It seems the internet is no place for fat girls, people with acne, body hair, dark skin or a crooked tooth. Heck, you’re better off pretending like you don’t have nipples if you’re a woman. And if you do dare to embrace these so-called ‘flaws,’ rest assured you’re just opening yourself up to vicious body-shaming and name-calling on social media from anonymous users hiding behind their screens. It goes without saying that women seem to fall prey to criticism a lot more though, and there have been numerous examples of it in the past, be it Rupi Kaur’s image that was taken down from Instagram because it showed menstrual blood, or model Tess Holliday’s photograph removed from Facebook for not complying with the site’s ‘health and fitness policy.’ Most recently, it was a photograph of three Indian origin women–blogger Aarti Olivia Dubey, Ratna Devi Manokaran and Rani Dhaschainey, who together own a plus size fashion store called The Curve Cult–that seem to have offended people the most. Posing in bikinis for a shoot by Cleo Magazine, the image was taken down from Dubey’s page by Instagram but none of these women were having it.
As someone whose weight has fluctuated through the years, has acne scars and thin hair, it bothers me when I see someone confident in themselves, confident of who they are, someone who has lovingly embraced their bodies, being torn down over the internet and on social media for putting up a photograph. What kind of message is this sending young women and men everywhere? ‘Real women have curves,’ is a famous tagline, but it doesn’t seem to be making its point anymore. The average woman has curves, she has acne, stretchmarks and scars, struggles to tame her hair and maintain a diet and it’s hard to imagine that might affect your perception of her in day-to-day life. She works a stressful job and tries to hit the gym whenever she can, but it isn’t easy to obtain that dream bikini-body–this is a regular woman, someone you see everyday, someone like us, like you and me. People are of all shapes and sizes, and while ‘plus-size is a term that continues to exist, to my dismay, so does the harsh backlash they receive for being who they are. Dubey articulated an apt response to such criticism when her photograph of a behind-the-scenes look of a shoot, although the social networking platform claims it was an ‘accident.’
In the first of a two-part post about the entire situation titled ‘This Is What The Real World and Virtual Society Does Not Want You To See: The Outrage,’ Dubey, a self-proclaimed ‘fat brown feminist with a penchant for fashion,’ pens her frustration at not only Instagram but virtual and offline society as a whole. The shoot was for a body-positive campaign by Cleo Magazine, and Dubey writes, “The day we had the indoor shoot was so much fun! Sure we were nervous about standing in front of strangers posing in our bikinis but we never shy away from a worthy cause.”
Posting images of from the shoot she adds, “As you can tell from these images, we had A LOT of fun getting dolled up and we flung our insecurities out the picture. This was a special moment, you do not see plus-sized women in groups smiling and posing for images in swimwear in Asia.” All went well in the shoot, the article went out in the magazine’s June issue and the trio couldn’t have been happier. “We posted images like the ones above in our respective social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The was response was mostly positive–friends in the plus size and body positive circles were happy for us, as were our friends and family. Despite the people who did troll our images calling us horrible role models and the glorification of unhealthiness, I knew this was an extremely positive and pivotal moment personally and professionally,” writes Dubey in her post.
Posting a smiling photograph of the trio on her Instagram page with a very positive caption, Dubey woke up the next day to find her image was taken down by the site. “When I awoke at 6 in the morning the next day and checked into Instagram, a screen popped up informing me that a post of mine was removed due to violation of community guidelines. I was so sleepy to be honest at that time and really confused – what could I have possibly posted that violated the guidelines?” she wrote.
Reading through the entire ensemble of community guidelines set down by Instagram, the answer to Dubey’s question she found was a big fat NO; “…neither the image nor the caption violated any of their guidelines. This was not some pornographic image, it was not filled with gore or violence, it did not do anything save for being an image of 3 smiling fat chicks in swimwear that we can hardly term as ‘lewd.’”
Dubey did not taking it lying down, she reposted the image “as a challenge to Instagram,” with an angry caption calling out the shamers, more importantly, calling out Instagram, drawing attention to the larger problem at hand. “Instagram THIS is the image that was reported by fat shamers and trolls, and YOU deleted it. HOW is this image being hateful, hurtful, abusive, trolling or obscene? Do 3 fat girls in swimsuits equate to gore, porn, racism, sexism? Or is it that people only want to see slim girls in swimsuits? IF this image is reported and deleted again, please trust that I WILL pursue this matter just like @rupikaur_ did when her image of lying in a period stain was removed. I am so disappointed and beyond livid right now. No thanks to you and the people who had the gall to report this image, for making me feel so badly this Monday morning about my existence as a brown, fat woman. My dear friends on social media, if you would like to help, please do so by reposting this image and sharing this post all over social media platforms, as many times as you like,” reads her caption.
While Dubey’s ‘defiant’ act, her standing up for herself and fellow women, drew mass media attention as well as love and supporters worldwide, the barrage of nasty and spiteful comments continued. “I am not even going to dignify their stances by uploading screenshots of these comments. They were downright hateful. Some told us to stop being lazy and hungry, others told us we were driving ourselves to an early grave with impending Diabetes, heart disease diagnoses. Some told us we were an embarrassment, others called us whores. Men sent us private messages of themselves in various states of undress asking us to reciprocate with nude images, they stalked our images and persistently sent us harassing messages telling us they’d like for us to star in porn movies, or that we should enlist them as Sugar Daddies,” Dubey wrote on her blog. “While other men told us to go kill ourselves for being vile and unhealthy. Women told us to stop glorifying obesity and being the poster child for what’s wrong with the world, and they told us to cover up and have some shame,” she added.
Reading through various articles and posts about the entire situation, the only thing that lingers in my mind now after the storm has calmed is that the internet is no place for women–fat, skinny, tall or short. Living in the 21st century, we talk about feminism, fight for women’s rights and promote body positivity, and during all of this, there are hundreds of people who continue their attempts to insult and embarrass a person who has the courage to make a stand, and in many scenarios women end up being the biggest enemies of other women. How can we progress when we continue to tear down each other?
I am happy and healthy, I have curves and strangely long arms, but I’ve accepted my body with all its imperfections, just as Aarti, Ratna and Rani dared to pose in bikinis for a photo-shoot disregarding their insecurities. Everyone has something they wished they could change about their body, but it is the skin we live in that many people take years to get comfortable with. We play the blame game for our insecurities, calling out the media’s portrayal of ideal beauty and societal standards when many times we forget that we are part of that same society, and nothing can really change unless we change our own minds and our notions of what ‘beauty’ is. As Dubey correctly stated to Buzzfeed, “The expectations placed on our bodies and appearance is unrealistic since we don’t all look the same but we’re expected to be a size 4 with fair skin and delicate features.”
Words: Sara Hussain