When I go on Megan Crabbe’s Instagram profile, I feel like I’ve walked into a candy shop. Her feed is technicolour pink, purple, and pastel blue with bright florals, unicorn dyed hair, and bubblegum-coloured backdrops on nearly every picture. Interspersed with pictures of Megan and cartoon drawings are handwritten messages and Twitter screenshots of messages some might feel are a little cliché or overwrought. But you’d be wrong to think this cloyingly sweet aesthetic means this account shouldn’t be taken seriously. In fact, Megan likes that some people do. “It’s like I’m a Trojan horse,” she says, “There is a part of me that enjoys people underestimating me.”
If you don’t know Megan already, then you probably aren’t one of her over 1 million Instagram followers. Known by her handle @BodyPosiPanda, she is a body positivity activist, doggedly advocating for body acceptance, an increase in fat bodies in the media, and displaying her own fat roles and stretchmarks at least weekly on her page. She’s appeared on Russell Brand’s podcast and has had dinner with Lizzo. And at 26, has been named one of New York Times’ best body positive campaigners. But what makes Megan so compelling is that for the first 20 years of her life, she battled with an extreme eating disorders – one that had her hospitalised regularly, for months at a time.
“I started seriously dieting by the age of 10,” Megan tells me. She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at just 14. “It took me a couple of years and a couple of hospitalisations, to crawl my way back out of that,” she says. “I found myself back in the world with a body that was bigger than it had ever been. It was almost like my body had healed from the trauma of that eating disorder, but my mind was absolutely not, I still had so much left, so much pain and so many demons left that I had not dealt with.”
“I jumped straight back into the diet wagon, straight back into diet culture,” she tells me, “even having been where I was with my eating disorder I still believed that thinness was the answer and that thinness was the way to be happy and to be successful, and to be loved, and to be attractive – essentially code for being good enough. I lost and gained hundreds of pounds over the years, and it was never enough, it was never enough.”
Megan says that, finally, at 21, she hit her goal weight. “That was supposed to be the point of complete contentment and happiness,” she tells me, “and I still hated absolutely everything about myself.”
Megan had long used Instagram to aid her eating disorder – using it for “fitspo” (ie fitness inspiration) – looking for bodies that she aspired to have. “And somehow instead,” she says, “I stumbled across the body positivity community, which was very small at the time, probably only a couple of hundred people on there just writing about their bodies and writing about dieting.”
This is when Megan had her body epiphany.
“I was terrified at first,” she tells me, “It is a very scary thing, questioning whether everything you’ve thought about your body could be wrong – that, actually, there could be another way and, actually, maybe you don’t have to hate yourself. I did not want to accept that.”
“So I tried to ignore it. I tried to ignore these people that I had found,” she says. “But I couldn’t. They kept playing on my mind and I couldn’t deny that what I had been doing hadn’t made me happy so far. So, maybe, I actually should just try another way.”
Megan says she began to read feminist literature about bodies and dieting, such as The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon. “There is so much out there talking about dieting and fatphobia and why, women especially, feel the way we do about our bodies… I discovered for the first time that the way I felt about my body actually wasn’t my fault, actually none of us are to blame for hating our bodies, because this is what we’ve been taught, as soon as we’re old enough to take in media messaging, or family influences, or any kind of diet culture, we are taught to hate our bodies.”
She thinks that this realisation is starting to dawn on more and more people. “We’re just really fucking fed up of hating ourselves,” she says. “We’ve had enough of being told were not good enough. And that’s why we’re so desperate for this message, and we’re just soaking up every bit of it we can get.”
Photo courtesy of Megan Crabbe
Megan tells me that when people begin to hear about body positivity, they see it as a personal affront. “If you’ve invested so much time and energy into that way of thinking that I must make my body smaller, it can feel like an attack for someone to come in and say that’s wrong,” she says. She intimately understands this, because she was one of those people getting defensive just a few years before.
“I would’ve just been like, ‘Um, wow you just don’t have enough will power, it’s just an excuse, you’re just making an excuse to be fat,’” she says. “So I do not blame anyone for buying into diet culture because it’s the narrative that we are given, it’s the framework that we are given.”
“But I just want us to question the framework and think: have you ever thought there might be another way?”
Instagram is one place she feeds her body-posi attitude, Megan tells me, despite its original purpose of fuelling her eating disorder. She says that by trawling through the platform to fill her feed with “as many different bodies, as many different perspectives on body liberation” as she could find, she has made her Instagram feed a very positive space. She thinks that anyone could too.
“You have to start by being very honest with yourself about who you’re following and how they’re making you feel,” she says. “I think we make excuses for people who make us feel shit about ourselves, like it would be impolite to unfollow them, or everyone’s following them so I need to – no. You fully don’t need anyone on your radar that makes you feel like you need to be someone else. Whether that means blocking them or muting them, they’ve got to go.”
But Megan’s mammoth following means that she inevitably draws in plenty of negative comments along with the positive. I ask her if, despite this, she actually likes social media.
“Like is the wrong word,” she says, laughing. “I have a complex and ever-evolving relationship with social media. Sometimes I absolutely love it, sometimes I think that I would be far better off without it but I am always, throughout those emotions, incredibly grateful for it.”
Photo courtesy of Megan Crabbe
“The brands” have long been at the centre of body positivity discourse, for largely bad reasons. Brands such as Dove, Everlane, Vogue are just a handful of the hundreds that have been criticised for making a song and dance about being body positive, while failing to show or cater to a wide range of bodies. Megan tells me that she believes brands have huge steps to take before coming close to being truly body positive.
“I am here for praising brands and [television] shows that actually want to be better, who take tangible steps to be better, and that are noticeably better,” she says. “I’m all for praising them – but then asking for more.”
Megan argues that ASOS is the one of the only brands that’s coming close to being very body positive. “They have truly pushed for diversity and inclusivity and no PhotoShop and they’re pretty damn good,” she says. “There’s always room for more, but they’re pretty damn good.”
On this topic, I ask for her thoughts on body activists who she thinks are doing well or could be doing better, and specifically ask her about Jameela Jamil. Jamil, the Channel 4 presenter and Good Place actress is a controversial figure in the body positivity world – known for being a fierce advocate of body acceptance despite she herself being tall, thin, and stereotypically attractive. Most recently, Jamil was criticised for a controversial spread in Stylist, in which she advocated for body acceptance while wearing clothes that weren’t available above a size 16. It’s worth noting that this interview took place before the Stylist article ran.
“I absolutely love Jameela’s passion and unapologetic no fucks given attitude,” Megan says. “She reminds me of how I used to be at the start, before the internet wore me down. She has made huge strides in bringing awareness of body positivity and of diet culture into the mainstream, and I think she is someone who is deeply committed to learning and growth, and to always pushing the movement forwards, which is incredibly admirable.”
“I’m cheering for her, I am cheering for her every step of the way. And I think because she is in this position of power, essentially being in the spotlight because of her career, she is someone who could really bring this movement to another level and really change things.”
Some cliché counter arguments against body positivity allege the movement encourages an unhealthy lifestyle, by glamourising weight gain. “I don’t believe that someone’s health is a marker of someone’s human value any more than the way they look,” Megan says. “I think there is this big cultural push towards healthism, which is this idea that we can rank humans and their worth by their health status and I think that is ableist, as there are people for whom health will never be a possibility or physical health in the traditional sense that we see it. That it will never happen for them, are they worth any less?”
“If you have a chronic illness, if you have an impairment, a disability, if you have an addiction, if you have mental health issues, you are still worth the absolute world and you shouldn’t be made to feel like you’re a piece of shit,” Megan says, “which is what fatphobic people do to fat people every day.”
“It’s not really about saying all bodies are beautiful,” she adds, “it’s about saying all bodies are worthy of respect, regardless of their size, their shape, their skin colour, their age, their gender, their ability or their health status.”
Megan believes that, even though it has done much good, body positivity as a movement still has a ways to go – especially when it comes to representing non-cis, non-white, and larger, disabled bodies. She regularly acknowledges her own privilege within the movement as well, as a “medium-sized” fat woman who is also cis, able-bodied, and a light-skinned woman of colour.
“We tend to gloss over the fact that this movement was started by fat women of colour,” Megan argues. “It is fat positive, it is extremely radical and progressive at its roots. But we lose that when all we see at body positivity are medium sized conventionally attractive women smiling in their underwear… But I think we always have to be reminding everyone that there is more to this… and it is the more marginalised bodies that deserve to be at the centre.”
“We also have to keep interrupting transphobia, and ableism and racism, wherever we see it, time and time again, and refusing to shut up about it,” she adds. “However we have it, we have to leverage our privilege, and be willing to make people and ourselves uncomfortable.”
Megan also feels that one of body positivity’s biggest obstacles is cancel culture rampant on social media. “We are not allowing any room to grow or make mistakes or learn,” she says. “I think the current culture of dogpiling anyone who puts a single word out of place is discouraging people from learning and getting involved. It’s important to note that especially marginalised people are allowed to be angry when someone disappoints them or someone in a position of trust says something problematic, and I don’t think we should give people a free pass. But I do think if someone genuinely wants to learn and genuinely wants to be better, we should allow them some space to do that.”
Megan is also going on tour this September, visiting six cities with her new show “Never Say Diet Club”.
“If you imagine a body positive variety show, covered in pink glitter, jiggling the whole time, that’s it,” she says. She tells me the idea was borne out of writing about weight loss groups and how, although they provided a sense of community, she didn’t like that the conclusion of them were always “change your body”.
“I asked myself ‘how do I create something that feels like a community, that makes you feel better about yourself than when you got there and is also super fun and super sparkly and joyful?’” she says. “And the Never Say Diet Club came out of that – so it is part song and dance, part sassy take-it-back-to-school, part empowerment, and a whole lot of community.”
When I ask Megan what she wants people to take away from her message, she says, “There’s a difference between just personally feeling bad about your body and experiencing widespread institutional fatphobia every single day. It’s a form of structural oppression, and I think a lot of people don’t realise that.”
“I think the first step is realising that you deserve better. It sounds so simple, but it is so incredibly powerful to think back to the first time you hated your body when you were a child, I was 5 years old, and realise that you never deserved to feel that way in the first place. Absolutely no 5 year old should be going through their day thinking about what they’re eating next or how to make their stomach more flat. Whatever age you were, you didn’t deserve it then, and you still don’t deserve it now.”
“I want the main take away to be that you are fully deserving of living your most vibrant and joyful and full life,” she says, “in the body you already have and always have been in.”