Icelandic model and body image activist Isold Halldorudotti wants to reclaim the word ‘fat’ as a positive word
Born in Iceland, at a time well before people were willing to #effyourbeautystandards, Isold Halldorudottir never felt like she fit in. “A big part of that was because I was fat,” she says. As a kid, the model and activist was always taught that being fat was something to be ashamed of. “If you weren’t skinny you were screwed. It’s always been something that people have been afraid of. We would do anything to not be fat, and until just recently, maybe two or three years ago that has continued to be the popular opinion.” Thanks to the viral body positivity movement, all that is starting to change, but not at a quick enough pace. Hoping to accelerate the process, Isold created the hashtag #fatgirloncam, under which she posted unapologetic and celebratory images of herself as a means of disrupting the skinny girl visual narrative that lies at the heart of Instagram. Beyond this, Isold wants to tackle the problem at the root, by emancipating the word fat from its perceived negative association, reclaiming it instead as merely an honest adjective. We spoke to the activist about normalising fat people and what to do to actually make a difference.
What are your main goals in your activism – what do you want to change?
Isold Halldorudottir: There has been a lot of conversation about diversity and showing more inclusivity in the modelling industry, although it’s not nearly enough for it to make a difference. I shouldn’t have to explain myself everytime I show my body. It’s not something I have to be “proud” of to get your validation. We need more fat people in this industry to make it normal, and that’s what I’d like to change. I want you to think it’s okay for me to be on the cover of Vogue, not because I deserve it because I’m fat, but because I can do it regardless if I’m fat or not.
Can you tell us about reclaiming the word fat as an honest adjective, rather than a negative one, and why that’s important?
Isold Halldorudottir: Being called fat has always been something people have used against me. But when I decided to take control of it, it became less aggressive and more empowering. My perspective of the word fat has so much more to do with who I am, instead of what everyone else thinks of me. Being called fat shouldn’t be any different than calling someone skinny or fit. When I created the #fatgirloncam I wanted to take charge of my own insecurities and so-called “flaws”. Only then did I realize that I never had any flaws. If we’re not able to move forward then we will stagnate.
Has there been anyone online or IRL that’s inspired you or given you the confidence to challenge beauty standards?
Isold Halldorudottir: Not to sound like a cliché but I’ve always gotten my inspiration from my mum. She’s the strongest person I know and has always stayed true to herself. Of course, there are a million women that I look up to, Beth Ditto for example. She’s always stayed authentic to her craft and continues to blow my mind with how she represents herself with so much truth. That’s what I’d like to be to other women; an honest representation of everything that I am, with all that I have and all of my fat rolls and cellulite.
You recently spoke out about Instagram’s removal of one of your posts as being essentially fatphobic – what do you think of that term and what do you think about the current cultural discussion around fatness?
Isold Halldorudottir: I think it’s sad and not to mention disappointing that we haven’t gotten any further than this. The fact that there is even such a word like fatphobia blows my mind completely. It seems so ignorant to assume that everyone should apply to one beauty standard. But we created these standards, so the only way to break them down is to acknowledge that they’re there.
How much is there left to do / what’s the scale of the problem?
Isold Halldorudottir: There is a lot left to do. We’re still just at the beginner’s stage, and while yes you could say that there has been progress, it’s still not enough when comparing to the opportunities that models are getting half my size. We need to demand more and be louder about what we deserve. It’s not enough to have a plus size line in your collection. It’s not enough to expand your sizing. I want more
How did you get into modelling in the first place?
Isold Halldorudottir: I guess you could say it happened accidentally on purpose. Love Magazine held a competition called #loveme17 and I decided on a whim to apply, never expecting to actually win. Being on a real set like that was eye-opening and I haven’t really looked back since then. It became something of an itch I needed to scratch, and the more I do it, the more I feel compelled to overcome any limitations to what the media has given fat people, and fat women specifically.
You’ve also shot backstage for Versace, MSGM and Prada – how do you feel about the fashion industry generally, in terms of its treatment of/attitude to fat bodies?
Isold Halldorudottir: I feel shocked that there still aren’t more sizes walking down the runway for these brands. I feel ashamed almost to want to be a part of something that for so long has intentionally made me feel unwelcomed and unworthy. It’s easy to close your eyes and pretend it doesn’t matter. Pretend that you’re the one that has to lose 10 pounds to fit in those jeans. What’s not easy is finding the courage to fight for years of misrepresentation.
Are we seeing enough fat faces in beauty? How can we change this?
Isold Halldorudottir: A lot of fashion designers are afraid to step outside their comfort zone, the comfort zone they created to stay relevant to what the media is asking for. The only way to change the status quo is to forget that there ever were any rules to abide by in the first place. Why would you limit yourself to one size when you can have them all? Why wouldn’t you want your customers to feel good about themselves regardless if they’re a size 10 or a size 24 and so on? The only way to change this illusion of what the perfect body looks like is to showcase more bodies.
Other than censorship online, what are some other important areas in which you’d like to see progress in terms of society’s perception of fat people?
Isold Halldorudottir: Fat people have been used as the punchline for every joke. There is a big problem within Hollywood that involves showcasing fat characters as disgusting or weak. There has never been made a movie/tv show where the fat girl doesn’t have a problem with being fat. She always has to have a guy show her that she’s beautiful, I call bullshit. I’m so tired of having to feel insecure just so people can feel good about themselves when they decide to finally accept me.
Your latest Instagram post says “Not your fucking fetish” – do you feel like your activism is part of a wider conversation around other marginalised, often fetishised bodies like POC and trans bodies?
Isold Halldorudottir: Absolutely. Everything is connected. Each movement has their own platform of course, but we’re all fighting for the same thing, to be accepted as we are without having to compromise our own worth.
Finally, if someone from Instagram was reading this, what would you want to say to them about their censorship of fat bodies?
Isold Halldorudottir: It’s not about you. My fat is not your personal problem, it shouldn’t be. And if you feel threatened by it, if you feel uncomfortable by my fat rolls then that means I’m doing something right. I’m not here to fit in.