Kharma Fisher was already in the middle of a very bad day when she bumped into a Justin Siena alum while grabbing something quick to eat from Oxbow. With no intention of saying anything other than hello to her former classmate, Kharma found herself locked in place taking verbal uppercuts to the gut.
After this high school mean girl made remarks about Kharma’s employment (eww, so poor) and her tattoos (boys don’t like those), she left with one final parting jab, “Wow you look…great…like you’ve gained at least 20 pounds or something…you’ve really just gotten fatter since high school.”
Kharma took to Instagram to share those hurtful words over a photo of her naked body with vibrant stripes of paint running down her stretch marks. The photographer captured Kharma mid-laugh. She is radiant.
I was struck by the poise and grace with which Kharma handled her retelling of the exchange and her shift of focus to love and acceptance. My first thought upon seeing her Instastory was, “What a cunt. I hope Kharma hit her.” My second thought was, “Kharma has more figured out at age 19 than I do at 34. She’s going to take over the world.” So, I invited Kharma to sit down and talk about body image.
We met at Monday Bakery to get into the mean girl shame game, fat labels, and what makes the world a better place – body positivity or body neutrality?
Do you identify with “fat” as a description?
No, I don’t. It’s a word that has been used and pointed at me in a lot of different ways. What was really hurtful was my dad. He isn’t involved anymore, but when I was super young and he was still a little bit involved, he would use that word to describe me. For a while, that word would just hit me where it hurts. I was tormenting myself until I was like, ‘No, this is just my body type.’ I work out. I eat right. I do the things that my body needs to be healthy. This is my shape and this is who I am. I’m never going to be a skinny double zero and that’s just fine. I’ve accepted those jiggly bits and the stretch marks and the cellulite. I don’t identify with “fat.” Sure, I’ll throw it around every now and again but it’s not my word to carry.
As a woman, do you think there’s any greater insult than, “you’re fat”?
Ummmm, talking about body image – I guess not. With our society, where we throw a bunch of stick-y girls up all around, there’s not a lot of diversity in body image. I think “fat,” for young girls, for my age and younger, is a really really hurtful word to hear. But I think it gets worse when people bring in “slut.” That’s when I think it reaches a level where you have no right to being say that.
Did you feel pressure in high school to be a certain way and did you make changes to fit that idea of who you were “supposed” to be?
Uh huh, yes. Early high school, yes. Freshman year I was really longing to fit in and to hang out with the It Crowd. I did juice cleanses. I tried to hang out with the popular girls and party. I tried for a really long time to fit in, until I woke up and realized this isn’t who I am. I’m getting a really awesome education for free. I’m making connections I’ll be able to use when I’m older. It was a grounding period of time. It made me feel connected to myself. Of course, there were times when I felt really isolated and lonely, but I think that’s true of anyone’s experience in high school. It was an experience I was meant to have.
Outside of high school, do you feel the same types of pressures or feel the same type of judgment from others?
My first serious boyfriend was very misogynistic. He would lay on me about my body. He’d say things like, “why don’t you eat a salad,” or “why don’t you get a green juice.” He’d ask if I should go for a run and he’d tell me to shave my legs. Coming out of high school, that felt very familiar to me. I didn’t know if I was going to stay in Napa. All of my friends had left. It was at a time when I felt vulnerable and isolated, so I chose what felt familiar.
When people ask these kinds of leading questions or say something directly insulting, what is your reaction in that moment?
Some days are better than others. Some days I’m like, “I don’t care. Fuck it. I am who I am.” And then there are other days when I’m feeling insecure and it hurts a little bit. I’ve been through it enough that I can brush it off and know this is who I am and these are the really beautiful parts about me. Then I’ll write down five things I love about myself, or I’ll look through pictures, or I’ll call a friend.
Externally, I just say, “Oh ok, thanks.” A lot of times people make these comment when I’m at work and I can’t say, “Fuck you. Who do you think you are talking about my body like this?”
It’s easy to laugh about. I grew up so blessed and so lucky to see all these different representations of what it means to be a woman and what it is to really really love yourself.
How about long-term? What sort of effect have these remarks had on your life?
For a really long time, I had bad self-esteem issues. Every now and then it will pop up again. I can be shopping for overalls or something that isn’t even form-fitting and I’ll hear stupid remarks in my head. Or I’ll have a shitty day and be in a rain cloud mood and I’ll think about them. Sometimes I’ll just think, “Fuck a lot of people have made horrible remarks about my body.”
Why do you think people feel like they have the right to comment on your body?
Look at society. There’s a lot of talk about, “boys like this.” Look at Seventeen Magazine. They publish articles like “Top 10 Ways to Get a Boy’s Attention.” That’s telling young girls and women that they need to do these things to be recognized, not just by men but by their peers too.
What did your mom teach you about your body?
My mom’s style of parenting is really hippie-dippie and really funky and I love it. When I was 7, she dyed my hair pink because that’s what I wanted. Now that I’m older, she explained to me that her emphasis was on teaching me that this is my body and that she doesn’t get to dictate how I use it to express myself. She knew if that’s how I was raised, I won’t let someone else do that to me. Or I won’t let society tell me what my body needs to look like.
Have you seen any shifts in how our culture has been more openly representative with body types?
I’ve seen really big strides but I don’t think they’re big enough. I went to Target to buy underwear and they switched their branding. There was a lot of diversity in the photos they showed to market the underwear. There was a woman who was in her 60s or 70s with silver hair and a woman who was curvy. Target is really accessible price point-wise and everyone shops there. I’d like to see more big corporations make similar steps with their marketing. Also – seeing people publicly boycott Victoria’s Secret is huge for transphobia and fat shaming.
What do we need – body positivity or body neutrality?
There’s a place for both. I can see a place for body positivity in schools. It can be something as simple as adding body positivity into sex education and it can make a real difference. Not all little girls or little boys or however someone identifies, are hearing body positive messages from their families. It can be impactful for them to hear about body positivity from a young age because then it becomes a part of how they see the world.