Body positive coloring volume uses art to challenge weight-based stigma

Image: Brittnay Herbert/ Mashable

Ashleigh Shackelford stands with unapologetic confidence, holding up a sign declaring, “Your body is not wrong. Society is.” Her image is solely outlined by thick black lines on white paper. Her fierce gaze dares you to pick up a pencil and begin to color her in.

But coloring the image of the body positive activist entails confronting the roundness of her face and the curves of her frame. It means get comfortable with her body a body society will ceaselessly label as less-than.

As your pink pencil gently traces the curves of her skirt, you realise her body is anything but incorrect. And that revelation is exactly the point.

To honor current fat activism trailblazers like Shackelford, artist Allison Tunis created Body Love: A Fat Activism Colouring Book . The volume, published in late July, is what Tunis calls an “educational coloring book” that’s component fat activism, portion art therapy.

It features the black and white images of 23 activists who Tunis calls current “superstars” of the body positive movement and they are all individuals who influenced Tunis on her own journey to self-love.

Image: Brittany HErbert/ Mashable

Tunis was inspired to create the book in December 2015 after feeling compelled to give back to the movement that helped her love her body. She had been working on her own body positive journey for about a year prior, detecting activists who had an indelible impact on her life.

“I started thinking about what I could do to contribute to that motion, because it had induced such a difference in my life, ” she tells Mashable .

“It’s not only a soothing and relaxing meditation through the act of colour, but also a meditation on self.”

Tunis, who has degrees in fine art and art therapy, says landing on the idea of a coloring volume simply induced sense, given her background. And combating the fat-based hate in society with the healing qualities of art is something Tunis knew she could help facilitate for the community.

“The fat activism and body positivity movements are so welcoming and so inclusive that I knew if I did this project, I’d have a ready-made audience, ” she says.

Though Tunis says the act of coloring in itself is meditative and relaxing, the type of therapy encouraged by Body Love: A Fat Activism Colouring Book operates deeper.

“It forces-out you to think about the different bodies and what your relationship is with them, ” she says. “It forces you to work out your own issues with bodies. It’s not only a soothing and relaxing meditation through the act of colour, but also a meditation on self.”

But that’s not only true for people who purchase the colouring volume and started to set crayon to paper. It was also true for Tunis as the illustrator of the book. The process built her confront some of the internalized weight-based hate she had toward her own body.

“As I was depicting these scenes, I realized I was able to see all of the beauty in these people so why wasn’t I able to see it in myself? ” she says.

To create the book, Tunis worked closely with the activists featured, keeping them updated on the progress and get their input on their depictions. She also offered them 25 percent of the profits.

“I’m employing their names and their images and their reputations to sell this volume, ” she says. “They deserve acknowledgment and that means monetary recognition.”

But Tunis devoted the activists a choice. They could either take the earned 25 percentage to support their own livelihoods and run, or donate it to the Canadian Mental Health Association an organization Tunis chose because of the mental health the health effects of dealing with fat hatred and weight-based stigma. She says about half of those featured has been decided to donate their cut of the profits.

Kelvin Davis, model and men’s fashion blogger, featured in “Body Love: A Fat Activism Colouring Book.”


Over the past month since the book’s release, Tunis says the ready-made audience she foresaw has pulled through, constructing the self-published volume a financial success. Some activists, like burlesque musician Noella DeVille and activist and writer Virgie Tovar, are even buying the books in bulk to sell at their own events, bringing the work to a larger audience.

But the release also pulled in another unexpected audience: children. Tunis says she’s received several notes from mothers saying they are grateful to have an alternative option to the tiny waists and unrealistic proportions that coat the pages of other coloring books.

“People have been saying that they are buying this coloring book not only for themselves, but to color in with their daughters and children, ” she says. “I genuinely think it helps spread a positive notion. You are spreading awareness that all bodies are good bodies to your children.”

“Taking the time to lovingly color images of people who definitely sounds like me is so healing…”

Substantia Jones, a fat positive photographer featured in the book, employs her own art to deconstruct how fat bodies are perceived in society, calling her work “part fat, component feminism, portion ‘fuck you.'” She describes Tunis’ coloring volume as following a similar mantra, challenging the belief of which bodies deserve to be celebrated.

“Utilizing other means of media to bring the message of body love and fat adoption to people particularly young people is nothing short of brilliant, ” Jones tells Mashable . “Wallpapering countries around the world with positive depictions of fat folks is demonstrating effective, and I’m glad to be aboard Allison Tunis’ project.”

Cynthia Ramsay Noel( left ), founder of “Flight of the Fat Girl, ” and Ashleigh Shackelford, body positive activist and writer.

Image: Brittany Herbert/ Mashable

When speaking to Mashable about the impact of the book, Tovar describes the effort as “super radical.” She says even the simple act of coloring can help to normalize a range of bodies, which was part of Tunis’ main goal.

“This coloring volume is a big deal because historically there has been almost no positive, self-directed representations of fat people in any publishing, ” Tovar says. “Coloring is a therapeutic activity that requires day and commitment. Taking the time to lovingly colouring images of people who look like me is so mending because often we are learned how to shy away from looking at our own fat bodies.”

“To every person who has ever seemed in the mirror and hated what they saw. You do not have to feel like this.”

Case analyzes conducted over the past several years found that art therapy supportings emotional well-being and lessens stress in both children and adults. Those who use art therapeutically have been found to build fewer phone calls to mental health providers and use fewer medical and mental health services.

But, even with art’s mending qualities on your side, things sometimes get tough and Tunis knows that first-hand. Even after determining body positivity, she says she still has bad days with her body image. But, she adds, the activists featured in the colouring book help her along the way.

“There’s this whole community of astonishing people who do amazing things and their bodies are a part of that, ” Tunis says. “It’s not that they are amazing in spite of their bodies. They are astounding because they are embracing their bodies. I remember there are people who love them and find them attractive. I don’t have to feel this way.”

And she echoes that notion for anyone who picks up the book through a powerful dedication that prefaces the book: “To every person who has ever appeared in the mirror and detested what they foresee. You do not have to feel like this.”

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