Jackie Molloy: Fat Beauty
By Alixandra Rutnik on Jun 01, 2023
Young Guns 20 Winner captures beautiful photographs at pro-fat camp
If you’ve ever been called fat, you probably took it as an insult, but photojournalist and Young Guns 20 winner Jackie Molloy is here to tell you to embrace and reclaim the word fat. Fat is no longer an ugly nasty word– it is just an adjective. While attending a pro-fat camp– Camp RoundUp, Jackie used her visual storytelling skills to capture the joy and beauty of the campers. You can feel happiness, positivity, and peace emanate from her photographs.
We talked to Jackie to learn more about her experience at Camp RoundUp. If you want to learn more about Jackie, check out her Young Guns 20 Profile, and make sure to view the rest of her Camp RoundUp photographs.
How did you get involved in Camp Roundup?
I pitched the idea to NPR (with permission from the camp) with the intention of doing a story on the pro-fat camp. When I got there I introduced myself to all of the campers and told them who I was, and what I was doing, and made sure they consented to being photographed. While I was there I tried to move throughout the camp to capture the full camp experience while pausing to experience it myself and observe the others. I shared some of my experiences, went in the pool and splashed around with the other campers, and did a little yoga and meditation. Throughout the days they had activities to participate in from swimming to dancing, improv comedy, yoga and meditation, and arts and crafts. We shared meals together and at night had a campfire where we read poetry, shared stories, and played games. On the last night, they even threw a dance party.
The camp took place in Newark, Ohio over a long weekend. We checked in on September 3rd and left on September 5th. I would attend again and hope to photograph more events and trips similar to Camp RoundUp that help change the perception of how we perceive fatness and allow for a safe space for people to come as they are and enjoy.
What does the word fat mean to you?
I have embraced and reclaimed the word fat. For years it was weaponized to hurt and insult me but now I see the word fat as a description of a person just like the word “tall.”
I think there is a huge lack of representation of fat stories in the media. The NAAFA examined one year of news coverage and found only 72 articles about anti-fatness or fat liberation. Meanwhile, 18,000+ articles focused on weight loss. This coverage impacts how fat people are viewed by creating harmful stereotypes and misconceptions.
Many fat people don’t like going to the doctor because they experience medical fatphobia and weight stigma from their doctors. Medical fat phobia is when medical professionals have an inherent negative bias toward people living in fat bodies that can lead to misdiagnosis, which negatively impacts patient outcomes. Many fat people have experienced going to the doctor and not having their pain or feelings actually heard and instead someone bringing up their weight when their weight might not even be relevant. Rachel Wiley, a poet who attended the camp, read from one of her books a poem that said the following:
“Fat Girl walks into the doctor’s office and says ‘Doctor, it hurts when I move my arm like this, what should I do?’ and the doctor says ‘Have you considered weight loss surgery?’
“Fat Girl walks into the doctor’s office for a flu shot / and gets a lecture about BMI.”
Many people including medical professionals haven’t accepted that thinness doesn’t equate to being healthy, and weight is not an indicator of someone’s overall health. Until we can understand this sentiment and move past it as a society, particularly in the medical industry, fat people will not be included or able to receive equal and fair medical care.
"Many people including medical professionals haven’t accepted that thinness doesn’t equate to being healthy, and weight is not an indicator of someone’s overall health."
When you were on The Tamron Hall Show, you commented that fat is not a dirty word, and you do not associate fat with an insult. Can you elaborate on this?
For me, reclaiming the word fat was taking my power back- taking it back from children who bullied me growing up, people who judged me and my lifestyle based on my looks without knowing anything about me or my health, and a dance teacher who fat shamed me. Fat people have spent their entire lives trying to become smaller because society doesn’t accept them. We are treated differently simply because of our looks. Society places so much focus on weight and, as a fat person, it takes so much mental strength to combat this fat-phobic focus. My body is the least interesting thing about me. By reclaiming the word fat, I am able to hold power over it and how it impacts me when it is used around me.
"By reclaiming the word fat, I am able to hold power over it and how it impacts me when it is used around me."
What are your thoughts on the words “curve model, plus size, and fat shaming?”
I don’t have any issue with words like “curve model” and “plus size.” I think again they are descriptive words that are used to define a group of people. Fat shaming, weight bias, and fatphobia are very real and I experience them every day as do many fat people. I think it’s important for straight-sized people and even other fat people to think of how their biases and stereotypes impact others mentally and emotionally.
I think the representation of fat people is typically something like being the fat, funny friend in a movie, the clips of people pinching their fat, and the grease-stained shirts fat people wear while eating massive amounts of food. These examples reemphasize some of the fat stereotypes and opinions people have, and it’s why we need to shift that representation to include more body positivity, anti-diet culture, and body liberation.
I think fat phobia is a complicated issue and many people have the opinions they have because they haven’t been exposed to anything else. For decades the weight loss industry has told us you will be happier if you are thinner. The reality is the weight loss industry is a 3.8 billion dollar-a-year industry even though history shows diets don’t work for most people.
"For decades the weight loss industry has told us you will be happier if you are thinner. The reality is the weight loss industry is a 3.8 billion dollar-a-year industry even though history shows diets don’t work for most people."
When the Camp RoundUp story was published I received emails from all over the world from people who were so excited to see an article where fat people were simply just shown existing. The story shows fat joy, and the fact that that is so rare to see when over 40% of Americans are living in bigger bodies is disappointing. People like Lizzo are helping pave the way with incredible representation. She uses her platform for good constantly to help shift the narrative. I find Lizzo to be a great example because even someone like her who is all about honesty and body positivity gets hate comments telling her to lose weight. Lizzo is a vegan who works out regularly, just because Lizzo is fat doesn’t mean she is unhealthy and that goes for so many fat people.
As a photojournalist, what were you ultimately looking to capture at Camp RoundUp?
I wanted to go to this camp to experience it firsthand. I wanted to document this safe space that the founders of the camp Alison Strickland Rampa and Erica Chiseck created. Working as a photojournalist it is so rare to connect to a story so deeply. There was no way for me to be unbiased about this story because in many ways it was my own. I knew I wanted to write the story and share some of my lived experiences with others. This story impacted me so much and has inspired me to keep telling fat stories. I want there to be a real representation of fat people out there. I think telling these stories is important and allows us to change the narrative by centering it around the fat community, culture, and joy.
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