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Fat, happy and healed: A movement toward fat liberation

<strong>Left:</strong> Jax Le, aka 'Jax The Poet', attended Philly FatCon in October. Jax is also the author of the book <em data-stringify-type="italic">Love Handles & Muffin Tops: Poems For Body Positivity & Plus Size Bodies</em>. <strong>Right:</strong> Maggie Clerkin also attended Philly FatCon and called the event felt "refreshing."
Jackie Molloy for NPR
Left: Jax Le, aka 'Jax The Poet', attended Philly FatCon in October. Jax is also the author of the book Love Handles & Muffin Tops: Poems For Body Positivity & Plus Size Bodies. Right: Maggie Clerkin also attended Philly FatCon and called the event felt "refreshing."

Jackie Molloy is a freelance photojournalist who recently went to the Philly FatCon, a convention for people to come celebrate their bodies. She shares her personal reflections on her weekend.

When I walked off the elevator, I knew I was in the right place.

There were other people who looked like me — who had bodies that were curvaceous and took up space. I could hear the voices and laughter coming from the main room, where people were mingling and shopping throughout the marketplace.

Vendor Ashley Obenstine, who runs 'Obeillustration,' sells their work to attendees at Philly FatCon on Oct. 28. Obenstine was one of the vendors in the marketplace that included people selling art, jewelry, clothing and more.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Vendor Ashley Obenstine, who runs 'Obeillustration,' sells their work to attendees at Philly FatCon on Oct. 28. Obenstine was one of the vendors in the marketplace that included people selling art, jewelry, clothing and more.

There was art of fat bodies with apron bellies and stretch marks showing. Keychains that said "I am body goals" featuring bigger bodied people celebrating themselves.

There were racks of vibrant clothes that started with a size XL and went up from there. Clothes that people could actually try on and take home with them, a luxury if you are over a size 16.

Elle Baez, a Latina singer who makes pop-soul music with a focus on self-love and body positivity, at Philly FatCon.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Elle Baez, a Latina singer who makes pop-soul music with a focus on self-love and body positivity, at Philly FatCon.

I had arrived at Philly FatCon, a fat-focused convention for people to come as they are and celebrate their bodies.

The convention was dreamed up by Adrienne Ray, Kenyetta Harris and Donnelle Jageman after the second annual Plus Swap, a Philly-based plus-size clothing swap that was founded by Jageman in 2021.

Alexis Krase, owner of Plus BKLYN, looks through a rack of clothes of the brand Lobo Mau at Philly FatCon last month. Krase was also a speaker at the event, as part of the 'Fat & Fashionable' panel.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Alexis Krase, owner of Plus BKLYN, looks through a rack of clothes of the brand Lobo Mau at Philly FatCon last month. Krase was also a speaker at the event, as part of the 'Fat & Fashionable' panel.

The weekend offered panels such as "Fat, Happy, and Healed" and "Fat & Fashionable" where influencers, experts and brands shared personal experiences, as well as advice on topics from fashion to combating fatphobia.

There were wellness classes that ranged from breathe and flow yoga to dance classes like Twerk-lesque and "Free the Jiggle." The instructors were all plus size and made the classes modifiable for people who needed it.

Queen Nzinga, who taught the Twerk-lesque class, has been a dancer her entire life and had been told that, while she was talented, she was too fat — a remark that was received with nods of mutual understanding. Today, Queen is a burlesque dancer known as "Philly's Twerk Queen."

Queen Nzinga (center) during the breathe and flow yoga class at Philly FatCon in October. The class started with breathing exercises while instructor Laura Zales spoke to attendees about taking up space.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Queen Nzinga (center) during the breathe and flow yoga class at Philly FatCon in October. The class started with breathing exercises while instructor Laura Zales spoke to attendees about taking up space.

"This was the way I found to heal myself. I always thought of myself as less than because of my weight. I thought it was my defect, but it was my power," Queen said.

In her class, she blasted City Girls and taught attendees to shake whatever they could. The energy in the room was vibrant, filled with people cheering each other on as they strutted across the floor — connecting not only with themselves, but with their bodies.

Assétou Xango attended most of the wellness classes at Philly FatCon. Xango said they enjoyed being around fat bodies that were moving and having fun.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Assétou Xango attended most of the wellness classes at Philly FatCon. Xango said they enjoyed being around fat bodies that were moving and having fun.

"We don't have places like this to just be fat in a room," Queen shared with us. "We are the 'normal bodies.' America's fat. And people love fat people — but that isn't broadcasted enough. There is another side to fat, where people live out loud."

Attendees high-five each other at the end of the 'free the jiggle' wellness class taught by Jessie Diaz-Herrera at Philly FatCon on last month.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Attendees high-five each other at the end of the 'free the jiggle' wellness class taught by Jessie Diaz-Herrera at Philly FatCon on last month.

Creating positive discussions around fatness

According to the CDC, nearly 40% of the population in the U.S. is overweight, and yet I rarely see myself or my community represented except when discussing weight loss.

Roohi Choudhry, an attendee at Philly FatCon, said she didn't always use the word 'fat' for herself and that it took her years to seek fat liberation. Now, she's ready to.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Roohi Choudhry, an attendee at Philly FatCon, said she didn't always use the word 'fat' for herself and that it took her years to seek fat liberation. Now, she's ready to.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance did a quantitative review of one year of national news coverage between Dec. 1, 2021, and Nov. 30, 2022, and found that a mere 48 articles about anti-fatness had been written or published by traditional news sources, and only 24 spoke about fat liberation or justice in any way.

That kind of coverage contributes to the rampant preconceptions and stereotypes that people have about those living in larger bodies.

Carmen Guzman-Francesco (center) struts during the Twerk-lesque class at Philly FatCon. Queen Nzinga, who taught the class, played City Girls.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Carmen Guzman-Francesco (center) struts during the Twerk-lesque class at Philly FatCon. Queen Nzinga, who taught the class, played City Girls.

The reality, though, is that there are many fat people living loudly and freely, and events like the one in Philadelphia continue to pop up, giving larger people a safe space where they can be celebrated.

A portrait of Tareva Alston who attended Philly Fat Con. Alston "loved the event, it was fun and the community was on point." She explained " You need people you can relate to, everyday life people don't relate to you. You need a community for you to talk about the things you're going through in life."
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
A portrait of Tareva Alston who attended Philly Fat Con. Alston "loved the event, it was fun and the community was on point." She explained " You need people you can relate to, everyday life people don't relate to you. You need a community for you to talk about the things you're going through in life."

The convention's panelists and attendees shared the negative comments that are made both in person and online.

Megan Ixim, a fat activist who receives comments like this on her Instagram, attributes them to seeing "a fat person existing, not hating themselves, and they don't understand why that doesn't happen for them."

Attendees participate in the breathe and flow yoga class at Philly FatCon last month. During the session, instructor Laura Zales spoke about taking up space and proper weight distribution. Attendees ranged in age, size and gender.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Attendees participate in the breathe and flow yoga class at Philly FatCon last month. During the session, instructor Laura Zales spoke about taking up space and proper weight distribution. Attendees ranged in age, size and gender.

The event centered around the themes of body acceptance and body positivity while acknowledging that these themes are part of a broader spectrum — some people don't feel at home in their body and find themselves on a journey of liberation and self-discovery in an attempt to arrive there.

<strong>Left:</strong> Another attendee, Jennifer Rogers, called the event was "amazing" and felt it was "such a relief to know you can come to a space and be supported, appreciated and loved." <strong>Right:</strong> Obeillustration artwork on display at Philly FatCon last month.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Left: Another attendee, Jennifer Rogers, called the event was "amazing" and felt it was "such a relief to know you can come to a space and be supported, appreciated and loved." Right: Obeillustration artwork on display at Philly FatCon last month.

People I met there shared with me what surprised them the most coming to this event.

"I was confronted with my own internal narrative about fat bodies and what I thought they can and can't do; what they can and can't wear," said 32-year-old Assétou Xango, reflecting on their own internalized fat bias. Many people living in fat bodies have internalized fatphobia — and it's hard not to when you have been typecast a certain way for simply existing.

Assétou Xango participates in the Twerk-lesque class. The convention offered five wellness classes for attendees to choose from.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Assétou Xango participates in the Twerk-lesque class. The convention offered five wellness classes for attendees to choose from.

The convention also featured a marketplace with various fat-friendly vendors.

It was nice to see so many items that looked like me from plus-size women on earrings and painted on postcards.

The last day of the convention they hosted the third annual Plus Swap + Shop, where people bring clothes they rarely wear and trade them for repurposing.

Cáer Smith brought clothing she doesn't wear in the hopes others would repurpose them at the Plus Size Swap + Shop at Philly Fat Con. She also picked up a swim dress, a brown silky button down and a black velvet dress from the swap.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Cáer Smith brought clothing she doesn't wear in the hopes others would repurpose them at the Plus Size Swap + Shop at Philly Fat Con. She also picked up a swim dress, a brown silky button down and a black velvet dress from the swap.

For years, people who live in fat bodies have been deprived of shopping in person. Brands that are inclusive rarely carry extended sizes in store, making dressing rooms a nightmare or shopping for clothing in person almost impossible.

Attendees expressed how refreshing it was to actually try things on and have tons of accessible options that were in their size.

Attendees look through clothing at the third annual Plus Size Swap + Shop event during Philly FatCon last month. The tables were labeled by size, ranging from Xl-6X or size 14-32. Attendees had to bring 5-20 items of good condition clothing to participate.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Attendees look through clothing at the third annual Plus Size Swap + Shop event during Philly FatCon last month. The tables were labeled by size, ranging from Xl-6X or size 14-32. Attendees had to bring 5-20 items of good condition clothing to participate.

The dressing rooms felt supportive and honest — just like shopping with a friend. Carmen Guzman-Francesco said she got six items from the swap, including an expensive jumpsuit she is thrilled to wear.

"This was amazing. There are things that fit me that aren't my friends', mom's hand-me-downs."

Carmen Guzman-Francesco got six items from the Philly FatCon clothing swap, including an expensive jumpsuit.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Carmen Guzman-Francesco got six items from the Philly FatCon clothing swap, including an expensive jumpsuit.

This was the first fat convention I have been to and was first of its kind in Philadelphia.

The founders tried to make the event, which was hosted at Temple University, as accessible as possible for everyone, with elevators, a ramp and strong metal chairs to support everyone in attendance, although some felt there wasn't enough space in the panel room.

Attendees listen to a presentation by Joy Cox, the author of <em>Fat Girls in Black Bodies: Creating Communities of Our Own</em>.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Attendees listen to a presentation by Joy Cox, the author of Fat Girls in Black Bodies: Creating Communities of Our Own.

"Unfortunately, the cycle perpetuates — it costs more money for us to take up space, even at events that are focused on doing so!" Donnelle Jageman explains.

Next year, they hope to find a bigger space and rent accessible and size-inclusive furniture.

<strong>Left:</strong> "It's important for us to be seen," Emily Broniszewski, a Philly FatCon attendee, said. "We are a majority of the population and yet we are frowned upon for some reason." <strong>Right:</strong> Muntaha 'Muntti' Khalid, who attended Philly FatCon with her friend Victoria Hagan.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Left: "It's important for us to be seen," Emily Broniszewski, a Philly FatCon attendee, said. "We are a majority of the population and yet we are frowned upon for some reason." Right: Muntaha 'Muntti' Khalid, who attended Philly FatCon with her friend Victoria Hagan.

Anyone who lives in a bigger body knows that being a fat person in the world can be scary — baseless assumptions are often made about you and your health; fat people are frequent targets of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

It is currently legal in every state for fat people to be discriminated against in the workplace.

Earlier this year, New York City became the largest city to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of an individual's height and weight. The new law takes effect on Nov. 22.

An attendee shops at the Philly FatCon marketplace last month. The convention, which was hosted by Temple University in in Philadelphia, Pa., featured panels, wellness classes and a marketplace of vendors and event sponsors.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
An attendee shops at the Philly FatCon marketplace last month. The convention, which was hosted by Temple University in in Philadelphia, Pa., featured panels, wellness classes and a marketplace of vendors and event sponsors.

Emily Broniszewski, another of the Philly Fat Con's attendees, told me the event was "amazing; you're so safe from being bullied. You're, like, 'Oh, no one here is making fun of me'."

I think, as fat people, that is all we really want — a place to feel respected and able to just come as we are.

Victoria Hagan, an attendee at Philly FatCon, shows off her McDonald's-themed nails.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Victoria Hagan, an attendee at Philly FatCon, shows off her McDonald's-themed nails.

Victoria Hagan might have summed up the experience best: "As someone who has been fat my entire life — since I was 7 — waking up and knowing I was going to an event where I didn't have to question feeling safe and not feeling judged was very special."

Queen Nzinga leads a Twerk-lesque class at Philly FatCon last month. The convention offered five wellness classes for attendees to choose from.
/ Jackie Molloy for NPR
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Jackie Molloy for NPR
Queen Nzinga leads a Twerk-lesque class at Philly FatCon last month. The convention offered five wellness classes for attendees to choose from.

Jackie Molloy is a freelance photojournalist and writer based in New York City. Follow her on Instagram at @jackiemolloyphoto.

Keren Carrión is a visuals editor and producer at NPR who photo edited this piece.

Zach Thompson is an NPR editor who text edited this piece.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Molloy
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