Why diverse body representation at the 2016 Olympics mattered
The Rio Olympics ended with a fantastic carnival-inspired closing ceremony on Sunday evening. Throughout the games, I would dutifully catch up on all the incredible athletes, their record-breaking achievements, and all the medals being won by countries worldwide. But for me, that seemed like typical fare for the Olympics.
What I loved and identified with at this year’s 2016 Rio Olympics was how much fat representation mattered.
As a fat person, I get to hear about how fat I am all the time, in one form or another, almost every single day. We’re taught that we shouldn’t judge people — and while I want to believe that others are naturally operating with this in mind, the fact is that weight and size discrimination still happens.
The fight to not be undermined, or viewed as physically, economically, or emotionally unnecessary is never-ending — which is not only exhausting, but upsetting.
But during the 2016 Rio Olympics, a world audience got to see that, yes, all bodies — even athletic bodies — come in all shapes and sizes.
Your shape or size does not matter. Larger bodies can do anything and everything the person puts their mind to — even win Olympic medals. In order to make a cultural change on a global level, we need to keep showcasing that fat bodies matter.
Let’s take, for example, U.S.A.’s Michelle Carter, the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist in shot put. The photo of her receiving her medal is iconic for many reasons.
For one, she has a larger body size and she is thriving — but on top of that, her victory marked the first time an American woman won gold in the event. If that isn’t something to be proud of, I don’t know what is.
However, there were definitely some bumps in the road.
Ethiopian swimmer Robel Habte was mocked online for his body size and weight. Trolls called him, “Robel the Whale” — but, of course, Habte clapped back. He explained to The Telegraph, “I have to be strong and overcome what people say about me.”
From this situation, we can see that the cultural stigma of fat bodies is still alive and well, even in athletic communities. These games were powerful for not only showcasing those bodies, but for continuing the conversation on body-positivity.
Furthermore, while body-positivity has come a long way, it is a reminder that fat male bodies are shamed, too.
Speaking of bullying, I’ve followed another awesome Olympian: U.S.A. weight lifter, Sarah Robles.
At the games, she won bronze. And almost daily via Instagram, she talks about her struggles with bullying and her ways of overcoming those obstacles.
When I look at Sarah, I do not see the stereotypical person who lifts weights. I see someone who looks just like me: fat and happy. I love that she radiates positivity. I love that she showcases that, yes, fat girls really can do whatever they put their minds to.
So did fat representation at the Rio Olympics matter? Absolutely — for more reasons than you can imagine.