You are all familiar with the narratives: fat = lazy, unhealthy, unlovable, unworthy etc. Even if you had never explicitly heard those very words uttered, the message was most likely loud and clear through visual representations on screens, in magazines, and on billboards. How many times was the overweight girl the pivotal love interest in a teen flick without having to lose weight and undergo a massive makeover?
How many times have you seen plus size women held up as a beacon of beauty in high fashion editorials? When was the last time a person larger than a size 0-4 was positioned in pop culture as the embodiment of happiness and success? If you can’t come up with an answer, you are not alone. What we see in various cultural mediums, and what we see in real life are often two very different things, which is why there is so much confusion, anger and frustration about this.
It often comes down to industries and leaders being willing to change the narrative. We’ve seen a very slow shift toward more body acceptance in fashion and beauty, but there is still a long way to go. And the people who are making the change are not necessarily industry insiders, they are everyday people who want to use their talents and voices to help the momentum of change.
Canadian artist Allison Tunis is one of these leaders, who recently released a body positive coloring book titled ‘Body Love: A Fat Activism Colouring Book‘. In an interview with Bustle, Allison said repeated exposure to a certain visual is what “normalizes” something, which is why she created the book.
“The value of viewing and coloring these images is that not only do we see people more like ourselves, our friends, our families, but we see that they are valid and valued enough to be shown in a positive likeness, and worthy of representation,” she said.
She has spent the last decade using mixed media to specifically tackle body image representations and challenge the dominant beauty standards which only apply to a very small percentage of women in the world (if any, what with so much digital altering and photoshop).
Due to the wave of body positive messages happening in fashion, as well as the emergence of studies showing how adult coloring books can be a powerful form of therapy, Allison created ‘Body Love’ at a time when the body acceptance and inclusion is starting to become a regular part of mainstream fashion and beauty.
Allison’s coloring book isn’t just a general statement on body positivity, she is specifically honing in on the discussion around being fat, and the connotations that come with that identity.
“Fat activism is still seen as ‘wrong,’ ‘glorifying unhealthy living,’ and ‘hating skinny people’. [It’s actually] about wanting respect for bodies that are generally degraded, and to show how successful, sexy, and amazing they really can be. Body positivity is a very large umbrella, and while it would definitely be possible to do a coloring book with that focus, I felt more comfortable with a narrower focus that specifically spoke to my own experience and inspirations,” she told Marie Southard Ospina at Bustle.
Allison says she was inspired by the work of a number of plus size body positive activists like blogger and author Jes Baker, who has become a vocal powerhouse in the world of fat activism. And we can see that the uprising of voices of women who have been left behind by mainstream media is having an effect, because names like Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday are just as mainstream as the models we are used to seeing on runways and in magazines.
This movement had an impact on Allison’s own sense of self worth, and is part of the message she is trying to send with her coloring book.
“Both of these really challenged my opinions on what I experienced in life as a fat person, and tapped into my feeling that there was something wrong with the idea of waiting to live your life until you reached some unattainable ideal. I had been dieting and attempting weight loss goals for 20 years, and I was only just starting to think that maybe it wasn’t the right road and that I might be missing out on life,” she said, echoing an experience that so many women around the world can relate to.
Paying homage to the work of body positive pioneers today, the images in the book include yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley, writer Virgie Tovar, burlesque dancer Noella Deville, blogger Jes Baker, designer Alysse, Dalessandro, as well as plus size men such as body positive model Kelvin Davis, and lifestyle blogger Bruce Sturgell.
Allison’s mission is to part of a movement that allows society to get to a place where we accept bodies for how they are, without adding a diet caveat or disclaimer that these messages are not trying to encourage people to become overweight.
“I’m hoping for more understanding of the challenges and prejudices that fat people face, and more conscious attempts to work against perpetuating fatphobia and stigma in our everyday lives,” she told Marie, who was also featured in the coloring book.
“With the mainstreaming of body pos, many people are OK with saying, ‘Yeah, love yourself,’ but then are still quick to promote diet or weight loss advice if someone expresses a bad body day, or are not willing to listen and learn from the experiences and stories of people living in marginalized bodies,” she added.
We can take active steps to undo the prejudice ingrained in us, by supporting the work of artists and body-posi activists like Allison Tunis. You can purchase a copy of ‘Body Love: A Fat Activism Colouring Book‘ on Amazon, follow Allison on Instagram to see individual images from the book, and check out her website to see more of her work.