Plus-size women who have dealt with enough nasty, body-shaming comments to last a lifetime are standing up to their haters with a powerful weapon this week: love. It's part of a Valentine’s Day-inspired empowerment campaign, “Love Letter to an Internet Bully,” encouraging women around the country to express their feelings of pain, forgiveness, and self-acceptance, and then post them, along with proud photos of themselves, on Facebook.
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“I was envisioning a way for people to just share their story and have it be therapeutic for them, to forgive their bully and just move on,” Chrystal Bougon, owner of the San Jose, California, plus-size lingerie shop Curvy Girl and one of the forces behind the effort, tells Yahoo Shine. “Let’s put that chapter away now, and let’s rock it and wear it.”
Bougon and her shop made headlines last year for another online campaign, “Regular Women,” which had plus-size ladies posting images of themselves in lingerie; that subsequently drew ire from fit-body activist Maria Kang, leading to a virtual face-off about fat-shaming (and, Bougon notes, a 500 percent jump in her online sales). The goal this time around, she says, is once again about self-pride, but also letting the bullies know there are actual people on the other end of their insults. "We are not just bots or pixels on a blog. We are real human beings with parents, lovers and friends who read the mean comments these bullies leave on our Facebook pages, our blogs, and our Twitter feeds," Bougon wrote on her website earlier this week. "Do they ever think of that?" And since she and activist Jen McLellan, of PlusSizeBirth.com put out the call for letters — preferably combined with author photos in the form of memes — responses have flooded in.
“Dear Trolls: You took the time to tell me how worthless you think I am because of my size, so I wanted to take the time to tell you that I love my body. That’s right, I love my fat body!” reads McLellan’s own meme. “When I hated my body, your words mattered, but now that I love my body, they just make me feel sad for you.” Others who posted call out friends and family who “told me I would be beautiful if I just lost weight,” bullies from school whose words have plagued them for years, and even themselves. “I bully myself, shame myself, cuss myself, at times hate myself ... I have to remind myself I am somebody with my head held high,” writes participant Shante Williams. To that, Bougon responds to her directly with empathy: "I try so hard all the time to quiet my inner mean girl. It's a process, Shante. We're all here for you."
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Writing exercises like these can definitely be empowering, notes body image expert Sarah Maria, author of “Love Your Body, Love Your Life.” She tells Yahoo Shine, “It’s important to have a certain level of body acceptance because if not, you’re in constant war with yourself, and there are many ways to get to that place, including through writing.” According to Maria, participating in the letter campaign is great if it makes the writer feel better, but she adds a gentle warning. “It’s good to forgive, but only after you’ve healed yourself and fully processed the hurt,” she says. “You don’t want to rush writing letters saying it’s OK when you’ve not first tended to yourself.”
To that end, some letters have come just short of forgiveness, striving instead to foster understanding. “If you would take the time to look past my big bum and large tummy, you would see a woman that is kind and caring and always ready to lend a hand,” writes Sarah Barnes Devine. “If putting me down or shaming others that are fat makes you feel better about yourself, then I am sorry for you that life has treated you so unkindly that you feel the need to hurt others. If you were to open your minds and not see the obvious, you may find the world a more kind place for yourself, as well as others.” Amen to that, Sarah.