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There’s a Fat Photo Reference Site and I Can’t Express How Happy That Makes Me as a Fat Woman

Give me all of the plus size pose references, please!

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I’ve already spoken about the amount of criticism that gets hurled toward fat people who dare to exist, even within the body positivity movement. It’s been something I’ve talked about for years, to be honest, but I haven’t really talked about another layer of frustration: trying to create positive fat characters. I don’t just mean that from the perspective of knowing that someone’s gonna jump in the comments and call you an [insert large animal] or tell you to stop eating [insert unhealthy food] while also telling you to not eat too much salad because then it’s like you’re a cow grazing on grass (a real-life, actual factual comment I received in cosplay once).

I mean from the perspective of trying to find references to work with for creative projects you want to illustrate fat people in.

Trying to find photo references to use for art proved to be a difficult task if I wanted to sketch characters who were closer to my body type, and well, it never occurred to me to take pictures of my damn self because I thought art pages would have many body types at the ready. As you’ve probably already guessed if you’ve been in the same boat as me, many of the resources I found either didn’t have my body type at all or had limited poses. Let me tell you, trying to find fat body references in dynamic shots was a crapshoot and I got real frustrated real fast.

Then I saw Ruby Ball on Twitter.

Ruby is an artist who decided to take matters into her own hands when it came to finding fat photo references by making an entire website full of images. Not only did she model several of the pictures with her partner acting as her photographer, she made it open for others to submit to so she wouldn’t be the only photo reference available.

The website (Fat Photo Reference) is a password-protected page where once you request access, you are treated to a library of photos featuring fat people in all kinds of poses. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. More poses besides “hand on the hip.” You could search by category and through tags. There was a page dedicated to more resources besides the website.

Landing page for Fat Photo Reference

Artwork by Ruby Ball

More importantly, there were different varieties of fat bodies to draw inspiration from because, well, fat comes in a lot of shapes and sizes.

I reached out for an interview and am happy to share it with you all. Ruby took the time to talk about the inspiration behind the site, some behind-the-scenes of her reference pictures, and future goals with the page and with her art.

I am so excited to see a photo reference site with body types that are closer to what I look like! What inspired you to create your fat photo reference site? Why fat bodies in particular?

I’ve been fat since I was a kid. I honestly can’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t shamed or judged about my weight. Additionally, I can basically count the number of positive depictions of fat people I’ve seen in art, media, and pop culture on one hand. The idea for Fat Photo Ref (FPR) came about while I was in college taking a life drawing course. I loved the class, but I hated how similar all the models were. Sure, the ages and gender of the models would vary, but rarely—if ever,  would their weight.

As a fat artist, this felt wholly unacceptable and inspired me to focus my thesis solely on fat women. When I started looking for models for the show, it was nearly impossible to find any willing participants. Finally, I settled on focusing that body of work on women sharing lewd nudes or partially nude photos in a BBW forum on reddit. That show was in 2014, and while I’m still proud of the work I did, I wanted something more. I started thinking about the art I personally enjoyed and began taking stock of the things I liked in those works. Pop surrealism is really where my heart lies, but I realized it was rare to see fat people in those pieces, if ever. I decided I should just start making that work myself.

I’m a big believer in always using reference photos. However, trying to find reference of any kind of fat person online is a literal minefield of shame, mockery, and diet culture.

I will say that SenshiStock on DeviantArt was a small oasis in this reference desert. Their DeviantArt gallery of poses, while not limited to fat people, did and still does have a wonderful collection of fat people in everyday poses. Literally, nearly every fat artist I know has used their gallery at some point. However, for the most part, stock photos of fat people are the same; fat person looking sad at scale, fat person looking adoringly at a cheeseburger, fat person with measuring tape, etc. Outside of stock images, porn or fetish media there wasn’t much available for me to reference. And while I have no issues with that kind of work, that’s not what I wanted to make.

It was massively frustrating, and all of my frustration came to a head this past summer, and thus, Fat Photo Reference was born.

What do you hope to accomplish with this website?

Honestly, I just want to encourage people to paint, draw, or otherwise create art of fat people the same way they’ve created art of thin people. Fat people don’t exist to be the butt of jokes or the monster in cautionary tales. We exist, we are beautiful, and we deserve respect.

Is this a solo endeavor for you? Is there anyone else we should be showing love to with this website?

Currently, yes! Ideally, someday it would be nice to have a team of folks helping run things, but for now, it’s just me. I will say my partner, Olivia, has been invaluable in helping me brainstorm poses, supplying props, and taking a good portion of the photos for me. I also have some excellent moderators on our Discord server, Jordyn and Kelly.

There’s such a wide range of poses on the site, from lounging, to ballet, to playing the ukulele! How do you come up with the poses you use in your photos? 

Other than just grabbing whatever we have lying around our apartment, we have an FPR discord server (there’s a link on the site!) with a channel where people can request poses they’d like to see or need for the art they’re working on, so I’ll usually check there first and make a vague list. Again, my partner Olivia is very good at suggesting ideas for me as well.

Ruby playing the ukulele

Photographer: Olivia. Model: Ruby Ball

Any favorite poses you’ve done? Any favorites that others have done?

My personal favorite of mine is probably the “pinup” pose I did in my first round of photos. I honestly had never thought of my body being used for a pinup, but the pose turned out so good and I just love it. My favorite that others have done would absolutely be by Catuallie on Twitter. She and her partner have submitted a couple of sets of their own photos to the site and while they’re all gorgeous, she has one of her spinning in a twirly dress and it’s just incredibly good with lots of magical-girl-transformation vibes.

I see that people are allowed to submit photos, what inspired you to let others take part in this website?

Primarily it was because I knew that being fat, like a lot of things, isn’t one size fits all. There’s a spectrum of fatness, shapes of fat, etc. My body, my shape, and my size is just one speck in the vast array of fat bodies that deserve depiction. Also, as a white cis woman, it felt incredibly important to emphasize the intersectionality of being fat and – basically any other identity(s) whether it be race, gender, sexuality, etc.

Are all photos fair game or are there restrictions on what the site will take?

There are definitely limits, but I try to evaluate photos on a case by case basis. Ideally, I ask for photos to be mostly Safe For Work (SFW) but non-sexual nudity is permitted. I truly don’t have a problem with NSFW art, artists, or people who enjoy that type of art, but I just wanted FPR to be different.

Have you used any of the references on the site for your artwork?

Absolutely! My favorite so far has been this piece I did for Fat Craft – an incredible annual zine run by Shelby Bergen and Jess Booworth. I’m still so honored I got to be a part of Volume 2.

Artwork by Ruby featured in the Fat Craft zine

Artwork by Ruby Ball for Fat Craft zine Vol 2

How long have you been doing art?

My Mom was always painting and doing art with me as a kid and I just never stopped. I started pursuing art as a career back in my freshman year of high school.

I appreciate the measures you’ve taken to try and protect the people who submit photos to the site (letting them blur their faces out, letting them choose if they want to be credited, and letting them know they can tell you if they’re harassed). I think it’s important to not only have this site as a resource but to protect the people involved (to the best of your ability). Is that why the website is password protected? It’s kinda frustrating that it even has to be, but I know how people are when it comes to fat bodies.

Yep, unfortunately, there’s a lot of people on the internet who just viscerally hate fat people. That’s also why I only use my photos to promote the site. I knew what I was signing up for and I’ll usually get some hateful comments or DMs, but so far the site hasn’t had any major issues, so I think the password seems to be helping.

A site like this will, hopefully, help creators in creating more versatile portrayals of fat people. Who are some of your favorite fat characters, or fat people outside of fiction?

This is a fun question and I have the weirdest answer for it. One of my all-time favorite fat characters is Bobby Hill from King of the Hill. There’s an episode where Bobby talks about his weight and it has always stuck with me. In the scene, he says “Mom, I’m fat. But big deal. I don’t feel bad about it, and you never made me feel bad about it. And just because there are people out there who want me to feel bad about it doesn’t mean I have to. So Bobby Hill’s fat. He’s also funny, he’s nice, he’s got a lot of friends, a girlfriend. And if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go outside right now and squirt her with water. What are you going to do?”

via GIPHY

As far as real fat people go, the singer Mary Lambert has been an idol to me for a long time. A lot of people don’t know her outside of the part she sings in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Same Love, but her music is raw and powerful and so important to me.

via GIPHY

What’s next for you? Any projects we should know about?

Lots and lots of photo-taking, site updating, and painting hopefully. I lost my Dad in April of last year, so I didn’t get to make a lot of work in 2020. I’m really hoping that 2021 is the year I get to focus more on myself and some purely self-indulgent art.

As far as projects coming up, my friend Jordyn (referenced in the interview) and I are running a project called “Fat Folks Tarot” which is really exciting. We’ve got 78 artists on board, each designing a different Tarot card featuring a fat person, and at the end of it all, we’re going to be selling the deck to fundraise for Trans Lifeline. The sketches and in-progress pieces I’ve seen so far are just incredible! We’re hoping to open pre-orders in March, but a date won’t be set until we can get a proof from our manufacturer.

_

I greatly appreciate a resource like this being available and hope that it inspires creators to do more work with fat bodies in mind. This is a welcome addition to the art community and an amazing way to champion body positivity.

(Image: Photography by Olivia. Artwork and modeling by Ruby Ball)

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Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)