Cat Polivoda recently offered tickets to “curvy/fat/plus-size/husky” folks and their friends for a pool party later this summer in St. Louis Park. The second annual “Fat Splash”sold out overnight, so she hustled to add a second date. That one promptly sold out, too.
“I really just care about people feeling comfortable and confident in their bodies,” said Polivoda, the owner of Cake Plus-Size Resale in Minneapolis. “The pool can be such a vulnerable place for lots of people.”
The pool parties are just one way larger-bodied people in the Twin Cities are coming together as a community. Podcasts (like “Matter of Fat,” which Polivoda co-hosts), plus-sized Instagram influencers modeling affordable fashions and body-positive burlesque classes and yoga studios are all promoting beauty and health at any size.
The body positivity movement, which encourages self-acceptance and pushes back at the idea of an ideal (read thin) body, has been building for years. Nationally, it’s been fueled by TV shows like Hulu’s“Shrill”, which featured a pool party much like Polivoda’s; by artists like Lizzo, who appeared naked and confident on the cover of her “Cuz I Love You” album, which debuted in Billboard’s Top 10; and by Instagram hashtags like #effyourbeautystandards and #bodypositive.
But here in the metro area, the movement has found passionate champions who are shaping it in a powerful way.
“I think things are growing at a more rapid rate here than other places,” said Polivoda. “I have the opportunity to talk to people from out of town who are like, ‘Wow, you have all this stuff here!’ ”
“This stuff” includes frank and provocative podcasts like “Matter of Fat” and “MollyMay+,” where St. Paul host Molly May McMahan gets personal about her own body-positivity journey. Local Instagram influencers like Paxyshia Yang are sharing plus-size fashions in the hope of changing perceptions one selfie at a time. There also are clothing swaps for sizes 2XL and up and a new yoga studio encouraging fat acceptance.
The nonprofit Radical Health Alliance is even debuting a very different kind of “fat camp” north of the Twin Cities this year. The Rad Fat Adventure Camp weekend retreat will include kayaking, hiking, camp crafts (hello, friendship bracelets) and a “splash mob” swim session by the Subversive Sirens, a local group of body-positive synchronized swimmers. (There’s already a waitlist for the September event.)
A closed Facebook group, Twin Cities Fat Community, offers online support and shares information about local happenings. Started by Polivoda and Radical Health Alliance founder Ani Janzen, it’s grown from 30 members in 2016 to more than 550 members.
All about representation
The phrase “This body, this day” is hand-lettered in large, looping calligraphy on a wall of Real Life Coffee & Yoga, a new St. Paul studio offering classes for all bodies.
Gabrielle Hruska, who opened the spot in June, isn’t a yoga teacher. But she wanted to create a space where every class is taught by a plus-size person who knows how to make the practice accessible to people like her.
“Living in a fat body, there’s a lot of studios that they just don’t want you there,” she said.
At Real Life, Hruska wants to focus on movement and mobility with no body shaming, diet or weight-loss talk allowed.
“Your body can just be whatever it is, and that’s great, and we’re going to meet you there,” she said.
Hruska was inspired to open the yoga studio after being a part of the Twin Cities Fat Community group and traveling to Tucson, Ariz., several years ago for the national Body Love Conference, which encourages participants to “change your world, not your body.”
“Representation matters,” she said. “When you start to see bodies that look like yours, and you see them in the context of being beautiful, and you can see their beauty, you start to see your own beauty.”
That’s exactly what Yang hopes to convey through her Instagram account.
Yang highlights her style, which she describes as “fat, chic, streetwear,” by posting selfies in outfits that are affordable and look great on her 5 foot 1, size 18-20 frame. She wants her followers to be able to visualize themselves in up-to-date looks “and say, ‘That person looks like me, and I can wear the exact same thing and feel good about myself.’ ”
Yang has found success with her approach. Not only does she have 29,000 Instagram followers, but she’s building a national reputation.
A few months ago, the women behind the Los Angeles-based plus-size line Premme came to the Mall of America to speak on a body-positivity panel. Yang had an opportunity to meet them, but she didn’t have to introduce herself — they recognized her.
“It was so surreal,” said Yang.
For McMahan, who recently launched the Matriarch Media podcast “MollyMay+, a bod pos pod + other nice stuff,” body positivity is more than a fad.
“I want it to not die out like a trend. It needs to be a change,” she said. “If I’m feeling this way, other people must be feeling this way, too.”
McMahan said her life was once on hold while she tried to reach her “stupid goal weight.” She’s not waiting any longer. Inspired by real-life friends and the cheerleading section she found on her “sweet little corner of Instagram,” McMahan ditched the camouflaging she used to wear out dancing, bought a two-piece swimsuit and ended up being photographed for a City Pages’ “street style” feature, showcasing top party looks.
“I can choose to be happy, and I can live right now,” she said. “And I don’t need to wait and lose 100 pounds before I start living my life.”
For Polivoda, who calls herself a fat liberation advocate, body positivity doesn’t go far enough.
She prefers an approach that’s less about simply loving your body and more about “pushing back against fat-phobic behavior.”
“I think part of the reason I love to say fat, and call myself fat, and call our community fat is because it forces people to grapple with that automatic response, and that disconnection,” she said. “Like, ‘What were you going to say, that I’m beautiful, not fat? I can be both.’ ‘You thought that someone who’s an athlete can’t be fat? There’s a lot of fat athletic people.’ Using that word is helpful in forcing people to confront those biases.”
Polivoda understands that fat isn’t a word everyone’s ready to embrace, though. Her “Matter of Fat” co-host, Saraya Boghani, didn’t start using it until they started the KFAI podcast last year.
“That was truly very scary for me, because I had never called myself that, even though I have always been fat,” Boghani said. “What does that mean to remove the stigma from that, and set a precedent for other people?”
She decided to try.
“Nobody was talking about how fat people are underrepresented or ignored or oppressed,” said Boghani. “Now I can finally name it, and live in the world as a fat person who’s loving their life.”