Unpopular opinion ahead: Unlike some body positive / fat acceptance advocates, I’m not angry over designer and Project Runway winner Ashley Nell Tipton’s recent public announcement that she underwent gastric bypass surgery.
I had actually known this for several weeks but said nothing to no one because it was not my news to share. HER body, HER business, HER news.
I met Ashley during a Q&A event in New York City. Afterwards we talked about our mothers and shared childhood experiences when she mentioned the surgery and why she felt it was necessary. All I could do was hug her.
I hugged her because I can relate. I grew up with a mother who didn’t know what to do with a chubby child. Since my mother couldn’t literally hide me away (at least not during the school year; she would lock me in my room during holidays and summer vacations while she worked) she hid my body under ugly clothes while doing her best to change that body via countless diets and forced exercise.
In an interview with fat acceptance activist, Virgie Tovar, for Wear Your Voice Magazine Ashley said:
All of my brother and sisters were skinny. Everyone in my family was skinny…
…my mother would pick my clothing… from the older women’s section…
My grandmother… taught me how to sew and she would spoil me and she would take me out shopping and buy the clothes that I wanted. And then when I would go home, my mom would be like, ‘No you can’t wear that sleeveless top. No, your arms are too big.’
I hugged her because I remember what it was like to smile through the pain and insecurities.
The insecurity has stayed with me for a long time. Even going through ProjectRunway, I still have the same feelings. I still have the same insecurities. But because I knew I was going to be on a reality show I felt like I had to present myself in a different way and not show that I was insecure. I want to call it my poker face.
I had to put this different face on like ‘I can do this. I am confident,’ because no one else was going to believe that I could do this.
In other words, “fake it until you make it”. I faked it for a very long time and the journey was not easy but I made it. Some pay lip service to body love and positivity but, deep down, don’t believe it. They falter along the way. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in the public eye and an “inspiration” to thousands, if not millions. They, too, are human.
I hugged her because maybe she didn’t believe enough in herself and trusted too much in people who might not have her best interests at heart. People who, instead of pointing out that health issues like blood pressure are often the result of genetics, encouraged her to have her stomach and intestines chopped and rewired. People who, instead of trying to help her love herself, perpetuated the belief that a body like hers isn’t good enough as it is and needs to be changed.
I hugged her on behalf of those who have also undergone weight loss surgery (WLS) and probably never heard the words “I’m proud of you” until they decided to change the size of their bodies. (I can hear some of you saying “but, but, but, they did it for their health!!!” and am not getting into that discussion now especially since I’ve written, several times before, about how intentional weight loss doesn’t equal improved health and is NOT body positive.)
I hugged her because, while it is her body to do with as she chooses, I won’t applaud the before/after pictures or posts about how many pounds she’s lost. There’s a difference between being there to support a person and supporting their decisions.
I hugged her because I hope she doesn’t develop any of the myriad side effects of WLS. Sadly, I know people who have died or have become severely ill and been hospitalized. I also know people who gained the weight back despite their best efforts.
I hugged her for all who haven’t developed the confidence to love their bodies exactly as they are and might follow in her footsteps because if she did it maybe they should too.
I hugged her for those who feel betrayed because they looked up to her as a body confidence activist and wonder how long before she stops advocating for us fat gals.
I won’t throw away my purchases from her JC Penney Boutique+ line. I can’t wait to see her jewelry line. I won’t begrudge her expanding into straight sizes so long as she continues designing clothes in sizes up to 34 because I will continue to buy them.
I hope I see her again and have another chance to give her a great, big hug.