Reclaiming the Word “Fat Series”: an interview with Vanessa Nelissen

Dear Readers,

For the next few weeks, we will be exploring the idea of “Fat Activism” and how the body positivity movement has influenced people to stand up to diet-culture and the attacks on obesity. I know that for some people the word “fat” can be scary, triggering, and hurtful. The purpose of this series is to take the sting and derogatory nature out of the word. “Fat” is a descriptor, just like tall, short, red, square, or triangular.

I pondered whether a series of interviews that use the word “fat” would be contrary to the guidelines. It was a struggle for me to make this decision. People with body dysmorphia often use this word to describe how they are feeling about their bodies and reading the word “fat” could be very uncomfortable. I also thought about the bodies of people who do not present as the stereotype of someone with an eating disorder. I thought about all the people living in bigger bodies who are feeling/being judged, and having their struggles invalidated.

My decision did not come easily. I came to the conclusion that this topic is important and necessary to further the conversation about people with Eating Disorders who live in bigger bodies, or who chose to use the word fat. And for those people living in bigger bodies who are called “fat”. My hope is that someone living in a bigger body, who is struggling with an Eating Disorder, and is afraid to seek support because of judgement, experiences, and prejudice, will read this and feel one step closer to seeking advice and support for their illness – your body is valid, your Eating Disorder is valid, you are valid.

Remember to nourish your body, mind, and spirit,

Your moderator,



Interview with Vanessa Nelissen

What led you to the concept of body positivity?

I always was the fat kid in school. Although I wasn’t really, I was chubbier but not fat. The body-positive community on Instagram led me to the concept of body-positivy.

Why do you use the word “fat”? Why does it matter?

Fat is just a description. Obese is implying we are unhealthy. A problem to get rid of. Fat is a neutral word.

Have you or someone you know ever had an experience where a doctor has marginalized you/them because of body size?

I went for a pap test to a male gynecologist. I was only 20 years old. He immediately started talking about my weight and how I would have trouble having babies. He tried to send me to an oncologist. I said no! Another time I had back pain and the doctor said I just had to lose weight. The pain stayed till I got bigger and it disappeared.

Have you or someone you know ever been marginalized or verbally attacked because of body size and if so?

Of course, it begins at school, [being called names directed at body size] You can’t wear a dress because you [will be judged] Family members who discuss my weight while I’m in the room. Saying I’m lucky I have a beautiful face because my body is fat.

And of course internet trolls. [Also writing insults directed at body size] To the doctors: If a fat patient comes to you. Think beyond the fat. Imagine that person is a thin person and give them the proper treatment. Never pressure a patient to go on a diet when the patient didn’t ask for advice.

What do you think “fat activism” means and why is it important?

It means fat people want to get the right medical care. Wear what they want. Eat what they want without judgement. Be respected. Break through the stereotypes of being lazy, dumb and weak. Demanding a safe place for fat bodies.

What message are you trying to convey on social media

I’m not an activist. I just love being creative and love sharing pictures of my body, hoping to inspire other people. It was by looking at pictures of other fat people I started to accept myself.

If you could talk to childhood you, what would you tell them about their body and body image? 

Just love yourself, little girl. Forgive yourself. Whatever happens, stay kind even when people attack your body. Go your own way, ignore fatphobic people. Your body is beautiful, it can heal itself, it’s magical. Treasure your body.