Substantia Jones is a photographer. And a brilliant one, at that. She’s the brains behind The Adipositivity Project, a photography project that aims to promote size acceptance by photographing women of all sizes… without their clothes on. She calls it a “visual display of fat physicality” – the kind that you never really see in the media, or in real life, or anywhere.
This is what she looks like:
Her photographs are well-known and she’s won plenty of awards for her work.
But now Substantia is starting a different kind of photography revolution. One that involves other people taking photos and posting them on a Tumblr page.
The Tumblr is called “Smile, Sizeist!” and the premise is simple, best explained by the tagline: “Next time someone’s a dick to you about your size, raise your most powerful weapons. Your voice and your camera.”
So: when someone is harassed or bullied about their weight, in public, they are encouraged to take a photo of the bully and send it to Substantia, along with a story to accompany the image. The faces of the bullies are not blurred. They’re out there for everyone with Internet access to see.
Substania justifies this on the Tumblr’s “about” page, saying that this is her personal favourite approach in terms of responding to sizeist harassment, and that “your safety and psyche matter more than the harasser’s personal growth” .
Below is one image that was submitted to the Tumblr:
Here is an excerpt of the story that accompanied it:
As soon as I stepped through the doors onto the train, this woman let out an audible “tsk” of disgust and rolled her eyes… I sat down directly across from this particular woman as this section of the train is generally more comfortable for me. I pulled out my phone to check my email, but felt her eyes on me. I looked up and challenged her to keep her eyes to herself with a pointed glance and a raised eyebrow. She smirked and looked away. I went back to my phone and felt her eyes on me again. This time rather than looking up, I switched on the camera of my phone and observed her through the lens. She pulled out her makeup and began applying it, all the while looking my body up and down with the look on her face that you see in this photo. She didn’t take her eyes off me for a good five minutes.
With the story:
See this guy? I was standing on the F train one day last summer, with my dad, headed to Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade (my dad was headed elsewhere). I had my earphones in, enjoying some quality time with some tunes, when my dad pointed to this guy and said “I think he’s trying to tell you something.” So I took out my earphones and looked over. The guy made a little running motion, then mouthed “one hour, every morning.” It clicked that he was telling me I needed to exercise more. So, loudly, I said “Are you telling me I’m fat?” Obviously, I am, and I know that, but I thought that would catch the attention of more people around us. My dad was like, “Is that really what he said?” So I (still loudly) said “He’s telling me I need to go running every morning.”
The Tumblr is certainly a powerful approach to shaming those who feel as though it’s appropriate to comment on other people’s bodies. But is it the right way to do things?
Substantia explains the worry of legal liability on the Tumblr, writing that “a photo taken in public is owned and controlled by the photographer, not the subject”, and that defamation is not an issue if the individual can prove that the incident actually happened. She puts a lot of trust in the honesty of her contributors and if an image turned out to be stolen or an incident made up, there could potentially be trouble for her.
But let’s put issues of consent and defamation aside for the moment. As Substantia mentions, there are many responses to sizeist harassment. Is this the most effective?
Of course – it’s horrifying when a stranger comments negatively on your appearance. Especially when your self-esteem might already be at rock-bottom. It’s nobody’s place to judge another person based on what size they are in jeans, and it’s especially nobody’s place to offer comment about it.
But have we gotten to the point where it’s no longer worth attempting to educate people about the right way to treat others? Is it time to actually shame them publicly on social media platforms?
What do you think?