The body positivity movement has allowed for women with curves in all the right places greater visibility, but as Polyester founder and Dazed Beauty Contributing Editor, Ione Gamble, asks, have we just swapped in one beauty standard for another?
I’ve always had a double chin — and while I’ve managed to accept the other parts of myself that society tells me not to, it’s the roll of fat under my face that has always been the sticking point. From seeing Tumblr posts aged 14 in which popular figures from the social networking site would ask for advice on how to get rid of theirs, to seeing ‘gross out’ Insta stories of skinny people folding their face into their neck in hopes of creating a double chin, in fact, from the very moment I began to develop a sense of self, I’ve been conditioned to think my face shape was unattractive.
However, as my teens have rolled into my twenties a whole swath of new representation for fat women like me has been ushered in. Take La’Shaunae Stewart, for example, fronting Universal Standards latest campaign. For some, however, despite all the increased visibility that the body positivity has rought, the movement has just swapped one set of beauty standards for another.
Blogger Stephanie Yeboah believes, “the body positive community no longer serves its purpose to the women who spearheaded it — larger, fat women of colour — and instead, chooses to uplift and spotlight ‘acceptably-fat’ women.” With curves in all the right places, those who are given the most opportunity within diverse modelling and influencer circles are those that only slightly shift our idea of what is beautiful. And while we’re seeing more plus-size people both on the runway and in campaigns, one element that affects both fat and straight size people has been largely ignored: double chins and fuller faces.
“Fuller faces and double chins are synonymous with excess weight, which we already know is seen as ‘a bad thing’ within society and the media,” Yeboah explains. Plus size models cropping up in sportswear campaigns may go some way to shatter the illusion that health and weight are not mutually exclusive, but as long as beauty campaigns continue to ignore those who don’t fit into the conventionally attractive mould that has come to define the body positive movement, we’re still pedalling backwards beauty standards.
Bored, frustrated and uninspired by both the lack of representation for people like myself and the mainstream translation of body positivity as ‘unattractive’ people wearing unflattering, ill-fitting nude underwear in an attempt to ‘accept our flaws and love ourselves’, a huge part of my work within my zine Polyester has been about creating images that allow marginalised people the opportunity to see themselves in the idealised way that skinny, cis, white and able-bodied people are afforded every day. For our eighth and most recent issue, photographer Jender Anomie shot a series of femmes with fuller faces made up to the nines, painted with ‘80s airbrush inspired make-up and dripping in market stall diamante jewellery. Entitled ‘Double Trouble’ I wanted to glamourise areas of the fat experience that are still so often used to ridicule and belittle plus size people. Starring in the shoot was Chloe Sheppard, a photographer whose work aims to romanticise her own experience with fatness. “Double chins are literally the last thing left out of our ‘flaws’ that hasn’t been celebrated yet,” she says. Appearing in front of the camera, Sheppard says her face shape is the part of herself she feels most ashamed of. “Shoots like this are important because it’s something that so, so many people have — even people who aren’t overweight — and yet it’s seen as so unconventional and unattractive still,” she explains. “The lack of representation makes people with them feel horrible.”
With the perfectly angled selfie, it’s easy to disguise any resemblance of a double chin. Even some of the most body positive of influencers will manipulate their angles in order to create the illusion of a perfectly chiselled jawline. With the use of apps, it’s never been easier to scrub away the parts of ourselves we don’t like from the convenience of our touch screens. Katie Edgington, a 22-year-old photographer says she’s been using apps to alter her face shape since she was 17. “It’s nearly impossible for me to take a selfie without a filter or where the bottom half of my face isn’t obscured,” she says. “I’ve been exposed to fashion imagery daily where it’s obvious that even ‘body positive’ culture only publicly celebrates plus-size models who have a defined jawline, which therefore equates having a slim face with sexiness and attractiveness.”
London based Jemima, who works in skincare, believes constantly manipulating her face shape in selfies has only emphasised her body confidence issues. “I wish I had IRL Facetune,” she says. “I feel like my double chin does not match my otherwise unparalleled beauty.” While Sheppard doesn’t edit her jawline, she says the Polyester editorial was a change in direction towards how she normally represents herself. “It was so nice for a change to be photographed knowing that my double chin was the point of the shoot, and not something that I’d have to tactfully try and hide like I do most of the time, especially when I’m taking photographs of myself.”
Without representation of every iteration of the fat experience, body positivity fails. Until larger people are not only accepted but celebrated for representing themselves in a way that glorifies their existence, our beauty ideals will remain as narrow as they’ve ever been.