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Shoog McDaniel photography

Photographer Shoog McDaniel celebrates fatness in all its glory

The Florida-based photographer and artist talks through their creative process, self-acceptance, and overcoming Instagram’s anti-nude algorithm

Shoog McDaniel’s photographs of fat, often queer, people are undoubtedly among the most striking pieces of art to be found within the world of fat liberation. The Florida-based photographer and artist has shot fat bodies covered in glitter, fat bodies surrounded by flowers, fat bodies rolling hefty spliffs, fat couples pressed up against one another in soft, squishy magic, and fat bodies underwater. They even photograph whole groups of fat babes embracing one another – their figures, every inch of them, laid wholly bare in togetherness. 

One of the first Shoog McDaniel images I stumbled upon was of a beautiful fat nude woman, surrounded by boulders. There was no emphasis placed on ‘flattering’ her curves, highlighting her waist, or sucking in her tummy. Instead, she just was. Her belly was vast, her breasts hung powerfully across her body, and her double chin greeted me with a combination of pride and warmth. 

Much is said these days about our socio-cultural progression toward body-positivity and inclusivity, and there’s no doubt that we’re living in a time when more conversations about fat acceptance are happening than ever before. There are more clothing options for some fat people than there have been, visibly fat folks model on magazine covers, and certain legacy publications are changing the way they discuss weight, beauty, health, and wellness altogether. 

And yet, it’s still quite rare to see unfiltered, unedited images of visibly fat people consuming space. Our rolls, our cellulite, our stretch marks, our ‘blemishes,’ and our nuances are not always depicted with honesty and care. Shoog’s art celebrates everything fatness is and can be, when it is simply allowed to be

Here, we caught up with them to discuss their work, the supposed cultural shifts toward body diversity, and their appreciation of fat community. 

Could you talk us through your photography background and when you started taking photos of fat people? 

Shoog McDaniel: A friend found a bunch of disposable cameras behind a Wallgreens when I was 17 or 18, sent me some in the mail and I started taking photos. I really used it as a way of communicating and being involved in my friend group without having so much anxiety.

I started photographing fat people in 2016 after taking photos of my friend Burr. Burr was like, ‘I want to get naked for some photos,’ and I was like, ‘Okay!’ I had never photographed anyone nude. So they got naked, I took photos, and it was beautiful. Then I took some photos of them in the ocean and came up with the term ‘bodies like oceans’. Seeing their body juxtaposed against the ocean – seeing how similar and vast they were – I decided to start photographing fat folks. 

Were you following fat liberation work before that, or did that come after?

Shoog McDaniel: 2008 is when I feel like I started realising my fatness as a political identity. Then I would do art about it but never photos. I have definitely grown to love and accept my body so much more from doing my photography work over the last three years. I really despise seeing fat folks photographed in a way to make them smaller, airbrushing to get rid of the rolls, and that kind of stuff. I work actively against that and like to highlight everything that people try to get rid of in photos of fat people.

Do you find that the people you’re photographing are comfortable with you doing that?

Shoog McDaniel: It’s a huge range. A lot of folks in front of my camera have never been photographed nude before and it’s totally nerve-wracking, a process to ease into. I like to go at people’s pace and I’m exceptionally goofy so I think that helps keep everything light. Then there are other people who just immediately take off their clothes, and they’re like, ‘Right, I’m ready, let’s go!’ There are some people who have emotional breakdowns. Everyone is in their own process of learning to love their body. 

How do you find people to photograph? 

Shoog McDaniel: I have a list where people can sign up if they want to be photographed by me. It’s my job so I get hired to photograph folks and then I also do it as my art. I know a lot of fat people at this point, so if I’m travelling around, I’ll usually know a few people and be like, ‘Hey do y’all know anyone else who might want to be involved?’ Or sometimes I put out a call on my Instagram and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking for super-fat folks that are down to get 100 per cent nude for these photos,’ and I select from the people who reach out to me.

How does the process differ when you do collaborative pieces with groups and other fat activists like Caleb Luna?

Shoog McDaniel: I’m usually hired to do shoots with solos and couples. All of my group shoots have been free, except one group shoot I was hired for, but I don’t consider it my art necessarily. When I am able to curate folks and get the images that are really on the tip of my mind, it’s very illuminating, like, ‘Okay I am shaping this image in a way.’ I can have more freedom with it. I really try to highlight super-fat folks, people that are 4X, 5X and up, because those people are least likely to be in media these days. And of course trans bodies, folks of colour. I try to make sure that my art is representative. 

How do you feel about the idea that we’re in some kind of ‘body-positive revolution’ and that things are shifting for fat people?

Shoog McDaniel: I think we’re moving in the right direction for sure. But I think a lot of the current imagery revolves around folks that are still very ‘acceptably fat’. So folks that are like 2X, 3X, people that can find their sizes at stores. People that can fit into booths at restaurants. People that have big butts and big boobs. Society – our largely white, colonial society – is still shaping the way that we think about bodies. The idea of what is ‘acceptable’ has opened a bit, but not really to include anyone who is super marginalised.

Is it an ongoing struggle for your images to be allowed to exist on Instagram and social media?

Shoog McDaniel: For a long time, I was having photos removed daily. Instagram did remove (my account) for like a week last winter. I’m definitely shadow-banned, which means that people send me messages showing that Instagram won’t let them re-post my stuff, and I’m not coming up when people search for me so they can’t follow me. There are ways that I’m being edited without being completely removed.

How are you pushing back against that? 

Shoog McDaniel: I reached out to Instagram multiple times. Of course, you don’t hear anything back for weeks. A lot of my friends are having their accounts deleted or warnings like, ‘If you post another image like this you’ll be deleted.’ It’s really coinciding with FOSTA-SESTA stuff and discrimination against sex workers. The most messed up thing is that the algorithm – and Instagram has stated this publicly – searches for posts that have a certain percentage of skin showing to be considered nude. That means if you’re a fat person, even if you just have your belly showing, you have a higher likelihood of getting your stuff taken down. I always make sure to cover nipples and crotch areas, but they don’t really care. They’ll still take it down, especially if there’s a bunch of people reporting you.

“A lot of the current imagery revolves around folks that are still very ‘acceptably fat’. So folks that are like 2X, 3X, people that can find their sizes at stores. People that can fit into booths at restaurants. People that have big butts and big boobs. I really try to highlight super-fat folks, people that are 4X, 5X and up, because those people are least likely to be in media these days” – Shoog McDaniel 

How do you navigate all of that? 

Shoog McDaniel: I put on this thing where no-one can comment unless they follow me. A lot of trolls will be in my DMs because they don’t want to actually follow me to comment. There are definitely exceptions, and sometimes my stuff will get posted on some meme page. Then I’ll get hundreds of negative comments coming in during a day.

Do you have any coping mechanisms? 

Shoog McDaniel: My followers, supporters and friends really help me. I’ve been living in a marginalised body my whole life, so I’ve created ways to buffer myself from the outside world. If people come in and try to mess with me or take me down, I immediately block them and delete their comments. Sometimes, people I know a little will come at me in a different way, they’re curious rather than super negative, and I’m able to engage with them.

A lot of times, it’s just people out there who are sad. They’re not happy with their own lives, and they don’t like to see fat people happy because they don’t think that fat people should be. They feel like we should be punishing ourselves, sad about our lives and not sexualised or hot. So they take it out on us. Just understanding that has been really helpful for me. You can have any opinion of me, but I don’t need to internalise it. That’s about them.

What other ways do you try to consume more fat-positivity?

Shoog McDaniel: My favourite thing is to hang out with fat people IRL, share meals and belly rubs, go swimming and just appreciate our fat bodies together. I feel that being in a community is so important, and creating spaces for fat people to come together is one of the best parts of doing what I do. It’s such a magical experience when that happens. When I get a whole bunch of fatties nude, we’re just so appreciative of each other’s bodies, our abilities, and holding space for each other.  I definitely read some stuff, too, not very much, and look at a lot of media. I follow other fat artists and am definitely inspired by them. 

Do you have any advice for those who are still struggling to see ‘fat’ as a positive, or even a neutral, descriptor?

Shoog McDaniel: It’s been used against us for so long that it’s very hard to reclaim it. I understand people having a lot of baggage with that word. But when we’re able to see ourselves as ‘good’ and ‘fat’ at the same time, we’re able to de-stigmatise that word and see it as a beautiful thing. Little kids look at me in a totally innocent way and say, ‘You’re fat!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I am, and you’re little!’ An easy interaction that’s not based on trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s a process and, since it’s been used against us negatively for so long and our society still hates fat people, it’ll take time.