Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

10 Activists Who Will Change The Way You See Your Body

I started finding and following most of the folks on this list a few years ago.I was in a bad relationship, with a fellow who was preoccupied with my weight. Personally, I am a bit of a romantic Luddite, and sometimes a bit cynical about modern technology. However, trying to escape an oppressive relationship (and engagement and subsequent messy break-up), I started slowly (secretly) following the folks on this list. As I did, I started to understand that my body is not the problem; the problem is prejudice, fat phobia and toxic diet culture. More than that, the problem is a society that puts bodies on a hierarchy, that talks about “good” v. “bad,” bodies, and removes us from our uniqueness and individuality.

The folks on this list have taught me that there are multiple ways of looking at our bodies, and the importance of loving and celebrating who we are inside and out.

Writing this list, I am truly full of gratitude. Really. I am so in awe of these fierce advocates, who put themselves out in the world without apology, who decide not to conform or give in, but to speak up.

1. Sonya Renee Taylor

Spoken word artist, author, advocate, and founder of The Body Is Not An Apology, a web site committed to investigating the links between social justice, self-love and body-empowerment. I love to watch videos of her spoken word pieces, or just of her speaking in general, as she always blows my mind. This is particularly true in terms of the way in which she talks about intersectionality, oppression of the body and “body terrorism.” She also has a book out: The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love.

2. Jes Baker (A.K. A. The Militant Baker)

Jes Baker started out as a blogger and has (bravely) grown and changed into one of the leading Fat Positive/Body Positive activists in the U.S. She has written two books: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls, and the recently released, Landwhale. First of all, I love Baker’s attitude and her openness to learning and growing as a body positive activist. She is willing to grapple with difficult topics and perspectives within these movements, whilst staying focused and cheerleading others. I think I also feel drawn to her for her realness, her commitment to intersectionality and supporting diverse perspectives in the movement.

3. Bevin Branlandingham (A.K. A. Queer Fat Femme)

A couple of years ago, I found Bevin Branlandingham online. She is a force of nature. I love the way in which she claims her own identity (as a Queer Fat Femme) and thusly takes ownership of her body. She does this through being unapologetically flamboyant — which is not always easy for us Fat girls who are so often made to feel like we need to shrink down and disappear. However, Branlandingham’s genius (I think) is in her role as an aerobics instructor. She has been teaching Fat Kid Dance Party (For All Sizes to Heal From Body Oppression) in Los Angeles for a couple of years and has a soon-to-be-released video (I have preordered a copy and am anxiously awaiting it’s release). Personally, I am a fat girl who loves to move, but I have struggled for many years feeling as though aerobics and yoga classes just aren’t made for me (because they are not!). Branlandingham really actualizes body positivity as a teacher, offering her students lots of positive, healing support and meeting them where-they-are-at, with a primary goal to have fun with movement. Also, although she is Fat Positive, she keeps the class open to anyone who wants and needs it, and takes particular care to create Queer friendly spaces. So refreshing!

4. Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar is a powerhouse. She states boldly and unapologetically that her entire purpose in life is to take down toxic diet culture (and empower fat women). She is the editor of Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion and author of the forthcoming book You Have The Right To Remain Fat. Her writing has been featured all over the place, but she has a weekly column on Ravishly called Take The Cake that I highly recommend. I think Tovar’s greatest strength lies in her ability to socio-culturally tease apart fat phobia (external and internal) in a way that is clear, bold and empowering. She encourages others to “break up with toxic diet culture,” which is a notion that absolutely changed my life.

5. Jeffrey Marsh

Jeffrey Marsh is a gender fluid/non-binary advocate, speaker and author, with a huge social media following and a background in performance (as well as a Soto Zen practitioner). I don’t even know where to start concerning what makes them so amazing. Personally, I think it has something to do with the grace and ease with which they approach things. They come to advocacy not with anger, but with openness and vulnerability, and then pass this along through kind words and empowerment. My first knowledge of Marsh was of their Vines, which featured them dancing around New York City in various outfits of fabulousness, however, the past few years they have taken their role as an advocate to another level, speaking about non-binary identities and publishing a book on self-esteem. I love this video, in particular, where Jeffrey explains the basics of gender-fluidity to a conservative news host (with much aplomb).

6. Ragen Chastain

Chastain was one of the first body positive folks I started following. I found her through YouTube videos of her dancing. She has been a professional (fat) dancer and is currently training as a marathoner and Iron Man. Here is what I love about her: she keeps going. A quick Google search reveals the immense harassment and bullying she endures, which is quite sad. It’s hard to believe that there are people out there dedicating so much of their time and energy to being so hurtful. Sadly, I think the reason Chastain faces so much criticism is this: she does not stick to fat-only spaces, she puts her body into spaces that are traditionally reserved for thin-bodies (such as sports), and, to be quite frank, there are obviously folks out there who find that really threatening. For me, however, as a fat person who enjoys movement, she really inspires me do the exercise I enjoy. By divorcing movement from weight loss, and by putting herself out there, she helps to make exercise safe and empowering for other fat folks (like me!).

7. Sid Marcos

OK, let’s start with the fact that I will never be as cool as Sid Marcos. She’s just such a friggin laid-back hipster, with such style. Yes, I’m a little bit crushing on her, also: I will just never be that cool. Marcos is a writer, traveler, and disability rights advocate. She travels the globe (she is currently in Japan), and writes (and posts on social media) about her experiences traveling (as a disabled person who uses a wheelchair). Other than her chill, hipster vibe, she also talks about disability as a spectrum, which I think is super important. Part of the reason able-ism is so prevalent is the “othering,” that goes on with it, as if there is a strict dichotomy of healthy and disabled. But, that’s just not true, all of our bodies have a variety of abilities/disabilities to them. Also, let’s be clear: if we are talking about body positivity and not including people with disabilities, we are enormous hypocrites.

8. Style Like You

The mother-daughter team of Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, create videos that celebrate body diversity and creativity. I think their work is pure art. Through their primary project What’s Underneath they interview individuals and really celebrate that style is not about “fashion,” or a multi-billion dollar fashion industry. Rather, they show that style is about individuality and finding a home in one’s body. They connect the clothes people wear with their uniqueness and their stories. They really offer a loving, supportive forum for self-expression, individuality and body-freedom that is extremely refreshing.

9. Advanced Style

Advanced Style is a project from photographer Ari Seth Cohen (as well as a book by the same name). It is a celebration of the style and creativity of older folks, and it will make you change the way you look at aging. Cohen travels the world interviewing and photographing the styles of older folks. The best part of Cohen’s work is that he really celebrates the individuals he photographs. Like Style Like You, Advanced Style is not about “fashion,” in the strict sense, but about self-expression and freedom. Cohen shows individuals who love and embrace life, during a stage of life that our culture frequently ignores and stereotypes. Cohen is currently working on a second project, Advanced Love about love and relationships for older folks as well.