What sets Canadian TikToker Alicia McCarvell apart from many of today's content creators is that for better or worse, she's always authentically herself online. She's a real person sharing real stories about what it's like to be a happy, successful woman in a loving marriage who also happens to be fat— and her more than 4.4 million followers can't seem to get enough.
But the Nova Scotian never set out to be TikTok famous. It was around the time when millennials who swore they’d never use the Gen Z-dominated app were overcome with boredom during the early days of the pandemic and started reluctantly joining the app when McCarvell decided to start making videos for fun. Her first two flew under the radar, but her third video, which was part of the “My boyfriend is 10 times hotter than me check” trend, blew up.
“I was like, ‘If you want to see a couple that, by beauty standards, shouldn’t be together, I’ll show you that,’” McCarvell told Yahoo Canada, explaining that the video featured photos of herself along with pictures of her super fit husband, Scott McCarvell.
Less than two days later, the video had amassed roughly two million views and McCarvell had more than 50,000 new followers who were eager to see what she’d post next.
Many of the people commenting on McCarvell’s first viral video had either never seen a couple with such different body types or they were folks in the exact same situation who were thanking McCarvell for showing them they weren’t alone. Either way, it was clear people appreciated her candour.
The reception, though overwhelming, proved to McCarvell that there was an appetite for the type of content she desired to create—funny content starring someone who is successful, thriving and comfortable in their fat body. She then decided she wanted all of her future posts to fall into at least one of five categories: humour, self-love, authenticity, her marriage or joyful movement.
While it may come as a surprise to her fans, McCarvell says she never really thought of herself as being funny before she started creating content— although she had always wanted to be. Building her platform gave her a chance to talk about taboo subjects, build an inclusive digital community and show people that regardless of their size, they deserve happiness.
Her videos range from workout routines and dance videos to her own takes on viral trends and cute moments between her and her husband. Many of them are as laugh-out-loud funny as they are heart-warming.
“I get to be the person I needed when I was 20-years-old,” she says. “I think it would’ve made a difference for me to have understood that I could be fat and happy.”
McCarvell’s success comes at a time when the body neutrality movement is gaining traction. In contrast to the body positivity movement, which focuses on loving one’s body unconditionally and has been co-opted by brands and straight-sized white women, body neutrality is a philosophy that focuses on being worthy of respect without thinking about bodies at all. On TikTok, videos tagged with #bodyneutrality have been viewed more than 363 million times.
The way McCarvell combines themes of self-love and empowerment with humour makes her content stand out from the rest. In the months after her first video went viral, she worked hard to develop her niche and her following continued to grow. And in October 2020 she decided to quit her job and go all-in on this new venture.
The risk paid off, and McCarvell now works full-time as a content creator with successful brand deals and a loyal, unwavering following that consists of people from all over the world. Aside from TikTok, she has also since gained followings on Instagram and Twitch.
For McCarvell, being a content creator isn’t just about exposure, a career or making money. She said she feels fulfilled knowing she is impacting people’s lives for the better, and she gets just as much out of the online community she’s built as her followers do.
"The online platform gives me this space to create and feel free and feel seen, and I try to make people laugh and feel seen and understand that this is a safe space—but it’s also my safe space," she says. "It’s most definitely mutually beneficial.”
Of course, with success and fame—especially of the internet variety—comes hate. McCarvell is no stranger to receiving fatphobic, ignorant or straight-up threatening comments on her videos, and she’s developed a practical strategy for how to handle them, which she calls The Three Es.
The first E stands for educate, which she said she’ll take the time to do when someone is being hurtful or spreading misinformation about fat people. If education isn’t worth her time or not working, she’ll erase the comment from her space (the second E), mainly because she doesn’t want other fat people seeing it.
“I’m in a very different spot than a lot of other fat people or a lot of other people who are struggling with their bodies, so I can see a comment and it not bother me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have other fat people or people struggling with their body in my comment sections who won’t see that comment and struggle with it,” she explains.
The third E stands for eradicate, a tactic which she only resorts to if someone is being extremely hurtful or even threatening her life. In that case, she’ll eradicate them from her space by deleting their comments and blocking them from all of her platforms to make sure they don’t have access to her whatsoever.
In general, however, McCarvell said she tries to approach ignorance from a place of compassion.
“I have to have a level of empathy and caring for the people who come into my space that are uneducated or don’t understand what I’m going through because I was taught all of the same things about being fat as a straight-sized person was,” she said.
“I was taught that being fat was bad, I was taught that being fat made me not worthy…So when somebody who is straight-sized and has been taught all of those things comes into my platform and sees me existing successfully as a fat woman and happily as a fat woman, I understand that that is a surprise to them, because it’s also a surprise to me," she continues.”
Though being in the public eye means she’s sometimes forced to interact with people who just aren’t interested in unlearning the fatphobic beliefs, McCarvell said her interactions with people whom she’s impacted for the better are far more frequent—making it all worthwhile.
Her favourite part of the job is hearing stories from those who’ve stepped outside their comfort zone, or dared to love themselves a little more, because of her content. Recently she received a letter from a 16-year-old saying she was her hero, an experience McCarvell described as emotionally touching and fulfilling beyond belief.
“Definitely hearing how I’ve impacted people’s lives is the most rewarding part of it,” she said. “Wearing a bikini or wearing a bathing suit to the beach literally changed my life, so if I’m encouraging women to go make those decisions for themselves, or people in general to make those decisions for themselves, and they are going to live a happier life because of it, it’s a very big responsibility to have, but it’s the coolest thing in the entire world.”