In a social media world obsessed with #looks and peach emoji captions, the influencer economy is booming. In the fitness community, thinness is the currency that guarantees you profit. In recent years, the typical fitgirl Instagram model look is the following: tanned (white) skin, pronounced muscular booty, small-but-perky breasts, and a snatched waist. With few visible alternatives to follow on social media, I subconsciously strive to emulate these airbrushed bodies when I hit the gym myself. I, however, do not seek to lose any remnants of fat on my body; I love the body I am in, and see fitness as a way to care for it as it carries me through life. I’ve always viewed fitness as a form of self-care, release, and dare I say, fun.
In my own fitness journey, I’ve attached myself to two fitness personalities — Whitney Simmons and Stephanie Buttermore. The former for workout inspiration, the latter for her scientific approach to working out. Stephanie Buttermore is a YouTuber and Instagram personality who is a PhD-level cancer researcher. She and her boyfriend, Jeff Nippard, are beloved by their fanbases for their science- and research-based explanations for various strength training exercises and trends. Studious as I am, it was beneficial for me to understand exactly what was happening in my body with the varied workouts I completed every week. In short, they offer something unique to the fitness community that, regardless of my complicated feelings about what will follow here, has real value.
Stephanie’s channel in 2018 and the first half of 2019 contained a mix of workout and “cheat day” videos. The former was good enough, but I always felt a strange way about Stephanie’s consistent posting of videos wherein she, quite simply, binge eats for a day. Seriously. She would eat upwards of 10,000 calories on these cheat days, and let the camera follow her for every bite. She of course would explain in great detail the science behind what she was doing, reassuring us that such binge eating was done safely and by the book. Yet, considering how thin Stephanie was at the time she was posting these videos, it seemed more than a bit curious.
In addition to this, Stephanie would often remark in these and other videos that she’s always had a voracious appetite, and was most often cold to the bone. As a woman with a history of body building and swimsuit modeling, she was no stranger to “lean bulking” and restrictive eating patterns.
As I watched these videos, my internal criticism was often that Stephanie’s thin body allowed her to post such videos without significant pushback from her fans and haters alike. A skinny-to-“normal” sized person eating an entire box of Krispy Kreme donuts? They’re hungry. Watch a fat person do the same and they’re one Diet Coke away from an emergency room in the eyes of the public. A fat ass. A shame. Thin people are permitted the sin of gluttony.
And so, when Stephanie decided last summer that she would begin an “All In” journey, I was somewhat shocked. In the below video, she explains her reasoning for going on this journey. In layman’s (nee, unscientific) terms, Stephanie essentially committed to stop restrictive eating and fitness regimens that were actively ruining her health and quality of life.
That sounds a lot like someone recovering from…an eating disorder. That’s where the discourse here begins.
Since this announcement, Stephanie’s entire image and branding has changed. She went from a fitness-obsessed muscle babe to a curvy, love yourself ambassador. The content of her YouTube channel shifted to focus on her All In journey — updates, progress montages, and full-day-of-eating vlogs. Since this journey began, she has not posted a cheat day video. Of course, when you aren’t putting limitations on yourself on the reg, you wouldn’t crave nearly 10,000 calories as often, right?
The most frightening thing about seeing Stephanie gradually put on weight is the stark contrast to her body before she began. Seeing before and after photos side by side, it is haunting to see how prominent Stephanie’s frame was through her skin. It is plain to see how her bigger, softer body is more glowing and joyful than the shell that she was in before.
With new curves in tow, Stephanie frequently posts about the emotional aspects of her All In journey. By frequently, I mean in nearly every Instagram post. It is interesting to see Stephanie reflect on the negativity she has received since gaining weight from people who would rather see defined muscle selfies from a fitness blogger. Understandably, she is often defensive to these sorts of comments. The uncomfortable aspect of the way Stephanie speaks about her new body is the way in which she seems to martyr herself as a champion of the fairly common phenomena of gaining weight.
She speaks of having curves as an everyday battle; the added weight as something she (and we, as her audience) should learn to love. The grandeur with which she speaks about gaining weight seems to be lacking a bigger picture view of how Stephanie’s body fits in the world. At her heaviest, her hips were about 42 inches around, which for those of us in the US constitutes a size 8-10 or a standard medium or large depending on what store you’re shopping at. This is about the size of the average woman in America, and here we have someone who believes it revolutionary to simply exist in a body of this size.
When you consider just how skinny she was before going All In, it begins to make more sense. The problem with this journey, however, is that it seems Stephanie is not being transparent about how her eating and fitness habits pre-weight gain were dangerous. What’s more, how she seems to hold all aspects of her fitness journey in the past and present as equally viable options for her followers. There has been little critical discussion on her part regarding how having such low body fat can affect your health in the ways she was experiencing. She’s chalked up any negative bodily reactions to the specific diet or eating pattern she was adhering to at the time, rather than her body’s composition itself. She’s discussed at length the emotional and scientific aspects of her routines, while conveniently under-representing the physical ones.
To the untrained eye, it may seem like Stephanie has simply decided to make a lifestyle change that resulted in her gaining weight. If we look a little deeper, we may see that Stephanie very well could have been recovering from a mild eating disorder, or at the very least a level of disordered eating. The signs should not be dismissed: frailness, sallow skin, excessive hunger, cold body temperature, patterns of binge eating. As a fitness blogger, it is not a stretch to believe that the pressures she speaks so frankly about in her social media posts affected her in such a way. Which is why her love-your-curves campaign feels so shallow; it misses an opportunity to talk about the very real and very physical dangers of our society’s fixation on physical “fitness.” A body is not fit just because it is thin.
And the effects of this mindset outlive Stephanie’s smaller body. The other challenging thing about her approach to discussing All In is the omission of true fat bodies from the discussion entirely. Even after a weight gain of 30+ pounds, Stephanie still benefits from the privilege of having a more socially-acceptable body, and rarely if ever does she advocate for bodies that are bigger than hers in the fitness community. It seems she can only understand the battle of gaining weight insofar as the imagination ends at “curvy.” Without a frank discussion about dangerously-thin bodies or hyperfocus on diets, Stephanie’s feel good posts come off as hollow platitudes about loving yourself even if you aren’t a size 0. Her messaging says that we should love our bodies in spite of what society may see as an excess of weight, which is not true body inclusivity. Put frankly, it makes Stephanie seem self-serving in her venture for body positivity; she wants to feel better about herself. Who doesn’t on social media?
Ultimately, it seems that Stephanie has focused so intently on the semantics of the science surrounding her various diets, workout regimens, and binge eating, that she has potentially lured her followers away from the simplistic reality of what her All In journey really represents. We need to call All In what it is: having a healthy relationship to food, and not fixating on adhering to restrictive caloric guidelines. This is the reality that all of us should be living — a truth that should be self-evident, and yet one that was elusive to a fitness blogger like Stephanie.
To be clear, Stephanie doesn’t owe us the admission of anything that she might have gone through in her smaller body; and at the same time, as an influencer she should feel a responsibility to be some level of honest about when thin becomes a psychological need rather than a natural state. In a landscape of “biggest losers” and “revenge bodies,” it’s clear that our society is not yet ready to accept fat bodies as worthy of love, or even admiration. On the contrary, we also aren’t ready to discuss what disordered eating looks like, and how to discuss it without shame. Somewhere at the intersection of these discussions is healing and acceptance. Stephanie Buttermore, however imperfect her journey may be, can teach us something about our bodies. Curvy is a good start. But just beyond those curves lies a bounty of love we can give to folks in fat bodies.
No one should have to hate their body into our out of existence