Perfect

There's this real phenomenon in America - and especially on the internet - that you must be perfect in order to interact or show up. All your words carefully chosen, your photos on Instagram carefully staged, your activism carefully crafted. It feels daunting and terrifying, even when you try so hard to make sure it's perfect before you speak/present/post because it's almost never good enough. (I mean, I know from past experience that over the next few days I'll come back to edit this blog entry no less than five times because I'll find a typo or repetitive word choice and it will eat at me until I fix it.) Someone will always call you out on your mistakes/typos/errors and in some cases try to destroy you and your credibility if you're not perfect enough for them.

I've seen it happen over and over, especially to celebrities or famous folks. You can have a legacy of amazing and radical work that speaks to so many but mess up one time and suddenly it negates everything that person has contributed and "they are DEAD TO ME." (Hell, it's happened to me a handful of times as well.)

"Perfect is the enemy of good" is an old saying that has roots in several places, going back to the 1770s with Voltaire using the phrase in his French writings. Shakespeare uses the concept in King Lear and even Aristotle and Confucius talk about it with the golden mean, which warns against extremism in general. The main point of it being that someone may never attempt or complete a task if they can't do it PERFECTLY. Winston Churchill is credited with saying something very similar about how perfection is the enemy of progress.

As someone who was born with a Type A personality and the oldest child in my family, I've struggled with personal goals of perfection my entire life. In addition to unattainable feminine beauty standards imposed upon me by our patriarchal culture, it's really this notion of being perfect that has been the biggest battle on my body image journey. I spent so many years trying to alter my natural body to be different, or "perfect," with no acne, stretchmarks or cellulite. We've owned our home in Boise for nearly twelve years now and I spent so many of them obsessed with keeping it organized and clean and afraid to let anyone in the front door unless it looked "perfect." I worried about writing about how hard motherhood is or how shitty and heartbreaking it was to have two miscarriages because I was sharing my imperfections and that is vulnerable.

I learned, though, that it was my imperfections that made me beautiful and powerful. Embracing my life and body and motherhood as it is right now and doing the best that I can and sharing the process is important. I found that owning my perceived imperfections removed their control over my life and, yes, my progress. I learned that life is too short to wait to try new things or learn stuff or share my work (in progress). I'm always a careful student and do my research and check my words and think all of this is super important, but so is taking chances and asking questions, both things that are scary and risky in this day and age.

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I started reviving Hilda, the plus-sized curvy pin up girl drawn for calendars in the mid-century, in a subversive selfie series last summer in a fun and feminist way. I use things I find around the house or buy at the dollar store, set up my iPhone on a tripod with the 10 second timer and run to take my place. There's a lot of accidental nipple and things aren't perfect by any means. I have much more cellulite than Hilda has (because, um, she's not a real human woman and has none in the drawings) and her body angles are sometimes impossible to re-create as is the perspective in the illustrations (and thus the angle I would have to shoot the images from). And people love to point out all these flaws (and more) in my photos when I share them. But thousands more people like to tell me how poignant, encouraging and sexy it is seeing my Hilda images. How they've come to accept their bodies more because of my vulnerability.

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It's rare to see a 42-year-old fat mom taking up space - both on the internet and in the world - like I do. Sharing my imperfections in all their glory. Summer is nearing and as the temperatures rise so does baring more skin and the body shaming and unnecessary striving for the "perfect" summer body. I love presenting my "summer body" with all its luxurious rolls and dimples and unabashed love of tiny bikinis, tank tops and flip flops. The warmth, on both my skin and my soul, is glorious.

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Another example of this irrational demand of perfectionism can be seen in the recent criticism of the new Amy Schumer film I Feel Pretty! (Or any film or song or book taking on body image or any other social justice element these days, really.) Immediately upon the release of the concept of the film - and later the film trailer - the hate came. I always find this shocking, but no longer surprising. I have a general principle of not critiquing any work of art before I’ve read/seen/viewed it myself first; many others do not abide by this principle. 

I co-organized an event with our local plus-sized consignment shop and the Boise Rad Fat Collective to meet for dinner and drinks before going to see the movie together as a group. I think the consensus of most of the group of folks aged 14 an up was that everyone really liked the movie. Some people even got teary and cried and applauded at the end. There was lots of LOLing as well. It’s funny and sweet and uplifting. I loved that the male love interest was also quirky and unconventional.

While I agree with so many of the criticisms and shared many initial concerns, I also realized early on that perhaps the film isn't/wasn't made for ME and that is okay. There were a few problematic parts, but overall the message was a good one. As I suspected it is pretty Body Positive Lite - not super radical, but it is a RomCom starring Amy Schumer so I didn’t expect it to be. And that's okay. Overall, it was a step in the right direction for mainstream Hollywood, even if it’s a baby one.

Just like the film, the event wasn't perfect. The restaurant forgot to reserve the large tables for our huge group and took forever getting our food out despite ordering early enough. We didn't get to all sit together in the theater due to rushing in smaller groups to get there on time.

The best part about seeing the film, honestly, was the amazing community I got to see it with and the companionship beforehand with the discussion after, despite the small snafus and imperfections of our timing and the restaurant's mistakes. We shook it off and laughed and snuck our to-go food into the theater. These people and "imperfect" experiences all enrich my life and my own body positivity more than a film ever could. And perhaps it's really our imperfections that bind us.

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My 10-year-old daughter Alice is playing her third year in Little League softball and started pitching this year and is a badass. I've seen her practice and focus and shake it off and strike out three girls in a row. I've also seen her obsess and feel the pressure and in tears because she didn't pitch perfectly one game. She's told me she's not good enough and that messing up while pitching is embarrassing and hard. Witnessing this, and having a very similar personality to my small girl, I know this is all true. Having the self-confidence and tenacity to stand up and learn on the spot is rare and valuable and certainly traits that I hope to continue to instill in her. What a joy it is to see her coaches agree and voice encouragement and give tips when the going gets tough. And I can see how Alice perks up when her teammates call out to her from the field with "you got this, Alice!" or when her dad and I cheer loudly from the sidelines. I am intensely proud of her defiance of perfection.

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I talked to the girls at my 2nd annual RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminist Teens about this quite a bit a few weeks ago. We created these beautiful body biographies, maps of our bodies and their histories and I made mine as an example beforehand, complete with stories of body parts I perceived imperfect for so long and how I now see them as important parts of what make me ME. The girls followed suit and the projects were hard, heartbreaking, strong and stunning.

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Some of them struggled with the concept and I ran out of paper due to my imperfect planning so a few of us had to create body torsos instead of full bodies. We talked about not being afraid to ask questions and make mistakes when discussing the meaning of feminism and defining terms like "privilege" and "intersectionality." About how hard and scary it can be to ask questions these days but I assured them this was a safe space and they should ALWAYS feel empowered to ask questions and try to learn and understand. That they should take chances with sharing their voice and their art. That it's okay to get it wrong and make mistakes and share works in progress and defy this notion of being perfect, on Instagram, on Facebook, in the classroom and everywhere.

Toolbox

I got my very own tool box about nine years ago - right around the same time I Googled the words "why am I fat and happy?" and when I made my family embark on that wild New Year's Resolution to not buy anything new for an entire year called The Compact. It was also around the time that I got laid off from my career as a museum curator and pulled my babies out of preschool and daycare as a result because it was also the recession. To say it was a time of significant change and forging of new paths for me would be an understatement. It was also the same time I started this blog.

I've written about some of this in the past, and talked about it a bit in my TEDx talk, too. It was liberating and terrifying and brutal and brilliant and simultaneously one of the worst and best things to ever happen to me. Immediately upon my layoff I was hired on contract as a curator for the City of Boise Arts & History Department to help them install and care for their public art collection and roving exhibitions all around town, hanging art in places like the airport, City Hall and the convention center. I worked with signmakers to design and install large signs on public art pieces in city parks and museums and educational centers. I'm trained in doing this sort of work, and it's always been really hands-on, wearing jeans and sneakers and crawling on my hands and knees digging and carrying and lifting heavy and dirty things sometimes. And other times wearing white gloves for precious and expensive artworks and fancy clothes for galas and exhibition openings. At the museum I had a crew of people with tools who provided them to me, but out on my own I finally had the need for my very own toolbox. 

We had an unused one at home that was plastic and yellow and I filled it with all the necessary things I'd need to install art: hammer, nails, level, white gloves, museum putty, Velcro for signage, pencils, measuring tape, screwdriver, scissors. I taped a business card on the inside for identification if I ever misplaced it, kind of like I do with my luggage when I'm traveling. I soon found that this toolbox morphed into a holding place for so many things - my keys, cell phone, a granola bar for lunch. And I started to decorate it with stickers that were given to me on the job. 

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Shortly after that stint with the City I started Wintry Market, a handmade for the holidays indie art & craft bazaar every November. We just celebrated our seventh successful year, where we were named best holiday market in the state of Idaho by Food & Wine magazine!, and are launching our first Summery Market, a handmade for the sunny days sister event this June. Turning quirky locations like gymnasiums, dance studios, historic warehouses and old Shrine Halls into a creative art show for 60 artists required a similar use of my toolbox. So I took things out - no more need for the white gloves, for example, or the museum putty - and put new things in - like painters tape, Christmas tree ornament hooks, and mylar for marking off booth spaces.

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Six years ago I got a big idea to start a little veggie garden at my neighborhood elementary school and the principal said a hearty HECK YES. I became the School Garden Coordinator, a volunteer position I take very seriously, and one that has me shoveling, building, planting and constructing in more ways than I ever thought possible, as we've expanded our eight raised veggie garden beds to include a half-acre Idaho Native Plants Learning Landscape & Teaching Garden. I was not only the chief designer and grant writer for the project, but the forewoman as well. My toolbox has become my trusted confidant and is now covered in mud more than ever before, and filled with things like zip ties, construction gloves, safety goggles, seeds, a weeding tool, shop keys, receipts from nurseries and equipment rental, tiny dino toys of Arlo's, pinecones and pieces of owl pellets. 

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It was also nine years ago that I began building my body positive toolbox, that led me to a life of activism through art, writing, teaching and leadership. It doesn't live in a physical plastic space, though, but in the depths of my heart and mind and in loads of files both on my computer and in the "FILES" section of my beloved Facebook community, the Boise Rad Fat Collective. As a lifelong learner, there's a bibliography a mile long and, admittedly, many of those books do live on my bookshelves at home, which actually IS a toolbox, if I think about it. I've got lists of websites and Powerpoints I've created on my laptop and so much information floating around in my brain that I could write a book on it. (OH WAIT, I DID.)

I also carried around a diaper bag (aka the new parenting toolbox) for the better part of the last decade but have recently abandoned it for the parenting toolbox that lives in my big ol' brain along with the one for architectural history and one for the American way of death and so many other things I'm obsessed with becoming an expert on.

 A small sampling of books I brought to RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists last summer in McCall.

A small sampling of books I brought to RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists last summer in McCall.

I love my toolboxes, both my physical one and the ones living in my brain. I love feeling them in my hands and my heart and filling them with things that are necessary and important and help me to do the things I need to do. I love cleaning them out and making way for new stuff. Knowledge is power and having these tools at the ready are a necessity for me and carrying them around makes me feel more full and happy than any briefcase full of files from a desk job ever did.

Worst Case Scenario

During the season finale of This Is Us, the real and raw and lovely show that is, in my opinion, the best thing NBC has brought to television in a long time, married couple Randall and Beth share a game they play together called "Worst Case Scenario." It's something that helps Randall deal with his severe anxiety and desire for control by speaking out loud with a safe person something they are worried about and all the bad things they are thinking with no judgement and no censorship. The idea is that it gets out of your system and makes you feel better and you can forge on. For example, Beth reveals that she's fearful the volatile foster child they are caring for will resent them and become a stripper or that she'll kill both Randall and herself in their sleep.

I'm a big fan of This is Us and have been excited about it from the announcement of the show a few years ago, in particular when it was revealed that there was a fat character as a main star. There aren't that many characters of size on television, nor many that are complex and positively portrayed, so when the creators/directors asked for input two years ago I immediately sent this this email:

Hi there, the trailer for your new show looks great, and I’m super excited to see a beautiful fat woman who appears to be a main character. Unfortunately, though, it seems she’s set to play the same tired tropes and stereotypes of hating herself, being shamed, not finding love, and dieting in hopes of “fixing” herself and everything that is wrong in her life. Since you asked for comments/suggestions to be direct messaged, I’m hoping you’re amenable to pushing the envelope and being part of the radical conversation to change the message that all fat women are sad, stupid and shallow. Please take this chance to do something different, extraordinary and brave on mainstream television. Sincerely, Amy Pence-Brown, Body Image Activist, Boise, ID
 Kate and Toby's wedding, season 2 finale from earlier this week on This Is Us. Photo courtesy variety.com

Kate and Toby's wedding, season 2 finale from earlier this week on This Is Us. Photo courtesy variety.com

We're now two seasons in and much has been written in the fatosphere about the character of Kate, who is controversial due to her very real plot line and fear that we'll all continued to be pummeled with the usual fat girl tropes of weight loss and fat shaming. Worst Case Scenario: the writers didn't read my message nor do they care about what I or anyone else thinks and Kate has weight loss surgery as threatened. The jury is still out, but I remain hopeful, as thus far I feel the show is beautifully written and powerful and thoughtful and adding to important body positive conversations in many ways.

A colleague of mine, Dr. Cat Pause in Australia, recently wrote a lovely little blog post on failure. About how social media often only celebrates the greatest hits of our lives but isn't really a place where we share things gone wrong. She makes a lovely comparison to the difference between that and how -  being a fat woman - the perceived "failures" of her body have always been public:

As a fat person, I’m very familiar with failure. My body, to most, represents a failure. A failure of discipline. A failure of self control. A failure to appropriately manage my body and the burden it may become for society (NEOLIBERALISM, AM I RIGHT?!)

As a super fat person, I’ve spent decades failing at making myself smaller. Bodies get to be my size after decades of succeeding, and then failing, at weight loss. I get the congratulations and appreciation when I succeed to lose. And the sheltered looks of pity and “you’ll get ‘em next time” pep talks when I fail through growth.

My failures at weight loss are public. People in my daily life know when I’ve failed. I don’t have to tell them, it’s written on my body. Social media makes it more likely that people who entire my life long after those failures could discover them for themselves; here’s a memory for you from 10yrs and 100lbs ago, Cat. Hoozah!

My failures as an academic, though, aren’t as public. No one knows if an article is rejected by an editor, or if I’m turned down for a funding grant, unless I chose to tell them. And while I do speak about such things with my close friends and colleagues, I don’t share them on social media in the same way I share my successes. We don’t talk about failing in academia very often, and this probably leaves many out in the cold. It may appear that everyone else is only ever succeeding, if that’s what we share on social media. So, I’m going to work on failing out loud.

She goes on to write about some recent failures and a job she really wanted but didn't get. What I really loved about her post, though, was how she didn't necessarily want to wax poetic about what can be learned from losing. I'm a big fan of talking about the hard stuff and sharing struggles, too. Worst Case Scenario: someone doesn't and rolls their eyes and scrolls right by or stops reading. Or maybe leaves a nasty internet comment on my words. (Trust me, they won't be the first or the last. I'm a bit of an expert in negativity online.)

Nine years ago this month I lost my dream job in a surprise "lay off" that left me stunned and shocked and angry and afraid of the Worst Case Scenario: that we'd lose our house after losing nearly half our income and I'd never find another position. I had already grown to dislike that job so much, so we pulled our two babies out of their really expensive daycare and preschool and got rid of a whole bunch of extra luxuries like Direct TV and a house cleaner, and were able to keep our home. It catapulted me into starting this blog and an alternate career path that I may never have been brave enough to attempt without that forced decision no matter how much my spirit desperately needed it.

 My very first blog post almost nine years ago. Still silly, less depressed but more cynical.

My very first blog post almost nine years ago. Still silly, less depressed but more cynical.

Five years ago I was surprised to find out I was pregnant with a baby we did not plan for nor really want while on the birth control pill. We thought we were done having kids, until I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test and suddenly I didn't want anything more in the world than that third baby. Our Worst Case Scenario happened just a few weeks later when I miscarried that baby at home, somewhere around eight weeks along. It was devastating, but we went on to conceive our sweet Arlo a few months later.

About a year ago I applied to two Idaho-based arts grants to help pay for writing residencies to write my book. I didn't get either of them, and the granting committees' feedback consisted of things insinuating I wasn't a real writer and that it sounded like "I just wanted time away from my kids." Worst Case Scenario: I had to create my own "writing residency" which consisted of holing up in a tiny private room for free for 10 hours a week at Boise State University for 8 solids months while Dr. Brown was home with the kids to get that manuscript out. But I did it.

And after three amazing beta readers read the first draft of that manuscript and offered amazing advice and changes I made it even better and decided to go all the way to the top and send it out to eight of the best and most well known literary agents I could find in the genre of feminist nonfiction literature. It was risky and terrifying, but I worked up a pretty good proposal and query letter and sent them off from my laptop at the airports in San Fransisco and Salt Lake City to and from a weekend teaching a private self-love workshop in Las Vegas. Worst Case Scenario: I'd never hear from them or get nasty rejection letters and be sad and embarrassed and have to move on to the next round of literary agents. Or try to send my manuscript to smaller book publishers myself. Turns out I got more than one offer of representation by amazing literary agents and ended up signing with the perfect one.

This past fall a friend in the Midwest sent me notification that the Obama Foundation was opening applications for their first round of fellows - 20 amazing and lucky people who are "outstanding civic innovators from around the world" to give them resources and money "in order to amplify the impact of their work and to inspire a wave of civic innovation." She thought my work in body image activism and feminism fit the bill and I agreed. I asked a few amazing people familiar with what I do to be references, worked long and hard on the application, including making this little one minute video on my work, and submitted my application. 

Worst Case Scenario: I haven't found out the results yet (the Fellows should be announced this month!), but in all truth the odds are I won't get accepted. So I spent several hours of time making a video and writing up really thoughtful and succinct application responses (they could each only be a limited number of characters). It was already worth it, as I've re-used that prose in several other applications and I've now got this great little promo video.

In January Melinda Gates wrote a piece in Time magazine about how it's a new era for women. "You may never know their names. They work beneath the headlines and far from the spotlight. When they receive formal recognition from bodies like the Nobel Committee, it is the exception, not the norm. But the fact remains: under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world," she wrote. Another friend, this time in the Pacific Northwest, sent this to me and said, "I think it's time you wrote a letter to Melinda." So I did. Worst Case Scenario: it gets tossed in the garbage. She never reads it. She reads it and unbeknownst to me, laughs about it.  I haven't received any reply. Since this more recent piece by her just out about funding important women-driven projects in mainly third-world countries, my guess is I won't.

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Here's the thing, though, about Worst Case Scenarios. Sometimes there is a lot at stake. Sometimes saying your fears out loud is too hard and emotional and not a good idea (if you're also a This Is Us fan you know this happened when Randall tried to play the game with his brother Kevin in the car). There's been a lot of situations in my life over the past few months in which I dare not speak my Worst Case Scenarios out loud because they loom so large in my head and heart and I know they will do no one else any good hearing them, least of all me. Sometimes, though, the Worst Case Scenario never happens. Or sometimes it does and it was actually the best thing that you never ever anticipated could happened. Because I'm an optimist at heart and sometimes the most cliched advice is the best: you won't know unless you try.

 

Womanizer

When you Google the word Womanizer the first thing that comes up is the first thing I used to think of - the dictionary definition:

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The next thing is this Brittany Spear's song and video from 2009, which I totally don't remember at all:

The third, and most important, is the official website for the revolutionary sex toy, for all people with clitorises. Created in Germany, the Womanizer's mission is pretty fantastic: It's about enjoying being yourself. "With Womanizer you can be who you are, embrace who you are, enjoy who you are. Feel great within your body and yourself. Because truly being yourself is freedom. This is our revolution: Making orgasms for women a standard."

The technology is pretty revolutionary - and I mean that both scientifically and orgasmically:

I'm also pretty in love with the idea that they took this word that defined a man who liked to have sexual affairs with lots of women and gave it to a toy in which women can take the reins and the control back themselves.

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They've got a handful (ha, see what I did there?!) of toy options, including the Womanizer2Go, a tiny thing disguised as a tube of lipstick to allow you to come anywhere! They also make the Womanizer Plus, which is a longer-handled version of the original. My friend Chrystal, owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie in California, wrote this about it recently in a great little piece for The Curvy Fashionista blog in a gift guide including 5 romantic gifts for plus-sized babes:

Womanizer Plus is NOT actually a vibrator. It uses the revolutionary PleasureAir technology, which gently draws the clitoris into the soft silicone tip using gentle suction, and surrounds and stimulates the user with 12 levels of incredibly effective pressure waves. This creates fast – and often multiple – orgasms. (And, it does vibrate while it’s doing that!)

There are several versions of this product, but we love the “Plus” version because it is 8.25” long. That nice long length will make it easy for most everyone to reach the good stuff easily. And, the buttons are on the back side of the handle which makes them placed in just the right place for moving the speed of the suction lower or higher. Did I mention how much I love this product? Our customer and my employees, too. If you need a Galentine gift for your bestie and she is a woman of size, buy her a Womanizer. You will be her best friend FOREVER.
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This toy is one of Crystal's biggest sellers and it's no cheap investment at $209. It's also been highly recommended by several women in my Boise Rad Fat Collective when I was lamenting the loss of my trusty 17-year-old silver bullet a few months back. (Curvy Girl Lingerie also sells those! In fact, I immediately purchased two for $18 from her (a screamin' deal!) so I had a back up. And then she sent me a free one to giveaway at our raffle drawing at the Rad Fatties Chunky Dunk Pool Party and 4th Birthday Bash because she's so thoughtful like that.)

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You may recall that Curvy Girl Lingerie sent me some sexy lingerie things to try out about a year ago and I wrote then about how my sexuality has been something I used to hide and be ashamed of and how powerful it can be to embrace it and take back control of it. It's been such a liberating and important part of my body positive journey, too. Having lots of sex, both with yourself and with a partner, can, both literally and psychologically, help you get more in touch with your body and appreciate all it does for you.

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So when Crystal asked if I'd be interested in trying out a Womanizer Plus you can bet I DID NOT HESITATE. It's exciting and flirty to get an anonymous brown package in the mail holding a silky black bag with a sex toy that is seriously one of the most expensive things I own. It feels so grown up and luxurious and was the perfect thing to receive before taking a solo trip to Las Vegas to teach a private workshop on body positivity and self-love for one of my Rad Fatty's 45th birthday girls' weekend.

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It also feels, well.....fucking amazing. I've been giving myself orgasms for a lotta years now and am pretty in tune with my body. And my husband's been giving them to me for a lotta years as well. This technology is not like a vibrator and seriously works in like 30 seconds flat (for me, at least) so that's something to beware of if you're trying to plan out your climax. I can attest to its fun in both solo and partner play. It's also got so many other benefits.

1) The extra long handle is super helpful for those with big bellies who might have difficulty reaching your clitoris.

2) It comes with two silicone removable head attachments for easy switching and washing. One has a larger hole for larger clits or coverage (I prefer the small one).

3) It recharges via USB but holds its charge for like 200 hours of play or something ridiculously amazing.

4) It came with a tiny packet of free lube.

5) The whole thing is waterproof, making it submergeable in the tub.

6) I think it has 12 different intensity modes (I usually prefer number 6 but that varies from day to day).

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Considering how long I had my silver bullet and how much wear and tear it got (a lot), I imagine I'll have this Womanizer for life. And let me tell you, it certainly makes my life more pleasurable to live. It's a tool that can be a lot more empowering than just in the bedroom. Figuring out what you like (or what you don't), what you want and what you need sexually can translate to doing to same in the boardroom, the classroom, at your neighbor's house or to the bully at church. I'm a fan of anything that can bring pleasure and help us get in touch with ourselves more. Life's too short for bad sex and being quiet.

 Courtesy of the  Womanizer on Instagram

Courtesy of the Womanizer on Instagram

I received a Womanizer Plus from Curvy Girl Lingerie to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.

Tethered

Every day for 874 days I’ve woken up to hateful mean and sometimes threatening messages to me on the internet. Every fucking day. Often, before I even have a cup of coffee or kiss my baby good morning I’m scrubbing my Instagram clean, reporting bigotry, blocking people. In the middle of making Alice a sandwich for her lunch bag just the way she likes it and doing dishes, biking to school and getting a phone call from my banker, I’m responding to concern trolls asking about my “health” on Facebook, because I can’t possibly be fat, happy and left to live my life in peace.

It’s not a good way to start your day.

Often I’m exhausted at the end of the day after homework, laundry, baths, meetings, doctor appointments, baking bread, riding bikes, and driving to piano lessons. I crawl into bed at 11pm to take on nasty comments from women who are supposedly “on my side” or also “body positive” or screenshotting "dick pics" for my safety file. The hostility of the internet is widespread, surprisingly even among groups of like-minded women, people I’ve sometimes considered allies, colleagues and friends. I don’t think we’d speak to each other that way in real life and I don’t think our opinions are as different or as black and white as they may appear on the screen. I think if we sat in the same room we’d take more care, choose kinder words, look one another in the eye.

It’s not a good way to end your day.

But in the middle of my days ordinary things happen – little magical things that remind me of what a joy life is. Some of those things happen via the internet – emails I get from a PRIDE festival and a League of Women Voters asking about the possibility of me speaking at their events, messages from teens with disabilities whose lives I’ve touched with my work, real personal connections I’m making with strangers in another country or the school teacher around the corner. I can find myself down a nerdy rabbit hole of academic research and journal articles on misogyny and performance art and feminism. So much good stuff happens on the internet in the middle of all the bad and has every single day for the last 874 days.

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We’ve been talking about this a lot with Lucy, our teenager, lately, too. How to safely navigate ourselves and our mental and physical health on our phones and online. Because my safety and the safety of my family has been threatened on the internet more than once. I’ve notified the necessary authorities, like the police, school administrators, the social media providers. We’ve learned and armed ourselves and taken measures.

I speak often about how what we see on the screen affects us more than we know, which is why diversifying our newsfeed to include people of all shapes, sizes and genders can be so powerful in bettering our body image. Following fierce feminists of color, for example, can empower us in more ways than one. Our consumerist culture is also something to be very aware of, as they try to sell us products often by using shame as a tactic – that we need their item to be happier, thinner, more successful, richer.

Since she got her phone at age 13, we implemented guidelines for the teen in our house about phones and technology that we're always tweaking. Most of them apply to all of us of all ages. No phones after 8pm on weeknights, all devices are charged in the community space of the kitchen, no phones at school, no Snapchat and screenshot anything dangerous, hateful or damaging. We check our daughter’s newsfeed and private messages for anything mean, scary or just off. These things have helped us all spend more time tethered together, sometimes doing mundane things like collecting chicken eggs, folding laundry, making popcorn or walking to the coffee shop. This also means we’re spending more time doing important things like reading books out loud together, talking about what happened in science camp, figuring out how to apologize to a friend whose feelings we’ve hurt or what we should do this weekend.

Earlier this week I came across this post from Rachel Macy Stafford, aka Hands-Free Mama, about the concern of raising kids so attached to their phones and how to balance that with what’s really important in life. I feel like we are raising a generation of kids being used as guinea pigs in a technological world that none of us know how to navigate – no parents have come before us and have written books or can offer advice on what to do or not to do and it feels scary.

Rachel’s piece brought forth some important reminders, for our kids and ourselves:

Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life. 

Tether yourself
To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.

Tether yourself
To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.

Tether yourself
To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.

Tether yourself in love.

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I think people often forget there are real people out there behind the screen, real humans living complicated lives. I’m choosing more often these days to tether myself to people and love.

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Reclaiming My Time

My Facebook memory this morning was from last year’s New Years Eve Bash when I wore my favorite LuLaRoe dress and danced the night away and drank too much vodka and re-created Kim Kardashian’s best party trick.

 Behold the many talents of the big booty.

Behold the many talents of the big booty.

This year’s was much less wild - bra was off by 6:30pm, romper and favorite sweatshirt were on, Chinese takeout was procured, and I was cuddled up on the couch with needlework and a Shaun the Sheep marathon with my kids until we stuck sparklers in potatoes in the backyard.

Life is beautiful and amazing when it’s a mix of wild and calm, loud and quiet, staying in and going out, acting up and slowing down. Being intentional with my time and thinking about how I want to really use it is something I've been thinking about a lot in 2017 and something I'd like to continue to implement in 2018.

 My dear friend Rachel gave me this  Emily McDowell mug  for Christmas and I've been drinking everything out of it, from coffee to cocktails, because it's sentiment is so spot on for me some days.

My dear friend Rachel gave me this Emily McDowell mug for Christmas and I've been drinking everything out of it, from coffee to cocktails, because it's sentiment is so spot on for me some days.

There were a lot of important feminist moments in 2017 and I have several favorites, including this one. In what was arguably one of the most poignant political moments of 2017, Democratic Representative Maxine Waters spoke up to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when she was testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in July. After he repeatedly spoke over her during her allotted period to intentionally run out the clock, she kept repeating over and over, "I'm reclaiming my time." It was recorded and widely reported and brilliant and meant so much more to all of us. Waters had been speaking out against the Trump administration for months before this and women all over the country had been applauding her voice and efforts, myself included. But this particular incident stood out because it resonated beyond this original context.

Like the Washington Post wrote soon after the incident:

Who among us, after all, hasn’t lost irreplaceable time to a uselessly meandering meeting, a pointless conversation or a draining social interaction? Waters’s phrase rang out as a rejection of that made manifest, delighting all of us who have been spoken over, ignored or had our time wasted by others. In a year studded with absurd examples of men interrupting their female colleagues, a dignified woman’s firm insistence on being heard and getting straight to business was a welcome and empowering surprise. And for many women and people of color, the phrase “reclaiming my time” felt particularly poignant, with the idea of reclamation specifically speaking to both the present and the past. Society has been wasting not only their time but also their voices, agency and potential — for years. Yes, there is the ongoing silencing and underrepresentation of women and people of color in boardrooms and business offices. But there are also centuries of being unable to vote, run for office or participate in public life. There are decades of enforced or de-facto segregation by gender and race.
 Reclaiming My Time, 2018, cross-stitch in vintage hoop. I've spent the past few weeks stitching for myself and for a commercial gig and it's felt really, really good. This beauty is my own pattern and thus imperfect, just how I like my art. Lucky for you there are several cross stitch patterns out there if you want to stitch one yourself (including  this one  from my favorite Subversive Cross Stitch).

Reclaiming My Time, 2018, cross-stitch in vintage hoop. I've spent the past few weeks stitching for myself and for a commercial gig and it's felt really, really good. This beauty is my own pattern and thus imperfect, just how I like my art. Lucky for you there are several cross stitch patterns out there if you want to stitch one yourself (including this one from my favorite Subversive Cross Stitch).

2017 was the year I truly learned the importance of reclaiming my time. 2018 is the year I'm taking it seriously.

Here's to reclaiming my time from the internet trolls

Reclaiming my time from those who spend theirs tearing me down

Reclaiming my time from feeling shame over my cellulite

Reclaiming my time from feeling like an imposter

Reclaiming my time from those who expect my labor and expertise for free

From not asking for what I’m worth

From saying yes too much

Reclaiming my time from seeing unwanted penises and predatory sexual contact

Reclaiming my time from thieves of my joy and frauds and liars and fake friends

Reclaiming my time from what others think about me

Reclaiming my time from the guilt of motherhood

Reclaiming my time from diet culture and healthism

Reclaiming my time from other women’s internalized misogyny

Reclaiming my time from keeping up appearances

From striving for perfection

From pretending to be something I’m not

From exercising out of fear

From hiding my body to make others comfortable

Reclaiming my time in the sun and the dirt

Reclaiming my time in a bikini

Reclaiming my time in the kitchen

Reclaiming my time in the yoga studio and in the foothills

Reclaiming my time in the bathtub with my books

Reclaiming my time in front of the camera

Reclaiming my time by pausing and stitching and being still and moving my hands

Reclaiming my time in 20 second hugs

Reclaiming my time in my head and my heart

 

 

 

On Saving Little Libraries & Big Books

I've been working on the manuscript for my book actively for six months now. Every Friday I've reserved a tiny writing room at Albertsons Library on the Boise State University campus and pack my lunch and a big thermos of hot coffee and don't come out for about eight hours. It's been much harder than I thought it would be and the stories of my life are still spilling out of me and being written and are much sadder, scarier and angrier than I thought they'd be. But they are also still so hopeful and heart-full. It's a collection of essays on feminism, bodies, motherhood and standing up. And it's done -  all 22 chapters are being printed and shipped off to three of my first readers for edits and suggestions and changes before they go off to editors and publishers after the first of the new year. I was typing up some notes for my manuscript readers yesterday morning at my desk next to the window in our family room, listening to Kacey Musgraves Christmas album (which I can't recommend enough BTW), and home alone for the two hours Arlo is as preschool every morning when I heard five rapid fire gunshots on the street. While my gut knew exactly what they were and after counting people in my family in my head and logically logging their locations of safety I tried to rationalize it as probably squirrels jumping on my tin woodshed roof or a transformer blowing. My gut was right and my neighbor was shot.

Alice and I have been re-reading Little House on the Prairie for our Mama & Daughter Book Club every night before bed. We were gifted the entire Little House series box set and the paperbacks match the ones I had as a child when I, too, was fascinated by Mary & Laura's wild prairie life and the amazing things Pa could build with wood and the delicious meals Ma cooked over the open fire. Alice read a passage out loud last night about Pa's instructions for the girls to stay in the river only where the water was shallow and ankle-deep for safety and Laura's rebellious nature got her in trouble for disobeying. She noted how much she was like Laura Ingalls - in spirit and age. I nodded fervently in agreement. Little House was one of those transformative books for me and thousands of little girls across this country and continues to be. We're getting together to make old fashioned crafts with our book club in honor of this book this weekend and I can't wait to introduce Alice to the TV series.

alice little house.jpg

A few months ago we woke up one morning to six blocks of our neighborhood tagged with pink spray paint in the night, including the side of our new-to-us white truck, our tree, and our entire beloved Little Free Library covered in graffiti. The police came and then the news came and then two neighbors I'd never met showed up with paint and scrapers and repaired our pink library the next morning as I headed to South Junior High to give an all school assembly to teens on positive body image and self-esteem and anti-abortion protestors stood out from with giant signs depicting dead fetuses and lots of words about the "dangers" of self-love and feminism.

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Our elementary school native plants garden had it's grand opening in October and a few days before Dr. Brown and I installed our school's new little free library late one night at dusk. With our cell phone flashlights we painted the words on it : "Hawthorne Elementary School Little Free Library. Take a book. Leave a book." We're pretty lucky to have an amazing school library inside the building as well, a place where they make things and play with robots and learn about science and slam poetry and have books like Little House on the Prairie beside the one I found in Alice's backpack yesterday called Bad Girls: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World. My preschooler attends the same school and is sent home with a blue bag full of fun books on a topic each Wednesday and this week's are all about dinosaurs - a subject near and dear to his tiny three-year-old heart. We read about dinos A-Z yesterday in bed in the middle of the afternoon and sounded out words and identified the parts of a book - the cover, the back cover, the author's name, the illustrator.

 When you're a tiny dino lover and your neighbors have SEVEN Christmas ones in your yard life is magical.

When you're a tiny dino lover and your neighbors have SEVEN Christmas ones in your yard life is magical.

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 Another of my favorite body positive books for kids, on display at Hawthorne Elementary School Library.

Another of my favorite body positive books for kids, on display at Hawthorne Elementary School Library.

So much of my time is spent reading and writing and devouring and thinking about words and books. I'm so glad books still play such an important role in my life and my children's. As I prepare to print out my blood, sweat, tears and heart onto 150+ pieces of paper to send off in the mail I feel nervous, anxious, and excited. Do other people really read books anymore? I've heard many other academics and writers lament the loss of education, research, and time spent exploring topics in depth these days. As a historian and a feminist and a body image activist and a mother and a human I worry about this, too. I sometimes make up quippy complicated stories distilled right down to one sentence since it's being made painfully clear people are no longer interested in reading a (text)book or even the Cliff Notes version anymore. In my head I write these American histories, abbreviated, like : "Women are alright if they're pretty, quiet and nice." Turns out I've got a lot more words to say about that, though, like nearly 49,000 of them. So thankful for others who do, too.

 I recently read   The Fat Studies Reader   by Esther Rothblum & Sondra Solovay (who, coincidentally, I did a peer review of a journal article for recently) in the car on Monday nights while Lucy is at piano lessons. This snap is of some of the incredibly rich and diverse table of contents.

I recently read The Fat Studies Reader by Esther Rothblum & Sondra Solovay (who, coincidentally, I did a peer review of a journal article for recently) in the car on Monday nights while Lucy is at piano lessons. This snap is of some of the incredibly rich and diverse table of contents.

 Just some of the inspirational décor by our amazing librarian at Hawthorne Elementary School, and a good reminder for all of us.   

Just some of the inspirational décor by our amazing librarian at Hawthorne Elementary School, and a good reminder for all of us.

 

Don't Let The Bastards Take You Down

Last week I got banned from Facebook for posting my #metoo story, sharing just a small portion of the sexual harassment and violence I've experienced in my life. I did not share any photos with any nudity. I wrote a pretty simple post that read:

“A year ago I wrote this and some of it happened twenty years ago and some of it happened yesterday and some of it happened to my 13yo daughter and to you and will keep happening again and again. Here’s to telling our stories and standing up and being heard and changing the narrative. TW: for this blog post I wrote about a year ago #metoo

facebook nudity ban.jpg

I linked to a blog I wrote a last year called Boys Will Be Boys with some cropped and edited images of nude men I’ve been assaulted with over the past two years. Ironically, these men use this very platform to sexually violate me yet I’m the one punished for calling them out. Additionally, this #metoo post was up on my public profile page for four days  (and has been successfully shared on Facebook several times over the past year) before an attempt to silence my voice by reporting this post wrongly as sexually explicit material worked - Facebook erroneously ruled in the favor of some angry (presumably based on another interaction) male "fan."

 Revolt, a self-portrait from a 2017 body of work called  Mother Figure

Revolt, a self-portrait from a 2017 body of work called Mother Figure

But they won't break my spirit, I won't let ’em win
I’ll just keep on living, keep on living, oh
The way I wanna live

I've written and spoken on gender-based violence and sexual violence and patriarchy and misogyny and standing up and speaking out so many times. Here and here on this blog and in my TEDx talk and on Instagram and in classrooms and auditoriums and on radio shows and in magazine interviews.

And the more amplified my message is and the more platforms I'm on, the more serious the attempts to silence my voice are. This is not the first time I've been unfortunately banned from Facebook by someone trying to stop my radical words of love and it certainly won't be the last. (The first time was a few months ago by a woman in a private selfies for self-love Facebook group I'm in who didn't approve of my nude bathtub photo.) And if these people knew me at all, they'd know that all the times they shout "no" and "shut up" pour gas on my flames igniting more "YES" and "TELL IT." And this minor break this week from this particular social media platform gave me some much needed time to plan and implement some pretty important new work. And truth be told, I'm currently dealing with a lot more dangerous threats to silence my voice than just removing my ability to speak on Facebook for a few days. It's been heavy and stressful.

 Adult alphabet cards by Boise artist Bingo Barnes, purchased at Wintry Market 2016 (which is coming up again, BTW, and you should totally come!  Nov 18-19, 2017 at JUMP Boise

Adult alphabet cards by Boise artist Bingo Barnes, purchased at Wintry Market 2016 (which is coming up again, BTW, and you should totally come! Nov 18-19, 2017 at JUMP Boise

I got too many people I got left to prove wrong
All those motherfuckers been too mean for too long

As a perpetually positive person, when I'm feeling this way I try to find good things happening and to look forward to. So, to all the bastards and, more importantly perhaps, the rest of you who believe we can make real change, here's a little list of things I'm currently thankful for:

  • New directions and possibilities and educational ways I'm moving this revolutionary feminist work in body liberation forward.
  • Other brave folks who have shared their difficult #metoo stories this past week.
  • Some spectacular women who are also not afraid to speak up and use their voices to change and make a difference, including friends on Facebook who shared my story in solidarity and in hopes of helping my appeal this weekend and sharing the notion that we should stop victim blaming because that just deepens the burden of unnecessary shame.
  • The crew of junior high school girls who were in my car on Friday after their Activism Club meeting at school and told me about how they hand-painted 20 signs to hang in their hallways educating themselves and their young friends on sexual assault sharing phrases about unfortunate stats and how no means no.
  • And having this inspirational new music by another woman who's found her voice and is letting it rip forth with power on repeat on my CD player helps immensely. Thanks, Kesha, for the soundtrack to some brutal and beautiful days.

Don’t let the assholes wear you out
Don't let the mean girls take the crown
Don't let the scumbags screw you 'round
Don’t let the bastards get you down

 Image: Pinterest, source unknown

Image: Pinterest, source unknown

I Call It Critical Thinking or Saving The Environment

This month marks the 5th anniversary of us building our pink Little Free Library, the first one in our low income neighborhood on the Boise Bench. It was a pink doghouse I purchased off Craigslist for $20 and turned into a little library or free bookshelf, as the idea is you take a book and leave a book, old ones that you have no need for, and grab a new-to-you read. There is a whole shelf dedicated to children's books and another for adult reads. We live two blocks from our elementary school and on a busy corner that sees lots of foot and bike traffic. From the get-go we've been a popular stop and quickly became a neighborhood icon and so overwhelmed with books that we have entire shelves in our garage housing extra books to replenish it. We've scored some amazing reads from it and know others have, too. We carefully curate this space to make sure that appropriate reading material is inside (nothing too raunchy, political, or religious for example - like the Books of Mormon the missionaries repeatedly drop inside) and that the books are in readable condition (often they're ripped up). The most popular items are fiction, so most of the nonfiction gets taken out by our family and sent to the thrift store, and I also dispose of other books I think are harmful propaganda, like:

IMG_1970.JPG
 I mean FOR FUCK'S SAKE, LADIES. Your breasts aren't actually yours.

I mean FOR FUCK'S SAKE, LADIES. Your breasts aren't actually yours.

Diet books, in particular, have been removed and recycled (you're welcome, Earth and people of the Earth) or reused in my art projects. As a writer, academic and body image activist I think a lot about words and they often play a big part in my art. Their history, meanings, double entendres, spellings. How we fling them, mean them, change them, reclaim them. They often show up as important parts of my artwork and I reuse these books and the pages in them in often radical and subversive ways.

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 The best chapter in Dr. Edelstein's book may have been the one where she was attempting to dissect the history of bodies a bit and while this section on The Militant Fats was way off base in many ways but if I ever create a subversive underground group a la  Jennifer in Dietland  or a band I'm totally stealing this name.

The best chapter in Dr. Edelstein's book may have been the one where she was attempting to dissect the history of bodies a bit and while this section on The Militant Fats was way off base in many ways but if I ever create a subversive underground group a la Jennifer in Dietland or a band I'm totally stealing this name.

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IMG_8891.JPG

Last year on the eve of the one year anniversary of my stand for self-love in the market I visited the sacred spot on 8th Street downtown Boise that I refer to as hallowed ground and sprinkled hearts I cut from this diet book on the spot where I was standing and all around Freak Alley Gallery. It was cathartic and personal and political and powerful. I came home and posted about it on Facebook only to be called a censorer by a fellow female Boise artist who, surprisingly, also uses upcycled materials in her own work on a regular basis, but also (not suprisingly) buys into diet culture. She claimed that removing this material from a library was unethical (she later claimed to not understand that a Little Free Library wasn't like a public library) and that by doing so I was not only promoting censorship but also body shaming those who chose to restrict their eating in desire for a smaller body. I responded that I called it critical thinking, not censorship, and that I also removed other nonfiction content that I didn't agree with promoting.

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 Shit going not to the thrift shop but right in the recycling bin where it belongs.

Shit going not to the thrift shop but right in the recycling bin where it belongs.

The thing is, people are inundated with body shaming propaganda in every written form and in the media and at their schools and from their parents and on the TV all day every day. If I can make one little space in my world more radical and positive then you bet I'll censor the hell out of it. Kind of like I do with my own media feed and information intake - one of my very first (and favorite) steps to cultivating better body image is to get rid of groups and people and businesses that propagate body shame in my news feeds and social media pages and replace them with radical feminists celebrating living their best lives in their bodies at any size and academic sources and thoughtful think pieces challenging hate.

 My 2016 image transfer print for the annual Wingtip Press printmaker's exchange called Leftovers featured fireworks exploding from a teacup  (based on a dream my friend Sandi had about me)  stitched to vintage recipe book pages I upcycled from my Little Free Library.

My 2016 image transfer print for the annual Wingtip Press printmaker's exchange called Leftovers featured fireworks exploding from a teacup (based on a dream my friend Sandi had about me) stitched to vintage recipe book pages I upcycled from my Little Free Library.

 My black out poetry reading:  No, The Fat cannot b(e) a small intensely suffering segment  I be  Fat  brilliant  truly

My black out poetry reading:

No, The Fat cannot b(e) a small intensely suffering segment

I be

Fat

brilliant

truly

We used one of the diet books from my Little Free Library to make black out poetry and cut word poetry at my RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminists this summer in McCall, Idaho. I refuse to use my money to purchase diet books at the thrift store but often snap photos of them and use write-over apps on my iPhone to reimagine their titles to be more body positive and post them on Instagram. And I continue to proudly censor my books and my Little Free Library and my media in the name of feminism and body liberation and cultural progress. And I'll keep trashing these books and turning something ugly and harmful into something beautiful.

Normal & Extraordinary

On the last morning of RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists one of my campers and Rad Fatties, as I lovingly call them, left me a thank you gift and a note on my bed, including this Danielle LaPorte #truthbomb card she pulled specifically for me. I'd actually pulled two similar ones for myself as reminders of using my presence on this earth for challenging, pushing, creating, educating.

I keep this one propped up on a wall near my bed full of tiny pieces of meaningful art - things that are both normal and extraordinary - including a Mexican painted Christmas angel, a gaudy red framed photo of my two daughter when they were toddlers, a rustic wooden heart cut by hand with a saw from old fencing by a high school in my neighborhood raising money for something like football camp, a trio of photos of Romanian circus performers in Burley, Idaho, taken by my friends at Two Bird Studio and a historic panorama photograph from 1914 of the little mountain town of Cascade, Idaho. Together all of these things remind of of things that are important to me, ideals I live by, where I come from, my past, my future.

This week has been filled with normal days with extraordinary mom moments.

nor·mal

adjective

    1. conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected

Alice, my middle child, submitted three original artworks she'd made this summer from hot glue, fabric, buttons, sticks, beads and her own amazing imagination to the Western Idaho Fair, a family tradition we've had for years (garlic braid ribbon holder right here!). She and I went together to the hot dry fairgrounds and stood in line for about an hour filling out paperwork and looking at the scarecrows and sunflowers and beets and peppers being submitted and talked about winning ribbons and she wished she could volunteer there to set up after watching the big trucks and tractors haul architecture in and around the site.

My baby boy, Arlo, refuses to be called a baby as he's now a "BIG BOY" because last week he decided to suddenly poop on the potty and we all cheered and he's wearing PJ Masks undies and we now carry around a tiny toilet seat in the back of the truck and it's all very VERY exciting and includes a gazillion thumbs-ups and lots of loud clapping and squealing from the bathroom.

My oldest daughter, Lucy, went in for her very first orthodontist appointment in preparation for braces at the age of 13. Dr. Brown and I nervously awaited the total bill for such a procedure and she anxiously awaited to hear how much that spacer will hurt. She also registered for 8th grade and wandered the halls and opened her locker alone and she and I celebrated with boba tea downtown.

She also received her first unsolicited inappropriate photo on Snapchat from a teen boy she knows and sexual harassment from another. This is real and heartbreaking and sad and while we're dealing with it in all the appropriate and necessary ways, Dr. Brown and I are livid.

This week has been filled with (ab)normal days with extraordinary moments.

ex·traor·di·nar·y

adjective

1. very unusual or remarkable

There are literally thousands of people flooding into Idaho this week to enjoy the total eclipse of the sun on Monday August 21st at around 11am. For just a few minutes our entire little world will be black and upside down, astronomically speaking. The last time this has happened was 1918, astronomically speaking.

I've been asked to give lots of these tourists private tours of historic Boise, both on foot and on giant coach buses navigating our way through tight tiny streets of our town. All week I was in bed more than I was out of it due to a terrible stomach virus but downed some pills and donned a dress and big sunglasses and with sweat rolling down the backs of my knees stood propped up on a seat on a bus in the middle of an aisle with a broken microphone and told a whole crew of stargazers from California a quick and dirty history of Boise and a bit about Idaho.

As a historian and academic whose love of history was born and bred in small town conservative American public schools I'm careful to pick apart what I learned, to seek out alternate viewpoints, to find the stories we haven't been told or that we'd prefer were hidden. Like the fact that pretty much from the beginning in 1863 white Boiseans hated the Chinese immigrants and had xenophobic laws that forbid them from owning land and effectively demolished a thriving Chinatown twice to rid our city of them. And that while we are so lucky to have a wealth of beautiful public parks and green space in Boise, many of them are named for the wives of rich white men who donated the land and helped build our city in so many ways - for better or for worse. And about the controversial murals depicting Native Americans kneeling with nooses around their necks and the history of enacting law in Idaho that remain inside the 1939 Ada County Courthouse. My favorite part of talking about the Idaho State Capitol building is telling folks that the way the stone is carved on the first level was mean to represent logs, paying homage to our pioneer founders and the most modest houses they first built in the grandest house the people built.

When we ended the tour at the Basque Block and I stood outside the bus saying goodbye to my group as they headed towards their outdoor paella dinner one older white woman grabbed me by the arm and whispered in my ear, "Thank you for being so honest about the role rich white men play/played in your community. It was refreshing to hear from a [female] historian and on this tour." American history is hard and messy and difficult and the storyteller is a key player.

 Chinese New Year Parade, Chinatown, 7th Street (now Capitol Boulevard), Boise, c. 1905, courtesy  Idaho State Archives & Library

Chinese New Year Parade, Chinatown, 7th Street (now Capitol Boulevard), Boise, c. 1905, courtesy Idaho State Archives & Library

Motherhood is political. History is political. Our bodies are political. White supremacy and racism and patriarchy and misogyny has everything to do with all of it. As I've said before - our skin is the largest visible organ on our bodies and it plays into so much of how we experience life. Body liberation is for all bodies - especially those most marginalized (black bodies, brown bodies, trans bodies, differently-abled bodies, aging bodies, etc). It all starts with personal acceptance freeing us up to own our stories, make change and do important work liberating others.

*I can't recommend enough checking out the links in this blog post. They changed my perspective and helped me process so much of this week and provide some much needed context.

 

Reviving Hilda

Duane Bryers grew up in rural Minnesota and worked in the circus, painted murals, and sculpted giant ice figures before becoming most well-known for creating Hilda, a voluptuous pinup girl in the mid-1950s. Before becoming known as the "Norman Rockwell of pinup art," Bryers won 2nd place and $150 in the Proctor & Gamble National Soap Sculpture competition for carving a woman out of a single bar of Ivory soap in the late 1930s and started his girlie art career painting sexy ladies on the sides of military aircraft and went on to create poster art and comic strips for the air base.

After working as a commercial artist in Chicago and moving to New York to pursue his fine art career, "I got the idea for a plumpy gal pinup and thought I'd like to make it into a calendar series," Bryers said in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star in 2012. "But how was I going to sell a plump girl?" He took his series to Brown & Bigelow, then the country's top calendar maker, and "they reluctantly put it in the line and figured it would last a short time," he said. "It went on for 36 years."

 My own body positive take on this Hilda image, swapping out her diet book for the much more radical and feminist  Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight  by Dr. Linda Bacon.

My own body positive take on this Hilda image, swapping out her diet book for the much more radical and feminist Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Dr. Linda Bacon.

Hilda calendars were the most popular in the 1960s, surprisingly, but waned in the early 80s and were almost forgotten until someone recently dug them up from the archives and collective memories of Americans. According to Bryers, Hilda was a mash-up of several larger models he'd worked with over the years and his own imagination, hence her imagery and features varying quite a bit from image to image and her face and body varying from calendar to calendar.

 While Hilda was laughing at the comics, I'm getting a chuckle from a 2006 article from the  Idaho Statesman   calling me a mix between Cyndi Lauper and "I Love Lucy"  as a quirky and powerful new curator at the Boise Art Museum.

While Hilda was laughing at the comics, I'm getting a chuckle from a 2006 article from the Idaho Statesman calling me a mix between Cyndi Lauper and "I Love Lucy" as a quirky and powerful new curator at the Boise Art Museum.

There are at least a hundred images of Hilda resurfacing from over the years and they are all silly and cute and feature her in a bikini doing a variety of sweet, sexy and often clumsy things. Her imagery has been shared repeatedly in fat activist/body positive circles and pages and posted on my wall and private messaged to me over the past few years, as news of her existence was shocking and celebratory. Here was a body that looked more like mine than many others I'd ever seen revered as something sexy enough to be on a flirty calendar. Her imagery has been a positive breath of fresh air in the body shame and sex shame filled media we've been used to consuming for so long.

I've written before about my love of using self-portraits and social media as a radical tool in the feminist revolution over the past few years and I thought Hilda's imagery could use a little more feminism and body positivity. So using things I had around the house, my tripod, my iPhone timer and a few supplies I purchased at the Dollar Tree down the street (plus a few $2.99 watermelons from Trader Joe's!), I embarked on a little fun summer project recreating some of her most iconic images.

Much like the art of Norman Rockwell, Bryers' Hilda reminds us of playful, sweet, and carefree days gone by. But she recalls more than that, too. Hilda shows us that at some time someone else found big girls' curves sensual, silliness sexy, softness endearing, confidence bold and bare skin beautiful. And that maybe, just maybe, we can find that in ourselves, too.

 Thanks to Dr. Brown for his help snapping this pic on the top of Bogus Basin on the eve of our 17th wedding anniversary with beers, a lotta wind, and too many cars for the stripping down roadside I did. Also thanks to my friend Angie for bringing the plus-sized jeggings to our annual Boise Rad Fat Collective clothing swap that I cut up for this outfit.

Thanks to Dr. Brown for his help snapping this pic on the top of Bogus Basin on the eve of our 17th wedding anniversary with beers, a lotta wind, and too many cars for the stripping down roadside I did. Also thanks to my friend Angie for bringing the plus-sized jeggings to our annual Boise Rad Fat Collective clothing swap that I cut up for this outfit.

(Scroll down for more fun with Hilda. You didn't think I'd stop with just FIVE recreations did you?! She's too good and it's too much fun. All photos mine, all images of Hilda courtesy a Google images search for Hilda pinup, copyright with Brown & Bigelow)

 While I totally believe plumbing can be fun, I'm really into reading feminist texts these days and the just-released  Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement  by Charlotte Cooper is next up on my summer reading list.

While I totally believe plumbing can be fun, I'm really into reading feminist texts these days and the just-released Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement by Charlotte Cooper is next up on my summer reading list.

 While the rest of my family are stellar skiers, I hate being cold. Much like Hilda, I'm pretty clumsy, but I'd most likely screw up my foot/ankle hiking in the Foothills than gliding down the mountain. Reading  The Hiker's Guide to Greater Boise  by Scott Marchant.

While the rest of my family are stellar skiers, I hate being cold. Much like Hilda, I'm pretty clumsy, but I'd most likely screw up my foot/ankle hiking in the Foothills than gliding down the mountain. Reading The Hiker's Guide to Greater Boise by Scott Marchant.

 When you live on an urban farmette and your friendly yard animals consist of three wily chickens, a kitten, bees, a hummingbird and squirrels, these critters were the most willing to sit still and listen to cautionary tales of the king of the neighborhood - the raccoon.

When you live on an urban farmette and your friendly yard animals consist of three wily chickens, a kitten, bees, a hummingbird and squirrels, these critters were the most willing to sit still and listen to cautionary tales of the king of the neighborhood - the raccoon.

Raising Radical & Rebellious Feminist Teens

The moment I took off my dress in the Capital City Public Market and blindfolded myself in a black bikini people walked straight up to me and said "ME TOO." The same message came flooding into my inbox and on the street corner and from major news outlets and on celebrity Twitter accounts and 200+ million video views and still. Still they come. From all genders and countries and ages and abilities and colors.

And they come from young girls and their moms. Their voices are loud and scared and angry and strong and rebellious. They're ready. And I'm ready to help.

Since announcing Radcamp : A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens in February I've gotten so many "thank you"s and "we've been waiting for this"s. And so many generous women who want to help change the narrative for our future generation of leaders. Financial donations from a handful of amazing women around the country allowed me to offer so many full scholarships for girls in need, buy amazing art supplies and snacks, and give the girls two feminist books to add to their bookshelves at home.

Researchers and doctors and parents all have found that it's during our early teenage years and puberty that ideas about our bodies can be really solidified. It's a crucial time of change and growth and discovery about who we are. It's also a time when beliefs are formed and ideas are fluid and anything is possible. I've had the honor to speak to lots of young people about being an activist in your own life in big and small ways and how to stand up for what's important - including yourself. It's something I teach all three of my children at home and a message I'm honored and thrilled to share with others. What a treat it was to have lead a crew of young girls aged 13-15 in Boise who spent an entire weekend together in a park and left a little closer to finding their voices and taking ownership of their bodies in a whole new way.

RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens Day 1 was extraordinary. We ate, laughed, learned about cultivating healthy relationships with food, dug deep, thought hard, watched some amazing women poets and read some amazing women writers, planted seeds, made art (including craftivista Kim Werker's Mighty Ugly dolls while examining notions of beauty, being pretty, and perfectionism) and generally became a little more radical and in tune to our unique bodies, voices and spirits.

(And wrapped it all up with our annual backyard beginning of summer movie night watching Penelope - one of the greatest feminist teen body positive movies of all time.)

I was so excited to be able to give all 11 girls at RADCAMP : A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens this brand new book, Here We Are edited by Kelly Jensen, to keep this weekend. They actually get to add TWO badass books to their library as a result of some amazing donations from some stellar women (the other is a body image workbook for teens) and I hope they pick them back up over and over in their lifetime.

Here We Are just came out and features 44 writers, dancers, actors and artists contributing essays, lists, poems, comics and illustrations about everything from body positivity to romance to gender identity to intersectionality to the greatest girl friendships in fiction. It's beginning feminism 101 and it's perfect for the young adult. (The editor was so thrilled about her book being used this way she generously donated 10 copies for all the women attending my RADCAMP for women in McCall in July!)

RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens Day 2 was just as epic as the first and filled with radical goodness, including a lunchtime chat with some pretty amazing young women on how to raise your voice high and be proudly feminist in the face of adversity with Nora & Colette of People for Unity, making tee shirts inspired by punk rock & the Riot Grrrls, dissecting popular media, photoshop and consumer culture in a magazine project, and taking on Betsy Greer's You Are So Very Beautiful (#yasvb) craftivism project by stitching tiny positive affirmations and hiding them around the city in the name of guerrilla acts of kindness. Each girl went home with so many amazing powerful tools, including some body positive stickers from My Body Does, sun-kissed shoulders from our end of camp pool party and a lot of new information rattling around in their hearts and brains.

Organizing both my RADCAMPs this year (the adult sleepaway camp coming up in July and the teen one) has connected me with some amazing women working in radical body positivity and feminism all over the country. Including My Body Does in Brooklyn, who created a handful of affirming stickers to slap on your school binder, bathroom mirror, street lamppost or any body shaming billboard that might need some uplifting 😉.

Turns out they're big fans of what I do, too, and generously offered to mail me a big fat envelope of stickers to give the teens this past weekend and some for me and the women at RADCAMP, too.

It was also a treat to have two teenage powerhouses, Nora Harren and Colette Raptosh, come speak to RADCAMPers about how to raise your voice high and be proudly feminist in high school hallways that aren't always so welcoming. Together they run People for Unity and organized the Women's March on Idaho in January. Thanks to generous donations by a few of you to my program, I was able to put some money towards their organization in the form of a small speaking stipend. I think it was super powerful for the girls at camp to hear from some other young role models in Boise using their spirits and passion for change and good. Here's to women supporting women supporting girls supporting girls. And here's to a bearing witness to a new generation of resilient and strong girls. May we all be the role models they need.

{Find out more about my annual RADCAMPS for teens and women and news about the 2018 dates here. You can follow me on Instagram or Facebook to hear about it first.}

Body Positivity Is Not A Feeling - It's a Movement

I've told this story many, many times in the recent past about how - when feeling love for my 250 lb. body instead of shame and ready to finally opt out of diet culture eight years ago - I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy?" And how sad and disappointed I was to find myself scrolling through pages and pages of ads for the diet industry complex I was so desperate to leave behind (further proving my point of how fatphobic our culture is/was, Google picked up the words happy and fat and changed them to UNhappy and fat). As the story goes, I did finally come upon two blogs that forever changed my life and catapulted me into ideas of Health At Every Size, fat acceptance, and its little sister, body positivity.

 Selfie for International No Diet Day 2017 in conjunction with an online activism event with Fat Positive Louisville

Selfie for International No Diet Day 2017 in conjunction with an online activism event with Fat Positive Louisville

For YEARS I've been shouting from the rooftops (along with a few others) about how our misogynistic beauty standards - including diet, weight loss and fitness culture - have been oppressing women. Along the way I also kept educating myself (and still do!) about the radical history of the fat acceptance movement, which famously started in 1969 with a Fat-In in Central Park with a group of people who were fed up with the bigotry they'd faced because of their body size. The group went on to become the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and remains an important civil rights organization.

In 1996 The Body Positive was formed, based along the same ideas but with a bit more of a bent toward eating disorder recovery. It is perhaps here that the term "body positivity" and this iteration of the movement came to be. Fast forward twenty or so years and EVERYONE is suddenly "body positive," including every gym, fitness class, "healthy lifestyle" eating program, clothing store, beauty product and person.

And suddenly with the mainstreaming of the radical movement by our consumer culture so many people want to STILL buy into diet culture and still call themselves body positive. To which I call bullshit. Of course you have the right to do whatever you want with your body - that is called body autonomy (which, while an important component of body positivity, is not the same).

This notion that health is somehow in opposition to body positivity is mind-boggling to me. But so is the idea that health MUST be a standard accepted by all. I've also spoken about this about one-hundred times over the past year and a half, in interviews and on radio shows and at public events and in writing. Health is not a moral imperative and is NOT a prerequisite to body positivity. You cannot tell someone's health just by looking at them. And you don't have that much control over your health anyhow. Plus, even if you are unhealthy does that make you any less deserving of love and respect, both from yourself and others? Does that make you less valuable as a human being? Health means something different to all of us and it's important to remember that whole health incorporates many things including mental and emotional health. Shame has never been a motivating factor in better health. But you know what does motivate? Promoting radical body acceptance. Because people often take better care of something they love rather than something they hate. And if you really cared about my health (or that of another person fatter than me) you'd be an active part of this movement. So let's just call this health argument what it really is : fatphobia.

Body positivity is not a feeling, it's a movement. Self-love? That's a feeling. And a really damn good one, I know. And they can go hand in hand but they don't always have to. I've been pretty clear about my stance about body positivity as an integral part of feminism and a radical social justice movement.

It's hard being told that perhaps what you've been taught to believe about bodies all your life might be wrong. That there might be a different way, a better way. That you can opt out of the game because there are no rules and there is no winner. Change makes people angry and is always hard won. And it takes a lot of practice, patience, education, reading and an open mind.

* And as I was writing the first draft of this blog post several days ago a fellow body image warrior Kaila Prins was penning a similar, spot on and poignant piece called Here's Why the Definition of Body Positivity Isn't Up for Debate, which is much like this one only more detailed, eloquent and NAILS IT.

Wanting something to be body positive doesn’t make it body positive.

Choosing to call it body positive when it isn’t doesn’t make it body positive. You don’t get to decide what is or isn’t body positive just because you want to be a part of the movement without giving up your beliefs about fat loss.
— Kaila Prins

These conversations about the recent co-opting of body positivity have been going on in the feminist activist realm for many months now and I'm stoked to see others speaking up about this hard truth as well. If you're interested in learning more there are many resources linked in this article, under the Resources and Press & Interviews tabs on this website, and always in the Boise Rad Fat Collective on Facebook.

Mother Figure

push.jpg

I am building a body of work.

My skin tells stories of resilience and revolution.

I am sensual and scary.

I am damaged and dangerous.

My body is complicated and messy.

I wear marks. I make marks.

I rise. I fall.

I crawl. I climb.

I feed. I grow.

I push the limits.

Body in motion.

Art in action.

On Memoirs and Manifestos

Just last night as I was quizzing Alice in bed on this week's spelling list I told her about how we used to have spelling bees when I was in the third grade and how I won many of them, proudly bringing home blue ribbons. I've always loved words and as long as I can remember I've studied them, changed them, challenged them, and written them. It was also in the third grade that I won my first writing contest - a young author's statewide event where I submitted a fantastical poem about a camel caravan, my little mind in the southeastern Idaho desert dreaming about what it might have been like in a Middle Eastern desert centuries ago.

I've been a writer ever since, both in academia and in the art world and for magazines, journals, and newspapers. A thesis, museum exhibition catalogs, press releases, blog posts, presentations, a TEDx talk. I've written a lot of things. In fact, this month marks 8 years I've been writing this blog and many of you have been reading my words here (and when it was known as Doin' It All, Idaho Style) since my beginning blogspot.com days. EIGHT YEARS! I've always written what I know and these days I write what I'm passionate about - things about motherhood and feminism, perimenopause and death, bodies and self-love, doubt and courage, making change and standing up. While I was born a storyteller, it's also a craft I've honed and something I'm pretty proud of.

The past few weeks, much like this past year, have been rough but also brilliant and beautiful. I was recently honored as one of the 50 Idaho Women of the Year and spoke to so many people hungry for change and feminism and body positivity - from a room full of teenage girls at a local junior high to a room full of community members and college students at Idaho State University for their first annual Positive Body Image Week.

My first annual RADCAMP for feminist girls is fully funded by donations from women I don't even know around the country and is almost sold out. I was the guest on an amazing podcast that a fellow body image warrior Summer Innanen has called Fearless Rebelle Radio talking about age positivity, sex, raising body positive kids and more. The diversity and number of people my work reaches in a positive way daily is extraordinary and empowering.

speaking at south junior high girls lunch 2017.jpg

But it's not always positive and heartwarming - my work comes with a lot of sadness and hard things. I was supposed to speak at a school wide assembly on self-love, body acceptance, and kindness at a large local high school this week that was suddenly cancelled because the school district administrators feel my message - and my body - are "too provocative" and scandalous. And I just had a local grants organization deny my application to fund a writing residency because they found my previous work "too conversational," noting that I probably just "want time away from my kids" and dismissing the power of motherhood, social media, body positivity, and Facebook groups to ignite radical social change. And for some reason the anger and hatred towards me and my ideas on social media has amped up from both men and women in both aggressive and passive-aggressive ways these past two weeks. But all these things right here? The amazing and the awful? They all add fuel to my fire and fodder to my feminism.

Years before I became a famously fat activist I was often asked when I was going to write a book. But ever since, the stories have really solidified in my heart, my mind, and my activism and I've gotten some pretty positive feedback from some pretty knowledgeable people that I'm on the right track.

To be honest, I've been writing this story all of my life and putting it to paper over the past 1.5 years. Some of it on little scraps of paper, to be exact, filling up an old Chinese moon cakes tin with a Team Hillary sticker on front. I carry it around and it vacillates between my bedside table and my bathroom depending on where memories and inspiration strikes. Which, lately, has often been in the middle of the night. There are chapter titles and outlines and page counts and quotes and sadness and anger and frustration and joy and triumph and power in the pen scribbles in this box.

So, here goes. I'm writing a manuscript. For a book. And I'm slightly terrified. Following my own good advice, though, I'm reminded that if I'm not doing at least one thing that scares the shit out of me I'm doing something wrong.

It's gearing up to be part personal essays part feminist manifesto. And I think - I hope - you're gonna want to read it.

Wish me luck.

And stay tuned.

Writing Women

It's International Women's Day which this year is marked by an added event, a protest called A Day Without A Woman where women are asked to do a whole slew of things like wear red in support, not go in to work, not purchase anything, and more. There's a lot of controversy about this event, some saying it's not very well thought out, not very conducive to making real change, not very inclusive of those of us who can't afford to take off work or those of us who do an inordinate amount of labor for free (like stay-at-home moms).

In my world, and my work, every day is international women's day. I'm lucky to celebrate women in so many ways on so many days. As a writer, I often get to explore things like body image, education, money, leaders, fashion, reclamation, resistance, revolution, feminism, work and how they all tell important parts on the history and contemporary life of women.

 I'm also lucky to write for  FabUplus  magazine, the only plus-size exclusive magazine in the world.

I'm also lucky to write for FabUplus magazine, the only plus-size exclusive magazine in the world.

I get to use my voice and my words to tell stories, not only my own, but those of some other pretty amazing women I know, too. Just yesterday I received the spring issue of Mamalode magazine in the mail and opened it to find a gorgeous SIX PAGE SPREAD for my story, "All Bodies Are Beautiful (especially when we wear what we want)." I was thrilled when the editor, Elke, asked me if I'd write the fashion piece for this edition with the theme of BEAUTIFUL, and highlight the plus-sized babes in my Boise Rad Fat Collective. I squealed and then said YES and put out the call for participants in our Facebook group. Ten lovely women from all over the US answered and submitted brave and beautiful photos of them wearing something that makes them feel amazing, strong, or beautiful. They let me interview them and a few of their more personal stories are included alongside mine.

My fashion sense has always been quirky and fun, inexpensive and different. I mostly shop at thrift stores or for free at my annual clothing swap (my favorite).  I can't think of a better way to celebrate International Women's Day today than by being featured in a spectacular female-run magazine with a story I wrote featuring a whole bunch of other pretty special women. So, here's to us, today and every day, in the words of some amazing women I know:

We are all lovable and deserving and enough.

I want my daughter to know that women can be many things, but most importantly, they can do anything!

I'm grateful, humble and doing my best to knock it out of the park. I've got this.

I have never felt more beautiful and it's because I have never felt stronger.

I'd accomplished sexy. I liked what I saw. That's not something I had ever felt about my body. I didn't scrutinize every dimple or wish I'd sucked in my stomach more. I saw beauty and rawness. It was empowering.

Now, I've learned to love myself more and know that although I'm not perfect, I am perfectly me.

Silver-Haired Shit Starter

I was doing an interview on Radio Boise about the stand for self-love a little over a year ago when a beautiful woman with long, gorgeous silver hair knocked on the window of the recording studio, smiled, and rushed to introduce herself and hug me. Donna and I became fast friends that day and she told me that she admired my bravery, my courage, my rebellion and my hair. She inducted me as an honorary member of the "Canas con Ganas Club," which she told me meant "gray with gusto" but for months I couldn't remember the exact meaning and would always translate in my mind to "silver-haired shit starters."

 Donna and I at Radio Boise, September 2015, photo courtesy Donna Vasquez

Donna and I at Radio Boise, September 2015, photo courtesy Donna Vasquez

 I was also captain of the junior varsity cheer squad the year I decided to chop my hair off. You can see me in my feminist rebellion germinating phase here second from the right.

I was also captain of the junior varsity cheer squad the year I decided to chop my hair off. You can see me in my feminist rebellion germinating phase here second from the right.

I've written before about secretly saving up my money at the age of 16 to seek out a bold new stylist in our tiny conservative Idaho farm town in high school with a creased picture torn from the pages of Vogue magazine. In a radical act of feminist rebellion, I cut my long curly brown hair off into a super short pixie cut in 1991 much to the chagrin of my parents and most of the boys in town. It was a move away from beauty standards I felt imposed upon me, a way to begin to take some control of my body. In a recent piece on her short hair for Ravishly, Emily Hill writes about her departure from long hair to short in a way that feels familiar to me:

Short hair takes away a crutch. I’d been leaning on the long-hair trope to feel more secure. Something about flowing curls, I admit, is comforting. Long hair is the ultimate accessory. It’s your wingman. It wraps you up, makes you feel taller, thinner, bolder. It gives you something to twist flirtatiously around your index finger. And in moments of self-consciousness, it allows you retreat, to hide, to take your place.

But this isn’t just about my cheeky haircut.

It’s about how a woman's worth is derived from beauty, not ability. It’s about how hair is sexualized and fetishized. It’s about how we’re taught to make ourselves desirable above all else. Sorry not sorry for the lofty departure folks, but this is not about pixie cuts, it’s about the mutha fuckin’ patriarchy.

 My, left, right after I liberated myself from my long hair, 1991.

My, left, right after I liberated myself from my long hair, 1991.

 Black box dye phase, c. 1997

Black box dye phase, c. 1997

 Still coloring it dark in 2000.

Still coloring it dark in 2000.

My first silver streak came when I was just 18, a small wisp in a curl right above my forehead. It was quirky and a conversation starter for a few years, but I was soon embarrassed by the freakishly early continued spread of gray around my face and went through that angsty phase in my early 20s when I used cheap boxes of dye to color my hair black. It was so harsh it fried my cute a-line bob and dried out my scalp til it peeled off in chunks, so I cut it off into a short pixie to let it heal around age 25. It wasn't until I discovered the fat acceptance movement eight years ago that I felt comfortable embracing my true colors (in more ways than one). I also found an amazing stylist who took to my idea of highlighting my large silver streaks with my natural dark brown and adding in some funky bright red. While most women go to great lengths to hide their gray, I choose to celebrate it. For me, body positivity means accepting the natural ways of my body, including aging, as beautifully imperfect as they may be.

A White Woman Reads Martin Luther King Jr. in Idaho

About a month ago I came upon this brilliant article by fellow Idahoan Laura Bracken called Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates in Idaho. It’s long and lovely and left me shaken to the core with recognition and in tears. We have a similar story: like Laura, I was raised among a plethora of white faces. I encountered very little diversity in my life other than books, which have always been my salvation. I longed for multicultural events and friends growing up but turned instead to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and movies like Malcolm X as a teenager.

A few years ago, I picked my daughter’s copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings off a bookshelf. Then The Color Purple. She recommended Zora Neale Hurston and Amazon suggested Melissa Harris-Perry. Then Ta-Nehisi Coates, Isabel Wilkerson, Bryan Stevenson. I backtracked to The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Notes of a Native Son and some poetry by Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. I watched 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Straight Outta Compton. King Leopold’s Ghost was the plunder of human bodies and Song of the Shank was the owning of one such body. In these stories and histories and art came a visceral recognition of white privilege.
— Laura Bracken, Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates in Idaho

As a high school student in rural Burley, Idaho, I wanted so desperately to understand; I still want so desperately to understand. I also just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, something quite common in teenagers exploding with potential and wanderlust. This desire is what led me to become a student of American history and women’s studies and, eventually, to move across the country several times.

 January 25, 1888,  Idaho Statesman

January 25, 1888, Idaho Statesman

The racists at Hayden Lake were predominantly from California — not native Idahoans. But racism has a long reach back into Idaho history, from the slaughter and resettlement of Native peoples to discrimination against Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Idaho’s government in the immediate post Civil War period was controlled by whites who had left the Confederacy. Housing segregation created Chinatowns, including one in Lewiston that burned to the ground as white firefighters refused to intervene. In the Rialto Theatre in Pocatello, non-whites were “delegated to the last six rows…on your left-hand side.” In 1916, when the racist epic Birth of a Nation played across Idaho, the advice sheet for House Managers included the words “Please bear in mind that NEGROES MUST NOT BE ADMITTED TO BIRTH OF A NATION UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.” In 1958, the Franklin Park neighborhood in Boise had a sign with “boxcar high letters,” CAUCASIANS ONLY.

But I didn’t know any of this when I moved to Lewiston, which is only 7 miles from the Nez Perce Reservation boundary. My kids and I applauded the Nez Perce riding on horseback in the rodeo parade; I was stunned when a new friend, born and raised in Lewiston, characterized the Nez Perce as a “bunch of drunks.” She said that I should go to the bars and see.
— Laura Bracken
 February 28, 1949,  Idaho Statesman

February 28, 1949, Idaho Statesman

I wanted so badly to study abroad as an undergraduate at the University of Idaho. I thought it might be the only affordable way I’d ever be able to leave the country, but even that was too expensive. I settled upon a national student exchange program as long as I could be in as different of a place than Idaho as possible. I wanted to be in the South and on the ocean but my parents weren’t keen on New Orleans, my first choice, because at the time it had one of the highest murder rates in the country. I decided upon Charleston, South Carolina, and had never seen more old money, sprawling plantations, humidity or black people in my life. It was mind-blowing and awful and extraordinary, my time there, for so many reasons.

When I lived in Charleston in the early 90s the population was somewhere around 50% black and 50% white. I experienced racial tension on numerous occasions during my time there and it always made my heart pound and my hands sweat. One time at a downtown Arby’s I noticed, for the first time in my life, that I was the only white person in a very full restaurant. I stood in line for a long time until everyone else was helped and the cashier looked at me, visibly sighed, and walked into the back room to be replaced by a white cashier who finally took my order. My naïve nineteen-year-old mind was reeling with thoughts about "reverse racism," though I’d yet to hear that term. I was so upset and confused that I got my food to go rather than eat inside the restaurant as planned.

I spent my honeymoon in Memphis - mainly for Elvis and the BBQ - but also for a pilgrimage to the Lorraine Hotel. It had recently been converted into part of the National Civil Rights Museum and Dr. Brown and I made the long sweaty walk through the streets of Memphis from Beale Street through historically African-American neighborhoods. We sat in the bus with Rosa Parks and at the lunch counter and made our way to the hotel room where Dr. King was assassinated, shot on the balcony. It’s preserved in eerie detail and it took my breath away. I burst into tears, like the kind where you can barely breathe because you’re sobbing so hard. The only other people in the room were two black families who stared at me and I was mortified. I ran outside and leaned against the wall on the sidewalk and sat there for an hour to gather myself. I couldn’t bring myself to go back inside.

A decade ago we packed up our cat who pukes in the car and our two-year-old daughter and we moved our growing family from the bustling, multicultural Midwestern city of Minneapolis back to Idaho, something I never thought we’d do. It was so white and so conservative and a place I wanted to run far away from, not a place I wanted to return to. How can I raise diverse kids in such a homogeneous environment? It’s a decision I’ve been thankful for yet questioned every day since. So we read. And we march. And we make new friends who are different than we are. And we listen. We learn. We recognize our privilege. We act as allies. We can’t afford to travel far, but we have a car and gather experiences where we can. We have an education and a library card. We have kind hearts and inquisitive minds.  

As parents do, I often wondered over the years whether I did the right thing, moving my children to Idaho. I fretted whether they would be ready to live in a multicultural world, ready to act as allies for those who face racism, to choose to be one of the thousands of parts. But they are finding their way. It is my task to do the same.
— Laura Bracken

I was given a BLACK LIVES MATTER pin many months ago, when feminist writer Roxane Gay came to Boise State University and I went to see her speak. I’m pretty sure it came from the table in the back of the room operated by the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence. I immediately put it on my summer purse and switched it to my winter coat when the seasons changed. I’ve gotten a lot of looks here in Idaho because of that pin – some of surprise or solidarity, some of distrust or disgust.

Last night I went on an impromptu date with my daughter and friends to see the movie Hidden Figures, about some amazing African-American women who were scientists, engineers, business women and mathematicians who worked for NASA in the 1950s and 60s. I'm appalled I never knew their story before last night. I'm appalled that I'm wearing a BLACK LIVES MATTER pin on my coat still 55 years later. Yet we continue to stand up. We keep trying. We move forward.

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

The stunning actress Ashley Judd has been an outspoken feminist activist for years but her October TED talk just became available online and it took my breath away. From the moment she started speaking and telling about the vile harassment and bullying she's received on the internet for years as celebrity woman with a loud voice I felt my soul breaking in solidarity. She talks of rape and death threats, revenge porn, slut-shaming, misogyny and more. She tells horrific stories of Twitter and Facebook and the media and the tech industries all being complicit in this culture of violence against women. She calls us to make real and radical change in an angry and powerful way.

As I watched this over coffee on this snowy morning I cried big fat tears of recognition. She talks of research proving that online violence affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally much like real-life violence and has her own experiences to prove it. Ashley tells about how she has hired someone to scrub her social media accounts of the hate and mean comments on threads and stories about her before she gets online to help alleviate the trauma of bearing that burden in her heart and mind.

I can relate to this talk and this phenomenon in extraordinary and sad ways. Only I don't have anyone to delete the pain from my social media; I've mostly learned to deal by not ever reading the comments and taking screenshots of direct hate mail and violence and saving them to my computer in a "safety file" of sorts should I need them for the police in the future. I've written before about the plethora of sexual words and propositions and photos of penises I receive from men all over the world. Men who violate my world on the reg with their words and their bodies and who send me friend requests on Facebook, a few of whom I saw on the national news shortly after for robbing a gun shop as part of an underground ring to shoot police and another who was arrested and accused of raping and murdering a young woman. Men, probably, much like the ones Ashley Judd deals with daily. The fear is palpable and the internalized damage it has done on my spirit, my heart and body is also real. It's caused me to lose a significant amount of weight, a lot of hair, the ability to sleep well, panic attacks and after a really intense year of it, a recently diagnosed stomach ulcer.

 Doctor's office selfie. I was waiting for an ultrasound and preparing for an endometrial biopsy to rule out uterine cancer. (Both those showed clear and healthy results.) My stomach and esophagus not so much.

Doctor's office selfie. I was waiting for an ultrasound and preparing for an endometrial biopsy to rule out uterine cancer. (Both those showed clear and healthy results.) My stomach and esophagus not so much.

I found this hat at a local thrift store the other day and it was the best and most cathartic 25 cents I ever spent.

And while she mentions this briefly, Ashley doesn't go into great detail about the role that women play in this misogyny, in perpetuating this patriarchy. The way that women, too, write hate mail and harmful messages, violence enacted not usually in rape threats but in a different, more "acceptable" and more "palatable" way - with their words. Shaming Ashley and women like her with hateful speech for how she looks, what she does, what she thinks. This, too, is painful and traumatic and in it's own way, violent. It is also something I know far too well, something that breaks my heart and my spirit as much as dick pics. Women who write hateful body shaming comments to me and about me on the internet. Women who gang up and gossip and threaten and spread false rumors with jealousy, shame, anger and vindictiveness because they disagree with my voice and my platform. Women who play real, important and powerful roles in the misogyny and patriarchy that keep this country from making real radical change. The most harmful part about this, to me, is that this hatred and awful behavior often comes at me almost daily from women I actually know, both on the internet and in my local physical life in Idaho and beyond. That's not to say there aren't PLENTY of female strangers on the internet that shame and threaten and "mean girl" me all day long, but the most painful actions come from those I know. The online hatred directed at me by women has been FAR more prevalent than the threatening from men.

The truth is, as women, we probably all see this daily and experience it just as often. We participate in it and are complicit to it and laugh at it and don't call it out when we see it. We gang up together and leave people out on purpose because our feelings are hurt or we're angry or embarrassed that we were called out on our lack of forethought or understanding. There are a lot of reasons for this, I think, including that we learn from birth to shrink, be quiet, not to speak up, take up less space, don't cause trouble, pretend, to fake it. Misogyny has taught us that other women are our enemies and not to be trusted. Sometimes women harm other women unintentionally and sometimes it's borne of jealousy, fear, frustration, and wanting to be the most, the best, the smartest, the biggest. It's constantly happening on micro and macro levels in this country and it's not something we are talking about nearly enough.

The Women's March on Washington has been plagued by this from the beginning. Within hours of Election Day results, a small group of white women wanted to get together in protest and retaliation against Donald Trump's inauguration on Saturday January 21, 2017 and called it the Million Woman March, co-opting a historical African-American women's march. Rightly so, women of color called them out on that, and the fact that there WERE no women of color on the organizing committee, both things since rectified (at least a little, it seems). Recently, a march manifesto of sorts called the Unity Principals came out listing women the official march thanks and honors and Secretary Hillary Clinton was intentionally left off (the reason is unclear, although I've read that perhaps the organizers are angry at Clintons attendance at the Trump inauguration).

 Artwork created by fat activist  Stacy Bias  in retaliation against Ann Coulter's attempt at body shaming female protestors after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential race.

Artwork created by fat activist Stacy Bias in retaliation against Ann Coulter's attempt at body shaming female protestors after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential race.

This Saturday as we're all preparing to march with our daughters in various cities around the United States in solidarity with each other think about why and what you are saying vs. what you are actually DOING. Ask yourself hard questions. Do you call yourself a feminist but shame other women, either in your head or out loud, for wearing a short tight skirt to work? Do you claim to be body positive but really think fat people are lazy and probably unhealthy and eat a lot of McDonalds? Do you wear a safety pin and change your Facebook profile photo in solidarity but haven't read the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or were afraid to speak up the other day when your friend made a racist joke? Do you share memes of equal rights and lifting other women up but don't feel comfortable sharing and uplifting the successes of women you know because you think it undercuts your own? Don't just talk the talk. Move forward. Feminism isn't all fun. Body positivity isn't easy. Listen. Read books. Open your mind. Watch more. Participate. Don't be afraid. Make mistakes. Get educated. I know from experience that the revolution lives where women honestly support one another, lift each other up for our unique strengths, respect our diverse voices, and cheer for our individual wins. And I know for a fact we are stronger together. Really, REALLY, walk the walk. Not just this Saturday, but every day.

Our Bodies, Our Selfies

I learned at a very young age that my body was a political vessel and one that I could use for my activism and for art. By the time I was a teenager I realized that others felt they had more ownership over my body than I did and had a lot to say about how I presented it, what I put on it, in it and did with it.

 Self-portrait detail of  live body painting performance collaboration  with Natalie Fletcher and the Boise Film Festival, September 2015

Self-portrait detail of live body painting performance collaboration with Natalie Fletcher and the Boise Film Festival, September 2015

I feel like I've always been a bit of an enigma to people - a complicated woman that challenges the status quo and what it means to be a mother, an artist, a wife, a daughter, a feminist. Someone that they can't quite figure out and doesn't quite fit inside the box or the label they want to wrap me up in. In high school I was the captain of the high school cheerleading squad but also fat; in the theater club in leading roles onstage while dating the captain of the football team; a cute girl excelling in AP English but who loved Sylvia Plath and wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper opposing the proposed elimination of sex education being taught in junior high; super popular but wore a pantsuit to the homecoming dance. Needless to say, I was voted Most Unique Personality in my senior class awards ceremony. I grew up to be even more confusing to people: a pretty twentysomething woman who picked up dead bodies at night in a small Oregon town; a feminist scholar who loves Katy Perry; an Idaho mom to three who sometimes models lingerie; an activist with a loud voice who stood on stage and stood up to fatphobes and stood stripped to a bikini downtown Boise in the name of self-acceptance.

 Photo courtesy  Melanie Folwell

Photo courtesy Melanie Folwell

Much of my work as an artist, activist and writer has been greatly influenced by those who came before me. As an academic at heart and a continual student in life, I find books and exhibitions and art as valid and important tools in my trade. You'll hear me speak in lectures about Ana Mendieta, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, the Guerrilla Girls, Roxane Gay, Marilyn Wann, Naomi Wolf, Betty Friedan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beyonce, and Charlotte Cooper to name just a few. I've found power in using social media as a tool for the resistance, as a radical means to reach the masses in fast and furious ways. It became even more apparent to me when my blog post about my stand for self-love in the market in 2015 (including photos and a video) went viral. The message spread so fast and the video has picked up by various sources (like Buzzfeed and HLN) and has now been seen somewhere around 200 million times.

I've long been interested in photography as an art history student, museum curator, and now, as an artist, as a instrument in the feminist revolution. It's a way for me to document using my own body as the canvas or the subject, a way I can take control of my image and my physical self. The selfie, the shorthand 21st century term for the self-portrait, has gotten a bad rap as something self-obsessed young girls do for "likes" in recent years, but myself and others are reexamining that idea. In 2013 Jezebel wrote a scathing article that the selfie was a "cry for help" and beautiful backlash ensued as the #feministselfie movement took hold, one that I've actively participated in (this article from TIME defines it and its history so well that I borrowed the title of this blog post from it). Seeing yourself and your body type represented on social media has been a powerful thing for me in my own body positive journey - seeing other women who looked like me rocking their amazing fat bodies online has been inspiring and revolutionary. And selfies aren't just about what you look like, they are about what you're doing in life, what moves you, what makes you proud, what makes you cry, what makes you YOU. “Selfies are one way for a female to make space for herself in the world: to say ‘I’m here, this is what I actually look like, my story counts, too,'” says Pamela Grossman, the director of visual trends at Getty Images, and co-curator of a feminist photo-curation project. “They allow girls to shine on their own terms.” They allow us to see ourselves, flaws and all.

My favorites are the least curated, messy, and unprofessional portraits, but I so appreciate that fine artists are also utilizing it as well in a fresh way. Women like Laura Aguilar, a Latina photographer in Los Angeles, with a major solo exhibition opening this year. “When you’re driving down the street of East L.A., you see so many women that look like Laura,” says Sybil Venegas, the Los Angeles curator of the show of Aguilar's self portraits.  “And no one’s going to pay attention to them. Because they’re poor, because they’re just walking with a bunch of kids … people don’t pay attention to those people. And so to have her and the work that she did, in particular her self-portraits — they’re really beautiful. So it really challenges what is beauty. What is beautiful? What is a woman or a man, for that matter, what do we have to look like in order to be considered beautiful?”  

 Laura Aguilar, Three Eagles Flying, courtesy  L.A. Weekly + the artist

Laura Aguilar, Three Eagles Flying, courtesy L.A. Weekly + the artist

And Audrey Wollen, a young woman whose performance art plays out in large part on Instagram with her Sad Girl Theory and poignant thoughts on feminism. Like me, a major part of her selfies hinges on the notion that "the personal is political," a term coined by Shulamith Firestone in her 1970 book A Dialectic of Sex. “If your feminism isn’t painful, you’re not doing it right,” said Wollen in this great piece about her work in the Huffington Post. “Because it’s a painful thing to witness how things are and your own participation.”

this is not a girl

A photo posted by tragic queen (@audreywollen) on

I love using selfies to subvert the long-standing tyranny of the male gaze and find in them self-empowerment through rebellion. Taking control of my image stops male (and female) objectification of a woman by using the very tools of oppression to dismantle it. Objectification on our own terms has radical potential. That's why I was thrilled when my friend, photographer and part of our team at Wintry Market, Anna Wiley, asked me to help her host 52 Selfies: A Year of Self-Love.  It's a Facebook group about a DIFFERENT kind of New Years resolution (or revolution): Loving ourselves AS WE ARE, RIGHT NOW. Today. This very moment. Each week, we will all share a themed selfie and write a bit about something we love about ourselves. Our goal is for all of us to look at ourselves with love and gratitude, not shame. Our goal is to get more women out from behind the camera and in front of it. Every selfie doesn't have to be a serious feminist artwork, it can be fun or flirty or silly or sad. You can still be part of the revolution armed with a little bit of courage, your unique story, and an iPhone.

This year, let’s try a new kind of resolution.

No gym, no diets, no changing ourselves. Instead of focusing on what we think society wants us to be, let’s love every inch of ourselves as we are. Radical, right?! Let’s try radical self love – feeling comfortable and beautiful in our skin. Read more about our project here on Anna's blog and join us here if you're interested in a safe sweet way to celebrate yourself in the new year.

Bring it on, 2017!