This story is part of our Summer Bodies series, a collection of stories exploring fatness in the summertime heat. In this op-ed, Annette Richmond, who started a body-positive fat camp, explains how it creates community.

Growing up, my summers always included camp. Sleep away camp was my favorite because it usually meant activities like horseback riding and sleeping in the woods — something I rarely experienced as a city girl.

There were a lot of good times, but there were also a lot of struggles. I didn’t always fit in at camp because I went through puberty early and my body developed before most of the girls my age. I was bigger in more ways than one. However, when I look back at photos of myself now I realize that I wasn’t fat as a kid or teen. Like so many of us, I was conditioned to believe that I was. But I also grew up with a single mother who was fat. Whenever we’d watch something or go somewhere, I’d hear her ask “Where are the Big Girls?” “Why didn’t they hire any Big Girls?” When bigger bodies were included, we felt included. Hearing her ask that question fueled my quest for inclusivity.

So, to create a safe space for Big Girls, I started my own Fat Camp — but probably not in the way you’re thinking. I’m a fat activist and founder of the fat-positive group Fat Girls Traveling. To continue destigmatizing fatness and to create a place where fat people can take up space, my Fat Camp is a celebration of our community.

Although I’ve never attended a weight loss camp, I started dieting in my teens. I watched shows like Huge and Fat Camp: An MTV Docs Movie Presentation and could instantly relate to the experience of feeling different than my thinner peers. Some people are still struggling to unlearn the damaging practices taught at the kinds of weight loss camps portrayed in popular media. Although the name is the same, my Fat Camp Retreats are the complete opposite of weight loss camps. Previous camps have been held at a kids’ summer camp where campers shared cabins. In 2021 I hosted a Fat Camp Retreat that was attended by Whitney Way Thore and featured on her show, My Big Fat Fabulous Life. I’ve surprised campers with a plus-size flash mob performance and a brunch with a plus-size violinist. Fat Camp 2022 was held this spring in Finger Lakes Wine Country, New York.

Imagine an adult summer camp with day trips to explore a new area, make new friends, and connect over similarities. Think themed night activities with a dash of delicious food. The focus at Fat Camp is not food or weight, it’s community. It’s about connecting with people that look like you to discuss differences and bond over similarities.

Creating a safe space for open and honest fat-positive conversations is important. Not only are we talking about fat sex, we’re discussing the medical discrimination we’ve all experienced; or the fact that it’s still legal in every state except Michigan to fire someone simply for being fat. At camp, we’ve had fat medical professionals share ways to advocate for ourselves in doctor’s offices, as well as sex experts sharing tips and tricks.

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