight, getting people to care about body issues seems a bit more urgent than it did before. Or after meeting numerous fat women who are exceptionally talented but struggle to find consistent work in their chosen field because hiring decisions (either consciously or unconsciously) factor in weight. Or after being told by multiple survivors of rape that people have said to them “nobody would rape you, you’re fat”. Or after being called Jabba the Hutt by yet another passerby.
If issues like the wage gap and street harassment are considered important enough to cover, why can’t they be covered in relation to how fat people experience employment discrimination and street harassment differently?
I don’t expect miracles from an outlet with ‘Vogue’ in its name. But I do expect outlets that use ‘wokeness’ as social currency to at least put a bit more effort in. As someone who learned about intersectional feminism as a teenager, an outlet like Teen Vogue generally impresses me. But considering I was also a fat teenager, I know my teenage self would feel let down and ignored by this lacklustre approach to body politics. Body image is such an all-consuming thing when you’re a teenager; most of my lowest points during adolescence were prompted by something relating to my terrible body image.
Body politics were my gateway to other feminist issues; I sought out fat bloggers and learned an awful lot from doing so. I hope fat teenagers now are still doing the same, because the outlets that claim to cater to their interests simply aren’t.
P.S. Read this from Kiva Bay on the issue of Teen Vogue and fat activism, particularly this:
“When it suits a publication, they are happy to use the language of fat activism to defend straight sized people from body shaming. When it suits a person, things aren’t much different. There’s been an explosion of straight sized and thin women adopting the tenets of fat acceptance, the zero tolerance of body shaming directed at them. Sites love to praise them for it, talking about how they “shut down” someone. However, very few of these people or sites actually commit to fat acceptance. The adoption of our values extends only so far as they can co-opt our language to defend themselves. Our bodies are still viable targets to them.”
June 2017 update: TV finally responded to my pitch, sent on the 19th of February, on May 16th. I tried to argue for a fat positive story, but the editor wanted body neutrality because of the ‘summer bikini body’ messaging that was imminent. After reading this from Alexis Dent and the original Twitter thread from Roslyn Talusan, however, I just can’t face doing it, and I’d rather not have to spend the next four months chasing up a $75 invoice.