Does the obesity conversation have more to do with aesthetic preferences than with health?
by Lisa Fogarty
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted an essay on Facebook written by Jenny Trout for Huffington Post entitled, "I Wore a Bikini and Nothing Bad Happened." The photo of Jenny wasn't one you're probably used to seeing. Yes, images of women in bikinis are a dime a dozen, and any time I write an article about Jessica Simpson's bikini body, I know a whole lot of women (myself included) aren't going to be able to resist clicking on it to see. To compare. Critique. Feel bad about. Feel inspired by.
But this photo was different. Jenny looked happy -- when's the last time you saw a genuine smile on a bikini-clad woman and not a please-want-me "glamour pout"? She is young, pretty -- and obese.
Her essay about fulfilling a New Year's resolution to wear a bikini went viral and has inspired -- and angered -- lots of people. We spoke with Jenny to find out more.
When Jenny revealed to her friends she was planning to wear a bikini, they congratulated her and asked which fad diet she had decided to try. She explained that she wasn't going on a diet but was embracing the body she had -- in a bikini. She was disappointed to discover that no one would actually admit to her that they didn't want to see her wearing so little clothing. It went against the idea society had drilled into their heads that thin = beautiful and fat = don't even think of wearing a two-piece.
My summary of Jenny's essay really wouldn't do it justice, and I encourage you to take a few moments and read it, but the great take-away here is that she said to hell with everybody and wore her beautiful bikini. And the world went on as if nothing had happened.
Before you wore your bikini at Hunter's Point that day, what did you imagine might happen? Did you think strangers would react to you or actually say something to you?
Jenny: I had, as my worst-case scenario, someone saying something insulting. But I went in thinking, "You know, it's so unlikely that someone is going to do that. This isn't the Internet, this is real life." I'm sure there are people out there who are really that rude, but I was more concerned with, like, grossed-out looks or general public discomfort.
Why was it so important to you -- a New Year's resolution, even -- to wear a bikini? How long had you been thinking about doing this and why was now the right moment?
When the "fatkini" came out last year, I thought, "Oh, no, I would never be able to do that." But then as I saw it gaining steam online, I thought, "Well, okay, I'll do it!" And they were impossible to find, because they sold out so fast. I kind of had this moment of, "Oh good, I don't have to do it now," and that made me stop and go, "Why can't I do this?" So I made it my New Year's resolution because then I couldn't back out.
Did you struggle with your weight as a child? Do you remember when you first realized people weren't being honest about why there is this war on obesity?
I wasn't a fat kid. I had periods in my life where I was a little chubby, you know how kids sort of fatten up and stretch out? I didn't really start to struggle with my weight until I got pregnant with my son. But it took me a long time to figure out that our conversations about obesity have nothing to do with health and everything to do with physical attractiveness. I was buying into the messages I was hearing from the media, both directly and indirectly.
So many of the comments below your essay remarked (kindly) about your confidence. It's odd to ask how you manage to have so much confidence, because I'm not sure we'd ask a 115-pound woman the same question AND it implies that a woman's confidence is directly linked to her weight. But knowing so many women -- both under- and overweight -- who torture themselves when bikini shopping, I have to ask if you did the same thing when you purchased your bikini?
I never thought about it that way before. Yeah, I don't think we really would ask a woman who looks like Rihanna how she got the confidence to wear a two-piece. But you know, I think there are a lot of women out there who we'd never think twice about them wearing a bikini in public, yet they might be out there thinking, "I hope nobody notices my stomach," or "my thighs still touch and I wish they didn't." No matter what size we are, no woman has the "perfect" body. All of that thinking is a trap.
I'm not sure how old you are, but I grew up in a time when Kate Moss was IT. J.Lo sort of opened up the doors for society to accept a larger frame, but let's face it, J.Lo is NOT large. Do you feel it's easier today to be a larger woman? Do you feel the tide is changing at all or is it still a challenge?
I get what you're saying about the '90s. That was such a messed up time. I remember when Titanic came out, and Kate Winslet was heralded as a plus-sized actress. If you go back and watch that movie now, you're like, "that's insane." I don't think it's easier to be a big woman now, but I think people are certainly more aware that there's a problem with how fat people are treated. That's better than it could be, I guess.
As a mom, I'd love for you to basically instruct me on how I can teach my daughter to love her body. Did your family do everything right to make you feel good about yourself and, if so, examples, please!
My family raised me right in a lot of ways, but the women were weight conscious and kids learn by example. No one ever told me to diet or not eat this or that, or that I was fat. But when you grow up and all the women in your life are on diets and complaining about their weight, that makes an impression. I've made a real effort with my kids to not talk about weight loss or being fat or just any body negativity in front of them. I'm hoping that they can understand that while being fat may cause people to treat me badly, I'm not bad just because I'm fat. If people can send their kids into the world with that understanding, it would eliminate a lot of emotional baggage that's attached to our perceptions of food and weight and fitness, and we'd have less of an obesity problem. Raise your kids to be kind and understand that they can't judge a person's life by their looks, and you're doing fine.
Do you agree with Jenny that the obesity conversation has more to do with people's aesthetic preferences than with health?
Image via Jennytrout.com