Body Image and Boundaries with Remi Bader

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Art by Andrew Wetmore. Photo by Justin Patterson.

When it comes to mental health content, TikTok is in its Wild Wild West era – some of the content is empowering and educational, and some of it is triggering and misleading. Remi Bader falls squarely in the former category, with a big dose of humor mixed in. Famous for her realistic clothing hauls, where she calls out brands for their ill-fitting garments and limited sizing, the NYC-based curve model and content creator has also helped destigmatize the conversation around eating disorders by opening up about her struggles with body image and binge eating. 

“I have always been a pretty open book and when I see that people care, want to learn more, and connect with me because they have similar issues, that makes me so happy,” says Bader.

But unlike some creators charting their recovery online, she doesn’t sugarcoat the process – highlighting the ups and downs that come with trying to heal even when they aren’t pretty or what her audience would like to hear. In short, she keeps it real.

We caught up with Bader to find out what it’s been like to share her eating disorder with the world, how she maintains a healthy relationship with social media when her work revolves around it, and her complicated thoughts on body positivity.

I want to start with how open you’ve been with your followers about the struggles you've had with food and weight. What prompted you to share that part of your life?

Yeah, I started binging when I got stressed at my job, before I was on TikTok. When I was working in the music industry and feeling stressed, I would come home and order like $50 worth of food and just eat it all. Afterwards I would cry and be so upset about it, and it just turned into this really scary phase that no one – my family or close friends – could understand. I kept it in for so long, which is just not who I am. I'm someone that needs to talk about things and share things, and it was the first time I didn’t. I always dealt with anxiety and had a lot of different mental health issues but I always talked about them, and I wasn't embarrassed about it. This was the first thing that I was a little embarrassed to talk about because I didn't know what was going on. But once time passed and I had developed this platform, I had a moment one day where I said to my mom, "Should I talk about the eating? Is that weird?"  At the time people were following me more for my funny videos and fashion videos.

I was nervous, like what are people going to think? But once I did the first one, I never cared or thought about it again. I have always been a pretty open book and when I see that people care, want to learn more, and connect with me because they have similar issues, that makes me so happy. To be able to connect with people that understand – that's why I've continued to talk about it. 

I'm not in a place where I've overcome any of the food issues though, I'm still struggling. I don't think I'm going to talk about binging as publicly right now because, a few weeks ago, I was like, "wow, I haven't binged in one month, I'm so happy,” and everyone was celebrating me. But then, over the past few weeks, I binged again. So it's like, what am I going to post now, just kidding? I'm so happy to open up about my struggles and share that with other people who get it, but maybe I don't need to post every detail about it for everyone's opinion, which isn’t so helpful.

Yeah, I would imagine that puts a lot of pressure on you for your recovery to be perfect, which is impossible. But, at the same time, I think people really appreciate that you are open about the ups and the downs and show that it isn't a linear experience.

Yeah, and I think that's the whole point of my platform. I wasn't feeling well this week, so I let myself take a break from making content. But there was one video that pissed me off that I saw that really ruined my day and made me super anxious. Someone said that I don’t represent the plus-size community because I complained about my body, and wasn’t presenting positivity about being plus-size and I responded with a video that essentially said: I'm here to be a person. I never asked for this position, but people started following me because they liked that I was relatable and realistic, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm happy every day. I'm not going to pretend that my eating is always going great or that I've overcome it. I'm not going to pretend I'm not having an anxious day. I would tell my friends that I’m having an anxious day, so I'm going to tell my followers, too. I'm not going to pretend, just because I have a following, that I need to love my body every day. Some days I don't. That's why I like my platform, and I'm not going to change that just to make people feel better. I think my followers like that there's someone normal that they can complain with sometimes – it doesn't need to be perfect.

Totally. Do you think that the body positivity label is misguided in that way?

Yes, I think I'm trying to figure that out. I've said in my videos that I'm not a body positive influencer and some people get offended by that because they think, “well, you could still be body positive and not love your body every day." There are people who are very body positive, like, "screw diets, we did this for years, now we've gained weight, so let's just love our bodies as they are." I've overcome the dieting and am in a different place, but it’s more like, "Okay, I gained 60 pounds, and I don't love my body. Now, what do I do?" Am I supposed to be this person that just pretends that I love my body? I love myself overall. I think I'm a pretty good person and that I have a lot to share with the world, but that’s different. I don't think it's bad or good to say "body positive" but I don't know if I can necessarily call myself that.

When you're having bad body image days or you binge, is there anything that works for you to get your mental health back on track?

You know, I get asked that by followers and sometimes I just don't answer because I don’t always have the answer. But I do feel like there are days where I figure it out. The other day when I binged, I talked out loud to myself, which I've never done before. I'm reading a book that says there's one part of your brain that’s just telling you to do things that may make you feel better, but you know you shouldn't be doing, so talking out loud to tell myself not to is a way to [disrupt those thoughts]. It felt weird, but I was listening to myself in the moment. 

My point is that I'm still trying to figure it out. The problem is that there's no one right answer for everyone. When I do talk about binging, people are like, "well, I did this, and I saw this person do this, and then I did this," none of which worked for me. So I think the best piece of advice I can give anyone is don't look to me (or anyone else) when it comes to food. Look to me for relatability, and we’ll talk about it. But I think when you're really struggling, like I am, you should be getting professional help with someone that can really help you. This week I finally scheduled an appointment for today to finally see someone. I feel like I was trying to use my platform as my therapy in a way, but I do think that when you get to a certain point, you need to see someone that can really help you. 

Let’s go back a bit to your early days on TikTok. What inspired you to start the clothing hauls that you're now famous for? 

When I was growing up and I was shopping in a store for something, I would always cry and get really upset  when things didn't fit me. But when I shopped online it was less overwhelming because I was in my own space alone. I would kind of laugh at myself and be like, "this looks insane" and send Snapchats of it to my friends. Then one day I just decided to put a video like this on TikTok. I never thought that people would see it. I talked about how we buy these clothes online, and no matter your size, it just doesn’t look like it's supposed to or what you saw on the model on the website. It always looks different and I was like, why are we getting mad at ourselves for that? Every brand’s sizing runs differently and half of these brands don't even care if it fits you, so we shouldn't be mad at ourselves, we should laugh about it and be less hard on ourselves. From there it grew and I turned it into a realistic haul series. 

How did the brands you were featuring react? 

In the beginning I was like,”I need to be okay with the fact that these brands are going to hate me.” And then suddenly, it was the opposite, every brand I featured would reach out and want to send me clothing which I thought was because they didn’t want me to bash them. But that wasn’t always the case – Free People offered to give me clothing, and I would still make the realistic haul videos saying that some things didn't look good, and they liked it. I ended up doing a 6-month partnership with them. Abercrombie did the same thing, and then I did a huge campaign with them. I've had a lot of phone calls with brands who are open to hearing feedback from myself and my followers. I am happy to talk to any company that's willing to make a change.

Sadly, I think that there has been about 10% progress made on this front. It's so exciting to see that brands even want to hear from me but, when are they going to make the change? The sad part is that these brands and designers almost need to be forced to do it. How do you not, at this point, feel like you need to be inclusive? Increase one size, at the least.  I just don't get why these brands need to be called out in order to do that, but I'm not afraid to say how I feel and I'm happy that some brands are starting to listen.

Do you feel empowered by the experience you've had opening up about all of this on TikTok?

Yeah, one-hundred percent. When I have these conversations with brands, I feel like I'm on top of the world. I'm like, “Oh my gosh, this is so much cooler than having a large following.” I'm not just a social media influencer. I wouldn't want to do this if I wasn't making some sort of change and making people feel better about themselves. People come up to me on the street crying, literally crying, and half of me is just wondering why? I don't get it, I'm a normal person. But then I realize that a lot of people aren't able to talk about these things, and I guess are really grateful that someone is.

Yeah, you're opening the door for them in a way. Given how much your work revolves around social media, how do you maintain a healthy relationship with it and make sure that it doesn't impact you in a negative way?

I’m still figuring that out now, it's always on and off. Sometimes I just don't listen to what the haters say, or I don't get sucked into being on social media all day. This past week I have been sick, and I got deep into the negative things and was just on my phone too much. I realized that there is no separation from my life and this [online] world. So the past two nights at 9 pm I turned my phone off, put it in the kitchen and just had a normal wind down and actually fell asleep. I have never done this in my life. I haven’t slept well over the past few months because I would literally dream about “what am I going to post tomorrow?” and all of the things I needed to do, which is crazy. So I'm working on that now. Last year was just crazy for me and [the work] was all I cared about, but I do need to put my mental health before all of this, so I can actually enjoy it.

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