Leonard Nimoy, Naked Fat Ladies, and Healthism

What Will you DefendLeonard Nimoy passed away today at the age of 83 after a long and successful career that included acting (of course, developing the role of Spock on Star Trek) and directing (including the box office smash Three Men and a Baby.)  He also sang, wrote poetry, and was a photographer.

One of his photography projects was called “The Full Body Project” (images NSFW) and was comprised of pictures – many of them nude – of fat women. And it is absolutely glorious.

According to a piece in Mashable (images NSFW) Nimoy told Natalie Angier, who wrote the introduction to The Full Body Project that:

“He was deeply troubled upon hearing that most women felt some degree of body shame.It really disturbed him that women who considered themselves overweight had this terrible feeling about themselves. He wanted to show the world that there’s beauty to be found in different body types.”

Many people are currently sharing the photo project and, sadly, getting ridiculous “But these women aren’t healthy!” comments in return. So I wanted to talk about this to honor and thank Leonard Nimoy for creating beautiful representations of fat women, to honor the women in the photographs, and in case those people sharing these would like some ammunition for dealing with the concern trolling that may come after.

First of all you cannot tell someone’s health based on their body size. If you think you can, then you are quite simply wrong.

But there’s no need to get into a conversation about this because the health status of these women has literally nothing to do with this. Health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or a gatekeeper that determines who is or is not allowed to love their body, find themselves and be found beautiful, and be photographed naked, or represented in a positive way.

As I’ve pointed out before, the truth is that this whole “It’s because of fat people’s health” thing is just a crappy justification for size-based discrimination, and it’s long past time to stop using healthism to justify sizeism, and to end both of them instead. To do anything else, especially as it pertains to these pictures, is disrespectful to the photographer and the subjects, and is complete bullshit.

LLAP Leonard Nimoy, thank you for everything.

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Published in: on February 28, 2015 at 9:47 am  Comments (32)  

32 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ugh – whenever I hear “but it’s all about health!” I want to ask them, “So, do you think it’s OK to treat cancer patients that way? Is it OK to deride lupus patients, because their bodies aren’t perfect? How about amputees, because they don’t look like you want them too? No? Then it’s not about health, really, is it?

    And hooray for Leonard Nimoy. What a wonderful project and a good heart. Not only was he a fine artist (in many ways), but he was a fine man, and he will be missed.

    • Of course the thing is that a lot of this does carry over to all sorts of health issues. I have chronic illnesses, I will never be worthy on the basis of health, and the constant assumption underlying it all that health is a choice. I wish it was.
      Of course on occasion I’ve pointed out why comments about health being a barometer of worth is offensive as someone with health problems that are not ever going away. Which often results in that “oh, well obviously didn’t mean you!” bullshit responses. As well as having had people argue with me that because I workout I am healthy… uh, sorry, no, that’s not how it works. Fitness is great for health but it is not a magic cure all for all health issues.
      Which of course a lot of people have trouble understanding that doing things which are healthy (like exercise, or eating healthy, or getting enough sleep…) is not the same thing as being healthy. Which all circles back to the fact that health is not fully under our control. I wish it was. I would never choose to be sick all the time, but the reality that folks with chronic illnesses know far too well is that health is not something we can control (in full at least).

      • There really is this weird belief that we can control health.

        • Some people/institutions are making big $$ from selling that belief.

      • I was a sickly child, a sickly teen, a sickly young woman, and now I’m a sickly middle-aged woman. Nothing the doctors could ever pin down as a root cause of my chronic pain for my whole darned life, or my chronic lousy immunity, so I fall prey to whatever illness comes through (DARN YOU, tough workers, who come to work with the flu, because you are too tough to stay home and keep your germs to yourself!!!).

        My illness came BEFORE I got fat. The accident happened after I got fat, but was undeniable. And now, I am actually grateful, in a way, because I can head off “If you’d only…” with “Look, jerk, I was hit by a TRUCK! Losing weight is not a time machine, and will not magically go back and head that truck off at the pass!” Even the jerkiest fat-phobe cannot argue with that.

        But the truth is, that’s only really the cause of half of my pain. The headaches and dizziness and lousy immunity? I’ve had that all my life. I used to get sore throats ALL. THE. TIME, until I had my tonsils out, and they magically went away, so now I only get a sore throat if I actually have an issue like strep. It was wonderful to have SOMETHING diagnosed and treated. But apparently, there are multiple things wrong with me, and always have been, and all the oodles of doctors have not been able to fix it all.

        Yes, I’ve “seen a doctor about that.” Yes, I’ve TRIED.

        Once, at college, my landlady was fasting for church, and I was not. It was expected on Fast Sunday that everyone would fast, but I had a splitting headache and could not even function enough to go to church, let alone fast. She chided me that if I just fasted, all my illnesses would go away.

        “Look, if that were true, it would have happened already. I’ve been fasting for fifteen years, and it hasn’t worked, yet.” Mind you, I do believe in the power of God to heal. But, if he wanted to heal ME, he would have done it by now. Apparently, he has a reason for this. He does heal some people, sometimes, but not every time, you know? And he has left me with chronic issues for some reason, and denying them will not help things. Neither will blaming me for not having enough faith, or for not continuing to fast, when I cannot even stand upright at the time.

        I have learned a lot of spiritual lessons, though, from being ill and sore all the time. I have learned compassion for other people who are also ill and sore, and have learned that they are worthy, and deserve to be treated just as I would wish to be treated. I have learned that health is NOT connected to looks and appearance. There are, indeed, invisible handicaps. And a person who is in severe pain can, if necessary, put on a brave face and suck it up, and fool people into thinking she’s feeling just fine, for a few hours at a time, and I know just how much that costs, and how to gauge whether or not it’s worth it to do that, this time or that time.

        I have learned that bodies, despite their imperfections, are still miraculous and mysterious, and wonderful, and worthy of our gratitude, just for keeping us alive on the this earth.

        And I have learned that all the trying in the world, diet, exercise, stubborn self-control and will-power will not change the underlying cause, if doctor’s can’t find it, and even if they can find it, not everything has a cure.

        I have learned to be kind. I have learned to be patient. I have learned to weigh needs versus wants, and prioritize, because I have also learned that I simply can NOT have or do it all.

        I have learned that older people, with all their wrinkles and gray hair and canes and walkers and other accoutrements of bodies wearing out by time, are beautiful, and that all those afflictions are badges of honor, EARNED by living life, and every wrinkle is a story, and every arthritic hip is an experience, and the possibility of wisdom gained.

        I have learned that younger people with autism, or missing limbs, or scars, or tics, or all manner of physical imperfections, are beautiful, and those afflictions are badges of honor, and have already taught someone something, and continue to teach people things. Ask a family that have a “special needs” child, and they’ll tell you (most of the time), about how much they have learned about life and love from that child.

        So, when I say that God could have healed me a long time ago, but has chosen not to do so, it is not because I am bitter. It is because I know that we learn from our imperfections, or from the imperfections of those around us, and without those imperfections, we would all stay as immature, foolish children, thinking the world revolves around us, and that everything we want, we should have RIGHT NOW.

        Have I learned everything I need to from my body? I doubt it. Even if I had, I’m sure that there is plenty that my family and friends can learn from my body, and its chronic imperfections.

        God may heal me, someday, but He probably won’t, and although I would like to be free of the pain and irritation that comes with poor health and injuries, I am still OK with that.

        I am NOT OK with people telling me that I don’t deserve to be treated fairly, or with kindness, or basic human decency, because I am not healthy, or don’t look the way they want me to. And I am NOT OK with constantly torturing myself trying to earn that fairness, kindness, and basic human decency In a fruitless attempt to change my body. And I am NOT OK with blaming myself for failure to change to suit the bullies of this world.

        And I am NOT OK with the fact that I actually take comfort in the fact that I was hit by a truck, because at least I can use it to shut the bullies up, from time to time.

        And I am NOT OK with the fact that asking for fairness, kindness, and basic human decency is declared to be “asking for special treatment,” because those bullies don’t want to give it, and will only give it if forced by society, and they HATE me, and others like me, for working toward that goal.

        And I am extremely grateful for this site, and this community, and all the support I have found here! I couldn’t manage without y’all!

        • Sorry for the long post. I just sort of snapped. Feel free to delete it, if you want. It’s so very off-topic.

          • *HUGS*

            • More hugs, if you want them. If I recall correctly, Jesus treated sick people with compassion, not ridicule, and had some tough words for people who claimed that sick people brought their illnesses on themselves.
              I have a genetic condition that affects my ability to exercise. By some of my lab numbers, I am not “healthy.” Did I choose that? I’ve had people, including doctors insist that if I lost weight, I wouldn’t be so “heavy and uncomfortable.” The reason I was uncomfortable is that EVERYONE was telling me how terrible it is to be fat. Consequently, my blood condition wasn’t diagnosed until I moved and found a different doctor who wasn’t blinded by fatty fat fat. I could have very easily been diagnosed “fat and lazy.” Nope. Fat didn’t cause this, and skinny won’t cure it, but I still deserve to be treated with basic human decency.

  2. *tears*
    I was going to post more but, my eyes are refusing to focus.

  3. Live Long and Prosper, in heaven, Leonard Nimoy. Your Full Body Project played a huge part in building my self esteem and helping me to love myself. Your wonderful work on Star Trek helped build my life long love of sci-fi (and my life long love of intelligent and intellectual men). The world was so much richer with you in it. You are greatly loved and are sorely missed.

  4. The Full Body Project has been a huge inspiration to me as a fat woman, fat activist, and artist myself. The “Matisse Circle,” in particular affected me deeply. Seeing a group of mude, fat women taking such obvious joy in their bodies… I was just transfixed the first time I saw it – staring at their faces, their smiles, their confidence and comfort in their fat.

  5. Wow, I didn’t even know Leonard Nimoy did this. But of course, judging people because of their size – or appearance in general – just isn’t logical. I always loved Spock
    LLAP, you all

  6. Reblogged this on move the dog fitness.

  7. I was somewhat surprised to hear that people were concern-trolling over these photos (I guess I just want to believe better of people?) when it’s clearly not the point. And then I saw it happen, and realized I should never have underestimated their hand-wringing abilities.

    I posted a link to this blog post😀

  8. Leonard Nimoy was a wonderful human being. RIP.
    My question here is why does beauty have to be found in every woman for her to be considered a worthwhile human being? Men don’t need to be beautiful. Again our culture conflates female beauty with female value. That’s seriously fucked up.

    Edit From the Blog Author:
    I think that this comment mischaracterizes the project. I do think that there is a lot of conflating of female beauty with female value, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here at all. I think this project is about giving representation to women who are typically denied representation because they don’t meet the typical definition of beauty, and the idea of beauty as a social capital and value that belongs only to people who meet a certain stereotype is being challenged by the photographer and the subjects. I think that he is not saying these women are valuable because they are beautiful, I think he is saying that all women are valuable, and beautiful (including these women.) and that they have every right to find joy in their bodies. and I want to honor Mr. Nimoy for this and other feminist work that he did (if you’re interested in feminist work that he was involved in, I recommend checking out http://www.bustle.com/articles/67048-leonard-nimoys-best-feminist-moments-from-his-full-body-project-to-his-fight-for-equal-rights)

    While there are lots of ways to fight the power that “beauty” holds in our society – including attempting to abolish the concept (and all of them are completely valid options) I personally choose to insist that the ability to perceive beauty is a skill and so if people can’t look at someone and see beauty, then the issue is with their development of their ability to perceive it and not with the person in front of them. I work to destroy the concept of beauty in the same way that I think Leonard Nimoy is doing here – by pointing out that everyone is beautiful. If everyone is beautiful then the concept is personally powerful for those who believe that beauty is important, but culturally powerless.

    ~Ragen

    • This is an excellent point. Women should be valued for more than just physical appearance.

      But it in the context that he took the photos, he did a wonderful thing.

    • Oh, absolutely agree!!

    • Hi MK

      Thanks for the comment. I do think that there is a lot of conflating of female beauty with female value, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here at all. I think this project is about giving representation to women who are typically denied representation because they don’t meet the typical definition of beauty, and the idea of beauty as a social capital and value that belongs only to people who meet a certain stereotype is being challenged by the photographer and the subjects. I think that he is not saying these women are valuable because they are beautiful, I think he is saying that all women are valuable, and beautiful, including these women.

      While there are lots of ways to fight the power that “beauty” holds in our society – including attempting to abolish the concept (and all of them are completely valid options) I personally choose to insist that the ability to perceive beauty is a skill and so if people can’t look at someone and see beauty, then the issue is with their development of their ability to perceive it and not with the person in front of them. I work to destroy the concept of beauty in the same way that I think Leonard Nimoy is doing here – by pointing out that everyone is beautiful. If everyone is beautiful then the concept is personally powerful for those who believe that beauty is important, but culturally powerless.

      I wrote more about it here if you’re interested: https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/marilyn-monroe-and-me/

      ~Ragen

      • Wow, this is so nicely put, Ragen. I think the ability to see the beauty in everyone is a skill everyone should be working to develop.

    • Great point. Women don’t owe anyone (or society as a whole) a conventionally “pretty” appearance.

    • I think he was making the point that ALL women are worthwhile and beautiful. Therefore, their worth cannot be dependent on their beauty, since ALL women are beautiful, in their own way.

      Further, if he had used male models, it would not have had the same impact, because in our society, men are more allowed to look different, including fat. Women, however, are constantly pushed into a limited mold. By breaking that mold for women, he helps to break it for ALL people.

      If he had lived longer, perhaps he would have done a follow-up, embracing a variety of peoples.

      Perhaps someone else can continue his work? I’d love to see an homage, done with a variety of models, performing the same poses and compositions.

  9. Reblogged this on drdeahstastymorsels and commented:
    Perfectly put!!thank you!

  10. The Full Body Project is a wonderful piece of art. It shows joy, sensuality, love, and sisterhood in bodies mainstream media has rejected as worthy based on prejudice.

    Leonard Nimoy was a fine actor, a talented director, a poet, an artist, and a wonderful ally in a struggle many people consider either a joke or an obscenity.

    Of course last night I did what any good Trekkie was probably doing: I sat down and watched a couple of my fave Original Trek episodes (I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles) followed with a chaser of Star Trek IV, which he directed as well as starred in. I concentrated on the fun stuff, because I know that Nimoy had a great sense of humor which he loved to share. All the same, I got good and misty-eyed multiple times along the way.

    I know everyone expects me to go to the Vulcan, but I find the best farewell I can give to this wonderful man is actually based on another of my geeky loves, the late great Douglas Adams:

    So long, Leonard, and thanks for all the fish.

  11. Powerful article and so true! I am a long time fan of star trek, never knew if I was a Trekker or Trekkie but loved, the show and all it’s incarnations. I also love Leonard Nimoy, the actor, director and philosopher… but had no idea he had created this wonderful photography project! He was amazing and will be sorely missed. But he left quite a legacy! I too, am a fan of Douglas Adams, and love the so long and thanks for all the fish reference… but have to go with paraphrasing his popular saying- “Thank you Leonard Nimoy, for helping all of us to live wiser and to prosper.”

  12. I also grieve at the loss of such a fine mind and intelligent, principled human being. I didn’t know he’d done this photography project, but crikey it really is so appropriate to his attitude to life.

  13. BOOM! YES! MOR REASONS TO LIVE THAT MAN!😀

  14. *LOVE (I was clearly too excited lol)

  15. Beautifully written. In his photos I never detected a hint of anything but a sincere appreciation for women. A rarity.

  16. I just love him more now! LLAP!

  17. The Full Body Project is one of the many, many reasons why I think Leonard Nimoy was not only a great artist, but an awesome human being. The other was the response he wrote to a biracial girl who was having trouble finding her niche in 1968. If you haven’t read it, go here: https://celebrity.yahoo.com/blogs/celeb-news/read-leonard-nimoy-s-1968-words-of-wisdom-to-a-mixed-race-teenager-184206517.html

  18. Here’s a link to an NPR interview with Leonard Nimoy that I don’t think has been posted yet, where he talks about the Full Body Project:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15912659

    The whole interview is wonderful, but I found this statement particularly moving–he said that working on the project
    “led me to a new consciousness about the fact that so many people live in body types that are not the type that’s being sold by fashion models.”

    Yes. Precisely. We all *live in* our bodies, whatever type they are. And we all deserve to have their beauty honored and appreciated.

    Thank you, Leonard Nimoy.


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