In Pictures: One Young Woman’s Inspiring Fight Against Fatphobia

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Kiss it! by Abbie Trayler-Smith
Shannon, age 16, has the words ‘Kiss it!’ tattooed. Sheffield, 2013Photography by Abbie Trayler-Smith

Abbie Trayler-Smith’s new photo book explores the ins and outs of a fat life through a neutral lens, documenting a young woman called Shannon during her teen years and early twenties

Documentary-style photographs spanning the teenage and early twenties of one subject, a young woman called Shannon, are interspersed with items from Abbie Trayler-Smith’s youth – memories relating specifically to her struggle with being overweight as an adolescent. ‘FAT!’ is emblazoned in Tipp-Ex across her old school book, following a photo of a plus-size, teenage Shannon trying on a dark-red prom dress. Kiss It! explores the ins and outs of a fat life through a neutral lens, by combining the dark moments of Trayler-Smith’s younger years with over a decade of pictures following Shannon’s experience of growing up as an overweight person.

Due to its controversial subject matter, depicting a fat body not only without judgement, but sincere admiration, led to Trayler-Smith crowdfunding for the book’s publication on Kickstarter. Although troll comments worried her, Shannon, the subject of the book, “didn’t give a shit.” It was through documenting Shannon’s casual confidence against fatphobia that Trayler-Smith learned to reconsider her own negative opinions of herself and reckon with years of low self-worth that had grown within her following her experience of being bigger in childhood.

Here, speaking in her own words, Trayler-Smith tells us about the making of Kiss It!

“I grew up feeling that my body was wrong. Because I was chubby from a young age, my weight was always seen as an issue – it wasn’t my issue, but one that was imposed on me. And for my whole life, I felt my body wasn’t good enough. And I think growing up like that, feeling subhuman, has a much bigger impact in terms of health on society than the physical impacts of having a condition like diabetes or heart disease.

“What’s really difficult about being fat is the fact that everyone can see it, so everyone can judge you. There is no hiding it. Whereas if you’re an alcoholic, or you’ve got any other issue – I shouldn’t even be calling it an issue – people can’t see it. So they don’t get to judge it. Whereas with being bigger, everyone thinks they are entitled to an opinion.

“I met Shannon at a press conference when she was 13 or 14, she’d come down from Sheffield with her after-school weight club which she’d been sent to by her doctor. The chaperone of the group read out a poem she had written, and the whole room fell silent. I got shivers. I just thought, I have to talk to her. Initially, I was photographing a few teenagers from the group for my wider project, The Big O, but I realised that it would be much more impactful to have one person’s story and really go in deep.

“Most people are different when you put them in front of a camera, but Shannon wasn’t, and that is so rare. She’s definitely an inspiration to me. If she could press a button and be thin, she would, but also she’s really comfortable in her body. I look at her and I think, ‘Wow, I wish I could be as comfortable as you are,’ you know?

“Following Shannon for 12 years, she ended up with a genuine kind of story arc in her story. After she took part in a medical trial for gastric balloon at Sheffield hospital when she was only 16, it was removed after only six months. We explore the process and emotional toll of it in the book and when we finally came to put the book together, and I said, ‘Right, Shannon, this is it, you know, because anything that you feel doesn’t really represent you or you’re not comfortable with, now’s the time to say because once it’s out there, it’s out there. There’s no bringing it back.’

“One time, when the Kickstarter got trolled quite a bit, I checked in if she was okay and she said she didn’t give a shit. It’s such an amazing attitude to life. That’s why the book is called Kiss It! because by the age of 16, she’d had enough of what other people thought of her.

“I feel proud of this work because it's about accepting differences, essentially. There are so many people who are sizeist – like my own dad – who don’t see that this is a complex and nuanced issue. I’ve got better at ignoring trolls, I’ve got much more important things to do than read over trolling comments. But what was really interesting was [that] I’ve had some really beautiful comments from people, even friends of mine. One of them emailed me going, ‘Wow, your Kickstarter video really blew me away. Because I have to be honest, I am definitely one of those sizeist people and you’ve made me rethink my attitude.’“

Kiss it! by Abbie Trayler-Smith is published by Gost and is out now.