A fat-positive camp with a focus on healing our troubled relationships with our bodies
I never went to camp as a kid, not the overnight kind anyway, with bunks and s’mores and all that, and I’m newer to this whole body and fat acceptance movement, so I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect at Camp Thunder Thighs. The camp was hosted by Virgie Tovar, an author, activist and one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on weight-based discrimination and body image.
I headed to Sausalito, California with some trepidation. First of all, I was scared of not belonging. As a person who has had thin privilege (being ‘straight-sized’) until the last 5 years or so, I haven’t experienced a lot of the same size-based stigma that those who have been in larger bodies their whole lives have. I was worried that I would feel like an outsider even though I live in a larger body now. Along those same lines, I was worried about not connecting with people or that I wouldn’t be able to contribute to the conversations in a meaningful way. This is a fear I often have, and if I’m being real, isn’t necessarily specific to this event. Last, but not least of course, as a person with a chronic illness that causes me chronic joint pain and sometimes limits my mobility, I was concerned about how my body would feel during the weekend and if I would be in a significant amount of pain from travel, walking, etc.
I was super happy to be carpooling from the San Francisco airport with the awesome Teri of THP Studios, a body-acceptance educator and intimate lifestyle portrait photographer based in Winnipeg, Canada, and just that first interaction with a fellow camper was so nice it put my mind at ease a bit about the whole “What if no one likes me and I don’t make any friends?!” concern.
While camp was filled with learning sessions, laughs, s’mores, and campfire sing-a-longs, it was so much more. Some of the powerful messages that we discussed just blew my mind. They were transformative. Among them were the following:
That choosing yourself is a radical act of treason against patriarchal and fat-phobic systems of oppression
That fat-phobia isn’t about the weight, it’s about control and is intertwined with misogyny, racism, ableism, and colonialism/white supremacy
That fat isn’t synonymous with ugly (I have REALLY personally struggled with this one, not in how I view others, but in how I view myself, and it’s something I continue to work on and unpack)
That boundary setting is an act of respect towards the self and a declaration of worthiness
How normalizing all bodies is soooo important
That fat people (and people of color and queer people and women) are not individually responsible for their own mistreatment and abuse or for systemic mistreatment
How important it is to curate your social media and what is being put into your brain - positive representation of fat and disabled people is so key
That ‘flattering’ is what we call anything that makes us appear thinner
Most of what we consider “striving for happiness” is actually striving to obtain or maintain privilege
That the negative self-talk and self-shame and self-hate (particularly the weight-related kind) is like your native language, and it’s based on your experiences in your family of origin, and in society at large, but body acceptance is like a second language. It may take you years to become fluent, and when you’re tired, stressed, or overwhelmed, you might momentarily revert back to your native language, but you always have that second language available to you and you can choose to use it
That we are all precious as fuck, and need to remember that immutable fact
There were some difficult and uncomfortable moments too, and that’s to be expected with doing this kind of personal and community-based work in a society that de-values those in larger body sizes. There were difficult moments around the concept of grieving the thin ideal (if you’re working through your own journey around body acceptance, this is something that you’ll probably be familiar with, and it’s hard as fuck). On the other side of the coin, Virgie had the amazing idea of a Vulnerability Fashion Show, in which campers dressed up in an outfit they might struggle to wear in day to day life, or something they’ve been wanting to wear out and haven’t felt comfortable doing. While this was a strictly photo-free event, all I can say I’ve never experienced something as amazing and terrifying as strutting my stuff in a vulnerable outfit (which you can see in the photos below that were taken later at the beach), but then being cheered for so loudly and joyfully by 30 ladies and feeling so damn supported (not to mention like a rock star).
With the difficult moments were some moments so damn joyful it brought me to tears.
Seeing dolphins and seals on the first trip to the beach
The vulnerability fashion show (again, both terrifying and wonderful) - the amazing feelings surrounding cheering for and being cheered for by so many amazing women and the look of sheer joy, tenderness, vulnerability and pride on each woman’s face as she strutted down the aisle to whistles and cheers and more support than I’ve ever felt
The impromptu beach photo shoot (which you’ll see below!) - badass fat feminist babes in bikinis and crop tops rolling around on the beach being sexy and powerful and precious as fuck
Guided meditation focusing on the parts of ourselves that we struggle with and talking through that experience together
The campfire question & answer times and the unprompted childhood song singalong when we all sang songs from The Little Mermaid and ate fancy s’mores
I left camp a changed person in all the best ways. I made friends I hope to keep for a lifetime. And I learned things that will help me heal my relationship with my body, and view my body as the friend she has tried to be to me all along. I hope you read these words, and view these images of joyful, beautiful, fat babes living their best damn life and you see how possible that is for you too. #losehatenotweight
Fat Positive Resources (with links)
Blogs & Articles
Books (links in book title)
Communities (links in community title)
A Guide for Partners Concerned About Their Significant Other Giving Up on Diet Culture (link in title)
Resilient Fat Goddex (CW: Article discusses partner’s perceived difficulties with the fat positive movement and may be hard to read in more vulnerable moments, but is a great guide and resource list for partners who are concerned about their spouses and significant others giving up on dieting but who want to be supportive, etc.)