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!

Can't Co-Opt This : Thoughts From A Token Fat (Positive) Girl

It started happening to me right away when my stand for self-love video went viral last year. Within 24 hours I was getting calls from every major television and news network in America, many of them super surprising ones. Several of them were "health" shows and sources who have traditional been anti-fat and body shaming for years. I said no to a handful of them for this very reason - the history and theme of the program/news organization/show was not conducive to my message and I felt I was being set up for a potentially negative "devil's advocate" type situation. But as I grew stronger and louder I said yes to more.

Even though I knew they may be using me as the token fat girl - an easy way to say to their viewers, "Look at us! We ARE body positive!" only to turn around and have the next guest/ad be for slimming wraps or fat-burning milkshakes or some damn gluten free "clean eating" program. Truth be told, this was happening to the body positivity/fat acceptance movement and activists well before my work became famous. It's certainly happening now more than ever, and not only on a national scale as our revolutionary grassroots movement becomes more mainstream and watered down, as I've seen local "body positive" fitness folks co-opt important radical messaging of the size acceptance movement while promoting weight loss. I've had a slew of people selling anti-aging creams and "healthy lifestyle changes" regimens approach me to buy/like/advertise/represent their products. (To which I politely decline with a you may have missed the point/message of my work and they usually reply some version of you are a bitch.)

Recently Amara Miller wrote a great piece called "‘Oops, We Did It Again!’ Yoga Journal Is What Co-optation Looks Like" dissecting the history of co-optation in the Yoga Journal and how, for many years now, the magazine has faced heavy criticism from body positive activists about the mixed messages and unattainable ideals promoted through their advertising and articles and rightly so. And the Yoga Journal is not the only culprit - it's a big problem in the traditional women's health and fitness industries and the fashion industries. These words of Miller's really struck me: 

"In other words, the industry profits from maintaining the same systems that generate inequity in yoga, but because they tokenize a small number of specific diverse contributors, the company gains ethical legitimacy even while nothing substantive really changes. All talk, no walk."

Having been a "token" myself at times in these publications over the past 1.5 years, it's frustrating. It's also super irritating to see phrasing and words and work of mine (and others) co-opted without credit or mention of the grassroots radical efforts behind it. Unfortunately, this also happens within our own body positive circles and I feel it's due to uneducation, laziness and the desire to be seen as the originator of revolutionary thought and content rather than giving credit to those who we learn from.

About a year ago I was approached for an interview at Prevention.com, a magazine and website with a rich history of fat hatred and unfeminist thought about bodies. The female writer seemed slightly secretive about the story, but I felt strong in my messaging and knew that my words, story and work can make a difference - even if it is portrayed as "wrong" or "weird." I'm almost always willing to take the chance that there might just be one person out there who needed to see a loud revolutionary fatty standing strong in her truth. 

She didn't give me much information (and after the story came out I realized why), just that she was working on a story for Prevention.com and would love to include my input. "The gist of the story is 'things people who are overweight want you to know.' Many people have misconceptions about those who are very heavy (50+ pounds), and we'd like to try to set the record straight," she wrote.

She told me I could remain anonymous but I demanded she print my whole name and identify me as a body image activist in Boise, Idaho. Here are her emailed interview questions followed by my answers:

-What do you think is the biggest misconception about people who are overweight? That they're lazy? Binge on junk food all day? That sort of thing... And why, given your experience, is that notion off-base?

I don't use or believe in the false notion of 'being overweight.' There is no right or wrong weight. There is also no magical number, either on a scale, in your BMI, or your pants size. You cannot tell someone's health by just looking at them; healthy people come in all shapes and sizes.

-Is there anything you wish your "skinny" friends/relatives would do differently when it comes to your weight/body/lifestyle? For example, does your mom constantly tell you to lose weight and you wish she would stop? Does your annoying aunt email you low-fat recipes and you find it insulting? Does your friend always suggest meeting for dessert and it's harming your efforts to eat healthfully? Etc.

I wish people would not make negative assumptions or comments on my body at all - not what I put in it, what I put on it, or what it looks like. All bodies are good bodies, and there is no wrong way to have a body.

-Have you ever been in a social situation that you found uncomfortable specifically because you were overweight? (Pool party, bridesmaid dress shopping, etc.) If so, what was going through your mind at the time that you wished the thinner people around you would have understood?

Body shaming language and diet talk are so ingrained in our culture that all people, fat or thin, are constantly put in uncomfortable social situations and made to feel bad about how they look and what they eat. I wish all people would be more aware of the words they use and their own biases.

Turns out the story was eventually unfortunately titled "10 Things Everyone Carrying Extra Weight Wants You To Know" and was filled with other fat folks who wanted desperately to be smaller, less than, different. I was the only radically happy voice, and she only included an edited version of one of my answers at the very end with a final quote wrapping up the piece. It was the most hopeful part of the article, a lone voice shouting that there might, in fact, be a new way, a different way to live our lives in these bodies. One that doesn't involve hate, shame or fear.

I don't think that real revolutionary change will ever come from consumer culture or within mainstream media, especially in body positivity, where the fundamentals are a rejection of those very things. I do love, though, that they are learning from us and am hopeful for deeper change. Positivity trumps negativity. Love moves the world more than hate. Speaking truth is better than staying silent. Baby steps are better than no steps. And for that, I'll gladly be your token fat positive girl any day.

Hot & Heavy

I've been having sex for 25 years now, which I think makes me a bit of an expert - on my own sexuality, at least. My weight has fluctuated by over 100 pounds over the decades; I was about 150 lbs when I started having sex and have had it when I was 263 lbs and nine months pregnant. I've had sex with men who relished my fat body, men who secretly enjoyed it but were publicly embarrassed by it, and with those who could care less about my exterior appearance. All of them, though, would probably tell you that my confidence and comfort in my own skin was the sexiest thing about me.

Women, in general, are not supposed to be openly sexual. We are not supposed to talk about it, admit to having it, or say we enjoy it. It's a subject that becomes more taboo the older, grayer, more married, more motherly and fatter we get. We've grown up internalizing this message for so long - that our fat and aging bodies are not worthy of respect, adoration, positive attention or love. Especially as women, many of us have hated our desexualized bodies for so long that it's incredibly difficult to believe anyone else when they tell us otherwise. I've long been a very sexual person and the more body positive I've become the more confident I've felt in expressing that sexuality. So many things have helped along the way, including supportive and kind partners and following other fierce fat feminist sexy folks on social media and reading their stories. There have also been so many helpful fantastic feminist books written about it, including this one, this one, and this one.

It's no secret that I'm not a huge fatshionista - I'm thrifty and like a vintage find and have a quirky style. Truth be told, I like to wear as little clothing as possible, especially in the hot Idaho summer months and, ahem, when I'm gettin' busy. I've bought some cute lacy and flirty bras and panties in the past (and I've been known to rig up some DIY pasties out of HRC stickers on important election days), but it's always been more for myself - feeling like I've got a fun dirty little secret under my clothing. So when Curvy Girl Lingerie in San Jose, California - the only exclusively plus-sized lingerie boutique in the country - said they'd send me a box of several fancy things I immediately (but nervously) said YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

I'm honored to be fighting the good fight in size acceptance and self-love alongside the owner (and fellow member of my Boise Rad Fat Collective) Chrystal Bougon. She's been a business owner for the past ten years and also runs an online romance shop selling other tools and toys. Chrystal's Curvy Girl mantra is this: sexy is for every body. Sexy is NOT a size. All of us want to and deserve to feel sexy and relevant. So she's created a very safe place for women over size 12 to come and try on lingerie, sexy shoes, buy stocking and pick up some pretty panties or something fun for your lover - or yourself. She also sells much of her stock online and via her Facebook page, including this:

Muva Curve Lace Gartered Teddy, size 1X/2X, $48 with the Kix'ie Argyle Thigh Highs, size C, $25

Muva Curve Lace Gartered Teddy, size 1X/2X, $48 with the Kix'ie Argyle Thigh Highs, size C, $25

I'll start with my favorite, the Muva (or Natasha) Teddy or, as I like to call it, Take Me For A Roll In The Hay, er, Leaf Compost. It comes with removable garters to attach thigh-high stockings and is crotchless (one of those things is handier to me than the other). It fit like a dream, even though I do not have anywhere near the large and voluptuous breasts to fill out the top like the model on the box. I was excited to try the Kix'ie stockings with self-sticking elastic around the top. Admittedly, I haven't worn them all day yet, but they were comfy and stayed up for the entire photoshoot and the pattern feels a little naughty secretary to me. This was both my favorite and Dr. Brown's as well.

Amnesia Seamless Hot Dress, OS/Plus-size, fits size 12-26, $38

Amnesia Seamless Hot Dress, OS/Plus-size, fits size 12-26, $38

This one is called the Amnesia or, as I like to call it, Walking In A Winter Wonderland/Won't You Be My Neighbor? I was anxiously awaiting the snow to fall and was all set to grab my shovel and get to work on the sidewalk. All kidding aside, this hot pink number came out of the box like the size of one of Arlo's 2T tank tops I SHIT YOU NOT. I laughed as I pulled it over my head but it is way stretchy and comfy. Chrystal says it fits people from a size 12 to a 26 (I'm a 16)! I also cannot show you a full frontal view because, um, it's mostly mesh and not internet-friendly. It's fun and flirty and something I'd totally wear over my bikini to the pool or for this year's Cupid's Undie Run.

Josephine Chemise with G-String, 1X/2X but runs large, $52

Josephine Chemise with G-String, 1X/2X but runs large, $52

I scream you scream we all scream for her/Don't even try 'cause you can't ignore her/She's my cherry pie/Cool drink of water such a sweet surprise

I scream you scream we all scream for her/Don't even try 'cause you can't ignore her/She's my cherry pie/Cool drink of water such a sweet surprise

Swingin' in the living room/Swingin' in the kitchen/Most folks don't 'cause they're too busy bitchin'

Swingin' in the living room/Swingin' in the kitchen/Most folks don't 'cause they're too busy bitchin'

Tastes so good make a grown man cry/Sweet cherry pie oh yea/Put a smile on your face ten miles wide/Looks so good bring a tear to your eye/Sweet cherry pie

Tastes so good make a grown man cry/Sweet cherry pie oh yea/Put a smile on your face ten miles wide/Looks so good bring a tear to your eye/Sweet cherry pie

This one is called the Josephine Chemise, otherwise known at my house as She's My Cherry Pie.
(FELLOW CHILDREN OF THE 80s YOU'RE WELCOME.) I've never worn a cage bra/chemise before and it, along with the satin fabric and the black G-string underneath, made me feel super sexy. Too bad it was way too large for me (my breasts only filled like 3/4 of those cups and the back was pretty baggy, so it runs large (I wear a size 16 and this fits more like a 18/20, maybe even up to a 22). This one was probably the most true to my style and lingerie preference, as I'm a sucker for silky fabrics and animal print.

I've never treated myself to lingerie before, so what a fun honor to be asked by Curvy Girl Lingerie to try some out and share my experience. It's something I'll definitely do again. Chrystal and her crew are so down to earth, kind, and sex positive, I can't think of a better and more comfortable place to shop if you're plus-sized and interested in spicing things up. I think it's a super fun part of self-care and self-love to remember that you are, and can be, sexy at any size and in any way that feels good to you.

Is This the Hillary Clinton Line?

It's no secret that I'm a radical feminist and an ardent fan of the notorious HRC. I have been, in fact, for many, many years. I came out publicly as a hard and fast supporter of hers, way back when she was a FLOTUS and still when most of my friends and colleagues were supporting Bernie Sanders for the nomination.

And again, more recently as the shitshow of this current presidential election cycle continued into the public debate phase between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump:

About a month ago, when the Boise Weekly asked me if I'd be interested in writing for them again - this time in the form of Op-Eds - of course I said yes. I was so excited to hear my first one would run this week in their election issue, just a handful of days before a historic, extraordinary, and earth-shattering (or glass ceiling-shattering) one at that. And I knew exactly what I wanted to write about - a little story of a brave girl from rural Idaho who grew up to be a courageous feminist mom with the power to stand up for a vote, and a country, she believes in. While so many people agree with my voice, speaking up and out (especially in conservative Idaho) is hard and stressful as there are many who feel free to tell me I'm too loud, a bad mom, an overly educated bitch, too much.

Nasty Women Vote, 2016, lace curtain with yarn, 3' x 3', guerrilla artwork hung downtown Boise until is was removed two days later by the powers that be in Julia Davis Park

Nasty Women Vote, 2016, lace curtain with yarn, 3' x 3', guerrilla artwork hung downtown Boise until is was removed two days later by the powers that be in Julia Davis Park

Honestly, lately I've been feeling scared sick and just sad about the current state of affairs of this election and this country I love so dearly. I'm worried, friends, for myself, for my children, and for all of us. Then yesterday I received an email that made me burst into tears:

I just read your article in this weeks issue of the Boise Weekly. I LOVED IT. I just turned 18 so I will have the right to vote tomorrow. I am doing a government project for my government class at school and had to read and highlight 10 different newspaper articles. Yours was by far the best one I have read. Your story was so moving and makes me feel even more awesome for being a woman. People often forget about Alice Paul and all of the work she did for the rights of women. I will proudly hold the "I voted" sticker tomorrow after I place my vote. I am in tears writing this because I am so happy. Thank you for your wise words and wisdom. You're a badass and keep killing it!

I responded to her and told her to proudly check those boxes today - in honor of the women who came before her, in honor of herself, and those who will come after her. To be brave, be rebellious, and, perhaps most importantly, to continue to be educated.

election day 2016 nasty women vote tee.jpg

Election Day is one of my favorite traditions. I've never voted early or by mail because I love the ritual of re-reading up about the issues and candidates the night before with Dr. Brown, staying up late and Googling and researching and making our notes about who we are voting for. I love standing outside in the cold November air with a hot mug of coffee in my hands with my neighbors and buying cookies from the school bake sale. This morning I donned my makeshift denim pantsuit with my Nasty Woman tee hidden underneath and brought my 8yo daughter, Alice, with me. As we waited in line I noticed I was the only one who had a child (with the exception of one baby in arms) and I was noticeably the only one in a pantsuit, so I had no one to make "solidarity sister" eye contact with. The vibe felt serious and reverent, anxious and not at all celebratory. As Alice and I moved into the short line for those with the last names M - Z she looked around worriedly and asked loudly, "is this the Hillary Clinton line, Mama?" I hushed her and told her that we were just being arranged in alphabetical order to get our ballots. That I have no idea who these people are voting for, but it's exciting that they are all here, exercising their right to vote. As she scurried off to choir practice, I ducked into my little cardboard booth and saved the Hillary Rodham Clinton for President box to fill in last with my black pen ceremoniously while holding back my tears.

This morning, as per tradition, I drew hearts on the arms of my daughters before they left for school, this time telling them how important and historic it was that I was voting for our first female POTUS today. I wished for them a life in which they may never know a world without a powerful woman leader. I told them that it wasn't that long ago, really, that women even got the right to vote, nevermind be in charge of one of the most powerful nations on earth. But I also told them that, honestly, while the work that women like me and Hillary and others have done is important there is still so much to do. That we are fighting an important fight for freedom and truth and acceptance and radical change. And that they can - and will - too.

I walked home from the little school community that I love feeling emotional and passed a neighbor walking her dog on the other side of the street. She called out, "Have a great day. And GO HILLARY!" Dr. Brown and I traded Arlo duty so he could vote next and I told him about the sort of melancholy atmosphere I felt at the polling place and he told me that everyone was just stressed out and nervous. I started busily reading the positive posts on Pantsuit Nation on Facebook to cheer myself up and pull my typically positive self out of this momentary funk when my naked toddler waddled up behind me pulling a tiny red toy wagon into the kitchen FULL OF HIS OWN POOP. I snatched him up quickly to find feces spread all over his body and tiny shit-filled footsteps across the hardwood floor and into the carpeted family room. I rushed him to the tub and surveyed the damage. In the midst of crusts of toast and a million train tracks and toys and books all helter-skelter I saw shit smeared on the vacuum cleaner and covering a notebook and I panicked. WHAT KIND OF FUCKERY IS THIS?! How am I ever going to find all the shit and clean it up? Should I just throw the toys away or bleach them? I started to cry again out of frustration and exhaustion and misplaced anxiety. Dr. Brown came home just in time to help and calm my nerves and grab a roll of paper towels and carpet cleaner to go with my bottle of bleach and baby wipes. "We've been through this before," he calmly told me. "It's called life. We can clean it up together and move forward through our day."

Some days you just gotta get up, throw on a pantsuit even if it's not really your style, pull up your big girl panties and bust out some party pasties in the name of positivity, optimism, courage and change. And remember that love trumps hate any day of the week but especially on Election Day. That we are stronger together cleaning up any of the shit life throws our way.

 

 

Feminism Is So Fun! Body Positivity Is So Easy!

The Fat Acceptance (or Fat Power or Fat Liberation) movement officially became organized in the US in the 1960s, about the same time that the Women's Liberation and Feminist movement did. As important facets of the larger Civil Rights uprising, they were started by radical women (and a few men) who were fed up with the discrimination and bigotry, inequality and lack of respect they had faced all their lives simply for existing in their bodies. Over the past 50 years many of the brave leaders of these movements have protested and spoke out, been ridiculed and humiliated, rallied and risen up.

Over the years feminism has made amazing gains and changes in the world, even though it recently went through an "unpopular" period, where many young women were afraid of or put off by claiming the term feminist, as to them it denoted someone who was radical and hated men and WASN'T SOMETHING WE NEEDED ANYMORE. Fat Acceptance didn't catch on quite as quick or establish major forward movement as women's rights did, or LGBTQIA rights or rights for people of color. It has, though, in the past three years or so really finally began to get some justice for people of size that we have deserved all along. But it did so under the much easier-to-stomach more palatable name of "body positivity."

The body positivity movement has been making extraordinary gains and has, in many ways, made radical body acceptance accessible to people of all sizes and places in life. It's also made it more acceptable to the media, and done (less important) things like feature the first curvy model on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine and (more important) things like getting the American Pediatrics Association to officially change their recommendations about talking to children about the importance of weight. For me and my work, it's jumped the membership of my private Facebook group, the Boise Rad Fat Collective, from 30 to 1,380 and filled not one but TWO theaters for the premiere of an important Australian body image documentary in Boise in September.

Hand stitched riot not diet needlepoint guerrilla art project by yours truly, 2015, hidden in various locations around town, this one at the Boise Public Library main branch in the diet book section.

Hand stitched riot not diet needlepoint guerrilla art project by yours truly, 2015, hidden in various locations around town, this one at the Boise Public Library main branch in the diet book section.

But, like feminism today, body positivity has become watered-down and their radical roots all but forgotten. People new to the movements have no idea of the subversive and serious work their foremothers did to get them to this place. They often claim both these feel-good labels like they do a new fun fall fashion trend - just slip it on to say look at me! I'm feminist! And body positive! So easy! So fun! They don't want to do the hard work of educating themselves and digging deep - the falling down and getting back up that happens when you are learning. It's a journey that is supposed to make you confused, angry, hurt and be difficult.

I identified as a feminist in college as an undergrad, and attribute that to my own evolution as a woman, one really great professor, and books like Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth. Seven years ago when I started my own life-altering journey by Googling the phrase "why and I fat and happy," I immediately identified with fat activism for several reasons. One, because I was fat. Two, because "body positivity" as a movement didn't yet exist. Three, because I immediately launched myself into the education, reading everything I could find on the history of fat power.

Body love advocate Whitney Way Thore and reality star of My Big Fat Fabulous Life established the No Body Shame campaign, also known as No BS, several years ago.

Body love advocate Whitney Way Thore and reality star of My Big Fat Fabulous Life established the No Body Shame campaign, also known as No BS, several years ago.

A few months ago I was interviewed for an article in Bustle magazine along with ten other leaders in the fat acceptance movement on this new found fame for body positivity and how we felt about it. Had it become watered down? Was it being co-opted by thin people? Had it forgotten its roots and lost its bite? I absolutely believe that all bodies are good bodies and are valuable, including differently gendered, abled, aged and sized bodies. But, there's a little bit of unfortunate truth to all those questions. Everyone and everything is claiming to be body positive these days - from the "What's Your Excuse Fit Mom" who so adamantly damned and berated the very concept just a few years ago to Weight Watchers - a diet conglomerate that profits off selling us shame, an industry that is the very antithesis to body positivity but is now profiting off the term.

So many of my colleagues said so many great things in the Bustle article, like Isha Reid:

"It feels like anything used by those most marginalized gets ambushed and taken over by those who are not marginalized. Black lives matter? No, no, ALL lives matter, and it's the same with fat acceptance. We've been told that ALL bodies should be accepted and ALL bodies should be seen positively; but we know that's not the case. We know that the more body fat you have, the more you are hated, stigmatized, made fun of, and seen as less worthy."

And Meg Elison:

"When I think of body positivity folks, I see an average-looking woman holding an umbrella in the rain. Body positivity is a big umbrella, giving cover to a lot of people who have had to stand in the rain. So, under her umbrella are huddled her friends who are like her; imperfect and on a journey toward self-love. However, they're not really fat. They're up against an impossible standard, but most of them are fatphobic at this point in their journey. They see themselves as self-accepting and maybe willing to look at someone lumpy like Lena Dunham without being cruel."

And me:

"I prefer to look at body positivity as part of a spectrum of size acceptance, with it on one end and more radical fat positivity at the other. Many will start on the body positivity end of the spectrum and their eyes and hearts will be opened via education, reading, watching others, following activists, and generally participating in the larger revolution as part of their personal journey.

Ideally, they'll move along the continuum towards radical and revolutionary body acceptance and see that all bodies are valuable and worthy, be they super fat, differently-abled, ugly, unhealthy, and/or unapologetic. As an activist, I feel it's important to meet people where they're at on that spectrum and not alienate them, giving them the tools to move forward."

I'm a proud owner of this set of artist Stacy Bias' Rad Fatty Merit Badges, a sweet way to celebrate the creativity and strength fat folks show in overcoming the daily obstacles stigma presents.

I'm a proud owner of this set of artist Stacy Bias' Rad Fatty Merit Badges, a sweet way to celebrate the creativity and strength fat folks show in overcoming the daily obstacles stigma presents.

I genuinely love having you on this spectrum with me, but let's keep moving forward along it. I don't believe you can just claim body positivity or feminism without doing any of the hard work of learning from those before you and asking hard questions (of yourself and others) and getting educated. We have a reading list in the Boise Rad Fat Collective, and I often say that when you join the group and are just beginning your journey you may be in body positivity 101 but if you finish all those books you'll have a PhD in badass. Education is an important step, but implementing those ideas and examining that perhaps the way you've been taught to think about bodies (and being a woman) your entire life may be wrong is really really hard work. It can be painful and exhausting and sad and lonely. It's awkward and uncomfortable and you have to learn to critically examine words because they have power and sometimes it feels like learning a whole new language. People will often react to your ideas and your brave new voice with anger. You will be rejected and challenged and fall down a lot and have to find a way to pull yourself back up. Quite frankly, it will seriously suck more than it will be enjoyable, like most important things in life do, including things like parenting, marriage, relationships, and college. But, trust me, it will be so worth it. Like my little family motto says, WE CAN DO HARD THINGS. (Pro tip: finding a new community and revamping your media feed can help in tremendous ways.)

Don't just pull on the new label of body positivity and claim you're a feminist and stop there. YOU CANNOT HAVE ONE (FEMINISM) WITHOUT THE OTHER (BODY POSITIVITY). Push your own boundaries. Open up your mind and your heart. Be rebellious. Speak up and out.  Know your privilege and check it. Intersectionalize your feminism. Challenge the status quo.

Ghosts

We'd have to get a bigger car if all your babies were still alive, Mama, Alice said to me the other day out of the blue. A minivan like you've always wanted. With a movie screen.

I don't know at what age we'll tell Arlo about his lost twin. I think about it a lot, actually. The girls think about it a lot, too. We told Alice and Lucy not long after my first miscarriage began (a process that took a horrific and long week) because they were so worried about why mama was curled up on the floor crying and sitting on the toilet moaning and bleeding and were scared. We were all scared, but I knew that hiding from them a natural and sad process in life would be detrimental to them later as they became women. We told them that we had a surprise new baby coming into the family and were very sad because it had died in mama's belly, which we hoped they could understand at ages 5 and 9. They were terrified by it being flushed down the toilet. We explained that it hadn't yet become a tiny recognizable baby but was still cells and tissue and blood at just around 8 weeks or so along in its growth cycle. This was something that was difficult for them to reconcile - for Eric and I too - because it had always been a real baby from the moment I saw those two pink lines.

arlo due date amy alice 2014.jpg

When the same thing happened six months later, though, a visible teeny tiny baby came out of me in a gush into the toilet at 11 weeks along that I hysterically scooped out with a slotted spoon from the kitchen. After a grief-filled emergency ultrasound the next day we found that in a surprise turn of luck and extraordinary beauty, there was another visible teeny tiny baby with a heartbeat still thriving inside my belly. Apparently vanishing twin syndrome is quite common in pregnancies - often the mother has no idea that she's expecting twins and one will perish in utero, to be absorbed back into her system long before the first ultrasound with no one the wiser. Sometimes people do see their twins on an ultrasound, only to have a second ultrasound months later and find that baby vanished, as if into thin air. And in very, very rare situations, like mine, a mother will physically miscarry the aborted fetus while the other pregnancy remains viable inside. The remaining fetus (in this case my now thriving toddler Arlo) is classified as a high risk pregnancy at that point, as it is not clear if he/she will make it, either. Everyone hopes for the best, but in many cases that baby is lost, too. The remaining months of my pregnancy were so hard, not only on my emotions, but on my body, as it took a while to register that it was not, in fact, growing two babies any longer, so it didn't need such a ballooned space or so many hormones in my system, things which resulted in routinely measuring too large at appointments, advanced nausea with all day long vomiting, significant weight loss, placenta previa, excruciating sciatica, terror, exhaustion, anxiety and a breech baby. My body couldn't let go of the little ghost baby, and neither could my mind or my heart.

If your first dead baby had lived, Mama, we probably wouldn't have Arlo then, right? asks my astute 8yo daughter. You're right, I tell her. As much as I wanted that baby to live, it's as if she paved the way and left us so we could have our sweet little brother.

Courtesy Bella Baby Photography at St. Alphonsus Medical Center

Courtesy Bella Baby Photography at St. Alphonsus Medical Center

I was nearly four years into my body positive journey when my first miscarriage knocked the wind out of me. I had bravely started public performances and speaking engagements about fat acceptance and had been verbally attacked for it, by both anonymous strangers on Twitter and people I once considered friends. It was awful and heartbreaking and while I had previously felt powerful, I now felt confused and sad - about both the body I had worked so hard to love and the activism I had felt so strongly about. I found out, though, that while I was devastated I wasn't broken, although I was knocked flat on my back. It actually made me stronger in my beliefs about my body and I felt like I had just unlocked the key to true body acceptance and self-love - not letting these journeys and experiences in life destroy you, but treating yourself with kindness and compassion as you work through them with grace.

As most mothers know, pregnancy and parenthood is terrifying. You are always counting kicks and watching itty bitty chests raise and lower with each careful breath in bassinets cuddled up close to your own bed. As mothers who have previously lost babies know, these things intensify to an obsession that can make focusing on anything else in life nearly impossible. Pregnancies and children following loss are magical treasures and the gratitude you have for their very existence is staggering. And the thing is, you realize that any children you may have conceived pre-loss truly are miracles, too. These two lost babies of ours will haunt our little family for the rest of our lives, but that doesn't feel like a sad or scary thing. In fact, it feels like a beautiful and poignant reminder of how lucky we are to have each other each and every tenuous day on this earth.

I've written more details about my miscarriages before (here, here and here) and will continue writing about them every year. I’m honored to be joining forces with my friend and fellow body love advocate Jen McLellan of Plus Size Mommy Memoirs this week to celebrate and honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day on October 15th. All week long we’ll be sharing our stories on all our social media platforms with #mymiscarriagestory, about loss and death, fertility and grief, body acceptance and fear, love and joy, sadness and kindness.

Do you have a special necklace or a tree you planted or a pregnancy test in your top drawer or a marker at a cemetery to honor your baby and your loss? I do, and I’ll be sharing some of these hard and personal things with you this week on Facebook and Instagram, because I’ve found that opening my heart and being vulnerable and standing up and speaking out can help others, too. Courage is contagious and heartbreak is hard and community is important. It can be powerful to speak your truth and hear others say ME, TOO. We’d love for you to join us if you wish. And if you don’t? That’s fine, too. We hope you’ll read along and know you aren’t alone.

We Wear What We Want

My fashion sense has always been a bit quirky and fun, thrifty and different. I've loved shopping at second-hand shops since I was a teenager and I'm always spontaneous about what I might find and how I might pair it with something else. For the past six years I've been hosting an annual plus-sized clothing swap where friends (often members of the Boise Rad Fat Collective) come to my house bearing cocktails and appetizers and mountains of clothing to give away. We make piles all over my yard and garage and make a fun evening out of trying things on and modeling for one another. It is such a great way to clean out your own wardrobe and find new fun items to add back in for free in a supportive and environmentally-friendly way.

For years I've been touting the mantra "wear what you want," because life is too short to abide by nonsense fashion rules about how fat girls shouldn't don vertical stripes or crop tops or short shorts or leggings. Fuck flattering (is another thing I love to say) and wear what makes you feel good, even if it's the same baggy tee and beloved holey jeans every day. This summer a twenty-something model and blogger from Los Angeles named Simone Mariposa started the hashtag #wewearwhatwewant on Twitter because she, too, was tired of big girls being ridiculed for their choices of clothing, on social media and in real life. She told BuzzFeed in an article that she'd experienced this firsthand:  “My body image suffered greatly from it. I stopped wearing my legs and arms out, I stayed away from clothes that accentuated my belly fat, and I was extremely self conscious [in] public,” she said. “However, after a while, I stopped letting society dictate my wardrobe, and starting wearing things that I always dreamed of wearing that made me feel beautiful.”

LuLaRoe Amelia dress, $65, size 2XL. Do you spy Arlo's little blond curls?

LuLaRoe Amelia dress, $65, size 2XL. Do you spy Arlo's little blond curls?

When I splurge on something new it's usually for a special event or shoes (I will forever spend several hundred dollars on Danskos and Fit Flops for my wide difficult feet and save up for hand-crafted jewelry from makers at Wintry Market). Over the past few years, though, I've discovered LuLaRoe, an online sale boutique that features the softest fabrics and most darling casualwear ever, at a really inexpensive price (items run $25 - $65). You can attend a home shopping party or buy from a representative via their Facebook group, which is typically how I've done it in the past (the parties are a GREAT way to try on various sizes and styles, though). My favorite part is that LuLaRoe offers sizes XS - 3x (the largest which has been known to fit people up to about size 26). So when one of the members of my Boise Rad Fat Collective, Tami Olsen, began selling LuLaRoe and offered me my pick of three outfits of my choice, I couldn't say HELL YES fast enough, as a die-hard LuLaRoe fan and fatshionista. I hightailed it to her home boutique to shop one Saturday afternoon just in time for a really big week in the spotlight. AND OF COURSE I WORE MY LULAROE.

On September 19th I hosted a sold out screening of the body positive documentary film Embrace out of Australia to celebrate the one year anniversary of my stand for self-love and kick off my 41st birthday week. Not only did so many eager Boiseans purchase all 285 seats in the Edwards 9 theater downtown, they showed up early to hear me speak and stayed later for a really compelling Q&A I hosted and asked hard questions like "can you be body positive and still want to diet?" and "can I still love my fat belly even if I'm not a mom and I didn't 'earn' it via pregnancy?" Another screening of the movie across town held 100 more body positive folks who tuned in via Facebook Live.  KTVB invited me in studio right beforehand to talk about how this past year has been and the importance of films like Embrace coming to Boise. It was the perfect night to debut my new LuLaRoe Amelia dress, which I fell in love with immediately. The purple and lime green print appealed to my love of midcentury design and BOX PLEATS FTW (and for fat girls!). Also, a dress with pockets is like a dream come true for someone who needed a lot of tissues in her pocket that night (because, like I said, I haven't stopped crying for months now) and always a spot for my Dr. Pepper LipSmackers lipgloss. It's stretchy and the full skirt also gives it a fun flirty feel. I grabbed a 2X because the XL felt a little too tight in the arms (my upper arms are pretty big and I normally wear a XL or 1X in tops for reference). I can't even tell you how many compliments I've gotten on this dress from that night, and I've only worn it once so far.

LuLaRoe Perfect Tee, size medium, $36; Tall & Curvy (TC) leggings, $25

LuLaRoe Perfect Tee, size medium, $36; Tall & Curvy (TC) leggings, $25

A few days later I gave two historic walking tours of Cloverdale Cemetery for my work as an architectural historian and tour guide for Preservation Idaho. We are a nonprofit that has been around since 1972 and we advocate for and educate about our historic built environment. While that most traditionally means buildings, it often incorporates unique elements of our landscape like cemeteries. (Fun fact: in case you didn't know, I'm also a death historian, and used to work as a mortician's assistant and pick up dead bodies at night for an Oregon funeral home.) It was the first day of fall and blustery and cool and a perfect day to wear my new Tall & Curvy (or TC) leggings and Perfect Tee in dark green. Seriously, I have several pairs of these buttery leggings and could live in them and get a million "where did you get those darling leggings?!" every time I do.  Here's the thing about the TC leggings: they're $25 and seriously fit sizes 16 - 26 in a variety of body shapes. I didn't believe it either, but after trying them on and owning several pairs for over a year I'm a believer. They feel like you're wearing the most stylish pajamas ever and allow me to crawl on the floor after my toddler, attend meetings, and look professional talking about death AND come in a plethora of fun prints or solid colors. The Perfect Tee is tight in the arms and has a swingy bottom more like a tunic and is made from the same soft fabric. It seems to fit large so I ended up with a size medium. Paired with garage sale boots, a vintage casket crank (used to seal caskets by funeral homes), and 1930s historic site maps of the cemetery, this girl was ready to lead an hour jaunt through sacred grounds telling sordid tales.

Va-va-va-voom Julia dress by LuLaRoe, size XL, $45

Va-va-va-voom Julia dress by LuLaRoe, size XL, $45

It may be this Julia dress, though, that really stole my heart. It's skin tight but so comfortable. It clings to every curve and showcases that VBO (visible belly outline) and booty like no other. It makes me feel brave and bold and beautiful and is seriously sexy (Dr. Brown thinks so too). The black and white pattern goes with anything and doesn't show stains, which is necessary for this messy mama. I can't imagine it doesn't look good on everyone. Mine is a size XL, which Tami says is about a size 16/18 (accurate for me). I wore it out on a date night for my 41st birthday with my hot hubby to the Boise Film Festival a few hours after I stood nearly nude downtown Boise in Freak Alley for a really cool collaboration with the famous and kind body painter Natalie Fletcher of Skin Wars.

If you were lucky enough to be at the Embrace premiere, you saw that I featured several size positive businesses at the check in table, including Tami Olsen's LuLaRoe business cards complete with a hand-drawn red heart for a discount off your first purchase from her. (She was also there handing out leggings to lucky recipients who asked about my darling dress.) But! She's offering another chance to my readers and fans to win free clothing and/or get a discount. Check out her Facebook group for more details.

I'm being asked more and more to do giveaways or to try out a product and, let me tell you, I'm super picky when it comes to endorsing someone or something and will only agree to share or post about something that I already loved or think is pretty great (like hand-crafted meat from Minneapolis or this darling LuLaRoe gear). I love supporting other plus-sized gals who are starting their own small businesses based around helping others look and feel their best, however that looks to them. Tami knows, like I do, that life is so much better when we wear what we want no matter our size, archaic misogynistic fashion rules be damned.

Yes All Girls

Yes All Girls

When these girls attended Boise High School in the 1930s there were no hijabs in the hallways and they probably heard very few languages other than English spoken in the locker room. By most accounts, including some really awful language in historic Idaho Statesman newspaper articles, "foreigners" in Boise were looked at with a lot of contempt and disgust. Going to college was likely not something even on their own radar after graduation, despite the fact that they were likely well-to-do white girls.

Read More

Boys Will Be Boys

Twenty-two years ago I was a freshman in college at the University of Idaho and came down to Boise one weekend to meet up with old friends. We were new to drinking alcohol, and it didn't take much to make us loopy and wild. A whole slew of us from high school reunited and partied and ended up back at a dorm at Boise State University, those round ones called Barnes Towers, where we all decided to (safely) crash for the night. I ended up in bed with a male high school friend and making out when it went a little too far and I said no more and no again and pushed him off me and he pushed himself right on top of me, harder, until he called me a fucking bitch and shoved me out of the tiny twin-sized bed we were sharing. I was shaking and relieved that other friends were also nearby and I woke them, scared, to call a taxi and get out of there. He never spoke to me again, but proceeded to tell our entire graduating class that he had laid the captain of the cheerleading squad. I felt so angry, but so lucky.

You shouldn't have been in his bed in the first place.

Well, you were kissing him.

Why were you drinking?

Today Brock Turner white male swimmer, student, and rapist from Stanford University, will be released from prison after serving only three months for assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Unlike this guy, a disabled U.S. veteran who got a life sentence for growing marijuana in his backyard. I'm joining a few of my favorite female Boise bloggers, women whose voices are loud and strong and brave, to add to the conversation about male sexual aggression and consent. To help change the narrative that boys will be boys. Elaine Ambrose is a hilarious local writer who has written award-winning stuff about farting during her MRI, menopause, mid-life and more, including a heartfelt piece today about her own sexual assault. Another radical activist, my friend Liza Long, is also an extraordinary mother, feminist, advocate for mental health care, TED talker, and poignant voice in my world. She, like me, joined Elaine's call out today in a national "You Can Rape Me Because I'm Drunk" challenge to share our stories and be the change and say NO MORE, and to give voice to the often silenced and traumatized victims of rape. You can read Elaine's beautiful piece here about how we never forget sexual trauma, about how it goes on to inform our lives, about how prevalent it is, and about how Brock is now free, unlike his victim. You can read Liza's amazing story about her own experiences with men during college at BYU and what she's telling her own sons and how important it is to teach that YES MEANS YES as much as NO MEANS NO when it comes to sex, and more.

But he's a good boy.

It was just a twenty-minute mistake.

This will ruin his life.

For the past year I've been assaulted by words and images of penises and sexual acts in my inbox, waiting for me in my Instagram folder. Hard ones, flaccid ones, erections in underwear, close-ups hanging out of jeans. Telling me about my soft tits in their mouth and sniffing my ass. I didn't ask for them, I get no warning. It makes me sick to my stomach and pisses me off and I feel dirty sometimes, like I've done something wrong. I feel violated in many ways by this sociopathic behavior. One day I see a mugshot of one of the men whose dick I've seen repeatedly pop up on the news media all over the country for being part of a ring to murder police officers in Louisiana and it shakes me. You want this cock? You make me cum so hard. I jack off to your photos. I take screenshots and keep a file and check their Facebook profiles and note their hometowns, just in case. 

That's what you get for being a famous activist.

Maybe you shouldn't post photos online.

It's your own fault.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

In college my girlfriends and I knew to stick together after dark, walk in pairs home from the bar, check in or leave a note if we weren't coming home for the night. We knew when someone had drank too much and asked repeatedly if she was certain she wanted to go home with him. My purse contained pepper spray and I knew to yell I DON'T KNOW HIM instead of HELP. I spent hours and long nights listening to my friends having sex in the other room/down the hall/at the fraternity to make sure it sounded safe and fun, not scared and pleading. I don't want to teach these kind of survival tactics to my own daughters, but I will if I have to. My son, too. I'll also teach them something different - about consent and feminism, misogyny and love, kindness and care, sexuality and respect.

What Would You Like To Be Famous For?

One year ago I stripped down to a black bikini downtown Boise in a crowded farmers market, blindfolded myself, and stood vulnerable and terrified for what turned out to be one of the most extraordinary hours of my life. I stood brave and powerful and full of openness that said, I'm at peace with my body and have been for many years and think you should be, too. I asked you, without a word, to lay down the hateful and hurtful weapons that have been used to wage a war with your body (and mine, too) for just a moment (or maybe a lifetime). My silent protest called you to surrender to love and you did. You came at me with such a force of humanity that I couldn't even catch my breath and I cried. I cried that day over and over from relief and humility and joy and sorrow and compassion. I cried four days later when we made a little video and I wrote a little blog post and they resounded loudly inside broken hearts and hurting souls and aching minds and echoed in newsrooms and radio airwaves and celebrity Twitter accounts and popular magazines and in every corner of the internet.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

By the time I turned forty less than three weeks later the video of my stand for self-love had been viewed 100 MILLION TIMES and I'd been on CNN and NPR and in People magazine and on Huffington Post. I ended up on the Dr. Oz Show and turning down a few other primetime talk shows because they weren't true to my message. Cosmopolitan, the magazine that nearly destroyed my body image as a teenager, featured me as a fat fearless rebel in a story and I could've dropped the mic right there but I vowed TO NEVER LET GO.

My Instagram followers have jumped from 200 to 3,300 and my group of radical size positive feminists in the Boise Rad Fat Collective went from 30 to 1,260. And that little video currently sits at around 200 million views, making it one of the most viral videos of all time. I've written for magazines all over the world and been featured in them, too. I've presented at international conferences on body politics and spoken about fat feminism and standing up for what you believe in on the TED stage and presented at a handful of campuses to talk to college students about disordered eating and exercise addiction and tips for not letting either destroy you. You've reached out in public restrooms and on street corners and in emails and in Facebook comments and continued to say YES and NO MORE and THANK YOU and ME TOO. And still the tears come.

Courtesy of Dahlton Grover

Courtesy of Dahlton Grover

Reflecting upon the joy and growth of this body positive movement and my role in it this past year has been cathartic and uplifting, but I'd be remiss if I didn't honor the hard parts, too. I feel it's important to acknowledge that with this fame and accolades and changing the world for the better also came/comes/cums a lot of hatred and anger and loss and unsolicited dick pics. (See what I did there? Because a sense of humor is also important.) I've had a handful of people very, very close to me not be supportive in the slightest of my feminist thoughts, my body positive activism, or my media attention. I've lost relationships with family and friends and things have happened that have shaken me to the core, not to mention the weird shit that continues with internet trolls and people who just don't get it and fatphobes and bigots and creepy dudes I've never met. It's been hard - this summer being the worst. And that's made me cry, too.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

A few weeks ago I was sitting downtown on the front steps of a vacant funeral home eating a quick slice of pizza and checking my email on my phone in between rushing from one job to another meeting and this popped up into my inbox - and went straight to my heart:

Hi Amy
    Before you read this know it is not a press inquiry or anything of that nature. This is a thank you from a fan of yours, and a future self love activist.
     My name is _____ and I am 18 and just graduated high school. My sophomore year I became bulimic with restrictive tendencies. For the next two years I was fighting a losing battle with myself, no one knew (for sure) if I had and eating disorder or not and for a long time I denied it. This year I finally mustered up the courage to share my ongoing battle with my mom and some close friends. They have helped me more than I thought possible. It was only four months ago that I was formally diagnosed with ED and Major Depression by a professional. Everyday I fight my battles just as everyone else struggling does; but of course I have days where I feel I can no longer fight. It is on these days that people like you make a difference. There is so much self hate in this world that it is easy to get on your phone and see things that make you feel worse than before. The fact that I can see people making a difference and standing up for radical self love and acceptance is beautiful. So thank you for being you, and for spreading awareness for self acceptance. Right now I am trying my best to not let the space between where I am and where I want to be scare me, and am working little by little to learn to love myself. I hope to one day spread awareness for self love just as you do. You are truly beautiful inside and out. Thank you for the inspiration to keep moving on.

 

I could barely set down my phone before I started sobbing into my pizza. The kind of sobbing where your nose is dripping and you are gasping for air and you can't even talk when you call your husband on the phone because this email came to you right when you needed it. Right when I was so broken that I couldn't see the forest for the trees and it split me in half and then blew those two pieces of me up into the air and fused them back together again with the force of a thousand hearts (or at least mine and my new 18yo friend from the Midwest). Two women, 22 years and a dozen states apart, owned their stories and their fear and their strength and their voices and both being exactly what the other needed.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

The Boise Rad Fat Collective is filled with people of all genders, nationalities and ages and celebrates its 3rd birthday this month. It continues to be a game-changer, and if you're lucky enough to be a part of it will you understand what I mean. The respect and vulnerability and support and radical feminist body acceptance shared in there is a true joy to watch and participate it. It's an honor to share that space with so many people working towards a better life full of love. It's not unusual to see a post pop up that stops me in my tracks and brings me to my knees. A week or so ago this one came across my newsfeed:

I'm going to share my story, though I often feel as though I don't belong here. But Amy, your story and your stand, it just touches my soul in a profound way.
About 2 years ago, I was mentally in a good place. I was astonishingly happy and I just so happened to be a slightly larger woman. I enjoyed being outdoors, practicing yoga, hitting the gym, eating what I wanted, spending time with my phenomenal husband, had wonderful friends, and an incredible family. I had never been happier with my body and mind. At that point in time, I constantly liked to challenge my mind and body, so I spontaneously decided to compete in a bikini bodybuilding competition. I hired a coach and began a 6 day a week training program, coupled with an extremely strict meal plan. My coach warned me beforehand that I should make sure I was in a mentally healthy state before beginning and I thought I couldn't have picked a more perfect time. So I busted my ass for 6 months, no alcohol, no sugar, no processed foods, etc. And I busted my ass 6 days a week in the gym.
The last two weeks before my show, I began sinking into a depression. I was feeling unhappy with my results, I was struggling to remember why such an immensely body-positive person, had decided to put her body on display for others to judge. I was struggling to accept my infertility and the fact that all the exercise and healthy eating had done nothing to help. I lost 20 pounds and 6% body fat, but for what?
As I stepped on stage on June 4th, clad in a teeny tiny red bikini and plastic heels, sprayed head to toe with a ridiculous orangey-tan, I realized that I didn't know who this woman was. I didn't know what she stood for and what she was hoping to represent. This person, all tight and tanned and glammed-up, was this really the woman I wanted to be? I left the stage feeling even more let down.
Since then, I haven't stepped foot in the gym for almost 2 months and I haven't counted one single calorie in the same time. I don't know how much I weigh or what my body fat percent is. I'm still battling a depression and still trying to relearn how to love myself, but I'm getting there. Competing in a bikini competition was the worst decision I could've made for my mental health and sanity, but on the other hand, I don't regret a moment of it. I made a goal and followed it through, but I lost my spark, I lost my happiness through it.
Don't wait to be happy. Be happy now. And when you are happy, stick to that which makes you happy. All of your words here and all of your stories here, they leave me feeling strong and empowered and hit that passionate spark in me that drives me to help other women love themselves with abandon.
You all are worthy, you all are beautiful, you are more than the vehicle that houses who you are. Thank you to each of you who are currently reminding me to love myself and that I too, am worthy.
Perhaps one day, I will stand again in front of strangers and ask them to judge me. But maybe next time it will be with markers in hand, a blindfold and a heart full of hope and self-love.
Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

A couple of days ago I answered the door to a middle-aged man I didn't know, a City of Boise Code Enforcement Officer, who was stopping to talk with me about a complaint I had filed due to some safety concerns in the neighborhood surrounding our little elementary school. He came to check in and let me know he was on it and, by the way, he said. I'm a big fan of what you did in the market that day. My whole family is, actually. We all watched your video last year, but it really touched my 16-year-old daughter. I never thought I'd get a chance to meet you and say thank you.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

We have this little box of cards in our dining room that I made from some Pinterest suggestion on how to connect at the dinner table with your kids. Each card has a question that prompts discussion about our days in unique ways - for example, If you could have one superpower what would it be? What does your best day look like? What is your favorite thing about your sister? I just added a few new ones from a list that Glennon Doyle Melton posted for a similar thing they do at their house. These two stuck out like sore thumbs, and, of course, also made me cry:

What would you like to be famous for?

If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?

I have the answer to both, and they've been life-altering. I lit a match and you caught that spark and together we have started a wildfire that cannot be put out.  It is a true grassroots revolution of love. You, too, have bared your souls and for that, I will be forever grateful. So glad to be making trips around the sun with you all and with a little more appreciation and kindness to ourselves and each other.

Bodies of Water

I used to take a lot of baths when I was pregnant. At least, when I wasn't bleeding. It was the ultimate self-care for me, locking the door, blowing up my inflatable tub pillow for my head, dropping in a Lush bath bomb, and putting on a This American Life podcast if I was lucky. I loved to watch my babies roll and squirm in my growing belly and spend that time watching my skin stretch and move.

A few years ago Alice was in the shower with Dr. Brown. After sitting below him in the tub for a while, playing with her toys as the water sprinkled around them, she looked up and said, when I grow up I want to have a big, big, BIG peanut like yours, Daddy. At four-years-old, she often confused the word peanut with penis. When we laughed and told her that it was more likely she'd grow up to have big, big, BIG breasts like mommy, she cried.

Lucy is twelve now, and has been taking solo showers for years. These past few months, though, they've become longer, with top 40 radio music blaring and the door locked until I finally bang on it after half an hour yelling that she's used up all the hot water available. She won't let us come in when she's dressing anymore or see her naked at all. I can tell she's desperate for her privacy.

Last night I was in the tub with Arlo. I remembered those long leisurely baths with him in my belly, and some of his first earth-side where he laid on top of that same belly, this time out and in my careful hands. I'd feel his pink skin and he'd root around for my breast with his baby bird mouth. He's two now, and so strong and big and we barely fit in our small midcentury tub together anymore, not comfortably at least. It was a bath derived from necessity rather than pleasure - I was sick with body aches and a sore throat and a fever. Arlo turned over and we laid belly to belly while he kicked and laughed and bunched up my soft stretched out belly and kneaded it, giving it gentle kisses. That used to be your home, I told him. In many ways, it still is.

Keep Your Guns, Give Your Heart

Almost exactly one year ago I spent the evening working downtown Boise for Preservation Idaho's Up On The Roof event. I stood atop the 17th floor of the Zions Bank Building sharing stories of Boise's architectural history with folks drinking wine, enjoying music, eating appetizers and loving the views. We wandered around to various fabulous and secret rooftops that night, including the top of the Art Deco Hoff Building overlooking Bannock Street and the patio on the roof of the Owyhee Hotel. It was Pride Fest Week in Boise, and several of my gay colleagues, dear friends and attendees were enjoying the night with us, and we all ended up heading to the gay nightclub, the Lucky Dog Tavern, to continue the celebration and fun.

No one checked me for anything at the door, except my ID, but I was complimented several times on my cute dress. There I ran into several gay, lesbian and transgendered friends I hadn't seen in months - older introverted men who father sweet puppies and younger men I went to college with who are ardent Republicans. I shared loads of hugs and spilled my gin and tonic and another friend quickly bought me another. There was a catwalk on a stage for a fashion show and a kiddie pool filled with Jell-O that I was *this close* to stripping down to my bra and undies and diving in to. A few of my wild friends were cheering in support and a few of my more conservative ones talked me out of it. It was one of the most silly and spontaneous and celebratory nights out in Boise I've ever had, and despite all our obvious differences - I may well have been only one of three white, hetero, 40-year-old moms in the place - we enjoyed one another in the name of love.

Photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell

Photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell

This past weekend a young man entered a gay nightclub much like this one in Orlando, Florida, and killed at least 50 people and injuring more than 50 others. It was a crime fueled by hate, anger, and religion. People around the country, and certainly those in Florida and those who knew and loved these lost souls, are irate and sad and are looking for things to blame this horrific event on, rightly so. But it's not about the guns. It's never been about the guns (although I'm personally and ardently opposed to Americans owning assault rifles and I've read all the statistics about gun laws in other countries and agree with them wholeheartedly).

It's about living in a society that doesn't take seriously mental health and refuses it necessary funding and won't talk about it due to stigma. It's about raising boys who turn into young men who have never learned healthy ways to manage difference and anger and turn to violence. It's about religions that perpetuate hate of those who may look or act or believe in ways other than our own. It's about all of us adding a new Facebook profile picture in solidarity and talking, talking, talking but never taking action to change this vicious American culture that breeds shame and fear and ignorance and consumerism. And sure, it's a little bit about guns.  

But what it's really about is promoting self-love to our children at home and teaching that all bodies are valuable. It's about the right we all have to make individual choices about what to put in our body, put on our body and do with our body. The more tolerant and accepting we are of ourselves, and the little things that make us unique, the more accepting we will be of others. I know from experience that a personal revolution of love and acceptance can emanate from us and spread like wildfire to how we view and interact with others to change the world. Though we may vote or have sex or dress or love in a way that sometimes seems so opposite and contrary, we are deep down at our core more similar than we know.

It's about realizing that our mind and our hearts are the most valuable parts of our bodies and that opening both can be life-changing.

We can make all the changes in legislation and laws and regulations we want about firearms and more, but it seems the biggest changes necessary to stop this perpetual cycle of violence and hate are harder won. It's something that has been so ingrained in us and our culture and our minds for so long. It's a personal effort to alter your mindset that has to come from the deepest caverns of your soul.

So, you can keep your guns. Just give us your heart.

My Swim Body

When I became a mother I wanted to make sure my children all knew how to safely float on their back if surprisingly launched into a body of water, make their way to the edge, and hoist themselves safely to shore. While I've put them all in swim lessons every summer since the age of three, Dr. Brown has also taught them the ways of wild waters - how to hold safe to a secure branch if they topple overboard on a boat or raft and how to sit up in a seated position with legs out front to let the river current carry them.

Truth be told, I'm not a very good swimmer at all and I unfortunately inherited my mother's fear of the water. I can do one stroke and don't know how to hold my breath that well. Using my fingers to plug my nose when going off waterslides is the only surefire way I know how to keep from inhaling water. And that's pretty tricky if you're holding a toddler on your lap and lifting them several feet in the air to keep them from going under.

All that being said, I adore the pool. Every summer we purchase the family swim pass for the Boise Public Pools and spend nearly every afternoon there with friends. We bring snacks to share and shade tents and magazines. We laugh and talk and reapply sunscreen. And for the past four summers, I've put my body in a bikini while doing so. Every year the bright high desert sun comes out and reaches temperatures of 100 degrees and for years I longed for less clothing, less fabric sticking to my wet skin, but was too scared. I was terrified to show more of my jiggly bits, my stretchmarks, my cellulite, my wrinkles, my flabby arms, my dimpled knees.

But the freedom that came with those bikinis was extraordinary, and I'm not just talking about the skin that could breathe. I'm talking about the ease of pulling down a bikini bottom to pee in a public restroom with one hand while wrangling a baby with the other. I'm talking about feeling the sun on my shoulders and relaxing as it bore right into my heart and warmed my soul.

It still takes a conscious effort, but instead of focusing on what my swim body isn't, I choose to focus on what my swim body is. My swim body is able to carefully wade through masses of toddlers in two feet of water to snatch mine from the bottom of the slide at the kiddie pool. My swim body lays out towels to dry and rounds up dollars for popsicles from the snack shack and repairs broken goggles. My swim body is strong and sexy and soft and bares stripes of stretchmarks that get more golden in the sun. It shows off a maze of wonky tan lines from a million different bathing suits on dark Native American skin that I inherited from my ancestors. My swim body cheers on kids anxiously passing swim tests for the lifeguards and watches carefully in the wave pool. It loves ice cold beers on creeks while camping and packs sandwiches for hiking into Idaho mountain hot springs.

I was honored and excited to be asked by Swimsuits For All to participate as an "everyday model" of sorts for their summer #myswimbody campaign. I'm a big fan of their plus-sized bikinis (or fatkinis, as I like to call them) and their philosophy, and they're fans of my work as a body positive activist, too. You may know them as the company that put the first super sexy plus-sized woman in the pages of Sports Illustrated with their swimsuit advertisement. Last summer they featured me on their Instagram and website as part of their #curvesinbikinis June campaign and gave me a free swimsuit of my choice as part of it, and I happened to pick a pretty infamous Swim Sexy brand black bikini that has ignited a bit of a revolution.

For this campaign I picked The Explorer bikini by Swim Sexy, size 14 top and size 16 bottom.

For this campaign I picked The Explorer bikini by Swim Sexy, size 14 top and size 16 bottom.

I'm super proud of all the things #myswimbody can do, both in and out of the pool. I think seeing bodies of all shapes and sizes uncovered and enjoying the water and the sun and their children and the summer is radical, revolutionary and so necessary. Today is the last day of school, something I've been anxiously awaiting for about two months now, and to celebrate, we're headed out for our traditional end-of-the-year afternoon celebration at the pool and slushies from Sonic Drive-Thru. Here's to a summer enjoying #myswimbody, and I hope you enjoy yours, too.

My Body Is Not Broken

My body was made to walk miles in the mountains and dig deep in the dirt. It was made to spot baby deer a mile away and sense hesitation. It was made to birth babies and carry them for years on wide hips.

It was made to sing made-up songs off key and build gardens. It was made to speak up and out and loud. My body carries me through forests and through sad days. It makes key lime pie from scratch and gives a thousand kisses.

It kneels down to pick up crayons and to snatch toddlers. My body writes and remembers and jiggles and stretches and makes change. My body is a vessel for my art, my love, and my stories. It can sleep and cook and build fires and throw frisbees.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

My body can teach classes and sew on buttons and blow noses and go down waterslides. My body can paint and arouse and excite and grow garlic. It can cuddle and bike and heal and lift. 

My body cannot do everything, but it is not a problem to be fixed. My body is not broken. It was made to do this.

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

{My TED talk, The Stand for Self-Love, is up on the TEDx YouTube if you haven't seen it yet. It's a story of a courageous girl from Idaho who grew up to be a brave mom with a blindfold and a black bikini. It's a story about body positivity, feminism, vulnerability, love and standing up for something you believe in - yourself.}  

Where I Get Hippie-Dippy & Naked

I first got interested in yoga when I was 19-years-old, as a student studying at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. It was making a revival in the college scene, and I was a serial exerciser - constantly trying to find the routine that I would adore and stick with, the gym my chubby teen body would fit in at, the sport that would make me fitter and thinner. I'd dropped out of sailing class because I was terrified of the water and when the hell would I use that skill when I was back at the University of Idaho anyway? I had to add the yoga class a few weeks late into the semester as a result, so was asked to meet with the middle-aged male instructor after-hours in his office, where he proceeded to lock the door and make sexually suggestive advances to me while feeling my back and neck for my "erotic chakras." Terrified, I bolted, and ended up nearly failing that class and ruining my GPA because I didn't want to be in the same room with him again.

What I usually wear to yoga: $5 sale Old Navy leggings and old tank tops or tee shirts, bare feet. I don't even own my own mat or gear because Zen Riot has it all for me to use.

What I usually wear to yoga: $5 sale Old Navy leggings and old tank tops or tee shirts, bare feet. I don't even own my own mat or gear because Zen Riot has it all for me to use.

Years later I gave yoga another try, only to feel completely out of place. As a fat woman in the early years of the 21st century, I most certainly did not have a lean, muscular yoga body, wasn't as graceful as I used to be, and my balance wasn't that good, either. I checked out Curvy Yoga DVDs from the library to do at home, but it just wasn't the same as the camaraderie I felt from being in a class, away from the clutter and my kids underfoot.

A yoga mat I saw recently at the Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store that I was excited about until I turned it over. This kind of body shaming marketing is EXACTLY why I used to hate yoga when it was focused on weight loss and a particular body type.

A yoga mat I saw recently at the Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store that I was excited about until I turned it over. This kind of body shaming marketing is EXACTLY why I used to hate yoga when it was focused on weight loss and a particular body type.

It wasn't long after I began my own body positive journey seven years ago that yoga was one of the first fitness studios to begin embracing the fact that all bodies could be yoga bodies - that we all deserved to move and feel good in our skin, with no weight loss goal or quick advancement of ability as an end result. Yoga studios around the country began seeing the value in being mindful of our own body where we are on this journey and being present in it, while moving it and breathing in it and feeling our muscles and our minds stretch and flow.

Luckily, a new body positive yoga studio recently opened up in my own Vista neighborhood on the Boise Bench, Zen Riot, owned and operated by a lovely and kind woman named Jenn. I attended their open house and asked about the studio's inclusivity of all bodies and levels, as I'd just had a handful of people in the Boise Rad Fat Collective inquire about fat positive yoga instructors locally. She assured me Zen Riot was a safe space, and I've been attending classes there for several months now and can't say enough good things about those hours I've spent in Jenn's quiet studio.

Fat legs are yoga legs, you guys. And I'm so excited to say that Zen Riot has just added Full Figure Flow - a yoga class especially for big bodies on Monday nights at 6:30pm. Join me!

Fat legs are yoga legs, you guys. And I'm so excited to say that Zen Riot has just added Full Figure Flow - a yoga class especially for big bodies on Monday nights at 6:30pm. Join me!

My recent yoga practice combines mindful meditation with flexibility, strength and deep stretching. I mostly practice with my eyes closed and envision being grounded to the earth, with roots growing out of my big fat ass and the bottoms of my feet and tying me to the dirt and rocks below. I often pretend to be outside, with Jenn's calming music playing softly, breathing in the crisp mountain air and feeling the sun on my shoulders. I pay close attention to my breaths, under Jenn's instruction, and let all thoughts leave my mind. For that one-and-a-half hours each week, I focus on nothing but my body and it feels divine.

It reminds me so much of hypnobirthing, something I intuitively did with all three of my childbirths, and something I've studied quite a bit about in recent years. The idea is that mindful meditation, breathing techniques and visualization can manage pain and allow for a natural unmedicated childbirth. I know this isn't for everyone, but it completely worked for me - moving into the pain, seeing it, feeling it, and breathing through it, while thinking about my uterus and cervix unfolding like a flower and pushing my babies out. In my mind, I also saw my contractions as ocean waves ebbing and flowing, crashing onto the beach and rolling back out.

Dat ass got roots and those flabby arms move mountains.

Dat ass got roots and those flabby arms move mountains.

Yoga has been such a great way to exercise my fat body, to treat it well and practice self-love at least once a week, giving my body some much-needed movement and time to re-energize. It's close enough to my home that I can ride my bike to and from the studio. Through Zen Riot I've even been able to introduce my kids to yoga, as Jenn and her sister came to our little elementary school's Earth Day Health Fair to do mini meditations with the kids and they were a huge hit. Right before I stepped on stage to give the talk of a lifetime in front of a full house at TEDxBoise a few weeks ago, I closed my eyes, repeated the wise words of Brene Brown ("Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Just stand your sacred ground."), and did a modified Tadasana (or Mountain Pose) as a way to ground and center my power. And it absolutely worked.

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

Like I said in a radio interview I did earlier this week, our mental health is just as important as our physical health and you cannot have one without the other. Learning to self-love is a journey, and takes lots and lots of practice. Sharing our truths and stories, images and ideas is the only way I know how to teach. I can only be me - leading by example and living out loud - even writing about hippie-dippy yoga journeys, speaking bravely on conservative Christian radio shows, and fighting back to body shamers and vicious Facebook trolls by posting nude photos of myself with love on the internets.

Wait.

WHAAAA?!

See for yourself.

In A Society That Profits From Your Self Doubt, Liking Yourself Is A Rebellious Act

I knew immediately upon stumbling across Caroline Caldwell's quote on Instagram that I was going to use it in the little iMovie video Melanie and I created after my stand for self-love in the marketplace last August. It hit me deep in my heart and couldn't be more fitting for the way I felt about our consumerist culture's crap and how it has normalized body shaming in America.

Caroline is a young artist and wordsmith in New York City and a recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College and is a master illustrator and guerrilla artist. She often creates thought-provoking graffiti work around the cities she frequents, and when she first penned the phrase:

In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act

on her dorm room wall, she didn't think much of it. She later wrote it on a blank poster frame on the train and snapped a photo of her roommate in the seat next to it, posted it to Instagram, and, well, the rest is history. People were so struck by her words that it was spread and used repeatedly, including by me in my now viral video and again in my TEDxBoise talk just last week. Her words are so powerful that it was the one quote several TED attendees pulled from my talk and tweeted about repeatedly.

Caroline's art is extraordinary (those houses on her website OMG), and we're kindred spirits in more ways than one. After many, many requests from her fans (and mine) all over the world, Caroline has created a few styles of a tee shirt now available for purchase, and when she sought out my opinion on which body positive organization to donate half the shirt sales proceeds to, I was thrilled that she immediately took my suggestion of the National Eating Disorders Association.

I ordered the Ladies Dolman, $30, in heather gray and an XL and it fits like a dream. I haven't washed it yet, but it's 50/50 blend so shouldn't shrink.

I ordered the Ladies Dolman, $30, in heather gray and an XL and it fits like a dream. I haven't washed it yet, but it's 50/50 blend so shouldn't shrink.

I'm still nursing an emotional hangover while riding the high that was my TEDxBoise experience and I'm so excited to share the fancy final official TED video with you all in just a few short weeks. I was the last speaker of the night and left my heart on the stage of that beautiful historic theater with a standing ovation and tears. It was powerful and exhausting and such a life-changing experience. I wrote my talk one night early November and began reading through it daily in December, memorizing it in January & February with twice daily practices and a handful of sessions with my amazing TEDx coach, and was solid and ready a month ago probably, but my coach Nancy says that's the best way to be and she's right, the words came so naturally and poured directly from my heart I didn't even have to think about what was coming next. I shared some super personal stories that I've never ever told before and I have to say, I hadn't felt that nervous since the day I stripped down at the market. Again, though, it proved to be so, so worth it.

Photo by Dahlton Grover

Photo by Dahlton Grover

Caroline got to watch the livestream of my talk and wrote to me about how she cried, twice, and that my strength has made her stronger. I'm so honored to be connected to this young woman, and she's absolutely right. Courage is contagious and sharing strength does indeed make us all stronger. Here's to being brave and being rebels, from the eclectic bustling streets of NYC to the mellow downtown avenues of Boise.