Here’s What You Really Think Of Other Women’s Bodies

Photographed by Kristiina Wilson.
It shouldn't be this complicated, all this body stuff: size discrimination, weight bias, the multi-factioned movement fighting to reverse it. At its core it seems so simple — bodies are equal just as people are equal, and should be treated as such. Three months ago, I asked activist and speaker Virgie Tovar why she thinks that's not the case. She paused before replying: “Even though it's not articulated, there is a vague notion that there's a limit — an upper limit.” As a culture, we support the ideas of acceptance and body positivity, but to a point. Once you cross that threshold of acceptability, said Tovar, “it stops being okay and it starts being something else.”

It may indeed be a vague notion, but take a look around and it’s clear this threshold exists. Why else do we celebrate the "curvaceous" Ashley Graham but flag Tess Holliday as obscene? The line falls somewhere between these women, and I wanted to find it. So, I turned to Refinery29 readers.

Last month, we polled 1,000 women, ages 18 to 34, to find out what kind of bodies they found acceptable — and in what contexts. We gave them 24 words, first asking them to identify the words as positive, negative, or neutral. When then presented images of 12 different female bodies, asking participants to assign the words to each of them. Following that, we presented scenarios, like: “Would be her friend,” “Would trust her with my children/future children,” or “Would follow a brand if she were the spokesperson.”

I admit it: This poll was partly driven by my own curiosity. As a plus-size woman, I wanted an unvarnished look at how people saw me. But as a writer working in women’s media, I also wanted to know what it is that you, our reader, want to see when you come to a website or scroll through your Instagram feed. Because, this week, we at Refinery29 have changed that landscape just a bit. And we intend to make that change permanent. But without readers, there’s no website. So, we need to know your threshold. We may cross it, make no mistake (given our findings we most likely will). But we needed to know who she is — the plus-size woman who is accepted by you — and we found her, and much more.