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the fat zine gina tonic Chloe sheppard
Photography @majikmilk

The Fat Zine is an ode to the beauty of fat bodies

Created by fat-positive writers Gina Tonic and Chloe Sheppard, the newly launched project is an exploration of the nuances of being a fat person in 2020

As I open up a PDF containing previews from the The Fat Zine – a freshly-launched publication created by fat-positive writers Gina Tonic and Chloe Sheppard, for fat people – the first thing I see is an image of a model called Elyonna Mone. In the photo, which was shot by Izzy Jackson, Mone’s backside takes centre stage. She’s in the shower as gentle drops of water trickle down her frame. It strikes me that even in this age of supposed ‘body-positivity,’ it’s very rare to see images of fat bodies from behind. That is, from angles that might be considered “unflattering.” It’s especially rarer to see such images of fat, Black bodies (or other bodies of colour).

Here, though, drips pour down Mone’s back boobs. We can see her rolls, her cellulite, and the width of her bum. Her face is not visible, but there’s still a tremendous kind of power to her stance. A distinct lack of apology that makes me wonder how seeing such an image as a younger person might have impacted me. Would it have perhaps encouraged me not to hide from the mirror? Would I have believed that delighting in my fatness was possible? Would I have known there was beauty to be found in my mass? There’s no doubt that, whatever the impact, it would’ve been far more affirming than Fat Monica – one of the few representations of bodies like mine I ever saw back then.

“Chloe and I have both said the whole way (through this project) that we just wish we'd had this publication when we were teenagers,” Tonic tells Dazed Beauty. “I wonder who we would be now if we had.” Sheppard adds: “No doubt. In my editor’s letter I mention it too. I wonder if I’d have looked at it at 15 and tossed it to one side thinking, ‘Yeah, that couldn’t be me,’ or whether it would be the awakening I waited so long for, and desperately needed.”

Through 100 pages of interviews, photos, artworks, personal essays, and more, The Fat Zine gets incredibly real about the nuances of living in a fat body: the good, the bad, the ugly, and perhaps most strikingly, the potential for beauty once we are liberated from everything we are told we cannot have or be because of our size. It also carves out space for the kinds of topics and imagery that a lot of mainstream publications continue to shy away from, like fat fetishism and fat nudity. 

The creators primarily relied on open submissions for the content, so they didn’t know precisely which direction the zine might take. In the end, the diversity of the submissions – a tangible metaphor for the diversity of experiences one can have when existing as a fat person – is part of what makes the publication so memorable. It’s a massive contrast to the fluffier, watered-down depictions of a once-radical movement we now see everywhere – and an intentional contrast, at that.

“It becomes quite tiring seeing people who are a size 12 bend over to create rolls then post about it on social media and get celebrated for being ‘authentic’ when fat people who have rolls without trying are shamed just walking down the street or in a grocery store,” explains Sheppard. “To make this zine which calls that stuff out, and is a space where fat people really can be whatever they want to be, felt important, and to try and echo some of what created the fat liberation movement in the first place.”

In 2020, it unfortunately does feel like actual fat people have been cast aside from a movement created for us. The Fat Zine not only re-centres fat individuals, but celebrates us fully. “For so long, fat people’s voices haven’t been centred, and still rarely are, so I think having a space where people could just send in pretty much whatever they liked meant that we had such a range of submissions to choose from and meant we got to cover a whole range of themes,” Sheppard explains. Tonic also notes that the overarching theme for this issue was “self-isolation, not just because of quarantine, but because feeling alone and isolated is definitely a factor for any fat person, in particular growing up.”

There’s something quite special about this project’s format as well. Although ‘fat-liberation’ and its more mainstream incarnation ‘body-positivity’ have definitely exploded in the public consciousness throughout the past decade – breeding books, blogs, Instagrams, Etsy illustrators, and myriad articles on online publications – I cannot personally say I’ve held a fat-focussed zine in my hands. Fat activist and author Marilyn Wann launched what was perhaps the first fat zine Fat, SO? in 1994, but for Millennials and Zoomers, The Fat Zine might just be the first time we can physically hold such a collection of fat works close to our hearts.

“Having a publication you can hold and rip apart and stick on your wall and show to others that exclusively has fat art, words, and imagery is something that would've changed my life as a teenager,” Tonic muses. Sheppard agrees. “I’ve always been obsessed with displaying my love for things with tangibility, whether that’s collecting records, posters, or zines, and I know how holding a zine in your hands feels so much more magical than reading off a screen. It’s a physical reminder that we are here – we are beautiful, worthy, everything that so often we are told we are not.”

“Having a publication you can hold and rip apart and stick on your wall and show to others that exclusively has fat art, words, and imagery is something that would've changed my life as a teenager... It’s a physical reminder that we are here – we are beautiful, worthy, everything that so often we are told we are not” – Gina Tonic & Chloe Sheppard, founders, The Fat Zine

For Tonic and Sheppard, it was also critical to create a space that felt safe for fat Black folks and POC. While making the zine, they witnessed some major silencing and erasure of fat Black bodies on social media, such as Instagram’s censorship of Nyome Nicholas-Williams. Tonic explains that platforming Black fat individuals will take priority for the zine. “Without Black fat women, we wouldn't have body-positivity, so why are they so excluded from the conversation now? We need to bring these voices back to the forefront and it's our responsibility in starting a fat only publication to do so,” she notes. They will also be donating 100 percent of the profits from Issue 1 to Black Lives Matter groups and Gofundme pages.

If there’s ultimately one feeling the creators want readers to walk away from when they pick up The Fat Zine, it’s a sense of community and safety. Tonic wants to show the countless “different ways our bodies can look, be, exist, and thrive.” Sheppard hopes people realise that “they can live in their fat bodies and know that that is enough. This world is a fucking awful place a lot of the time and I’d like it if (the zine) helps our readers to remember that we’re not truly alone in it; to know we are more than the headless figures we are made out to be in the miserable media and that being here and telling our stories is enough.”

Order Issue 1 of The Fat Zine now with 100 per cent of proceeds going to BLM groups and GoFundMe pages.