By Samm Newman – A lot of people know me as the “plus-size teen” accusing Instagram of size discrimination, and, by a lot of people, I mean upwards of a million! Overnight, I became the discussion on local and national news stations and websites all over America. Within days, my story made it around the globe to countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. With all of the attention on what happened, I want to give you the opportunity to understand me, and the movement that I represent, a little bit better.
I have been overweight throughout most of my life. Growing up, I was taught to suck my stomach in and dress modestly to cover my fat body. The messages I learned, more from society than my parents, are that people who were fat and immodest were embarrassing and taunt-worthy.
My weight hit an all-time high in high school, and the bullying I had been facing regularly hit its peak. People were cruel. They would put gum in my hair while I was waiting in the lunch line, throw coins at me, and oink at me as I walked down the hallway.
High school was also particularly difficult for me as a queer woman who was desperate to find a place where I belonged in such a conservative town. I lost a lot of friends and there were days where I ate lunch in the bathroom by myself.
“When I had my photos removed from Instagram, I felt as if I was being bullied once again, and this time by a corporation. I was silenced. I felt so small and powerless.”
I tried countless diets to try and resolve the bullying and the issues with my self-esteem, but could never seem to follow through with their unrealistic expectations. The failure I felt each and every time another attempt to diet fell through, added to the intense sensation of the self-loathing I was feeling every day.
There was a point in high school at which I was happy, (perhaps it was the only time I truly felt anything positive at all), and that is when I fell madly in love for the very first time. A lot of the relationships I was in as a young teenager were just cover-ups, men who I tried desperately to love, but just couldn’t. Others were one-sided relationships, where I was used by someone for my affection, but never given any in return. So, when I finally found someone who returned my affection, I found the confidence and joy that I longed so deeply for. But this happiness was tragically short-lived when she left my life she took everything I thought I had gained with her.
Inevitably, my low self-esteem problem swallowed me whole. I slept more than any human being ever should and listened to music constantly to escape my own thoughts, and when I couldn’t, I went into manic episodes of depression where no words could accurately communicate my pain. I felt as if the only thing left I had any real control over was my own suffering, so I took control of it with self-harm. A lot of the time I was more angry than sad. Angry with myself, disgusted with myself, ashamed of myself.
I made plans to kill myself in November of 2012, until a cascade of events happened, what I like to refer to as my “perfect storm.” I found the love of my life, someone willing to truly understand me and have patience with me and where I was in life. With his help, I began to truly have faith in myself and was eventually able to find my voice. I became so opinionated and confident in those opinions. I owned them. I was proud of them. For nearly two years, I built confidence of my own based on everything but my body.
That is when, on my 19th birthday, I decided that it was time for change. I took to Instagram to post photos of my body, photos I would have never posted before. It started with buying a dress, and it slowly grew to buying a brand new polka dot bathing suit to share with the world. I slowly nestled myself into the #pizzasisters4lyfe and body-positive community, where I dared to become a visible fat woman.
Of course, my intentions and those of the movement have been a source of controversy. For the most part, I think the negative feedback is coming from those who were once young bullies themselves. Disguising hatred under the guise of concern for my health, or anyone’s health for that matter is not true concern. It is just hatred masked with good intentions.
Body-positivity is not about glorifying or promoting obesity or an unhealthy lifestyle. It is about encouraging people to embrace their bodies and realize just how lucky they are to have them. It is about helping people find the courage to really love themselves and treat themselves with respect, both in their thoughts and in their actions. Body-positivity is about loving your body, which can be done while losing weight or by making a change to your lifestyle, but that is a choice made by each person and it must be made on their own accord to be even close to successful.
I originally believed that my goal in coming forward with my story was to get my Instagram account restored, but I have realized that it was so much more than that. When I had my photos removed from Instagram while every thin or “beautiful” person’s remained, I felt as if I was being bullied once again, and this time, by a corporation. I was silenced. My visibility was gone, all documentation of my journey thus far removed from the view of anyone. I felt so small and powerless. I stood up for myself, like I should have done so many years ago. I loved myself as the photo of my belly went viral and people said hurtful things. I continued to fight, and took nothing less than I deserved. And I won.
My story does not end here. Out of all those people my story touched, many of them have reached out in support and in solidarity. Many of them say that I have changed the way they see their bodies, and this is something I have wanted to do since I began my journey.
By fighting for MY right to be visible, I have given a voice to men and women all over the globe who will fight themselves to exist as daringly as I do, and that is what I wanted all along. I want people to love themselves, for all that they are, all that they’ve been, and all that they have yet to be. I never want them to allow anyone to dull their sparkle.