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helen vs. the haters: fat shaming in the lbc


Helen lights up like the most talented of the models I’ve worked with and I can tell immediately that she’s a professional. Her cv confirms: she’s danced in a Billy Idol music video; she’s been doing bit parts on television for the better part of her years. She’s affable and funny and makes a lively subject. We’re shooting on location at the RMS Queen Mary and Helen is telling the one about the improv class gone awry when I hear laughter behind us. It’s not nice laughter. 

The hope for the shoot is to show large people embracing travel. By air, by boat, by public transit. The art director has been describing to me the barriers faced when big people travel internationally. And even stateside. She talks about universal accessibility, hospitality, and fat shaming. And I’ve been taking notes, hoping to translate ideas into images.

More laughter from behind me makes me blush—on whose behalf, I’m not entirely sure—and turn to find our heckler. An average, middle-aged, khaki-wearing kind of man doing average things. I turn back to Helen, camera lowered in order to make eye contact. All okay? I try to ask with a raised eyebrow.
Transitioning expertly between poses, she traces the arc of the brim of her hat and speaks her mind: “That’s right,” she says, looking steadily at her aggressor. “Fat women can model too!”
I feel like Helen just landed a throat punch. I’m so happy to be working with her, making photographs that tell a story that needs telling.

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