Anna O’Brien, the creator of popular plus-size fashion blog Glitter and Lazers, recently striped down to her bikini for a photoshoot in Times Square.
The 33-year-old steadied herself for the disapproving stares and fat-shaming comments, but what happened instead shook her to her core — and mine, too.
In an article for Cosmopolitan, O’Brien says that the goal of her public shoot was to “be seen” and diversify what the public perceives as an acceptable version of a plus-size woman.
“The world only really sees plus imagery that is perfected and somewhat vanilla — usually that of smaller, perfectly proportioned curvy women. It didn’t need another stock image of an hourglass figure, in an indiscernible space, wearing a one-piece,” she writes. ” I wanted to make a statement and I wanted to be seen — I’m more than my body and I deserve respect and human decency.”
What O’Brien writes is true. While there have been great strides towards body diversity in fashion and media, there is still a resistance for companies and brands to fully accept of all shapes and sizes. It’s seen in stores carrying “plus-size” lines that only go up to a size 16, in Photoshop washing away cellulite and stretch marks, and in the limited amount of plus size models crossing over into mainstream fashion save for Ashley Graham and Tess Holiday, two white women who although trailblazers, are representative of a fraction of plus-size women.
However, O’Brien’s photoshoot quickly became an exposé on the kind of graphic, sexualized and fetishized comments plus-size women receive.
“I want to suck on them tasty toes,” one man called to O’Brien.
“Twerk for the camera baby, show them how that ass clap,” another said while recording her on his camera phone.
O’Brien notes that less than 50 feet away from her, two thin women covered in body paint were posing for eager tourists, free of yelling or sexual advances. They were revered as sexual beings men wanted to pose next to as a prize, exchanging their money for photos next to these beautiful women in G-strings.
Male spectators seemingly believed that the rules of engagement for O’Brien were different, if not completely nonexistant.
As a man tried to give her his mixed CD, O’Brien rejected his advances, prompting him to grab her wrist.
When she asked him to leave her alone, the man replied, “I’m just showing love for a BBW, baby. I want you to know that men want you. We love them big booty queens like you. Show off for your fans, baby.”
The idea that the man, or any man was performing an act of service towards O’Brien or any plus-size woman is an all-too-common occurrence that plus-size women experience. The terminology of “BBW” or “Big Booty Queens” used to describe O’Brien as anything other than a woman with a name are all typical of men who fetishize and dehumanize women.
The idea that women should be grateful to be seen as an object, and are merely vessels for male pleasure is evidence that when it comes to respecting women, there is still a disturbing lack of respect for women and their bodies — regardless of our size.
“My tears turned to anger, and the words began to fly out of my mouth: ‘It doesn’t make it OK. You’re disgusting. Please stop. Please just stop…'” O’Brien writes. “The man justified his response by saying that plus women ‘don’t know they’re f-ckable.'”
O’Brien’s distress was broken only by receiving a mocking comment from a man who passed her on the street, and still the man persisted, not listening to her requests for him to stop filming her.
“I was faceless to him. I was just a body he wanted to exploit and use,” she says. “My feelings didn’t matter.”
O’Brien’s photoshoot in one of the busiest tourist attractions on the planet was for her, an eye-opening experience to the length that men will go to deprave women of their worth, and the warped perception that the rules of respect and consent have a size restriction.
O’Brien’s article is a sample of what women face on a daily basis, both in-person and online. We can’t expect to build a future that’s inclusive and accepting if we don’t listen to, and try to understand the experience of others.
In addition to her piece for Cosmo, O’Brien shared a photo to instagram with her 276,000 followers, and included in her caption her rallying cry to both women and men.
“Let me be very clear here: a plus size woman’s worth, or any one woman’s worth for that matter, is not contingent on someone wanting to have sex with them,” she writes. “You don’t exist to pleasure someone else… you exist to change the world.”