Talk about a rough start to a new job. Connie Levitsky, 24, had only been working at Addition Elle for a week when the Edmonton-based criminology student was hauled into her manager’s office for characterizing her new gig as “conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time” on her Facebook page.
Levitsky was told to take it down immediately, which she did. “I’m known for being a shithead,” she says self-deprecatingly. “That’s literally all it was. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I wasn’t trying to hurt people’s feelings.”
Regardless, a few days later, she was fired and the fat fracas made headlines. Though Addition Elle has subsequently apologized for firing her and even offered to give her back her job, Levitsky isn’t tempted to rejoin the fold. “I’m realizing that I can’t really relate to them as a company if that’s how they feel about the way I identify myself,” she says.
Here, she explains what fat means to her, what she’d like to see change about the way fashion deals with fat bodies and why she freaking loves Gabourey Sidibe.
When you wrote that bio on your Facebook page, did you ever think that it was going to elicit that kind of response?
I never thought that my district manager would see it but she did. I think it was Huffington Post—I can’t remember—that said it was rather “cheeky” of me [to say that] and I would have to agree with that. People who know me will definitely agree that I’m a bit of a troublemaker, but I never do anything out of spite or to hurt someone. I really try hard not to be that kind of person.
So what exactly was your manager’s problem with your post?
She said that [Addition Elle] prefers terms like “curvy” or “shapely” to describe customers and that I was going to offend people.
Addition Elle issued an apology for how it dealt with you and the statement sort of implied that they’re negotiating your return. What’s the status of that relationship?
That post they sent out is contentious for me as well because they were vague about the context of the way I used the word “fat” and as a result I’ve had a lot of people say that they were under the impression that I used it in the store [in conversation with customers], and that’s absolutely not true.
But I did end the conversation with them on a good note. They did offer me my job back and I declined.
Fat is a loaded word, and not one that a lot of people would be thrilled to use to describe themselves…
I absolutely recognize and respect that and I think that something else people are misunderstanding is that I think people should be using that word to identify themselves; I don’t think that at all. My own relationship to that word is really complex and shaped by my own experiences. It’s taken a long time for me to become comfortable with using fat to describe myself and it’s been shaped by a lot of introspection, a lot of education about why we think that word is so wrong to use and why fat people are seen the way they are.
You started the hashtag #IAMFAT…
It was a play on Addition Elle’s ‘I Am Size Sexy’ hashtag. It’s not just Addition Elle that’s following this idea that women’s fat bodies have to be sexualized in order to be accepted. But I think a huge problem with sexualizing fat bodies is that [it’s only one type]. Look at the spokesperson that was chosen for Addition Elle, Ashley Graham. She is beautiful [ed note: we love Ashley!], but she’s also not representative of all fat bodies. Bodies like hers are sexualized. Bodies like mine aren’t sexualized: I have the big stomach and the big boobs and the big legs that aren’t toned and I have cellulite.
Aside from being a play on Addition Elle’s hashtag, #IAMFAT really was for me a declaration that I’m fat and I’m OK with it. I’m not ashamed to say it. Ideally, I would like other women not to be ashamed of it either.
How do you feel when someone calls you curvy or shapely?
I think it comes from a place of trying to be kind and I understand that. Fat is a very abrupt word. Curvy and shapely are meant to soften a blow that they don’t realize never really existed and that they’re actually dealing themselves. I also feel that they don’t really represent how I identify myself. Women like Ashley Graham are curvy and shapely and I’m not any of those things.
I understand why you feel that calling yourself fat is empowering. But would you like it if people referred to you that way?
In my own experience I have had that word thrown at me as an insult and especially by men…obviously if it’s coming from a place of hate I would address why they felt that way. I also understand that there is a huge difference between making a self-deprecating joke that’s meant to be light and funny and having someone else call you something. That being said, I feel like I have made it pretty clear that I didn’t mean it in an insensitive way.
It’s a complex issue and there are a lot of emotions involved and there’s debate about language. What kind of vocabulary do you want to see used?
There’s nothing wrong with the words curvy or shapely in and of themselves. They exist for a reason. And I don’t have any problem with people identifying themselves that way and I don’t have a problem with Addition Elle using those words to describe their clientele. It’s that they are using those words and excluding others. We need to start including all the ways in which people identify and all voices need to be accepted…I would like the vocabulary to expand to include all the words that we can use to identify ourselves in terms of our body shapes and sizes and not be limited to a select few.
Who inspires you?
Gabourey Sidibe. She’s beautiful and she owns it. I really do admire women who are unashamedly fat.