With the ending of life comes always comes the visitation of what that life entailed, and the passing of Leonard Nimoy a few days ago is no exception. And while the world rediscovers all of the actor/director/poet/singer/photographer/activist's work, the body positive realm has become especially enamored by his fat girl photography. I'm included in that group, but not only am I impressed with the images (that were at the time considered radical- Adipositivity also came out that year) but also with his approach, respect of people and authenticity in which he talked about body acceptance.
"The Full Body Project"- a collection of photographs of joyful fat women from a burlesque troupe in San Francisco- was published in book form in 2007 and of course with the launch, there were interviews galore. But these interviews were nothing short of appalling which, sadly isn't surprising but definitely disappointing. Regardless of whether it was NPR or The New York Times, each interviewer never failed to sling sensationalized questions about his sexual preferences or his thoughts on the "new" connection between fat and disease. They also relied heavily on the clinical shock word "obesity" to move the conversation forward. What impressed me though, was that in the midst of this, his responses to these conditioned probes were wonderful. Instead of a Wow this is fascinating! the news was focused on the Wait, why did you do this? and yet he managed to answer these questions sincerely without insulting the offender or playing into the desired drama.
Beyond his ubiquitous championing of the fact that our standards are unrealistic and everyone deserves to feel good about themselves, Nimoy was also quick to shut down the simplistic "health concerns" that everyone likes tout when talking about fat people by emphasizing that there is more to the picture. When asked by Scott Simon if he was aware of the link between cancer and "obesity" Leonard said:
I'm aware of that. I just became aware of it in the last two or three days. I haven't seen the science, I haven't seen the information on it, and I'm obviously will be looking into it very carefully and with great interest. I'm also aware that there are studies that tell us that stress and lack of self-image, lack of self-esteem, severe dieting, binge dieting and binge eating can also be very damaging to a body and bring on various kinds of abnormalities. So one wonders if there is a counterbalance to this issue, I don't know. I'm not a scientist, I don't plan to know.
He addressed it. Plans on being educated. Acknowledged other complex issues that might affect people's emotional well being/body development and then basically went on to say It's not that important when it comes to the point of my photography which is to give fat women a platform in which to visibly love themselves. For someone who wasn't heavily involved in the body acceptance movement, this perspective is both surprising and a breath of fresh air. We STILL don't know how to talk about fat bodies yet without it sounding like we're commenting on a circus act, but he did. And that's even more rare than the photos themselves.
When asked about his final thoughts on fat women and if he thought they we're beautiful, he said:
“I do think they’re beautiful. They’re full-bodied, full-blooded human beings.
Nimoy and I were never buddies. We never chatted about body activism together. But from what I have read, heard, and most importantly seen through the happiness found in the images, he was a person who understood the simple fact that most of our world has yet to grasp: all bodies are beautiful, and all humans are worthy.
And that my friends, is a beautiful thing.