“Leonard Nimoy wanted us proud and naked and fat,” says Jukie Sunshine of the 2004 photoshoot that captured her and her cohorts in the Fat-Bottom Revue. “And because this was a famous person, images of our being comfortable with ourselves were carried to a much wider audience.”
But a week after Leonard Nimoy’s death and more than a decade after he began an eye-catching side career as a photographer of tasteful art nudes, Facebook is penalizing members who post links to the late Vulcan’s earthier work.
Detractors claim that Facebook is selectively enforcing its content policy when images of fat women are involved.
“You can see half a nipple, but clearly that’s not the problem,” says Dixie De La Tour, founder and host of the nationwide Bawdy Storytelling of the content that got her post flagged. “I see way more body parts on Facebook, but when they’re fat body parts, they shut you down.”
To De La Tour, that is the elephant in the room. Her incessant posting of a sex toy called the Vajankle resulted in hundreds of sales of the vagina-in-an-ankle marital aid. And somehow non-fucking naked fat ladies was obscene?
De La Tour’s Facebook link to articles about Nimoy’s 2005 gallery show Maximum Beauty, followed by the coffeetable book “Full Body Project” in 2007 — were tagged as obscene by Facebook.
De La Tour says she attended “about a hundred” performances of the Fat-Bottom Revue, the late, lamented San Francisco burlesque show for plus-sized women founded by Heather MacAllister. “I admired (the dancers),” she says. “They’d pull off their tops and shake their tits, and I’d say ‘They’re way braver than I am.’ I’m fat, but I don’t dance — I’m just not comfortable with my body yet.”
Let’s look at 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Hannah Davis, whose facial expression and blatant groin cleavage suggest way more than anything the women of the Fat-Bottom Revue did — and yet I just pulled this image from Davis’s Facebook page.
For many Persons of Size (this is a term I learned from my friend Elle Chase and I’m not sure how I feel about it, as I believe it lumps — get it?! — together everyone whose corporeal form has mass), Nimoy’s work with zaftig women was both a revelation and a validation. Nimoy posed the women like supermodels (in tributes to Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton) and film stars. And it was shocking, though it shouldn’t have been.
From Nimoy’s Maximum Beauty Artist’s Statement:
These women are interested in “fat liberation”… These women are projecting an image that is their own. And one that also stems from their own story rather than mine. Their self-esteem is strong. One of them has a degree in anthropology and will tell you that ideas of beauty and sexuality are “culture bound”—that these ideas are not universal or fixed, and that they vary and fluctuate depending on place and time. They will tell you that too many people suffer because the body they live in is not the body you find in the fashion magazines…I asked them to be proud, which was a condition they took to easily, quite naturally.
Said Nimoy in an interview with PlusModelMag: “Beauty is culture-driven. In our time the image presented as desirable is projected by models that weigh 25 percent less than the average American woman.”
“[Seeing the images in ‘Full Body Project’] was the first time in my life – I realise in retrospect – that I’d seen bodies like mine honoured instead of lampooned, presented with dignity instead of scorn, displayed as objects of beauty instead of as punchlines,” writes Lindy West in the beautiful article that De La Tour shared on Facebook. “It feels bizarre to put myself back in that headspace now (and even more bizarre to register just how recent it was), but looking at Nimoy’s photographs was my very first exposure to the concept that my body was just as deserving of autonomy and respect as any thin body.”
According to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control, the “average American woman” stands 5’4″ tall and weighs 166 lbs. While Nimoy’s models may have tipped the scales as heavier than most American women, they were closer to average than Ritts’ cluster of supermodels.
Following the release of his controversial sexuality+Judaism book “Shekhina” in 2002, Nimoy was approached by a model friend who asked why he limited his photography to “classic” (read: thin) models. Nimoy considered this, and eventually found Heather MacAllister.
Said MacAllister, “Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act.”
Jukie Sunshine recalls the December, 2004 shoot in a downtown San Francisco studio.
“[Nimoy was] surprised to find this troupe of large women who were comfortable with each other,” she says (in the photo at the top of this story, Sunshine is at left while MacAllister is in the middle). “He was soft-spoken and kind; he gave directions like he was in no rush. He wanted us in our natural flow. We played music: I feel like there was some En Vogue going on.”
Last year Sunshine created the installation Extreme Public for the National Queer Arts Festival, dealing with public reaction to Nimoy’s “Full Body Project” photos.
“Every interview he did he’d be asked if he was ‘sexually attracted to fat women,'” Sunshine says. “On ‘The View!’ And he would carefully explain that it was about the art. He presented us artistically. But people kept asking. The installation has large blocks of text from Amazon reviews — a huge amount of negativity. And then there were the ‘concern trolls’ who worried that we were promoting obesity and encouraging people to be fat.
“Then, of course, were simply the people saying ‘Thank you.’ Little shining stars in the sea of the interweb.”
“Though he was decades behind the pioneers of fat acceptance (and a straight white male saviour is always fraught), for me, Nimoy’s Full Body Project was the first piece of media that told me I had any intrinsic value,” continues Lindy West in the article Facebook found so offensive.
Of course, data-mining and arbitrary content restrictions are what we agree to when we sign on to free social media services. It just seems foolish to police away images of people who, more likely than not, look like more exuberant versions of Facebook’s subscribers.