A few months ago, on a clear December day in Paris, France, Jes Baker was standing before a crowd as the city's guest of honor, wearing a shimmering gold dress and a beaming smile.
"La grossophobie, c'est ... bullshit," she told them.
As a fat activist and prominent body image author, she doesn't mince words, even in front of an audience that included the deputy mayor of Paris: Fatphobia is bullshit.
All photos via Jes Baker/The Militant Baker, used with permission.
She was speaking in the ornate salons of Hôtel de Ville as part of a conference of government officials, researchers, activists, and thought leaders from around the world. They had gathered to discuss discrimination against fat people.
The Parisian government, which hosted the event, also unveiled its manifesto challenging anti-fat bias and making a commitment to eradicating it. It was a monumental moment for the city, which had yet to include "size" in its anti-discrimination laws.
But it was also a deeply personal moment for Jes. She could never have imagined that her journey to make peace with her body would someday lead her to Paris, where she would assert the dignity of fat people around the world. And she would do it all while wearing a killer dress and heels.
Almost six years earlier, though, Jes wasn't quite that confident. In fact, she says, that's when she hit her "emotional rock bottom."
At the time, Jes was 26. She was working as a full-time baker, living with a partner who, she says, "would rather watch television while eating chicken nuggets" than be present and engaged with the world or with her. With a demanding job and a lack of intimate connection, Jes occupied her time with lifestyle blogs, including her own about vintage kitchenware.
Surfing the internet one night, Jes found the blog The Nearsighted Owl, written by a woman named Rachele. "I instantly connected with [Rachele's] love of thrifting, cats, and purple beehives," Jes says. But it wasn't the cats or vintage charm of Rachele's blog that captivated Jes the most — it was seeing a fat woman living and loving unapologetically.
While The Nearsighted Owl is no longer online, Rachele's fearless voice led Jes to an important realization. "[I thought] maybe I don't have to hate myself for the rest of my life," Jes recalls. "If she can love herself, maybe I can too?"
Up until that point, this deceptively simple but powerful idea had never crossed her mind.
Inspired, Jes delved into the world of fat acceptance and body positivity, reading everything she possibly could, especially perspectives that were different from her own.
And along the way, those writers gave her something she'd never had before: permission.
"[I found] permission to feel worthy. Of what exactly, in the beginning, I wasn't sure," Jes remembers. "But I knew I deserved better than I had been treating myself."
She continues, "I started to explore what I could do when I was relieved of some of the shame I had weighing me down my entire life."
She stopped blogging about the history of aluminum measuring spoons and did something much more vulnerable: She started writing about her road to recovery.
Her blog, The Militant Baker, became about everything from fashion photography — where she wore short dresses and swimsuits that she never would've dared to before — to political posts taking diet culture and fatphobia to task.
With a mix of vulnerability, humor, attitude, and unfiltered honesty, Jes's blog exploded in popularity, with media platforms like BBC, CNN, Time magazine, People magazine, and countless others featuring her work. But popularity was never the aim.
"For me, it's always about the power of liberation," she explains. "Freedom from any restrictions that others may push towards you. This includes freedom from subscribing to self-loathing and diet culture [and those who] have their own ideas about what that [liberation] should look like for you."
Jes says liberation is a journey — one that begins with giving ourselves permission to live life.
"Liberation is freedom from all outside expectations, even our own," she says. "Liberation is slowly learning how to become the best version of our whole selves."
Becoming our best selves can be an intimidating goal, though. That's why she has a few suggestions on where to start.
Diversifying who you follow on platforms like Instagram is one simple way to begin. "If we want our media feeds to represent real life (and ultimately show us that our body isn't strange, weird, or awful), we need to go out and actively find diverse images for ourselves," she writes.
Jes also advocates for gentleness. As she points out, the journey toward self-acceptance is difficult. "This is not the 'easy way out' in the slightest," she explains. "But just because it's not the easy way out doesn't mean it's not worth it."
Jes admits that sometimes she thinks dieting would be easier in a world that celebrates thin bodies. But if she's going to struggle, she'd rather work toward living her life on her own terms and not make her happiness dependent on something like size.
But it's not about loving her body all the time, either. Rather than doing a full 180 and forcing herself to feel one particular way, Jes found that not obsessing about her body at all — and finding a neutral, self-compassionate place — was most helpful in her journey.
"We used to want the three easiest ways to lose weight. When we reject that, we then start looking for the three easiest ways to love our bodies. It's totally natural," Jes says. "[But] asking someone to achieve body love can quickly become another unattainable prerequisite, much like the desire to change our body into what is deemed desirable."
"The real freedom lies in the gray area," she adds, "which is also the most difficult to sit in comfortably."
Jes unpacks all of this (and more) in her upcoming memoir "Landwhale." The title, which was once an insult used against her by online trolls, is now a source of pride.
Jes's journey shows that a simple idea — "I am enough" — can completely transform lives.
It's a powerful message that can touch people across communities, oceans, and even languages.
Jes was reminded of this power after a panel at that conference in Paris, when a man eagerly approached her to show off his new book. "I looked down and saw an entire section dedicated to the Abercrombie and Fitch campaign I had done years ago," Jes says. "I spoke little French and he didn't speak ANY English, but there was this moment of gratitude for and between both of us — it was humbling."
It's a message that Jes now hopes will come from new voices, too.
"[I want] to amplify marginalized voices that are far more important than my own through this platform," she says. She hopes that those coming up behind her will be a greater reflection of the diversity she sees in this movement.
She knows the road ahead won't be easy, but the right to live your life on your own terms is what ultimately makes it worth it. It's this kind of freedom that Jes keeps fighting for — not just for herself, but for every one of us.
"Trust yourself that you're doing the best you can and that it's enough," she tells me. "And if you ever need a cheerleader in your corner to remind you of this, I'm here for you."