Representation Matters // On Fat and Worth

 Photo by  Meagan Abell

Photo by Meagan Abell

Hi there, I'm Jaime and I'm fat! Pleased to meet you!

I'm sure if we met in person that's kind of how our first exchange would happen, only I wouldn’t have to verbalize my size. The space I take up is likely one of the first three things you’d notice about me. You'd notice my skin tone, my height—probably my winning smile—but first and foremost you’d notice my fatness. And that’s okay! I am fat and I’m kind of used to it. You’re probably thinking, "Why say fat? Why not curvy, plus-size, or thick?" We shy from that word "fat" because to be fat is still considered the worst thing imaginable. To be fat means to be lazy, or smelly, or just plain gross. The fact is, none of those things are true, but because we have equated "fat" with "value" and "worth" we are generally shocked when someone refers to themselves as fat. But you could call me any of those other words, including fat, and it wouldn’t bother me because those words are descriptors; they are not an assignment of one’s worth. Calling a person plus-size, curvy, rubenesque, or even zaftig does not change the space they take up, even if for some reason it seems to soften the blow. Initially I did not like the word fat but embraced all other descriptors because I did not want to be seen by others as the "worst" version of myself, all because of a three-letter word. It has taken me years to get to the point where I no longer see my fatness as a liability. In doing so, I had to first change how I saw things—change how I saw me.

 Photos by Jaime Patterson of  Hidden Exposure Photography

Photos by Jaime Patterson of Hidden Exposure Photography

It has taken me years to get to the point where I no longer see my fatness as a liability.

The women in my family are all round and full of love. We laugh with our whole being and make our presence known without saying a word. My mom, Carol, was my first role model; she was glamorous in a way that seemed effortless. Carol owned her hips, and the space she took up in this world. She rocked afros, short cuts, and wigs; kaftans, bold prints, and big jewelry. It all accented her frame and, to myself and others, she looked like royalty. Carol was the mom that did not look like the other moms. She’s tall, like me, and soft...well, like me. Around her, I knew that my size and height made me different, but that was okay. You worked with what you had and you did it with your whole heart. I was the tallest girl in all my classes, often times the largest as well, from first grade on. I was the easiest to spot in just about any photograph because of the way I contrasted with everyone else in a group. My fatness was always in the back of my mind—that difference was the most pronounced, and the most ridiculed. I really focused on it throughout my teens, for all the wrong reasons. That is, until I met Tracy.

 Jaime Patterson Hidden Exposure Photography

I remember seeing her for the first time, running through the streets of Baltimore with her hair teased and a bow in the front. She and her friend Penny were rushing home to see The Corny Collins Show, to catch the new dances. And boy could she dance! She schooled them at the hop, got a seat on the council, stole the hot guy from the bratty girl, and wore an amazing cockroach dress to her coronation, all while making no excuses for her size. Hairspray was the first time I’d seen on screen a body so full and unapologetically fat. Twelve-year-old me had instantly found a new favorite film, a role model in Ricki Lake, and a top director in John Waters, and all because of one ninety-two-minute film. To this day, I still know all the lines to the original film and watch it almost yearly. Afterwards, I watched any film or TV show starring Ricki Lake. I saw in her a girl taking the world by storm in the body she had, and contrary to the narrative, her fatness never once stopped her. During my teens, I also wanted to be the Khadijah James’s, Bernadette Hogan’s, and even the Muriel’s of this world, because in their fuller faces and curvier builds I saw myself. They were chasing their dreams, speaking their minds, and being totally themselves. It was impressive, inspiring, and informed a lot of who I’ve become, and it’s all because someone decided that these stories and images were worth telling through the eyes of a larger body.

 Jaime Patterson Hidden Exposure Photography
Women over a size fourteen account for 67 percent of the population but make up only two percent of the imagery seen on TV shows and films, and in magazines.

All my life I’ve wanted to dive into fashion and finding clothes like my friends had. I did my best growing up to navigate the fashion waters, but it always proved a formidable task. Outside of a couple of stores, there was simply nothing for me—I’d either wind up looking like someone much older than my present age, or like I was ready to take on the boardroom in my confident power suit. I would wear what I could, but for the most part it was men’s jeans, button-ups, or the occasional floral patterned dress. One night in my late twenties I started searching around on this new-fangled thing called "the internet," and my world was opened just as it had been the first time I saw Hairspray. I discovered blog after blog of fashionable men and women who were fat; they dressed like my cool scene friends and oozed confidence. I’d print out their outfits and tape them around my room, and my bathroom, to remind myself that I could look that awesome at my current size. The images of these bloggers, the images of Queen Latifah, and Ricki Lake, changed the game for me because I was finally being represented in a way that you didn’t and still don’t often see. Knowing the power of those images greatly influenced the content I create.

 Jaime Patterson Hidden Exposure Photography

I recently read that women over a size fourteen account for 67 percent of the population but make up only two percent of the imagery seen on TV shows and films, and in magazines. I knew it was rare to see a fat female on TV, in the movies, or in magazines, but I had no clue just how—you’d probably have a better chance finding a needle in a massive haystack. As someone who creates imagery that might in turn affect others, I realized how important it is to try and increase that percentage. I wanted to help someone else feel visible; to get them to see themselves as more than just a sidekick, the butt of a joke, or, worse yet, invisible.

These days I work hard to make sure that I show fat women wearing amazing fashions, falling in love, or embracing their bodies in different ways. Sometimes that looks like having my own photo taken, either on my own or with my partner, or taking the occasional selfie. Most of the time it’s being behind the camera and taking photos of women of all sizes being sexy, confident, in love, and full of joy. I do this because I know somewhere out there, there is another version of myself questioning everything, and they too are searching for their Tracy Turnblad to help them see themselves for the first time.

Jaime Patterson is the photographer behind Hidden Exposure Photography: Hi, my name's Jaime and I'm a body-positive lifestyle, family, boudoir, wedding, and portrait photographer based out of Richmond Va. I believe everyone has a unique story to tell, and I want to be on hand to hear it, capture it, and share it with the world! I love those moments that you may miss — that shy smile from your partner when you think they're not looking, how your hand rests on your belly when your baby kicks, the way your eyes sparkle when you see your person walk down the aisle, and the way you embrace your whole self when wearing your best outfit and truly looking as sexy as you feel. I think every body, every relationship, and every family deserves to be seen.