The devout conviction that the ability to wear a crop top was defined by a flat stomach and zero excess weight is nothing new. But recently O magazine said, “if and only if you have a flat stomach.” And there we had it. A very harmful fashion don’t. Inflamed by the discrimination of it all, the internet responded with #rock the crop, proving that there are women aware of their dignity and their right to wear anything.
Lauren Marie Fleming was one of them. She’s a body positive activist who created a 10-step program for people who hate their bodies because she felt like there were people screaming love you body everywhere, but no one explained how the hell to do it. In Fleming’s video, acceptance radiates from her eyes as she tells you that contrary to what O magazine said, you can wear a crop top. She’s a beautiful talker, so you’d think she had a rock solid foundation of support before she started fighting against body hate, but this is no story of someone who had parents who told her she was perfect the way she was. Interestingly, she wasn’t deposited on this earth by the body love fairy. It was work. That’s one of the ways she’s able to meet her audience wherever they are.
We called her to discuss some nightmarish medical advice she got about weight, the body hate comments that really trouble her, and the only reason to wear anything ever.
What do you remember feeling when you first read the O magazine answer?
Thinking of the younger me and what it would be like to be the me ten years ago who didn’t have the body confidence and what it would be like to read that. I wouldn’t have even guessed that they were wrong. I would have thought that I shouldn’t be showing my body in public, and before I came through body confidence journey, I thought about how I would feel like Oprah herself would say this to me.
So who did you make this video for?
I thought there’s going to be a girl like me who is going to just fall in love with this crop top and want to wear it and love the way they look in it, and they’re going to put it back because they don’t have flat abs, and I want that person to grab it and wear it and love wearing it. In the ‘90s, they were in style, and I had one and I never wore it out and I was afraid my parents would give me crap for wanting to wear a crop top so I promised myself I would get through my body issues when they came back in style.
How do you feel in your crop top?
Nervous. I still have nerves when I put it on and I get over those, and then I feel really really sexy.
Tell me about your body confidence journey.
It started at a really young age. I was always kind of fat, and I was queer as a kid. I felt awkward and different than anybody else. I was raised being told men wouldn’t like my size, and then I recognized that that’s not what I was looking for. I lived in Italy, and I started posing for art classes nude, and I started dancing burlesque. I wanted to really understand where body image issues actually came from. We get these messages that we’re never enough and that affects our ability to truly be in our bodies.
Where did these messages come from for you?
I got a lot from my family. I was put on a diet at a really young age. I was really uncomfortable. I remember being told look she can barely make friends when she’s fat so how is she ever going to get a boyfriend? Also, we need to make sure she loses weight. I remember this old white-haired man doctor telling me at seven years old that I was never going to get a husband. I played with my nipples a lot. I was a sexual kid, and he said, I would never be able to able to breastfeed, so these images came from doctors. I went on fen-phen after it wasn’t legal anymore, but I lived near Mexico. So of all of the people, it really came from doctors.
Your doctor said that, wow no boyfriend, no baby, that kid might as well have just offed herself.
Yeah! (laughing,) no reason to live at seven years old.
Getting back to your video, you mention how anyone who tells you you can’t wear something is selling something. How do you see magazines profiting from body hate and self-doubt?
I think they have big giant headlines promising an answer to feelings of worthlessness, 10 ways to lose weight, 10 ways to be a better mother and 10 ways to feel better about yourself. They sell these sensational headlines to make you feel better or to feel bad about yourself or bad about others…so they profit off of our own fears of not being enough by splashing headlines and advice that don’t solve the longer harder problem.
Do you believe that the O magazine creative director who gave the answer about flat stomachs simply has a narrow definition of beauty or does he have some kind of agenda?
I think that they’re selling advice and then they’re selling the talking point that, no, you should have a flat stomach and then the solution…oh you don’t, well here, we have all these products in our magazine that you can cover it up with, and still feel like you’re wearing a crop top. Here’s a list of lacy undershirts. They aren’t in that exact statement, even though their whole magazine has advertising for the companies, for the products that they’re mentioning. But they are selling something, they’re selling advice. They say, we’re authority figures and we’re going to tell you what to do instead, which will in turn make you also authority figure.
Were you ever more private about things that other people decided women should hide?
Yeah, I was very private about my body. I was told it needed to be hidden in pretty much every way. I was raised in a conservative farming town. We had a dress code in school. We had people who were constantly telling us we were sinners, so I hid lots of things about my body. Any kind of hair, you needed to shave it all, acne or pimples, they needed to be gone, and stretch marks or especially any kind of fat rolls. I struggled with not wanting to show any part of my body to the world.
Now, if someone asked you, ‘should I wear this?,’ what would you say that a standard magazine wouldn’t?
I would say that we’re told that we can’t wear this because other people can’t like you if they can’t like the way it looks on you. I don’t think everyone should wear a crop top. A lot of people would and then they’d spend the whole time beating themselves up and hating themselves, but if you love it, that is the one reason you should wear it. If you’re comfortable and confident and sassy and you’re loving yourself, then you should. That’s the reason to wear anything. You have just as much right to wear a burka as you do a crop top.
Did you anticipate the trolls when you posted this video?
I always anticipate the trolls. I’m shocked at the people who are nice. That’s just where the internet has gotten for fat women, especially fat feminists. The trolls just make me laugh. They say ridiculous things that I look like a sack of mayonnaise (laughing.) I don’t look like a sack of mayonaise. The ones that hurt aren’t the trolls that are being super mean. The ones that really hurt me are the women who say, ‘I look just like you, and I know my body shouldn’t be seen so your body shouldn’t be seen either.’ That’s like, you need to get in line fatty because I’ve gotten in line. It shows me how much more work there is to be done and how much of a privilege it is for me to wear one when the majority of my readers don’t feel comfortable.