Fatter IRL Shows How The Art World Is Letting Fat Women Down

Photo by Shoog McDaniel

Chances are, we’re fatter in real life

The average American woman is a size 16. But she is also invisible. Our cultural sphere's continued erasure of bigger women is a huge problem, as is its insistence of only promoting what society deems conventionally attractive: white, heterosexual, cisgendered, and thin women. And it is exactly this problem that Brooklyn, New York art exhibit "Fatter IRL," which includes shrines to stalkers, unorthodox ethical feminist porn screenings, felt vaginas, and more all paying tribute to big, beautiful women, seeks to rectify.

Staged by artist and curator Annie Rose, "Fatter IRL" leaves the pretension that can be typical of the art world at the door. Though each piece is reflective of the struggles this diverse set of women and gender non-conforming artists have undergone throughout their lives, the hierarchal division between artist and viewer, creator and admirer is broken down through the humorous and relatable theme that runs through most of the exhibit—a tongue-in-cheek tone displayed in so much of the artwork and clearly intrinsic to the artists' identities. Humor aside, "Fatter IRL" also displays the tenderness of fat women that many non-fat artists, writers, and creatives often fail to identify. 

Photo by Rochelle Brock (Courtesy of Annie Rose)

Through this exhibition, Rose wants to remind the world that fat and beautiful are not separate identities. Being fat does not disengage agency, denote ugliness or stupidity, does not devalue talent or credibility. And while Rose aims to enlighten the viewer on the truth of fat existence, when it comes down to it, "Fatter IRL" is by and for fat women of the world. Through all the stigmas, immense stereotypes, and beyond, Rose encourages “fat people to celebrate fat people.”

Perhaps a surprise to some, the shiny pink bow that ties the whole exhibit together is its roots in advocacy and representation for sex workers and the very special relationship that exists between fatness and sex work. Rose, whose former ties in sex work allowed her to access a slew of artists from that field, says that sex work is one of the few arenas where fat women are celebrated. 

“I find that the sex work community is one of the only places that talks about fatness. When you are a sex worker, you can't ignore what you look like, and what your demographic is going to be,” Rose says. “I noticed that sex workers are the first people to be like, 'I'm fat! I'm BBW [Big Beautiful Women],' because our livelihood depends on it.”

This exhibit closes Saturday November 5, with an enticing party that’s open to all, but Rose and I sat down to discuss some of the resounding themes and feelings that have made "Fatter IRL" so groundbreaking.

Why is it important to make a show like "Fatter IRL"?
I feel like fat people are not celebrated outside of social media. People will like pictures of fat people, but they won't date them. I'll see people liking my photos or being like, "You're a badass!" But I don't see them having any fat friends or dating fat people ever. I'm not saying you have to date everybody to be an ethical person. I just don't ever see the worship of fat people that's not in a sex work context, with men who seek BBW being the worshippers. I wanted fat people to celebrate fat people.

Were there any difficulties in putting "Fatter IRL" together?
It's a really hard thing to organize because fat people are very used to shrinking, not wanting to call attention to the fact that you are fat. Which I think is part of why it's so big on the internet; it's kind of what the title of the show is, it's a play on that—"Fatter IRL"—and we always feel like we have to tailor our image and try and shrink ourselves down as much as possible, but chances are we are fatter in real life. 

How did you pick the artists to feature?
It's a lot of people who had a big social media following but who don't get recognition as artists because they are fat. I noticed that in the art world, the people that get the most representation, even if it's queer or feminist art, are still conventionally attractive, thin white people. I think beauty politics plays itself out very much in the art world. People who are deemed more attractive get more attention, and I also think that there is this hierarchy of what is and isn't high art. I really just wanted to get together all these different mediums that kind of have the same feel, they all have the same aesthetic going on, very personal, very feminine.

How do you feel this exhibit helps to break down the negative stereotypes of fatness?
A lot of people find fat bodies, on the surface, as disgusting, but who knows what people really feel? BBW porn is one of the most watched categories. Big Beautiful Women. The most watched are the most hated people: BBW, trans women and black women, and Asian women are the most watched.

Because we've set up these standards and repressed the ability and allowance to be attracted to these different people and different body types.
Exactly! It becomes a fetish; it becomes subversive for people when they are attracted to fat people. Really, you're just attracted to a person. And then people make it a part of their identity that they are attracted to fat people because it's such a subversive thing. The idea that people could actively desire and prefer fat people is shocking. It's always uncomfortable for people to realize that they could be attracted to a fat person. This show is uncomfortable for people because it's hard for people to see fat people thriving and flourishing because we put so much self-hate into people in our culture that there is the emphasize on the necessity to exercising and how it all leads to success, and the people who aren’t doing so are thus failing. When people see fat people being fat and having others love them, even though they are fat, I think people get really angry and upset because it's like what was it all for? All those years of making sure they don't look like that, and here are these fat people doing their thing and doing it well. 

Artwork by Chuck Charlotte/Image by Cassidy Dawn Graves (Courtesy of Annie Rose)

In a sense, "Fatter IRL" is not only the curation of artwork, but the curation of space, specifically generating an environment of acceptance, love, and freedom. How has that affected the people who have come to see the show?
People felt really comfortable around the work, around work that represents them. When an art gallery is only showing work by skinny white people, why would people come out for something they don't feel welcome at? You don't ever represent them. We had all different kinds of people here because we had all different kinds of artists. Geographically, racially diverse, sexually diverse artists. People were touched to see people like them, represented in a beautiful way. 

How does "Fatter IRL" change the stigma of being fat, particularly in the art world?
Being a fat person, you see these images, and it's so eye opening. I spent so many years hating myself, but I am awesome! There's a running stereotype that you can't take beautiful images of fat people. But I think it's that people don't know how to do it, they don't know how to dress them. Yesterday, I was thinking about shoots where they take these skinny models and put them in these industrial spaces to photograph them. I was thinking about fat people in that space, and I realized I wouldn't put a fat body in a hard, cold industrial space because I am fat and I know how to make fat people look good. I would put a fat person in an environment that reflects the softness, somewhere that truly emphasizes the beauty. People just don't know how to do that. And they're also lazy and just don't want to do it!

A male point of view seems to be missing from this show. Was that intentional?
I asked fat men to be in the show, but no one answered me. I think fat men consider it less a part of their identity because men are allowed to take up space. The one time I want them, they don't show up. The one time we want you to be around! There are people of all genders in this show, I didn't discriminate based on gender—it was only if you are fat. It just so happened that women and gender non-conforming people are the ones who followed through. 

Why do you think the negative stigma of fatness affects men differently than it affects women and gender-nonconforming people?
I honestly believe that most of it is rooted in misogyny and women not being able to take up space. I think for fat men, it's a type. People like big cuddly teddy bear men. It's very different.

What was the overall goal of "Fatter IRL"?
I always say visibility is a great thing because people feel validated seeing themselves represented. But for fat people especially, visibility can be really tricky because fat people are hyper-visible, people who are marginalized and oppressed are hyper-visible, people of color and visibly queer people are hyper-visible. So that opens people up to harassment and just maliciousness. It’s a very double-edged sword, so I really wanted to create a space that was made by a fat person, and mediated visibility, an environment where the artists are celebrated and loved automatically. People come because they think this is a great thing and they want to see it.


Photo by Jacqueline Mary (Courtesy of Annie Rose).

Why is removing the negative stigma behind fatness so important to you?
Fat acceptance is literally beneficial for everyone. If one group of people isn't living freely, then none of us are. If everyone is always comparing themselves to fat people on this bizarre standard of body hierarchies, you are never going to be happy with your own body either. You're always going to be worried that you look like that, or you're always going to think that you're better because you don't look like that. To accept fat people for how they are is beneficial for every person, because then people can't prey on our insecurities. Consumerist, capitalist culture can't play on our insecurities if we don't let them. The diet industry is huge because they make sure people hate themselves. Eliminating racism, eliminating homophobia and misogyny is beneficial for literally everyone. It's the same with fat acceptance.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

"I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter"

In a heart-warming Instagram photo, Serena Williams shares the history of hair braiding and the importance of the tradition. The tennis player shared a photo of herself braiding her daughter Olympia Ohanian's hair and spoke about how "honored" she was to be able to "add another generation" to the tradition of the practice.

The photo shows Williams attentively braiding her daughter's hair while Olympia smiles, obviously loving the experience. Williams noted that hair braiding was created by the Himba people in Namibia, Africa, and that "we have been braiding our hair for centuries." "In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe," she continued.

Williams pointed out that braiding is a bonding experience. "People would often take the time to socialize," she wrote. "It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world."

Williams closed her post with a sweet message about her daughter, saying that she's "honored to share this bonding experience" with her.

See the post, below.

Courtesy of Adidas

The Stan Smiths are a must-have

Adidas just shared its capsule of sneakers paying tribute to Keith Haring, and TBH I can already feel my wallet emptying (and they're not even on sale yet). The new collection features three shoe silhouettes, all including the late artist's iconic imagery as embroidered designs.

The standout style of the collection is the Rivalry hi-top; with bright blue and orange stripes and piping along the edges, Haring's stars and cartoon bodies, in black thread, pop right off. If you're looking for something less over-the-top, the quirky white Nizza Hi RF sneakers show a snake wrapping around the back of the shoe and chasing one of Haring's cartoon bodies toward the toe. There's also a minimal embroidered design on the toe of a classic Stan Smith pair. Look a little more closely at the tongue though, and you'll notice the traditional image has been swapped with a caricature of Haring himself.

Peep the three silhouettes, below, and set your calendar for the official drop at the end of the month.

Adidas, Rivalry Hi Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Nizza Hi RF Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Stan Smith Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.

Photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Hopefully this one will be typo-free

In an Instagram Live on Thursday, Taylor Swift announced that she would be creating a collaboration with fashion designer Stella McCartney inspired by her upcoming Lover album. Although she kept it vague, we can only assume that the two are working on a collection of luxe merch.

Swift noted in the announcement that she has been friends with McCartney "for a really long time," and that the designer already heard the new album. "I respect what she creates, how she creates it," Swift continued. "There's so much whimsy and imagination and romance to the clothing that she designs." Swift has been wearing McCartney's designs "a lot recently," so maybe we should have seen the collab coming.

One eagle-eyed fan pointed out that Swift wore Stella McCartney rainbow-hued shoes during her Wango Tango set. If the collab is anything like these shoes, you can bet I'll be copping it as quick as I can.

Swift detailed in her Instagram Live that the album Lover would be all about romance, which makes McCartney and her feminine designs perfect for the collaboration. We just hope that this collection doesn't have any typos, like some of Swift's "ME!" merch did.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And spreads the message that "we all got crowns"

Late on Thursday, Taylor Swift dropped a new single, "You Need To Calm Down," and announced her forthcoming studio album, Lover, out this August. Following her lead single "ME!" Swift continues to spread her message of self-love and call out haters—particularly the homophobic ones—in this latest song.

Swift "ended homophobic locals," as one fan put it on Twitter, with one particular lyric: "'Cause shade never made anybody less gay."

Along with the song, Swift shared a lyric video via YouTube which made her sentiments even clearer. With her lyric, "Why are you made?/ When you could be glad?" she spelled "glad" as "GLAAD," referencing the queer media advocacy organization.

Swift sings of homophobic protestors in the second verse: "Sunshine on the street at the parade/ But you would rather be in the dark ages/ Makin' that sign must've taken all night." In the pre-chorus, she adds, "You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/ And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate."

Swift additionally comments on women being pitted against each other—"We see you over there on the internet comparing all the girls who are killin' it"—asserting that "we all got crowns." There's nothing trolls can do to rain on her parade anymore.

One fan pointed out the possible symbolism of the crown lyric. In "Call It What You Want," track 14 on Reputation, she sings "They took the crown but it's alright." Now on "You Need To Calm Down," track 14 of Lover, she sings that there's not just one crown—we all have them.

Some fans are pointing to the double meaning of the track title. If I had a dollar for every time someone said those words to me in a totally condescending way, I'd probably be richer than her! What woman hasn't been told to calm down about an entirely not-calm situation or while expressing their distaste?

During Swift's live stream for the release of the song, she also announced a fashion collaboration with designer Stella McCartney, a peek of which we got during the singer's WangoTango performance.

Lover is set for August 23 release.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

"I was like, 'Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what?'"

The day I meet Jim Jarmusch, the sun hangs so bright and hot and yellow and solid in the sky that it's hard to believe that it will actually set at night. It's one of those New York June days that suggests we might be in permanent daylight; it's got a completely different feeling than the crepuscular atmosphere of Jarmusch's latest film, The Dead Don't Die, which takes place in a small town in what feels like one long twilight, maybe the last one.

But for today, Jarmusch and I are sitting at a table in a sun-filled restaurant, though we're in the shade. We're in a part of the city that used to be very punk rock, and is now very NYU, yet being there with Jarmusch, who looks so at home, like he's holding court in the booth (it helps that Larry Fessenden, an old friend of Jarmusch's and a writer/director/producer/actor, who appears in The Dead Don't Die, happens by the table to say hi), makes the area feel a little punk rock again, even with all the sun.

The Dead Don't Die is a very punk rock zombie movie, by which I mean: It's not very scary, but it is very cool, and even when it's sneering, it's a little bit tender. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny as a trio of small-town cops who fight back against a nascent zombie apocalypse caused by fracking, the film is cast with a who's who of Jarmusch regulars, like Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, and Fessenden, to name a few; but it also features younger stars like Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, and Luka Sabbat—and there's a real earworm of a theme song, courtesy of Sturgill Simpson.

Below, I speak with Jarmusch about the movie, being a dilettante, and why he only reads his negative reviews—which is definitely one of the most punk rock things I've ever heard.

Photo by Gareth Cattermole/ Getty Images

This was filmed on a pretty condensed shooting schedule, right?
It was a very rough schedule. A very difficult one, actually.

We only had seven weeks to shoot, and we had to shoot Adam Driver out in three weeks because he had to be delivered to Star Wars, and the financing of the film was incredibly grueling and took a long time, so we were pushed so far that we had about one month of prep, and then three weeks with Adam. And then all these different actors coming in and out; I don't know how Carter and Josh, the two producers, organized it all. And then we'd shoot 15-hour days, and halfway through, I had walking pneumonia; I had two coats; it was 95 out; I was shaking. You know, just weird stuff like that. But it's all okay because we had such great people—our crew—everybody. And then, the visual effects were very taxing and complicated.

How did that all work together? Because there's more than one decapitated head.
Yeah, it's a mixture. First of all, we mixed prosthetics with makeup with masks for some of the zombie stuff, but all of those effects with the decapitations, we had to just imagine. So we had to choreograph everything and then only imagine kind of what it would be like, which was, for me, very abstract because I'm not very versed in visual effects. You know, you had to really kind of trust your instincts, because Adam Driver's chopping away with a machete with no blade.

It could've been a machete, it could've been a lightsaber, who knows? So, to what degree is this a sequel of Paterson with Adam Driver's character's last name being Peterson?
Well, I just do these things to amuse myself while writing, you know? Bill Murray in Broken Flowers was named Don Johnson, and in this, I gave him the name Cliff Robertson. Tilda Swinton's character is Zelda Winston. Rosie Perez is named Posie Juarez. You know, I'm just kind of amusing myself.

And Peterson, Paterson. While we were filming Paterson I was always teasing Adam that the next one, we would make was gonna be a sequel about a psychopathic murderous bus driver named Peterson. Tag line: "Get the fuck off my bus!" Or "Next Stop Hell!" You know, stuff like that. It's just to make them... I love trying to make Adam Driver laugh, because he has a very odd and wonderful sense of humor, but it's on the dry side, so I'm always joking around with him between work to try and see what makes him laugh.

But yeah, there's no sequel of any kind, and I don't think that way, and I don't plan, and I don't see my films from the past ever again. I just look toward the next thing.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

What was the original concept for this? When did you start coalescing all of these different elements into knowing that you wanted it to be your next film?
Some years ago after Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda kept teasing me, calling me, saying, "When do we do the zombies? When are we doing the zombies?" And in between I made Paterson and Gimme Danger, but then after those I started writing the zombie one, and my original conception was: I wanna make a film that's really funny and silly like Coffee and Cigarettes, where people talk about whatever nonsense I want them to, and I want to get actors I love, you know? So I thought, okay, if I make a zombie film, I can have a structure where different groups are cordoned off against the zombies, and the zombie attacks will be intermittent and not very long, so I'll have long lags where they're just stuck there, like in the house of The Night of the Living Dead, where they can talk about any kind of nonsense. So that was my first idea, and then when I started writing it, for some reason, I wanted to have a small town, Centerville, and I just followed my intuition, and it became this, I don't really know why beyond that.

What is it about small towns that make them the perfect setting for existential terror?
They're insular. They're kind of… everyone kind of knows each other. It's controllable by the characters. It's believable that everyone kind of know each other. I don't know. I'm not very good at analyzing that. And also, this is not a horror film because horror films use devices that are necessary to frighten people, like suspense, and then you get scared. We have no interest whatsoever in that. This is more of a metaphorical zombie film, but I would not call it a horror movie. It's a comedy with zombies with a kind of sad ending. Beyond that, I don't know what it is.

And horror nerds may not like it if they're expecting creepy, creepy, scary thing! They're not gonna get it. They're not gonna get that delivered to them.

What's interesting about it is seeing who fights back against this existential dread. Or, like, Chloë Sevigny's character, Mindy, doesn't fight, she is on her own separate trip, avoiding the end till she embraces it.
It's a character film. It's not even a plot film, really, although critics say that about all my films. But Chloë… it's a complicated thing, because when I first called Chloë, I told her... I wrote her a letter, and then she said, "Yeah, yeah I'd like to do this." And I said, obviously, this is not a feminist character. She's reactive. She's our sort of "Scream Queen." She screams like six times. But Chloë is the master of reaction, and I love watching her react.

She definitely feels like a stand-in for what a normal person would feel during these absurdist experiences, which is nice to have. It's not necessarily that you need a relatable character in a movie like this, but...
Yeah, but she's an empathetic human that's in a job with some authority, but in a small town where that means taking care of whatever, you know, as a police officer, pretty minimal [stuff]. There's not a lot of rampant crime or anything going on… or anything at all, really.

Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

A lot of people are going to be projecting tons of different meanings onto this film, like with all your films. To what level do you participate in that or pay attention to that? Or, once you're done making a film, is it just out there, and you just let people project onto it whatever they will?
I've always felt that anyone's interpretation of a film that I write and direct is probably more valid than my own. Because it's a funny thing, the beauty of films is going into a world—or a book or whatever—but going into a world that you don't know, and you are entering a world, and it takes you. And if you wrote it, and you were there filming it, and you're in the editing room every day for six months, the mix, and all that... I can never possibly see it. I like hearing what friends or people I know... I like Q and As after screenings because they have no agenda except their interest. I like that a lot, and I value that. I don't really like to read a lot of reviews unless they're really negative. I love the negative ones.

You do?
Yeah, because they must be very far from me in their perception of the world, and that is interesting to me. But I try not to read a lot...

I think you're probably the first person who I've ever spoken to who says they like to read the negative reviews.
I really like them. The worst one I ever got in my life, I laminated and used to carry in my wallet. It was a brief thing from a right-wing French [paper], maybe Le Figaro or something, of a film called Dead Man that we made, and they said—this is the English translation—"The French intelligence celebrates Jarmusch in the way death and blind parents would celebrate their retarded child. Jarmusch is 33 years old, the same age as Christ when he was crucified. We can only hope the same for his film career." I was like, Whoa! That is harsh! I'm keeping that one!

It gets personal.
But that was vicious. I was like, Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what? What happened? It was really... the knife was sharpened, you know.

That speaks to a very specific kind of agenda for sure.
A friend of mine Amos Poe, he's sort of a mentor of mine, a punk filmmaker, whatever, and when we were young when he made, in the late-'70s, one of his films—The Foreigner or Unmade Beds—the New York Times called it "the cinematic equivalent of kindergarten scribbling," and he put that on his posters and put "New York Times" and we were like punks, we were like, "Yes! Amos! That's great!"

I mean, it genuinely is a pretty great pull quote, and I think also a little bit oblivious to the charms of a kindergartener's scribbles and what the value is in that anyway.
Yeah, it was kind of accurate in a positive way, and they intended it as very negative.

In this film, there are so many actors who are veteran actors, but there are also a lot of younger actors. What do you like about the combination of that dynamic?
I just like the variety of sort of world perceptions—indicated in a very minor way when Bill Murray's character says, "I've known Hermit Bob since we were in junior high," and Adam's character says, "Oh, wow! That must've been like 50 years ago!" And Bill says, "Yeah. It was." But just the kind of difference of perception of age I find as I get older really interesting. And I'm very interested in young people, especially teenagers, because I think they form our sense of style, of music, of so many things, and yet they're kind of pushed around and treated badly and constantly told, "You don't know how the world really works! You're just a teenager!" But they gave us poetry. They gave us Mary Shelley and Rimbaud and chess masters, and all the great music comes a lot from teenagers. So I tried to keep a pulse, that's why the three teenagers, I would not let them turn into zombies. There are only four people [who don't get turned by zombies]: those three that are delinquents, and the Tom Waits character, who's already removed himself from the social order long before.

When the zombies become zombies, they all have one inciting thing that they're still pursuing in the real world. Do you have one thing that you think you would pursue if you were a zombie?
You know, it's hard because I'm a self-proclaimed dilettante. I'm interested in so many things, I don't know if I would be breaking into a bookstore, or if I would be in the alley outside of a movie theater, or if I would be trying to get into a guitar shop. I'm not sure. I have a lot of interests.

I mean there's a way in which it's a really tender portrayal of the human impulse to just seek out these things that they love.
It's not totally a critique; it's their vestigial memory of some things that they were drawn toward, whether it was power tools or oxycontin.

The Dead Don't Die is in theaters now.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features