Megan Kimberling has had high-fashion spreads in the pages of all manner of magazines. From Vogue Italia to niche, body-inclusive titles like Volup2, her body – and inimitable look – has been heralded by millions across the globe. Yet, like many plus-size women in the public eye, she has been subjected to relentless trolling.
Working in the modelling industry since 2014, the 29-year-old Californian has spoken out about the daily barrage of online abuse she has faced from people who feel the need to shame her for her weight, some of which she deals with through blocking dozens of people on a daily basis in order to protect the safe space she has created for her followers on social media.
Speaking to news agency SWNS, she said: “Social media has been absolutely fantastic to connect with people and like-minds, but there are a lot of trolls. I block probably 50 people on a busy day. A lot of it is them calling me fat which doesn't affect me anymore, but I don't want my followers seeing that because I feel like I have curated a safe space. Anyone who doesn't have anything nice to say is getting blocked.”
No stranger to harsh and unsolicited criticism about her body, Kimberling has dealt with fatphobic comments since childhood and was a self-described “chubby kid” until her college years, where she “went through a period of thinking, 'I don't want to be fat anymore’”.
She added: “I went to the doctor and he gave me appetite suppressants. I used those, restricted my diet and worked out for hours a day. Looking back I was close to an eating disorder, but I lost a bunch of weight. Then life happened and I gained all the weight back.”
Often I get told I can't show my body because it's inappropriate, but they don't like me when I'm wearing clothes and they don't like me when I'm not
Recognising the dangers of extreme weight loss and dieting habits, Kimberly now sees that her happiness, even after shedding a number of pounds, isn’t necessarily tied to the way that her body looks. Instead of giving her a new lease of life, as weight-loss advocates often suggest strict fitness regimes are guaranteed to do, her sudden shift to a completely new, and admittedly dangerous, lifestyle didn’t do much to curb other underlying issues that she was dealing with.
“When I lost the weight, I thought it was going to magically solve all my problems, but I wasn’t any happier when I was thinner. I made the connection that my emotions are not connected to my weight. It doesn’t matter what pants you wear,” she said.
What many people fail to realise when engaging in fat-shaming – whether that’s in the form of feigned concern about one’s health or visceral, violent reactions to the mere fact that someone’s body does not fit into traditional concepts of beauty – is that there is nothing they have said that hasn’t already been lobbed at us. There is no unsought diet we haven’t had recommended to us, no mocking stares we haven’t endured. As Roxane Gay phrased it in her blog post for Medium’s Unruly Bodies series, people view fat bodies “as a problem to be solved, as something they could discuss and debate”. In that vein, what the real issue is – as Kimberling has experienced, while on photoshoots where she has been mistaken for the make-up artist or photographer and “never the model” – is our learned aversion to anything and anyone who celebrates themself in spite of society’s instructions to do the opposite.
Kimberling added: “If you're not going to take me seriously then I'm not the issue, you are the issue. Often I get told I can't show my body because it's inappropriate but they don't like me when I'm wearing clothes and they don't like me when I'm not. They don't like the idea that it's OK to be fat. I think our society needs to reevaluate its priorities.