Woman Crush(ing the Patriarchy) Wednesday: Marie Southard Ospina

Woman Crush(ing the Patriarchy) Wednesday: Marie Southard Ospina

Body positive feministas are likely already familiar with this week’s #WCW, Marie Southard Ospina.

The Jersey-born, UK-headed colombiana made a name for herself at Bustle, where she, as the former associate fashion & beauty editor, brought unabashed intersectional fat love and politics to a major women’s site like few have before.

Whether writing about how fat women, especially those of color, are discriminated against, discussing on social media how diet culture upholds capitalism or simply embracing and adorning her own chubby cuerpo with form-fitting, belly-baring garbs and encouraging other femme gorditas to break the “rules,” too, the 25-year-old is always challenging patriarchy.

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You're a writer, editor and fat acceptance activist. Tell our readers a little more about you and your work.

I first started intersecting journalism and fat acceptance my senior year of college at NYU. After spending a year abroad in Madrid and Prague through my program, I'd grown to better understand the beauty and worth in body types that differed from what society at large might consider "aspirational." When I got back to New York, I wanted to find a way of holding onto not only my own self-love, but ideologies of tolerance and respect for all bodies. This was in 2012, and the "plus size blogging revolution" was just starting to boom. Being that I had to start a blog as part of my senior project, I thought I'd create a space for size acceptance dialogue, largely motivated by coming across voices like Virgie Tovar, Lesley Kinzel, Ragini Nag Rao and Gabi Gregg. The blog eventually became MiggMag, which I still run today when I can.

Shortly after graduating in 2013, Bustle.com launched, and it became my first major freelancing gig as a writer. I'd work there for a little over a year before getting a full-time offer to edit. As an editor, I worked to bring on more voices who could contribute to identity issues at the intersection of body positivity with fat acceptance and LGBTQ, especially. It was hugely rewarding, but I'm ready to backtrack a little and focus on writing for a while. I'm excited to find my voice again in the ever-changing climate of body positivism and hopefully help bring that term back to the original activism it was born from.

On that, you prefer to use "fat acceptance" or "fat positivity" over the more popular "body positivity." Why?

I don't think "body positivity" is an inherently negative term. If, at its core, it represents a movement set on de-stigmatizing certain body types considered "bad" and equalizing all individuals and all their bodies, then that's great. "Body positivity," in my eyes, was born of fat acceptance, and its priority (while recognizing that "all bodies are good bodies") is meant to be on the bodies most marginalized among us. However, whenever an activist movement goes mainstream, the inevitability of its messaging being diluted is very real. "Body pos," as it's largely utilized these days, has largely forgotten the fat bodies, the queer bodies, the bodies of color and the differently abled bodies that need it the most. For that reason, I prefer to use "fat acceptance" or "fat positivity" to describe my own work. My priority in my own writing is to combat size discrimination and the oppression fat bodies, in particular, face day to day.

How are fat bodies marginalized even within the larger BoPo movement?

If we're talking about mainstream BoPo, the visible fats are being largely left out. Mainstream body pos is very preoccupied with the plight of the size 12/14 model right now, as opposed to folks with clear rolls, tummies that wobble and double chins that can't be hidden with a high angle photo. I don't for a second doubt the existence of that plight, of course. Most women are, sadly, subject to cultural misogyny that conditions us all to believe our bodies are imperfect — and everyone's struggles as a result of this are valid. But the plight of the size 12/14, hourglass-shaped model is not often the same experience as the plight of the size 26-30+ individual being denied healthcare because of their BMI alone. Or made to feel like the target of every punch line in a film. Or asked to pay twice as much as any other person in order to fly. Or made to feel uncomfortable at a gym because they should obviously be trying to lose weight, but not be "seen" doing it.

Right! It's often believed that because Latinx communities idealize fuller, curvier bodies that fat-shaming isn't something the community deals with or participates in like dominant U.S. culture. What do you think about that?

This idea that fat-shaming doesn't exist in Latinx communities blows my mind. Almost every culture has a beauty standard, but the fact that Latinx communities value curvier bodies does not correlate to idolizing fat ones. In most Colombian communities, the "ideal" woman's body is "curvy in the right places," or "full in the right places:" Thicker thighs and a round bottom, large breasts, a defined hourglass shape, a flat stomach, no cellulite, toned arms, etc.

For me, striving to attain this kind of figure as a teenager was more difficult than striving to attain the all-around thinness prioritized in the U.S. If I was going to have a fat ass and thick thighs, I was always going to have a round stomach and wobbly bits. That's just what my body was naturally predisposed to. And if I was ever going to have a flat stomach and small arms, I was going to lose my butt and thighs and then be told "te vez como un niño chiquito." Being "gordo" or "gorda" in Latinx communities, from everything I've ever seen, is still a big no-no. It's still "unhealthy," "unattractive," "undesirable," etc. 

Oftentimes, family and friends, especially Latinx ones, offer well-meaning comments to the gorditas in their lives that are actually hella effed up. What are some of these "nice" phrases that are really just fat-shaming, and how do you deal with them?

Speaking from experience alone, I know I've repeatedly been told from these well-meaning relatives that I "have to exercise more," that I need to start focusing on health more as an adult and that my face is so stunning and "ahora solo falta tu cuerpo."

The thought that someone could generally be happy in a fat body still astounds a lot of my relatives. But my mother and I had a conversation a while back about banning "body talk," which has helped our relationship a ton. If you realize that nothing is likely to change certain relatives' opinions about your body or its worth or beauty, but cutting these relatives out of your life isn't an option, I think setting some parameters for "off-limits" topics is worth a try. Let them know that you find certain discussions uncomfortable or painful, and hopefully that'll be enough to deter them. If it's not, try to feel OK with telling them very simply that you don't want to discuss whatever it is they're saying, and make strides to shift the conversation.

That’s great advice, especially because it’s not easy for us to remove loved ones from our lives. Thinking about Latinidad, how are the fat bodies of women of color shamed differently from those of white women? How does racism impact the sexism and fatphobia Latinas, and other WOC, of size experience?

I think a basic understanding of intersectionalism would suggest that certain aesthetic traits are demonized at large, so existing at an intersection of two or more marginalized identities will mean you are shamed differently. Much like in the U.S., a size 28 Latina woman with fair skin is likely to be somewhat more socially tolerated than a size 28 Latina woman with dark skin. But a size 10 Latina woman with fair skin is likely to be tolerated most out of the three.

I think some folks assume that Latinx communities are free of racism because there can be such a broad spectrum of skin colors common to one particular area. In my own Colombian family, just as an example, there are folks with white skin, with brown skin, with black skin and with everything in between. But lightness, I believe, is still viewed as the most "beautiful" and, when it comes to women, the most "feminine." "Femininity" is arguably a huge component of the fatphobia Latinas of size receive as well. The notion that a woman must have a certain body type in order to appear more "womanly" is sadly very prevalent. Much like it's still largely a woman's "job" to care for the home and raise the kids, it's also her job to "maintain her figure."

Totally! I want to switch gears a bit to beauty and fashion, your passions. Some folks might agree that fat jokes and size discrimination are problematic but still view fat bodies as aesthetically inferior. With that, how is saying "fat is beautiful” radical?

A lot of folks with very basic empathy can probably conceptualize that fat-shaming is problematic — much like shaming anyone for the way their body looks would be. But many of these folks still operate under the notion that "fat is still bad/unhealthy/a drain on the economy/'not something I would ever want to be'." This is why saying "fat is beautiful" is so radical. When you've been conditioned to believe, usually from a very young age, that a particular body type or weight is unattractive, an alternative narrative will always be powerful. When your image stream is predominantly flooded by thin ladies, being bombarded with images of fat women showing off their rolls and cellulite and chins and clearly feeling good in their bodies can spark a change in thinking.

The simple truth is that a lot of people still think fat is, quite simply, ugly. But I believe that vocalizing and showcasing the opposite forces people to confront their prejudices and question why they think a particular trait is so offensive.

There’s also this idea that fat people can't wear certain items of clothing, particularly form-fitting or skin-baring outfits. You dismiss this notion in your own life and in your work as a fashion and beauty writer. What are some of the beauty and fashion vogues fat femme folks are told not to do and how is doing them political?

There are so many "rules" fat, feminine people are told to follow! No horizontal stripes, no spaghetti straps or strapless tops/dresses, no bikinis or lingerie, no bodycon anything, no bright colors, no bold prints, but nothing "too baggy" lest you want to look like you've ~given up on life.~

Actively deciding to live free of these supposed guidelines can not only help an individual combat their internalized fatphobia, but, again, it forces people to confront their prejudices. When I wear short shorts and a crop top out into the world in my size 260+ pound body, I'm not hurting anybody. I'm not causing pain or injury to anyone. And yet it's almost guaranteed that someone will find what I am doing offensive. But why is that?

Fat people are told constantly that they are the problem: That their bodies are shameful. This couldn't be further from the truth. The problem is in a culture and in social dogma that justify intolerance toward entire groups of people, that suggest it's better (and easier) to be an asshole and shame people into changing than to accept that so much of the beauty of humanity lies in our differences.

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How do you see your work as helping to crush the patriarchy?

What I hope for most in the day-to-day is to reach individuals. I doubt I'll ever be solely responsible for re-vamping the healthcare system or murdering diet culture, but if something I've written or posted makes one marginalized woman feel a little better that day ... like she has more worth than she's been told to believe she has because oppressive, patriarchal values have told her she's inferior ... then that's enough motivation to keep doing all this.

¿Quieres mas? Check Southard Ospina's blog and follow the colombiana on Twitter and Instagram.