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Fat Babes Of Columbus Make A Splash With Body-Positive Pool Parties

Fat Babes Of Columbus founders, from left: Jeannette Burchfield, Hannah Godown, Elizabeth Chinn and Krystal Orr.
Courtesy of Chelsea Tanksley
Fat Babes Of Columbus founders, from left: Jeannette Burchfield, Hannah Godown, Elizabeth Chinn and Krystal Orr.

On a recent Tuesday at Bake Me Happy, four women order lattes and scones before settling into zigzag-patterned bean bags and couches.

“Bake Me Happy is fat-friendly,” Chinn explains, as her three co-founders pull out their laptops and cellphones. “(Fat is) a word that describes adipose tissue, which is fat tissue, which we all have in abundance.”

The women are the founders of Fat Babes Club Of Columbus, and they’ve come to this Merion Village café to plan a pool party for fat women.

Founded just a few months ago, Fat Babes Club Of Columbus is already making a big splash in the Midwest and around the country – they even appeared on NBC’s Today Show this month.

Krystal Orr, Hannah Godown, Jeannette Burchfield and Elizabeth Chinn met on the internet. Chinn says they’re all fat women who blog about fashion on Instagram.

“We all just really organically met for coffee, and it was just like, ‘We’re all obsessed with each other,’” Chinn says. “We realized there’s a big deficit in our community here in Columbus that we don’t really have anything that represents people of size.”

Fat Babes Club Of Columbus wants to fill that gap, and summer is the perfect time: It’s swimsuit season, which can be especially difficult for plus-sized people. Magazine headlines and Instagram posts promote ab workouts and diets for a “bikini ready” body.

But at their pool party, every body is bikini ready.

“Call Me Fat”

Godown says that, though forming the club itself was a no-brainer, they debated over whether to use the term “fat” to describe the club. 

“I thought people would get, like, scared and not want to be a part of it,” Godown says. “So I was like, maybe ‘plus-sized’ babes because that’s a softer term.” 

Godown says she was bullied growing up for being fat. 

“Even when we were little, our moms said, ‘Don’t say fat. That’s a bad word,’” Godown says. “It’s not a bad word anymore. We’re identifying as fat. We’re taking the word back.”

Orr now hopes people will use “fat” positively.

“If you don’t put that fear behind the word, if you don’t put that hurt behind the word, it’s not gonna hurt me,” Orr says. “Call me fat.”

Hosting a pool party, they felt, was in the spirit of that up-front attitude. Chinn says the pool environment can prove challenging when they’ve grown up hearing that fatness is something to fix.

“Bodies like ours are sad images and ‘before’ images and weight loss images,” Chinn says. 

She says they want to replace that with a more carefree image.

“We don’t see bodies that look like ours moving and being active and frolicking at pools and hanging out with babes and flirting,” Chinn laments. 

A New Signature Event 

More than 150 people frolicked and flirted at the first-ever “Body Positive Pool Party” on June 22. They came from around Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana.

Alysse Dalessandro drove down for the event from Cleveland.

“I have traveled all over the country to go to plus-sized and size-inclusive events,” Dalessandro says. “So to know that there was one finally being organized only two hours away, honestly was nothing.”

Kelly Nicholas came from Rootstown near Kent State University. 

“I’ve been wanting something like that local to our community for a while in Ohio,” Nicholas says. “Well, there is no community where I live. It’s basically me, I’m all by myself, in my bikini everywhere I go. In crop tops, and needless to say, I get a lot of stares.”

Burchfield says the overwhelming positive response means the Fat Babes plan to make the pool party a signature event.

“They just want something else,” Burchfield says. “They’re like, ‘When’s the next event? What can I do to help?’”

A More Serious Turn 

Chinn says while the fun vibe of the pool party is important, Fat Babes Club Of Columbus hope to address some more serious issues. 

“Whether it’s because of accessibility issues, not having access to a vehicle that can transport you safely,” Chinn says. “Not having access to spaces that can literally hold your body safely, having physical complications in conjunction to being a person of size.”

For now, the Fat Babes are loud and proud, posting images of fat bodies on Instagram and Facebook. They’re currently working on a website with a resource list of fat-friendly providers for things like health care and salons.

“Our vision is all about building community resources and visibility right here in Columbus for people of size,” Chinn says.

Fat Babes Club Of Columbus will be back at the pool soon, with another party scheduled for Saturday, August 10.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.