Introduce yourself and let us know your race, ethnicity, background, where you were raised..etc.
My name is Caroline Johnson. I am a body posi, 21 (soon to be 22) year old college student, soon to be a social worker. I am black on my dad's side and white on my mom's side. I do not know the origins of my father or mother's lineage. I was born in Detroit, raised primarily in Georgia, and now reside in cold-ass Chicago.
How does your cultural background affect your views on body-image and beauty overall?
To me, thin people were always the epitome of beauty. I didn't necessarily see myself as ugly growing up, but I knew I was fat and that being fat wasn't something to be proud of. I was told hateful things by my family. I was told that I should get a stomach virus so I can stop eating and lose weight. I was told by my father at age 15 that I needed a diet book because I was getting big. I was called fat ass a couple of times as well. American culture says fat is bad and that fat should be nothing to aspire to. However, I also got caught up in this weird dating counter culture where I was seen as desirable by men, especially older men. So I was stuck in a place where I felt like my sensuality and sexuality was a good thing as a plus size person, but also feeling like beauty was not necessarily for me. Now that I'm older and I've had a chance to unpack all of the ugly things that I was taught to believe about myself I almost am in a place of worshiping bigger bodies. I'm in a place where I want to give all of the love I didn't feel for myself to these other women who are dealing with the effects of a society and culture that says fat people are not deserving of the space that they take up. The fact that the society we live in, American society as a whole, has been so unforgiving and exclusive to larger bodies makes me want to give them more. More love, more space, and more appreciation.
How does your cultural background affect your views on body positivity?
Pretty much as I said above, it's made me want to give more to the bodies like mine. I was raised for a lot of my life in the south. South Carolina and Georgia, to be specific. As a black girl in the south, I was exposed to so many plus sized bodies who did really dope shit! I saw fat bodies that danced, sang, played sports, and raised families. Fat bodies could do and can do everything that average size bodies do. So I would say that my culture and background has shown me a million reasons to respect and appreciate bodies of all sizes. Both skinny and big bodies and everything in between are good.
WOW, typing up that last paragraph made me realize that my body positivity isn't always as inclusive as I thought. I realize that I focus on size a lot, when size is not the only issue that exists within the body positive community. That in and of itself is something that I need to be mindful of. Disabilities, colorism, and body dysmorphia are all body posi issues that need to be addressed and sizeism cannot be the only focus. I feel like while tying this I got a huge slap in the face from reality. I would definitely say that body shaming and erasure is extended way past just sizeism and that body positivity is an umbrella term that should be extended to all of these areas and more, but in our culture it has become easy to focus on one aspect and believe that you are doing a good public service. If you ignore the issues of other only to focus on the one that suits you or affects you the most, that's as bad as white feminism.
How does it feel being a woman of color in the online body-positive community?
Terrifying. Before I was a small time body posi babe on IG, I had 6,000+ followers on my Twitter page Baldbae. And almost every single day I was attacked by other users. People compared my body to garbage and told me that I should kill myself. Day in and day out I received taunts and insults. The experience ended up forcing me off of Twitter for good because I was not strong enough to handle all of the abuse and I realized that I didn't have to.
It's also been a beautiful experience. I've surrounded myself with positive people who love themselves and others. I've found a community that wants the best for others and wants to make a difference in the world. While I would never want to experience all of the pain that I did in the beginning, the end result was worth it. Having people from all over the world tell me that I've inspired them or made a difference in their life is so amazingly worth it! But I live in a state of fear almost knowing that even one picture could bring back the hoards of hate and it sometimes stops me from being fully honest with my body and body positivity online.
Have you always had agency over your body or did you have to relearn how to make choices for yourself?
The only times that I feel I've lost agency over my body were when I was pushed into fitness by a family member at 16 and when I dated a horrible guy freshman year of college who wanted me to be thinner. That's it. I have always felt like I could do what I wanted with my body, ever since I was very young. I'VE made bad choices, but I have made it my duty to never let anyone decide what I do with myself.
What’s one thing you want to see change about the way women of color (and their bodies) are represented in the media, on social media, amongst your friends and family?
I want to see more of the things that people often have hidden. I want honest bodies in the media. Stretch marks, scars, hyperpigmentation, acne, whatever. I want the real raw. I want to see my friends and family to stop thinking of plus size women as mammies who aren't sexual beings also that want to enjoy their bodies and lives. I want more women of color in the media. Period. Darker, kinker, bolder, fuller, more outspoken. I want more Gabourey's and Jessamyn's. I think that there has been a body posi revolution pushing through. I don't think that everyone in the world will get on the wave, but I just want to see more women of color in the world feeling more badass and loving themselves a whole hell of a lot more.