Sometimes we need to get angry.
Raise our voices.
Take a leap.
Burn it down.
Sometimes we need to get angry.
Raise our voices.
Take a leap.
Burn it down.
I often say that it was really motherhood that launched me into body image activism. Watching my body change so intensely during pregnancy, seeing what it could do during childbirth, and the overwhelming period of post-partum was a crash-course in self-acceptance. I began to think that there must be a new way to relinquish the body shame of my past - for myself and my child.
Fast-forward a decade and a half and I’m now the mother of three young children. A few years ago, in a radical act of self-love and body positivity, I stripped down to a blindfold and a black bikini as a fat, forty-year-old mom in a busy market downtown Boise, Idaho. I had markers in my hand and a chalkboard sign at my feet asking people to draw a heart on my body if they’d ever struggled with a self-esteem issue and believed all bodies are valuable. Afterwards I got a message from a mother with a page of homework from her six-year-old daughter, with an answer to the question “Have you ever been teased?” followed by a drawing and the answer “one time someone said my legs were fat.” There is a real war being waged right now on people of size and our children are the most vulnerable victims. Lay down your weapons and make peace with your body and teach your children to do the same. It’s revolutionary.
I spend a lot of time at home and making it as comfortable and radical a space I can is important and conducive to not my growth and that of my family. Here are a few of my favorite (and easy!) ways to make your family life and home more body positive.
Our family mantra is “All bodies are good bodies and there is no wrong way to have a body.” We have a coloring page stating such hung on all our bathroom mirrors as a reminder.
Put something new and rad on your shelves for you while you’re at it. Treat yourself to Charlotte Cooper’s new book Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement or buy the DVD of the movie Patti Cake$. Enjoying body positive books and movies are a fun and educational way to move forward on your own body positive journey.
Some of my favorite family-friendly movies with strong female characters not defined by their looks are Brave, Frozen, Penelope or Ponyo.
Move your body for fun rather than out of fear and invite your kids to join in! This can be as easy as gardening, walking to school or riding your bikes to the grocery store.
Compliment your kids (and others) on things like courage, resilience, and smarts rather than physical attributes.
Get rid of that bathroom scale. Give it away to the thrift store or ceremoniously smash it with a hammer. Your gravitational pull on the earth is irrelevant and has no bearing on who you really are.
Buy and hang some size-positive art. Surrounding yourself with inspiration and beauty is good for the spirit. There are many artists creating beautiful images of fat folks and diverse bodies (Instagram and Etsy are my favorite places to shop). You can also have your kids create some of their own!
Clean out your closet - and everyone else’s, too. Just like the number on the scale is meaningless, so is the number on the tags of your clothing. Keep things that fit well and make you feel fantastic and donate the rest.
Spend some time together in your kitchen. Check out a new cookbook by a well-known chef from the library or print off one of those recipes everyone is sharing around Facebook and give it a try. Bake a birthday cake for a friend or learn mise en place. Food should be easy and enjoyable, not stressful or scary. (Check out the Ellyn Satter Institute for some amazing tips on creating a positive relationship with food for your children.)
*This blog post is a combination of two previously published articles I wrote for FabUplus magazine in the Spring 2017 edition titled “Raising Body Positive Kids” as well as the Winter 2017/18 edition titled “How to Create a Body Positive Home.”
Nine years ago as a 33-year-old feminist mother of two daughters I was done hating my body and knew there had to be a better way, a different way to raise my daughters than the misogynistic body shame filled society I had grown up in so I Googled the words “why am I fat and happy” because I literally knew no one else in real life who felt the same way I did. It led me down a rabbit hole of the history of the fat acceptance movement (later called body positivity) and books and blogs and Tumblr feeds and artists that forever changed my life.
I spent the first three years reading, reading and reading some more, educating myself on the history of bodies and beauty standards and those who came before me and the folks who were working in this arena now. What I was feeling and learning about bodies and how there might be a new way, a better way to live than I’d been taught started showing up more and more, coming out of my mouth, showing up in my writing, in my art and on my Facebook wall. It was met with extraordinary pushback and continues to, from those I know and love and strangers, trolls, people on the internet. This is true of women who live in the public eye of any sort, but especially fat women who love themselves as they are and encourage others to do the same.
I learned as a teen that my body was a political vessel and I often use it as a canvas for my art and activism. Over the years I’ve done several performance art pieces geared around bodies in Boise and they’ve received mixed reviews – from hateful to positive. Three years ago I tried a little performance piece in a black bikini with a blindfold and markers in the Capitol City Public Market with a chalkboard sign that read, “ I’m standing for anyone who has ever suffered from a self-esteem issue like me because all bodies are valuable. To support self-acceptance draw a heart on my body.” Much to my surprise it was an hour filled with the most overwhelmingly emotional humanity and kindness compassion imaginable as people from all walks of life not only participated in my project but changed it in extraordinary ways. I wrote a blog post and had a photographer on site and we turned some of the photos into a little iMovie that went viral for the best possible reason. I was handed a microphone on major media all over the world and it seems they like what I have to say about bodies, as I’ve not let go since.
*I know this happens every year around this time and it's currently going through a massive re-viral sharing, but can I just take a moment to tell you what a head and heart exploding phenomenon this beautiful vulnerable thing is? This version of the stand for self-love video just received 1.2 MILLION new views in the past FIVE DAYS ALONE.
I encourage people, and women especially, to really think hard about whether or not losing weight is their life’s purpose. For me, hating myself, exercising out of shame rather than loving moving my body, being fearful of rather than enjoying food put me in a constant battle with myself and war against my body that I never wanted to fight. It caused so much emotional strain, mental anguish and trauma not to mention so much time and energy wasted that I now spend loving, learning, teaching, speaking out and standing up and changing the world for the better.
Over the past few months I’ve been asked to speak at both of the largest hospitals in the state on health and wellness and what they look like to me - which is markedly different than what many of them as health professionals learned in medical school. “Being healthy” looks and means something different to each of us. It’s important to realize that we don’t have that much control over our health in the first place. There are so many things that play into our health, like age, gender, sexuality, race, class, illness, accidents, etc. that we actually have very little control over. The things I do have some control over, in conjunction with these other factors, help define wellness to me. Whole health is so much more than the number on the scale, your BMI, what you eat or don’t eat, how much you exercise. It includes mental health, emotional health, spiritual health and sexual health. It includes having a positive relationship with food, energy, low stress levels and happiness.
I was also asked to consider my biggest pet peeves about the current state of health and wellness in this country. I wouldn’t say I have pet peeves so much as legit and serious concerns with the health and wellness industries and the previous beliefs about them.
One of my major problems with the contemporary beliefs about health and wellness is this notion that skinny=healthy, even when the data and research and studies and a bunch of life stories tell us otherwise. You cannot tell how healthy someone is by looking at them. There are thin unhealthy people and there are fatter healthy people and all sizes in between. And we find this major misconception not only pervasive within our own culture, but perpetuated by some medical professionals as well. I’ve had so many people of size, in particular women, who have told me horror stories of going in to urgent care for a sinus infection or into the doctor with a broken bone from a fall and leaving with a diet plan and a “prescription” to lose weight or consider weight loss surgery. It’s making people not want to go to the doctor and avoiding necessary self-care for years and years because they’ve been wrongly diagnosed and shamed for living their lives in their bodies. So, as you can tell, it’s more than a pet peeve to me, it’s appalling and time to change.
*I made this little video the day I was preparing to speak to St. Alphonsus Hospital on health and wellness as part of a panel at their Wine, Women & Wellness fundraiser. It was inspired by the body positive rapper from Minneapolis, Lizzo, (in particular this song and this video) whose concert I also attended later that night and all the haters who love to make comments about my fat body and assumptions about my health on the internet.
Another concern I have is how disconnected we have become from our food and the basics of understanding, preparing and growing it perpetuated by the ever changing science of nutrition. Like Robyn, a registered dietician and nurse practitioner said, “If your food choices are causing you more stress, isolating you from social situations, disconnecting you emotionally, not satisfying your taste buds and cravings, or leaving you feeling chaotic and out of control around certain foods…your food choices are not healthy at all.”
So much of our current health and wellness industrial complex is more about selling us shame and profiting off insecurities rather than real whole health. I think we buy into it, and often get so caught up in perfecting and changing our bodies that we forget that the fact that they are supposed to change throughout time is inherently human. It’s literally what being human is all about. We’re born at around 7 lbs and less than two feet long and grow exponentially through our youth to puberty when significant changes happen to sometimes pregnancy, childbirth, post partum and eventually menopause and aging until we die – not to mention throwing in there accidents and illnesses. I think that learning to accept this as a natural way of life, even if we don’t LIKE it necessarily, is one of the healthiest things you can do for your whole health and your body.
My uterus started falling out of my body the day I flew across the country to spend twenty-four hours alone in Boston before meeting up with a friend. My back ached on the airplane the entire way, my thighs hurt and I felt a constant need to stretch and twist and rub my swollen abdomen. I thought it was just my newly intense period cramps starting, as officially entering perimenopause and getting off all medications, including birth control pills, has made my experience with menstruating a different one. I put a tampon in and luckily also had a pad on and when I bled heavily through both, and, along with the more intense pain, I knew something was unusual for me. I pulled out the tampon and with it came part of my internal organ. I panicked, grabbed a small mirror from my make-up travel bag, and didn’t really know what I was looking at so turned to Google like all smart people do. I sat on the toilet trying not to cry and calmly used my finger to push my uterus back up inside me as far as I could. I laid down on the hotel bed for a while and recalled I had walked past both a CVS pharmacy and an urgent care clinic near the hotel in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. I called Dr. Brown who also Googled it and we both read that if I wasn’t in extraordinary pain or bleeding extensively that this was a relatively normal occurrence, especially for middle-aged women who’d had three natural childbirths with large babies with gigantic heads, and not particularly worrisome.
I first wrote about my whirlwind, confusing and painful experience with starting menopause nearly three and a half years ago when I was 39 and Arlo was just one year old. I thought my post-partum hormones were just taking a long time to regulate (or maybe I was dying of some unusual disease because my anxious mind always goes there) as my symptoms seemed to me so random and disconnected – gingivitis for the first time in my life, my hair falling out, intense bouts of crying, a higher than my normally high libido, waking up one morning in February to large dark spots on the skin above my lip called melasma. This is all a natural part of aging, really, and includes my body getting softer and my skin a bit more crinkly. For me this also included my first bout with ovarian cysts earlier this summer, which began with a sharp shooting pain down my thigh followed by weeks of severe bloating, cramping and nausea. My gynecologist did an ultrasound to check and make sure nothing looked off because I was CERTAIN I had ovarian cancer (I don’t) and I also made her check and see how my uterus was fairing (it’s hanging in there, but maybe not for long).
I write and speak often about how motherhood and aging, along with my work as a death historian, have affected and informed my work in positive body image. For me, they are crucial, ordinary and extraordinary parts of my life and being a woman. So I was thrilled when Amy Keller Laird, former Beauty Director for Allure and Editor of Women’s Health magazines, contacted me for an interview for a long piece she was writing for TIME (yes, as in TIME fucking magazine - read the really good article featuring ME!!!! called Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? here) this summer on Gen X women, aging, and body positivity. We talked about a lot of things, some of which didn’t make it into the piece but many of them did.
She talked to me about how she’s found that most brands that claim body positivity as their message usually feature only models in their 20s and maybe early 30s and although a few are using much older women (like in their 80s) it’s a veritable wasteland for those of us ages 38-53. As a body image activist pretty steeped in the movement, I have noticed the same thing - most of the others are really young (in their 20s), not middle-aged mothers who are doing important things to change the world in big and small ways while changing diapers at the same time. There aren't a lot of "everyday women" represented in this area and I think that brand campaigns are really missing out on an important demographic, as unphotoshopped campaigns from Target, Swimsuits For All, and Aerie have proven. Women (and men!) in my age demographic are working their asses off in both professional and domestic ways and are smart and have LOTS of money to spend on products and services that feel relatable and worthy. Representation matters - in life, activism and consumer culture.
She brought up the fact that some celebs in this age group seem to be talking a bit more about their aging bodies, in references to wrinkles and such, but that’s about it. I agreed. So many people my age have been brought up in a looks and youth obsessed society and this radical notion that losing weight and looking young is NOT our life's purpose is first shocking, then sad, then angering and finally a revelation (and a revolution). Diet culture, which has recently been rebranded as "health" culture, was born from consumerism fed by our desire to cheat death, if we think about it. We don't like to see our body changing and "breaking down" or "looking our age" because that's a sign of a life well lived and nature taking its course. (Our bodies are supposed to change over time - that's what they do - from birth to puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, illness, accidents, menopause, aging, to ultimately death.) It's also a fear of becoming irrelevant, which is a very real problem for women. My age demographic has learned from watching our mothers and grandmothers (and media, to be honest) that the older we get the more invisible and disposable we become, and none of us want that, right? Body positivity and age positivity are changing that narrative, though, by saying that we are more than how we look, our body size, our perky breasts, or our sexual desirability. I find it an honor to age and realize daily how lucky I am to still be alive and hope to be around for a very long time. We only get one body and one life and I'm keenly aware of that every day.
I definitely think women in this Gen X age demographic would benefit from seeing other women in this age group and I know this from personal and professional experience. As a body image activist for the past nine years most of my followers and fans are women (and men!) between the ages of 35-60 and have been since the beginning. They continue to reach out to me with heartbreaking and heart-filling stories about their own middle-aged struggles with body image, which often started as children or teens and has continued to adulthood. They often tell me about how they're done waging a war with their bodies in a battle they are exhausted from fighting. They find my work and my life such an inspiration for living their best lives in their bodies and are so ready for the message that there may be a new way, a better way to live and embrace their aging bodies.
I think we are also a demographic that people (and the media) don't really know what to do with. We're often moms or dads, who are supposed to be frumpy, non-sexual beings striving to get our "bodies back" after children and doing all sorts of treatments to eradicate our wrinkles, muffin tops or beer bellies. We're no longer young but we're not really old yet and so many of us are at this sort of "tipping point" and terrified of hearing the words whispered, "wow, she's really let herself go." To which I say: Let yourself go - from the bondage of body shame, the shackles of unrealistic beauty standards, and the ridiculous notion that your only value lay in the way you look.
At 4am this morning I put my baby on an airplane with a young girlfriend to take three flights halfway across the country to spend three weeks in Minnesota. They’ll be in the hinterland of her birthplace - so far north it's almost Canada - to a place she barely remembers since she hasn't been back since we moved to Idaho twelve years ago yesterday. I'm so excited for her to have a blast with a dear family we love on the biggest adventure of her lifetime thus far.
Three days ago we started packing for this adventure to her homeland and I started to get that pressure behind my eyes and that stinging in my throat that indicates THE TEARS are coming because of THE GROWTH and THE CHANGE. Truth be told they've been coming a lot over the past year. When she got her first iPhone. When she surpassed me in height. When she wrote badass feminist poetry unbeknownst to me and bravely recited it on a microphone at a slam in front of a packed house. When Dr. Brown taught her to drive a few months ago on the dirt roads of the Oregon Trail while we were camping. When I took her to the DMV to get her first official state ID card. When we went to the bank to open her first checking and savings accounts and get a debit card. When she got her first job as a youth activist a few weeks ago.
But when we started packing for this Minnesota trip those physical sensations came again. We were looking through our motley assortment of backpacks for her to select as a carry-on she picked a tan one. An ordinary canvas backpack her dad and I picked out fifteen years ago as her diaper bag. A bag that Dr. Brown and I wore on our backs all over the streets of Minneapolis on public transit with her tiny body tucked carefully in our Baby Bjorn on our fronts.
At the Delta counter they put barcoded ID bracelets on the girls for minors traveling alone and I stared at it and choked back that burning in my heart again because suddenly her whole life was flashing before me. She's had ID bracelets like that a few times before - also in Minnesota. Once when she first left my body in the hospital and again a few days later as she was transferred to an ICU for infants at another due to a traumatic birth situation. And again when she woke up one morning at 18-months-old with her eye swollen shut and a routine trip to urgent care turned into a serious life-threatening situation which landed us in the hospital for several days again.
I also remembered the last time she was on a plane - at the age of three we flew to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with friends at Disneyland while I was nauseous and in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Alice. I thought about this as I speed walked through the airport terminal so I could track her Delta aircraft through the giant windows as it taxied down the runway towards takeoff hoping she remembered what I told her about popping her ears and how to use the personal seat fan if it got too hot and suddenly the pressure behind my eyes and the stinging in my throat could no longer be contained.
She recently got to experience a fun family 4-H type camp in northern Idaho for eight days with other family friends but this three weeks she'll be gone is the longest time we've been apart from her in her whole life. I'm acutely aware that this is not only training for what is to come in just a few years from now when she leaves for college. I'm acutely aware of how important these adventures are for her growth and the opportunity for life experiences we aren't able to give her with the generous help of our friends. It's still an experience that's super hard on a mama's heart. I'm acutely aware of how much her life and her stories are growing apart from mine into her individual powerful self and are hers alone to experience and tell, not mine. And, finally, I'm also acutely aware she's not lost in a foreign country or ripped from my soul and I'm not seeking asylum or refuge from anything but this human condition called love and motherhood - an affliction of the heart that is so strong and powerful and universal and something we can all understand.
It began five summers ago when I was tired of hiding underneath bathing suit dresses with bunches of heavy cumbersome fabric as I spent my summers at the city pool with my young children. I was several years into my own body positive journey and was getting braver with my self-love and bolder with my fashion choices, slowly exposing more skin and rolls. Showing up in my already ready “bikini body” has given me so much more courage to enjoy life more and be comfortable while doing it. Here are four ways wearing bikinis has boosted my self-confidence:
1) Plus-sized bikinis are cute. My first one was a darling retro-inspired black and white striped number from Walmart, one of the first and affordable retailers in the US to make them widely available. Since then so many designers have jumped on board with amazing styles, shapes and colors, coming a long way from the dark swim dresses I felt relegated to in the past.
2) They help me feel bold. At first, I was self-conscious and felt like everyone was staring at me. Turns out, many people WERE looking at me, but because they thought my suit was so cute and I looked great in it. I get so many compliments every time I wear bikinis in public.
3) Bikinis make the water more enjoyable. They allow me the flexibility of jumping in lakes and floating on tubes and careening down water slides with my children. Additionally, they make going to the bathroom while wet (and often clutching the hand of a toddler at the same time) so much easier.
4) Exposing my skin is cathartic. I’d been hiding it for so long that letting it out was freeing. I love flaunting my curves in the sun. Turns out, everyone (including myself) knows I’m fat anyhow so covering up my body with more fabric isn’t fooling anyone. I enjoy the feeling of sand sticking to my cellulite and sweat dripping down my cleavage. It happens to everyone and it's what summer, and life, is all about.
There's this real phenomenon in America - and especially on the internet - that you must be perfect in order to interact or show up. All your words carefully chosen, your photos on Instagram carefully staged, your activism carefully crafted. It feels daunting and terrifying, even when you try so hard to make sure it's perfect before you speak/present/post because it's almost never good enough. (I mean, I know from past experience that over the next few days I'll come back to edit this blog entry no less than five times because I'll find a typo or repetitive word choice and it will eat at me until I fix it.) Someone will always call you out on your mistakes/typos/errors and in some cases try to destroy you and your credibility if you're not perfect enough for them.
I've seen it happen over and over, especially to celebrities or famous folks. You can have a legacy of amazing and radical work that speaks to so many but mess up one time and suddenly it negates everything that person has contributed and "they are DEAD TO ME." (Hell, it's happened to me a handful of times as well.)
"Perfect is the enemy of good" is an old saying that has roots in several places, going back to the 1770s with Voltaire using the phrase in his French writings. Shakespeare uses the concept in King Lear and even Aristotle and Confucius talk about it with the golden mean, which warns against extremism in general. The main point of it being that someone may never attempt or complete a task if they can't do it PERFECTLY. Winston Churchill is credited with saying something very similar about how perfection is the enemy of progress.
As someone who was born with a Type A personality and the oldest child in my family, I've struggled with personal goals of perfection my entire life. In addition to unattainable feminine beauty standards imposed upon me by our patriarchal culture, it's really this notion of being perfect that has been the biggest battle on my body image journey. I spent so many years trying to alter my natural body to be different, or "perfect," with no acne, stretchmarks or cellulite. We've owned our home in Boise for nearly twelve years now and I spent so many of them obsessed with keeping it organized and clean and afraid to let anyone in the front door unless it looked "perfect." I worried about writing about how hard motherhood is or how shitty and heartbreaking it was to have two miscarriages because I was sharing my imperfections and that is vulnerable.
I learned, though, that it was my imperfections that made me beautiful and powerful. Embracing my life and body and motherhood as it is right now and doing the best that I can and sharing the process is important. I found that owning my perceived imperfections removed their control over my life and, yes, my progress. I learned that life is too short to wait to try new things or learn stuff or share my work (in progress). I'm always a careful student and do my research and check my words and think all of this is super important, but so is taking chances and asking questions, both things that are scary and risky in this day and age.
I started reviving Hilda, the plus-sized curvy pin up girl drawn for calendars in the mid-century, in a subversive selfie series last summer in a fun and feminist way. I use things I find around the house or buy at the dollar store, set up my iPhone on a tripod with the 10 second timer and run to take my place. There's a lot of accidental nipple and things aren't perfect by any means. I have much more cellulite than Hilda has (because, um, she's not a real human woman and has none in the drawings) and her body angles are sometimes impossible to re-create as is the perspective in the illustrations (and thus the angle I would have to shoot the images from). And people love to point out all these flaws (and more) in my photos when I share them. But thousands more people like to tell me how poignant, encouraging and sexy it is seeing my Hilda images. How they've come to accept their bodies more because of my vulnerability.
It's rare to see a 42-year-old fat mom taking up space - both on the internet and in the world - like I do. Sharing my imperfections in all their glory. Summer is nearing and as the temperatures rise so does baring more skin and the body shaming and unnecessary striving for the "perfect" summer body. I love presenting my "summer body" with all its luxurious rolls and dimples and unabashed love of tiny bikinis, tank tops and flip flops. The warmth, on both my skin and my soul, is glorious.
Another example of this irrational demand of perfectionism can be seen in the recent criticism of the new Amy Schumer film I Feel Pretty! (Or any film or song or book taking on body image or any other social justice element these days, really.) Immediately upon the release of the concept of the film - and later the film trailer - the hate came. I always find this shocking, but no longer surprising. I have a general principle of not critiquing any work of art before I’ve read/seen/viewed it myself first; many others do not abide by this principle.
I co-organized an event with our local plus-sized consignment shop and the Boise Rad Fat Collective to meet for dinner and drinks before going to see the movie together as a group. I think the consensus of most of the group of folks aged 14 an up was that everyone really liked the movie. Some people even got teary and cried and applauded at the end. There was lots of LOLing as well. It’s funny and sweet and uplifting. I loved that the male love interest was also quirky and unconventional.
While I agree with so many of the criticisms and shared many initial concerns, I also realized early on that perhaps the film isn't/wasn't made for ME and that is okay. There were a few problematic parts, but overall the message was a good one. As I suspected it is pretty Body Positive Lite - not super radical, but it is a RomCom starring Amy Schumer so I didn’t expect it to be. And that's okay. Overall, it was a step in the right direction for mainstream Hollywood, even if it’s a baby one.
Just like the film, the event wasn't perfect. The restaurant forgot to reserve the large tables for our huge group and took forever getting our food out despite ordering early enough. We didn't get to all sit together in the theater due to rushing in smaller groups to get there on time.
The best part about seeing the film, honestly, was the amazing community I got to see it with and the companionship beforehand with the discussion after, despite the small snafus and imperfections of our timing and the restaurant's mistakes. We shook it off and laughed and snuck our to-go food into the theater. These people and "imperfect" experiences all enrich my life and my own body positivity more than a film ever could. And perhaps it's really our imperfections that bind us.
My 10-year-old daughter Alice is playing her third year in Little League softball and started pitching this year and is a badass. I've seen her practice and focus and shake it off and strike out three girls in a row. I've also seen her obsess and feel the pressure and in tears because she didn't pitch perfectly one game. She's told me she's not good enough and that messing up while pitching is embarrassing and hard. Witnessing this, and having a very similar personality to my small girl, I know this is all true. Having the self-confidence and tenacity to stand up and learn on the spot is rare and valuable and certainly traits that I hope to continue to instill in her. What a joy it is to see her coaches agree and voice encouragement and give tips when the going gets tough. And I can see how Alice perks up when her teammates call out to her from the field with "you got this, Alice!" or when her dad and I cheer loudly from the sidelines. I am intensely proud of her defiance of perfection.
I talked to the girls at my 2nd annual RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminist Teens about this quite a bit a few weeks ago. We created these beautiful body biographies, maps of our bodies and their histories and I made mine as an example beforehand, complete with stories of body parts I perceived imperfect for so long and how I now see them as important parts of what make me ME. The girls followed suit and the projects were hard, heartbreaking, strong and stunning.
Some of them struggled with the concept and I ran out of paper due to my imperfect planning so a few of us had to create body torsos instead of full bodies. We talked about not being afraid to ask questions and make mistakes when discussing the meaning of feminism and defining terms like "privilege" and "intersectionality." About how hard and scary it can be to ask questions these days but I assured them this was a safe space and they should ALWAYS feel empowered to ask questions and try to learn and understand. That they should take chances with sharing their voice and their art. That it's okay to get it wrong and make mistakes and share works in progress and defy this notion of being perfect, on Instagram, on Facebook, in the classroom and everywhere.
I got my very own tool box about nine years ago - right around the same time I Googled the words "why am I fat and happy?" and when I made my family embark on that wild New Year's Resolution to not buy anything new for an entire year called The Compact. It was also around the time that I got laid off from my career as a museum curator and pulled my babies out of preschool and daycare as a result because it was also the recession. To say it was a time of significant change and forging of new paths for me would be an understatement. It was also the same time I started this blog.
I've written about some of this in the past, and talked about it a bit in my TEDx talk, too. It was liberating and terrifying and brutal and brilliant and simultaneously one of the worst and best things to ever happen to me. Immediately upon my layoff I was hired on contract as a curator for the City of Boise Arts & History Department to help them install and care for their public art collection and roving exhibitions all around town, hanging art in places like the airport, City Hall and the convention center. I worked with signmakers to design and install large signs on public art pieces in city parks and museums and educational centers. I'm trained in doing this sort of work, and it's always been really hands-on, wearing jeans and sneakers and crawling on my hands and knees digging and carrying and lifting heavy and dirty things sometimes. And other times wearing white gloves for precious and expensive artworks and fancy clothes for galas and exhibition openings. At the museum I had a crew of people with tools who provided them to me, but out on my own I finally had the need for my very own toolbox.
We had an unused one at home that was plastic and yellow and I filled it with all the necessary things I'd need to install art: hammer, nails, level, white gloves, museum putty, Velcro for signage, pencils, measuring tape, screwdriver, scissors. I taped a business card on the inside for identification if I ever misplaced it, kind of like I do with my luggage when I'm traveling. I soon found that this toolbox morphed into a holding place for so many things - my keys, cell phone, a granola bar for lunch. And I started to decorate it with stickers that were given to me on the job.
Shortly after that stint with the City I started Wintry Market, a handmade for the holidays indie art & craft bazaar every November. We just celebrated our seventh successful year, where we were named best holiday market in the state of Idaho by Food & Wine magazine!, and are launching our first Summery Market, a handmade for the sunny days sister event this June. Turning quirky locations like gymnasiums, dance studios, historic warehouses and old Shrine Halls into a creative art show for 60 artists required a similar use of my toolbox. So I took things out - no more need for the white gloves, for example, or the museum putty - and put new things in - like painters tape, Christmas tree ornament hooks, and mylar for marking off booth spaces.
Six years ago I got a big idea to start a little veggie garden at my neighborhood elementary school and the principal said a hearty HECK YES. I became the School Garden Coordinator, a volunteer position I take very seriously, and one that has me shoveling, building, planting and constructing in more ways than I ever thought possible, as we've expanded our eight raised veggie garden beds to include a half-acre Idaho Native Plants Learning Landscape & Teaching Garden. I was not only the chief designer and grant writer for the project, but the forewoman as well. My toolbox has become my trusted confidant and is now covered in mud more than ever before, and filled with things like zip ties, construction gloves, safety goggles, seeds, a weeding tool, shop keys, receipts from nurseries and equipment rental, tiny dino toys of Arlo's, pinecones and pieces of owl pellets.
It was also nine years ago that I began building my body positive toolbox, that led me to a life of activism through art, writing, teaching and leadership. It doesn't live in a physical plastic space, though, but in the depths of my heart and mind and in loads of files both on my computer and in the "FILES" section of my beloved Facebook community, the Boise Rad Fat Collective. As a lifelong learner, there's a bibliography a mile long and, admittedly, many of those books do live on my bookshelves at home, which actually IS a toolbox, if I think about it. I've got lists of websites and Powerpoints I've created on my laptop and so much information floating around in my brain that I could write a book on it. (OH WAIT, I DID.)
I also carried around a diaper bag (aka the new parenting toolbox) for the better part of the last decade but have recently abandoned it for the parenting toolbox that lives in my big ol' brain along with the one for architectural history and one for the American way of death and so many other things I'm obsessed with becoming an expert on.
I love my toolboxes, both my physical one and the ones living in my brain. I love feeling them in my hands and my heart and filling them with things that are necessary and important and help me to do the things I need to do. I love cleaning them out and making way for new stuff. Knowledge is power and having these tools at the ready are a necessity for me and carrying them around makes me feel more full and happy than any briefcase full of files from a desk job ever did.
During the season finale of This Is Us, the real and raw and lovely show that is, in my opinion, the best thing NBC has brought to television in a long time, married couple Randall and Beth share a game they play together called "Worst Case Scenario." It's something that helps Randall deal with his severe anxiety and desire for control by speaking out loud with a safe person something they are worried about and all the bad things they are thinking with no judgement and no censorship. The idea is that it gets out of your system and makes you feel better and you can forge on. For example, Beth reveals that she's fearful the volatile foster child they are caring for will resent them and become a stripper or that she'll kill both Randall and herself in their sleep.
I'm a big fan of This is Us and have been excited about it from the announcement of the show a few years ago, in particular when it was revealed that there was a fat character as a main star. There aren't that many characters of size on television, nor many that are complex and positively portrayed, so when the creators/directors asked for input two years ago I immediately sent this this email:
We're now two seasons in and much has been written in the fatosphere about the character of Kate, who is controversial due to her very real plot line and fear that we'll all continued to be pummeled with the usual fat girl tropes of weight loss and fat shaming. Worst Case Scenario: the writers didn't read my message nor do they care about what I or anyone else thinks and Kate has weight loss surgery as threatened. The jury is still out, but I remain hopeful, as thus far I feel the show is beautifully written and powerful and thoughtful and adding to important body positive conversations in many ways.
A colleague of mine, Dr. Cat Pause in Australia, recently wrote a lovely little blog post on failure. About how social media often only celebrates the greatest hits of our lives but isn't really a place where we share things gone wrong. She makes a lovely comparison to the difference between that and how - being a fat woman - the perceived "failures" of her body have always been public:
She goes on to write about some recent failures and a job she really wanted but didn't get. What I really loved about her post, though, was how she didn't necessarily want to wax poetic about what can be learned from losing. I'm a big fan of talking about the hard stuff and sharing struggles, too. Worst Case Scenario: someone doesn't and rolls their eyes and scrolls right by or stops reading. Or maybe leaves a nasty internet comment on my words. (Trust me, they won't be the first or the last. I'm a bit of an expert in negativity online.)
Nine years ago this month I lost my dream job in a surprise "lay off" that left me stunned and shocked and angry and afraid of the Worst Case Scenario: that we'd lose our house after losing nearly half our income and I'd never find another position. I had already grown to dislike that job so much, so we pulled our two babies out of their really expensive daycare and preschool and got rid of a whole bunch of extra luxuries like Direct TV and a house cleaner, and were able to keep our home. It catapulted me into starting this blog and an alternate career path that I may never have been brave enough to attempt without that forced decision no matter how much my spirit desperately needed it.
Five years ago I was surprised to find out I was pregnant with a baby we did not plan for nor really want while on the birth control pill. We thought we were done having kids, until I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test and suddenly I didn't want anything more in the world than that third baby. Our Worst Case Scenario happened just a few weeks later when I miscarried that baby at home, somewhere around eight weeks along. It was devastating, but we went on to conceive our sweet Arlo a few months later.
About a year ago I applied to two Idaho-based arts grants to help pay for writing residencies to write my book. I didn't get either of them, and the granting committees' feedback consisted of things insinuating I wasn't a real writer and that it sounded like "I just wanted time away from my kids." Worst Case Scenario: I had to create my own "writing residency" which consisted of holing up in a tiny private room for free for 10 hours a week at Boise State University for 8 solids months while Dr. Brown was home with the kids to get that manuscript out. But I did it.
And after three amazing beta readers read the first draft of that manuscript and offered amazing advice and changes I made it even better and decided to go all the way to the top and send it out to eight of the best and most well known literary agents I could find in the genre of feminist nonfiction literature. It was risky and terrifying, but I worked up a pretty good proposal and query letter and sent them off from my laptop at the airports in San Fransisco and Salt Lake City to and from a weekend teaching a private self-love workshop in Las Vegas. Worst Case Scenario: I'd never hear from them or get nasty rejection letters and be sad and embarrassed and have to move on to the next round of literary agents. Or try to send my manuscript to smaller book publishers myself. Turns out I got more than one offer of representation by amazing literary agents and ended up signing with the perfect one.
Guess who just signed with a big time NYC literary agent who is excited to sell my book to a big time publisher? THIS GIRL!!!!!! 💪🏼♥️👊🏼♥️ (OMFG STAY TUNED) • • • • #standforselflove #berebellious #bebrave #beyourself #boiseradfatcollective #bodyposi #bodypositive #fatpositive #feminist #feminism #curvy #plussize #idahostyle #fatacceptance #fatspo #agepo #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #riotsnotdiets #writersofinstagram #bookstagram #feministliterature #literature #writer
This past fall a friend in the Midwest sent me notification that the Obama Foundation was opening applications for their first round of fellows - 20 amazing and lucky people who are "outstanding civic innovators from around the world" to give them resources and money "in order to amplify the impact of their work and to inspire a wave of civic innovation." She thought my work in body image activism and feminism fit the bill and I agreed. I asked a few amazing people familiar with what I do to be references, worked long and hard on the application, including making this little one minute video on my work, and submitted my application.
Worst Case Scenario: I haven't found out the results yet (the Fellows should be announced this month!), but in all truth the odds are I won't get accepted. So I spent several hours of time making a video and writing up really thoughtful and succinct application responses (they could each only be a limited number of characters). It was already worth it, as I've re-used that prose in several other applications and I've now got this great little promo video.
In January Melinda Gates wrote a piece in Time magazine about how it's a new era for women. "You may never know their names. They work beneath the headlines and far from the spotlight. When they receive formal recognition from bodies like the Nobel Committee, it is the exception, not the norm. But the fact remains: under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world," she wrote. Another friend, this time in the Pacific Northwest, sent this to me and said, "I think it's time you wrote a letter to Melinda." So I did. Worst Case Scenario: it gets tossed in the garbage. She never reads it. She reads it and unbeknownst to me, laughs about it. I haven't received any reply. Since this more recent piece by her just out about funding important women-driven projects in mainly third-world countries, my guess is I won't.
Here's the thing, though, about Worst Case Scenarios. Sometimes there is a lot at stake. Sometimes saying your fears out loud is too hard and emotional and not a good idea (if you're also a This Is Us fan you know this happened when Randall tried to play the game with his brother Kevin in the car). There's been a lot of situations in my life over the past few months in which I dare not speak my Worst Case Scenarios out loud because they loom so large in my head and heart and I know they will do no one else any good hearing them, least of all me. Sometimes, though, the Worst Case Scenario never happens. Or sometimes it does and it was actually the best thing that you never ever anticipated could happened. Because I'm an optimist at heart and sometimes the most cliched advice is the best: you won't know unless you try.
When you Google the word Womanizer the first thing that comes up is the first thing I used to think of - the dictionary definition:
The next thing is this Brittany Spear's song and video from 2009, which I totally don't remember at all:
The third, and most important, is the official website for the revolutionary sex toy, for all people with clitorises. Created in Germany, the Womanizer's mission is pretty fantastic: It's about enjoying being yourself. "With Womanizer you can be who you are, embrace who you are, enjoy who you are. Feel great within your body and yourself. Because truly being yourself is freedom. This is our revolution: Making orgasms for women a standard."
The technology is pretty revolutionary - and I mean that both scientifically and orgasmically:
I'm also pretty in love with the idea that they took this word that defined a man who liked to have sexual affairs with lots of women and gave it to a toy in which women can take the reins and the control back themselves.
They've got a handful (ha, see what I did there?!) of toy options, including the Womanizer2Go, a tiny thing disguised as a tube of lipstick to allow you to come anywhere! They also make the Womanizer Plus, which is a longer-handled version of the original. My friend Chrystal, owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie in California, wrote this about it recently in a great little piece for The Curvy Fashionista blog in a gift guide including 5 romantic gifts for plus-sized babes:
This toy is one of Crystal's biggest sellers and it's no cheap investment at $209. It's also been highly recommended by several women in my Boise Rad Fat Collective when I was lamenting the loss of my trusty 17-year-old silver bullet a few months back. (Curvy Girl Lingerie also sells those! In fact, I immediately purchased two for $18 from her (a screamin' deal!) so I had a back up. And then she sent me a free one to giveaway at our raffle drawing at the Rad Fatties Chunky Dunk Pool Party and 4th Birthday Bash because she's so thoughtful like that.)
You may recall that Curvy Girl Lingerie sent me some sexy lingerie things to try out about a year ago and I wrote then about how my sexuality has been something I used to hide and be ashamed of and how powerful it can be to embrace it and take back control of it. It's been such a liberating and important part of my body positive journey, too. Having lots of sex, both with yourself and with a partner, can, both literally and psychologically, help you get more in touch with your body and appreciate all it does for you.
So when Crystal asked if I'd be interested in trying out a Womanizer Plus you can bet I DID NOT HESITATE. It's exciting and flirty to get an anonymous brown package in the mail holding a silky black bag with a sex toy that is seriously one of the most expensive things I own. It feels so grown up and luxurious and was the perfect thing to receive before taking a solo trip to Las Vegas to teach a private workshop on body positivity and self-love for one of my Rad Fatty's 45th birthday girls' weekend.
It also feels, well.....fucking amazing. I've been giving myself orgasms for a lotta years now and am pretty in tune with my body. And my husband's been giving them to me for a lotta years as well. This technology is not like a vibrator and seriously works in like 30 seconds flat (for me, at least) so that's something to beware of if you're trying to plan out your climax. I can attest to its fun in both solo and partner play. It's also got so many other benefits.
1) The extra long handle is super helpful for those with big bellies who might have difficulty reaching your clitoris.
2) It comes with two silicone removable head attachments for easy switching and washing. One has a larger hole for larger clits or coverage (I prefer the small one).
3) It recharges via USB but holds its charge for like 200 hours of play or something ridiculously amazing.
4) It came with a tiny packet of free lube.
5) The whole thing is waterproof, making it submergeable in the tub.
6) I think it has 12 different intensity modes (I usually prefer number 6 but that varies from day to day).
Considering how long I had my silver bullet and how much wear and tear it got (a lot), I imagine I'll have this Womanizer for life. And let me tell you, it certainly makes my life more pleasurable to live. It's a tool that can be a lot more empowering than just in the bedroom. Figuring out what you like (or what you don't), what you want and what you need sexually can translate to doing to same in the boardroom, the classroom, at your neighbor's house or to the bully at church. I'm a fan of anything that can bring pleasure and help us get in touch with ourselves more. Life's too short for bad sex and being quiet.
I received a Womanizer Plus from Curvy Girl Lingerie to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.
Every day for 874 days I’ve woken up to hateful mean and sometimes threatening messages to me on the internet. Every fucking day. Often, before I even have a cup of coffee or kiss my baby good morning I’m scrubbing my Instagram clean, reporting bigotry, blocking people. In the middle of making Alice a sandwich for her lunch bag just the way she likes it and doing dishes, biking to school and getting a phone call from my banker, I’m responding to concern trolls asking about my “health” on Facebook, because I can’t possibly be fat, happy and left to live my life in peace.
It’s not a good way to start your day.
Often I’m exhausted at the end of the day after homework, laundry, baths, meetings, doctor appointments, baking bread, riding bikes, and driving to piano lessons. I crawl into bed at 11pm to take on nasty comments from women who are supposedly “on my side” or also “body positive” or screenshotting "dick pics" for my safety file. The hostility of the internet is widespread, surprisingly even among groups of like-minded women, people I’ve sometimes considered allies, colleagues and friends. I don’t think we’d speak to each other that way in real life and I don’t think our opinions are as different or as black and white as they may appear on the screen. I think if we sat in the same room we’d take more care, choose kinder words, look one another in the eye.
It’s not a good way to end your day.
But in the middle of my days ordinary things happen – little magical things that remind me of what a joy life is. Some of those things happen via the internet – emails I get from a PRIDE festival and a League of Women Voters asking about the possibility of me speaking at their events, messages from teens with disabilities whose lives I’ve touched with my work, real personal connections I’m making with strangers in another country or the school teacher around the corner. I can find myself down a nerdy rabbit hole of academic research and journal articles on misogyny and performance art and feminism. So much good stuff happens on the internet in the middle of all the bad and has every single day for the last 874 days.
We’ve been talking about this a lot with Lucy, our teenager, lately, too. How to safely navigate ourselves and our mental and physical health on our phones and online. Because my safety and the safety of my family has been threatened on the internet more than once. I’ve notified the necessary authorities, like the police, school administrators, the social media providers. We’ve learned and armed ourselves and taken measures.
I speak often about how what we see on the screen affects us more than we know, which is why diversifying our newsfeed to include people of all shapes, sizes and genders can be so powerful in bettering our body image. Following fierce feminists of color, for example, can empower us in more ways than one. Our consumerist culture is also something to be very aware of, as they try to sell us products often by using shame as a tactic – that we need their item to be happier, thinner, more successful, richer.
Since she got her phone at age 13, we implemented guidelines for the teen in our house about phones and technology that we're always tweaking. Most of them apply to all of us of all ages. No phones after 8pm on weeknights, all devices are charged in the community space of the kitchen, no phones at school, no Snapchat and screenshot anything dangerous, hateful or damaging. We check our daughter’s newsfeed and private messages for anything mean, scary or just off. These things have helped us all spend more time tethered together, sometimes doing mundane things like collecting chicken eggs, folding laundry, making popcorn or walking to the coffee shop. This also means we’re spending more time doing important things like reading books out loud together, talking about what happened in science camp, figuring out how to apologize to a friend whose feelings we’ve hurt or what we should do this weekend.
Earlier this week I came across this post from Rachel Macy Stafford, aka Hands-Free Mama, about the concern of raising kids so attached to their phones and how to balance that with what’s really important in life. I feel like we are raising a generation of kids being used as guinea pigs in a technological world that none of us know how to navigate – no parents have come before us and have written books or can offer advice on what to do or not to do and it feels scary.
Rachel’s piece brought forth some important reminders, for our kids and ourselves:
Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life.
To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.
To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.
To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.
Tether yourself in love.
I think people often forget there are real people out there behind the screen, real humans living complicated lives. I’m choosing more often these days to tether myself to people and love.
My Facebook memory this morning was from last year’s New Years Eve Bash when I wore my favorite LuLaRoe dress and danced the night away and drank too much vodka and re-created Kim Kardashian’s best party trick.
This year’s was much less wild - bra was off by 6:30pm, romper and favorite sweatshirt were on, Chinese takeout was procured, and I was cuddled up on the couch with needlework and a Shaun the Sheep marathon with my kids until we stuck sparklers in potatoes in the backyard.
Life is beautiful and amazing when it’s a mix of wild and calm, loud and quiet, staying in and going out, acting up and slowing down. Being intentional with my time and thinking about how I want to really use it is something I've been thinking about a lot in 2017 and something I'd like to continue to implement in 2018.
There were a lot of important feminist moments in 2017 and I have several favorites, including this one. In what was arguably one of the most poignant political moments of 2017, Democratic Representative Maxine Waters spoke up to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when she was testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in July. After he repeatedly spoke over her during her allotted period to intentionally run out the clock, she kept repeating over and over, "I'm reclaiming my time." It was recorded and widely reported and brilliant and meant so much more to all of us. Waters had been speaking out against the Trump administration for months before this and women all over the country had been applauding her voice and efforts, myself included. But this particular incident stood out because it resonated beyond this original context.
Like the Washington Post wrote soon after the incident:
Who among us, after all, hasn’t lost irreplaceable time to a uselessly meandering meeting, a pointless conversation or a draining social interaction? Waters’s phrase rang out as a rejection of that made manifest, delighting all of us who have been spoken over, ignored or had our time wasted by others. In a year studded with absurd examples of men interrupting their female colleagues, a dignified woman’s firm insistence on being heard and getting straight to business was a welcome and empowering surprise. And for many women and people of color, the phrase “reclaiming my time” felt particularly poignant, with the idea of reclamation specifically speaking to both the present and the past. Society has been wasting not only their time but also their voices, agency and potential — for years. Yes, there is the ongoing silencing and underrepresentation of women and people of color in boardrooms and business offices. But there are also centuries of being unable to vote, run for office or participate in public life. There are decades of enforced or de-facto segregation by gender and race.
2017 was the year I truly learned the importance of reclaiming my time. 2018 is the year I'm taking it seriously.
Here's to reclaiming my time from the internet trolls
Reclaiming my time from those who spend theirs tearing me down
Reclaiming my time from feeling shame over my cellulite
Reclaiming my time from feeling like an imposter
Reclaiming my time from those who expect my labor and expertise for free
From not asking for what I’m worth
From saying yes too much
Reclaiming my time from seeing unwanted penises and predatory sexual contact
Reclaiming my time from thieves of my joy and frauds and liars and fake friends
Reclaiming my time from what others think about me
Reclaiming my time from the guilt of motherhood
Reclaiming my time from diet culture and healthism
Reclaiming my time from other women’s internalized misogyny
Reclaiming my time from keeping up appearances
From striving for perfection
From pretending to be something I’m not
From exercising out of fear
From hiding my body to make others comfortable
Reclaiming my time in the sun and the dirt
Reclaiming my time in a bikini
Reclaiming my time in the kitchen
Reclaiming my time in the yoga studio and in the foothills
Reclaiming my time in the bathtub with my books
Reclaiming my time in front of the camera
Reclaiming my time by pausing and stitching and being still and moving my hands
Reclaiming my time in 20 second hugs
Reclaiming my time in my head and my heart
I've been working on the manuscript for my book actively for six months now. Every Friday I've reserved a tiny writing room at Albertsons Library on the Boise State University campus and pack my lunch and a big thermos of hot coffee and don't come out for about eight hours. It's been much harder than I thought it would be and the stories of my life are still spilling out of me and being written and are much sadder, scarier and angrier than I thought they'd be. But they are also still so hopeful and heart-full. It's a collection of essays on feminism, bodies, motherhood and standing up. And it's done - all 22 chapters are being printed and shipped off to three of my first readers for edits and suggestions and changes before they go off to editors and publishers after the first of the new year. I was typing up some notes for my manuscript readers yesterday morning at my desk next to the window in our family room, listening to Kacey Musgraves Christmas album (which I can't recommend enough BTW), and home alone for the two hours Arlo is as preschool every morning when I heard five rapid fire gunshots on the street. While my gut knew exactly what they were and after counting people in my family in my head and logically logging their locations of safety I tried to rationalize it as probably squirrels jumping on my tin woodshed roof or a transformer blowing. My gut was right and my neighbor was shot.
Alice and I have been re-reading Little House on the Prairie for our Mama & Daughter Book Club every night before bed. We were gifted the entire Little House series box set and the paperbacks match the ones I had as a child when I, too, was fascinated by Mary & Laura's wild prairie life and the amazing things Pa could build with wood and the delicious meals Ma cooked over the open fire. Alice read a passage out loud last night about Pa's instructions for the girls to stay in the river only where the water was shallow and ankle-deep for safety and Laura's rebellious nature got her in trouble for disobeying. She noted how much she was like Laura Ingalls - in spirit and age. I nodded fervently in agreement. Little House was one of those transformative books for me and thousands of little girls across this country and continues to be. We're getting together to make old fashioned crafts with our book club in honor of this book this weekend and I can't wait to introduce Alice to the TV series.
A few months ago we woke up one morning to six blocks of our neighborhood tagged with pink spray paint in the night, including the side of our new-to-us white truck, our tree, and our entire beloved Little Free Library covered in graffiti. The police came and then the news came and then two neighbors I'd never met showed up with paint and scrapers and repaired our pink library the next morning as I headed to South Junior High to give an all school assembly to teens on positive body image and self-esteem and anti-abortion protestors stood out from with giant signs depicting dead fetuses and lots of words about the "dangers" of self-love and feminism.
Our elementary school native plants garden had it's grand opening in October and a few days before Dr. Brown and I installed our school's new little free library late one night at dusk. With our cell phone flashlights we painted the words on it : "Hawthorne Elementary School Little Free Library. Take a book. Leave a book." We're pretty lucky to have an amazing school library inside the building as well, a place where they make things and play with robots and learn about science and slam poetry and have books like Little House on the Prairie beside the one I found in Alice's backpack yesterday called Bad Girls: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World. My preschooler attends the same school and is sent home with a blue bag full of fun books on a topic each Wednesday and this week's are all about dinosaurs - a subject near and dear to his tiny three-year-old heart. We read about dinos A-Z yesterday in bed in the middle of the afternoon and sounded out words and identified the parts of a book - the cover, the back cover, the author's name, the illustrator.
So much of my time is spent reading and writing and devouring and thinking about words and books. I'm so glad books still play such an important role in my life and my children's. As I prepare to print out my blood, sweat, tears and heart onto 150+ pieces of paper to send off in the mail I feel nervous, anxious, and excited. Do other people really read books anymore? I've heard many other academics and writers lament the loss of education, research, and time spent exploring topics in depth these days. As a historian and a feminist and a body image activist and a mother and a human I worry about this, too. I sometimes make up quippy complicated stories distilled right down to one sentence since it's being made painfully clear people are no longer interested in reading a (text)book or even the Cliff Notes version anymore. In my head I write these American histories, abbreviated, like : "Women are alright if they're pretty, quiet and nice." Turns out I've got a lot more words to say about that, though, like nearly 49,000 of them. So thankful for others who do, too.
Last week I got banned from Facebook for posting my #metoo story, sharing just a small portion of the sexual harassment and violence I've experienced in my life. I did not share any photos with any nudity. I wrote a pretty simple post that read:
“A year ago I wrote this and some of it happened twenty years ago and some of it happened yesterday and some of it happened to my 13yo daughter and to you and will keep happening again and again. Here’s to telling our stories and standing up and being heard and changing the narrative. TW: for this blog post I wrote about a year ago #metoo”
I linked to a blog I wrote a last year called Boys Will Be Boys with some cropped and edited images of nude men I’ve been assaulted with over the past two years. Ironically, these men use this very platform to sexually violate me yet I’m the one punished for calling them out. Additionally, this #metoo post was up on my public profile page for four days (and has been successfully shared on Facebook several times over the past year) before an attempt to silence my voice by reporting this post wrongly as sexually explicit material worked - Facebook erroneously ruled in the favor of some angry (presumably based on another interaction) male "fan."
But they won't break my spirit, I won't let ’em win
I’ll just keep on living, keep on living, oh
The way I wanna live
I've written and spoken on gender-based violence and sexual violence and patriarchy and misogyny and standing up and speaking out so many times. Here and here on this blog and in my TEDx talk and on Instagram and in classrooms and auditoriums and on radio shows and in magazine interviews.
And the more amplified my message is and the more platforms I'm on, the more serious the attempts to silence my voice are. This is not the first time I've been unfortunately banned from Facebook by someone trying to stop my radical words of love and it certainly won't be the last. (The first time was a few months ago by a woman in a private selfies for self-love Facebook group I'm in who didn't approve of my nude bathtub photo.) And if these people knew me at all, they'd know that all the times they shout "no" and "shut up" pour gas on my flames igniting more "YES" and "TELL IT." And this minor break this week from this particular social media platform gave me some much needed time to plan and implement some pretty important new work. And truth be told, I'm currently dealing with a lot more dangerous threats to silence my voice than just removing my ability to speak on Facebook for a few days. It's been heavy and stressful.
I got too many people I got left to prove wrong
All those motherfuckers been too mean for too long
As a perpetually positive person, when I'm feeling this way I try to find good things happening and to look forward to. So, to all the bastards and, more importantly perhaps, the rest of you who believe we can make real change, here's a little list of things I'm currently thankful for:
Don’t let the assholes wear you out
Don't let the mean girls take the crown
Don't let the scumbags screw you 'round
Don’t let the bastards get you down
This month marks the 5th anniversary of us building our pink Little Free Library, the first one in our low income neighborhood on the Boise Bench. It was a pink doghouse I purchased off Craigslist for $20 and turned into a little library or free bookshelf, as the idea is you take a book and leave a book, old ones that you have no need for, and grab a new-to-you read. There is a whole shelf dedicated to children's books and another for adult reads. We live two blocks from our elementary school and on a busy corner that sees lots of foot and bike traffic. From the get-go we've been a popular stop and quickly became a neighborhood icon and so overwhelmed with books that we have entire shelves in our garage housing extra books to replenish it. We've scored some amazing reads from it and know others have, too. We carefully curate this space to make sure that appropriate reading material is inside (nothing too raunchy, political, or religious for example - like the Books of Mormon the missionaries repeatedly drop inside) and that the books are in readable condition (often they're ripped up). The most popular items are fiction, so most of the nonfiction gets taken out by our family and sent to the thrift store, and I also dispose of other books I think are harmful propaganda, like:
Diet books, in particular, have been removed and recycled (you're welcome, Earth and people of the Earth) or reused in my art projects. As a writer, academic and body image activist I think a lot about words and they often play a big part in my art. Their history, meanings, double entendres, spellings. How we fling them, mean them, change them, reclaim them. They often show up as important parts of my artwork and I reuse these books and the pages in them in often radical and subversive ways.
Last year on the eve of the one year anniversary of my stand for self-love in the market I visited the sacred spot on 8th Street downtown Boise that I refer to as hallowed ground and sprinkled hearts I cut from this diet book on the spot where I was standing and all around Freak Alley Gallery. It was cathartic and personal and political and powerful. I came home and posted about it on Facebook only to be called a censorer by a fellow female Boise artist who, surprisingly, also uses upcycled materials in her own work on a regular basis, but also (not suprisingly) buys into diet culture. She claimed that removing this material from a library was unethical (she later claimed to not understand that a Little Free Library wasn't like a public library) and that by doing so I was not only promoting censorship but also body shaming those who chose to restrict their eating in desire for a smaller body. I responded that I called it critical thinking, not censorship, and that I also removed other nonfiction content that I didn't agree with promoting.
The thing is, people are inundated with body shaming propaganda in every written form and in the media and at their schools and from their parents and on the TV all day every day. If I can make one little space in my world more radical and positive then you bet I'll censor the hell out of it. Kind of like I do with my own media feed and information intake - one of my very first (and favorite) steps to cultivating better body image is to get rid of groups and people and businesses that propagate body shame in my news feeds and social media pages and replace them with radical feminists celebrating living their best lives in their bodies at any size and academic sources and thoughtful think pieces challenging hate.
We used one of the diet books from my Little Free Library to make black out poetry and cut word poetry at my RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminists this summer in McCall, Idaho. I refuse to use my money to purchase diet books at the thrift store but often snap photos of them and use write-over apps on my iPhone to reimagine their titles to be more body positive and post them on Instagram. And I continue to proudly censor my books and my Little Free Library and my media in the name of feminism and body liberation and cultural progress. And I'll keep trashing these books and turning something ugly and harmful into something beautiful.
On the last morning of RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists one of my campers and Rad Fatties, as I lovingly call them, left me a thank you gift and a note on my bed, including this Danielle LaPorte #truthbomb card she pulled specifically for me. I'd actually pulled two similar ones for myself as reminders of using my presence on this earth for challenging, pushing, creating, educating.
I keep this one propped up on a wall near my bed full of tiny pieces of meaningful art - things that are both normal and extraordinary - including a Mexican painted Christmas angel, a gaudy red framed photo of my two daughter when they were toddlers, a rustic wooden heart cut by hand with a saw from old fencing by a high school in my neighborhood raising money for something like football camp, a trio of photos of Romanian circus performers in Burley, Idaho, taken by my friends at Two Bird Studio and a historic panorama photograph from 1914 of the little mountain town of Cascade, Idaho. Together all of these things remind of of things that are important to me, ideals I live by, where I come from, my past, my future.
This week has been filled with normal days with extraordinary mom moments.
Alice, my middle child, submitted three original artworks she'd made this summer from hot glue, fabric, buttons, sticks, beads and her own amazing imagination to the Western Idaho Fair, a family tradition we've had for years (garlic braid ribbon holder right here!). She and I went together to the hot dry fairgrounds and stood in line for about an hour filling out paperwork and looking at the scarecrows and sunflowers and beets and peppers being submitted and talked about winning ribbons and she wished she could volunteer there to set up after watching the big trucks and tractors haul architecture in and around the site.
My baby boy, Arlo, refuses to be called a baby as he's now a "BIG BOY" because last week he decided to suddenly poop on the potty and we all cheered and he's wearing PJ Masks undies and we now carry around a tiny toilet seat in the back of the truck and it's all very VERY exciting and includes a gazillion thumbs-ups and lots of loud clapping and squealing from the bathroom.
My oldest daughter, Lucy, went in for her very first orthodontist appointment in preparation for braces at the age of 13. Dr. Brown and I nervously awaited the total bill for such a procedure and she anxiously awaited to hear how much that spacer will hurt. She also registered for 8th grade and wandered the halls and opened her locker alone and she and I celebrated with boba tea downtown.
She also received her first unsolicited inappropriate photo on Snapchat from a teen boy she knows and sexual harassment from another. This is real and heartbreaking and sad and while we're dealing with it in all the appropriate and necessary ways, Dr. Brown and I are livid.
There are literally thousands of people flooding into Idaho this week to enjoy the total eclipse of the sun on Monday August 21st at around 11am. For just a few minutes our entire little world will be black and upside down, astronomically speaking. The last time this has happened was 1918, astronomically speaking.
I've been asked to give lots of these tourists private tours of historic Boise, both on foot and on giant coach buses navigating our way through tight tiny streets of our town. All week I was in bed more than I was out of it due to a terrible stomach virus but downed some pills and donned a dress and big sunglasses and with sweat rolling down the backs of my knees stood propped up on a seat on a bus in the middle of an aisle with a broken microphone and told a whole crew of stargazers from California a quick and dirty history of Boise and a bit about Idaho.
As a historian and academic whose love of history was born and bred in small town conservative American public schools I'm careful to pick apart what I learned, to seek out alternate viewpoints, to find the stories we haven't been told or that we'd prefer were hidden. Like the fact that pretty much from the beginning in 1863 white Boiseans hated the Chinese immigrants and had xenophobic laws that forbid them from owning land and effectively demolished a thriving Chinatown twice to rid our city of them. And that while we are so lucky to have a wealth of beautiful public parks and green space in Boise, many of them are named for the wives of rich white men who donated the land and helped build our city in so many ways - for better or for worse. And about the controversial murals depicting Native Americans kneeling with nooses around their necks and the history of enacting law in Idaho that remain inside the 1939 Ada County Courthouse. My favorite part of talking about the Idaho State Capitol building is telling folks that the way the stone is carved on the first level was mean to represent logs, paying homage to our pioneer founders and the most modest houses they first built in the grandest house the people built.
When we ended the tour at the Basque Block and I stood outside the bus saying goodbye to my group as they headed towards their outdoor paella dinner one older white woman grabbed me by the arm and whispered in my ear, "Thank you for being so honest about the role rich white men play/played in your community. It was refreshing to hear from a [female] historian and on this tour." American history is hard and messy and difficult and the storyteller is a key player.
Motherhood is political. History is political. Our bodies are political. White supremacy and racism and patriarchy and misogyny has everything to do with all of it. As I've said before - our skin is the largest visible organ on our bodies and it plays into so much of how we experience life. Body liberation is for all bodies - especially those most marginalized (black bodies, brown bodies, trans bodies, differently-abled bodies, aging bodies, etc). It all starts with personal acceptance freeing us up to own our stories, make change and do important work liberating others.
*I can't recommend enough checking out the links in this blog post. They changed my perspective and helped me process so much of this week and provide some much needed context.
Duane Bryers grew up in rural Minnesota and worked in the circus, painted murals, and sculpted giant ice figures before becoming most well-known for creating Hilda, a voluptuous pinup girl in the mid-1950s. Before becoming known as the "Norman Rockwell of pinup art," Bryers won 2nd place and $150 in the Proctor & Gamble National Soap Sculpture competition for carving a woman out of a single bar of Ivory soap in the late 1930s and started his girlie art career painting sexy ladies on the sides of military aircraft and went on to create poster art and comic strips for the air base.
After working as a commercial artist in Chicago and moving to New York to pursue his fine art career, "I got the idea for a plumpy gal pinup and thought I'd like to make it into a calendar series," Bryers said in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star in 2012. "But how was I going to sell a plump girl?" He took his series to Brown & Bigelow, then the country's top calendar maker, and "they reluctantly put it in the line and figured it would last a short time," he said. "It went on for 36 years."
Hilda calendars were the most popular in the 1960s, surprisingly, but waned in the early 80s and were almost forgotten until someone recently dug them up from the archives and collective memories of Americans. According to Bryers, Hilda was a mash-up of several larger models he'd worked with over the years and his own imagination, hence her imagery and features varying quite a bit from image to image and her face and body varying from calendar to calendar.
There are at least a hundred images of Hilda resurfacing from over the years and they are all silly and cute and feature her in a bikini doing a variety of sweet, sexy and often clumsy things. Her imagery has been shared repeatedly in fat activist/body positive circles and pages and posted on my wall and private messaged to me over the past few years, as news of her existence was shocking and celebratory. Here was a body that looked more like mine than many others I'd ever seen revered as something sexy enough to be on a flirty calendar. Her imagery has been a positive breath of fresh air in the body shame and sex shame filled media we've been used to consuming for so long.
I've written before about my love of using self-portraits and social media as a radical tool in the feminist revolution over the past few years and I thought Hilda's imagery could use a little more feminism and body positivity. So using things I had around the house, my tripod, my iPhone timer and a few supplies I purchased at the Dollar Tree down the street (plus a few $2.99 watermelons from Trader Joe's!), I embarked on a little fun summer project recreating some of her most iconic images.
Much like the art of Norman Rockwell, Bryers' Hilda reminds us of playful, sweet, and carefree days gone by. But she recalls more than that, too. Hilda shows us that at some time someone else found big girls' curves sensual, silliness sexy, softness endearing, confidence bold and bare skin beautiful. And that maybe, just maybe, we can find that in ourselves, too.
(Scroll down for more fun with Hilda. You didn't think I'd stop with just FIVE recreations did you?! She's too good and it's too much fun. All photos mine, all images of Hilda courtesy a Google images search for Hilda pinup, copyright with Brown & Bigelow)
>>>> This project has turned into a long time love affair with Hilda and re-creating her images. They have become a fun and beloved part of my activism and you can see all the new Hildas as they are posted both here on my website and here on my Facebook page. Also Café Mom wrote a piece about this series when it first began which you can read here.
The moment I took off my dress in the Capital City Public Market and blindfolded myself in a black bikini people walked straight up to me and said "ME TOO." The same message came flooding into my inbox and on the street corner and from major news outlets and on celebrity Twitter accounts and 200+ million video views and still. Still they come. From all genders and countries and ages and abilities and colors.
And they come from young girls and their moms. Their voices are loud and scared and angry and strong and rebellious. They're ready. And I'm ready to help.
Since announcing Radcamp : A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens in February I've gotten so many "thank you"s and "we've been waiting for this"s. And so many generous women who want to help change the narrative for our future generation of leaders. Financial donations from a handful of amazing women around the country allowed me to offer so many full scholarships for girls in need, buy amazing art supplies and snacks, and give the girls two feminist books to add to their bookshelves at home.
Researchers and doctors and parents all have found that it's during our early teenage years and puberty that ideas about our bodies can be really solidified. It's a crucial time of change and growth and discovery about who we are. It's also a time when beliefs are formed and ideas are fluid and anything is possible. I've had the honor to speak to lots of young people about being an activist in your own life in big and small ways and how to stand up for what's important - including yourself. It's something I teach all three of my children at home and a message I'm honored and thrilled to share with others. What a treat it was to have lead a crew of young girls aged 13-15 in Boise who spent an entire weekend together in a park and left a little closer to finding their voices and taking ownership of their bodies in a whole new way.
RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens Day 1 was extraordinary. We ate, laughed, learned about cultivating healthy relationships with food, dug deep, thought hard, watched some amazing women poets and read some amazing women writers, planted seeds, made art (including craftivista Kim Werker's Mighty Ugly dolls while examining notions of beauty, being pretty, and perfectionism) and generally became a little more radical and in tune to our unique bodies, voices and spirits.
(And wrapped it all up with our annual backyard beginning of summer movie night watching Penelope - one of the greatest feminist teen body positive movies of all time.)
I was so excited to be able to give all 11 girls at RADCAMP : A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens this brand new book, Here We Are edited by Kelly Jensen, to keep this weekend. They actually get to add TWO badass books to their library as a result of some amazing donations from some stellar women (the other is a body image workbook for teens) and I hope they pick them back up over and over in their lifetime.
Here We Are just came out and features 44 writers, dancers, actors and artists contributing essays, lists, poems, comics and illustrations about everything from body positivity to romance to gender identity to intersectionality to the greatest girl friendships in fiction. It's beginning feminism 101 and it's perfect for the young adult. (The editor was so thrilled about her book being used this way she generously donated 10 copies for all the women attending my RADCAMP for women in McCall in July!)
RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens Day 2 was just as epic as the first and filled with radical goodness, including a lunchtime chat with some pretty amazing young women on how to raise your voice high and be proudly feminist in the face of adversity with Nora & Colette of People for Unity, making tee shirts inspired by punk rock & the Riot Grrrls, dissecting popular media, photoshop and consumer culture in a magazine project, and taking on Betsy Greer's You Are So Very Beautiful (#yasvb) craftivism project by stitching tiny positive affirmations and hiding them around the city in the name of guerrilla acts of kindness. Each girl went home with so many amazing powerful tools, including some body positive stickers from My Body Does, sun-kissed shoulders from our end of camp pool party and a lot of new information rattling around in their hearts and brains.
Organizing both my RADCAMPs this year (the adult sleepaway camp coming up in July and the teen one) has connected me with some amazing women working in radical body positivity and feminism all over the country. Including My Body Does in Brooklyn, who created a handful of affirming stickers to slap on your school binder, bathroom mirror, street lamppost or any body shaming billboard that might need some uplifting 😉.
Turns out they're big fans of what I do, too, and generously offered to mail me a big fat envelope of stickers to give the teens this past weekend and some for me and the women at RADCAMP, too.
It was also a treat to have two teenage powerhouses, Nora Harren and Colette Raptosh, come speak to RADCAMPers about how to raise your voice high and be proudly feminist in high school hallways that aren't always so welcoming. Together they run People for Unity and organized the Women's March on Idaho in January. Thanks to generous donations by a few of you to my program, I was able to put some money towards their organization in the form of a small speaking stipend. I think it was super powerful for the girls at camp to hear from some other young role models in Boise using their spirits and passion for change and good. Here's to women supporting women supporting girls supporting girls. And here's to a bearing witness to a new generation of resilient and strong girls. May we all be the role models they need.
I've told this story many, many times in the recent past about how - when feeling love for my 250 lb. body instead of shame and ready to finally opt out of diet culture eight years ago - I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy?" And how sad and disappointed I was to find myself scrolling through pages and pages of ads for the diet industry complex I was so desperate to leave behind (further proving my point of how fatphobic our culture is/was, Google picked up the words happy and fat and changed them to UNhappy and fat). As the story goes, I did finally come upon two blogs that forever changed my life and catapulted me into ideas of Health At Every Size, fat acceptance, and its little sister, body positivity.
For YEARS I've been shouting from the rooftops (along with a few others) about how our misogynistic beauty standards - including diet, weight loss and fitness culture - have been oppressing women. Along the way I also kept educating myself (and still do!) about the radical history of the fat acceptance movement, which famously started in 1969 with a Fat-In in Central Park with a group of people who were fed up with the bigotry they'd faced because of their body size. The group went on to become the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and remains an important civil rights organization.
In 1996 The Body Positive was formed, based along the same ideas but with a bit more of a bent toward eating disorder recovery. It is perhaps here that the term "body positivity" and this iteration of the movement came to be. Fast forward twenty or so years and EVERYONE is suddenly "body positive," including every gym, fitness class, "healthy lifestyle" eating program, clothing store, beauty product and person.
And suddenly with the mainstreaming of the radical movement by our consumer culture so many people want to STILL buy into diet culture and still call themselves body positive. To which I call bullshit. Of course you have the right to do whatever you want with your body - that is called body autonomy (which, while an important component of body positivity, is not the same).
This notion that health is somehow in opposition to body positivity is mind-boggling to me. But so is the idea that health MUST be a standard accepted by all. I've also spoken about this about one-hundred times over the past year and a half, in interviews and on radio shows and at public events and in writing. Health is not a moral imperative and is NOT a prerequisite to body positivity. You cannot tell someone's health just by looking at them. And you don't have that much control over your health anyhow. Plus, even if you are unhealthy does that make you any less deserving of love and respect, both from yourself and others? Does that make you less valuable as a human being? Health means something different to all of us and it's important to remember that whole health incorporates many things including mental and emotional health. Shame has never been a motivating factor in better health. But you know what does motivate? Promoting radical body acceptance. Because people often take better care of something they love rather than something they hate. And if you really cared about my health (or that of another person fatter than me) you'd be an active part of this movement. So let's just call this health argument what it really is : fatphobia.
Body positivity is not a feeling, it's a movement. Self-love? That's a feeling. And a really damn good one, I know. And they can go hand in hand but they don't always have to. I've been pretty clear about my stance about body positivity as an integral part of feminism and a radical social justice movement.
It's hard being told that perhaps what you've been taught to believe about bodies all your life might be wrong. That there might be a different way, a better way. That you can opt out of the game because there are no rules and there is no winner. Change makes people angry and is always hard won. And it takes a lot of practice, patience, education, reading and an open mind.
* And as I was writing the first draft of this blog post several days ago a fellow body image warrior Kaila Prins was penning a similar, spot on and poignant piece called Here's Why the Definition of Body Positivity Isn't Up for Debate, which is much like this one only more detailed, eloquent and NAILS IT.
These conversations about the recent co-opting of body positivity have been going on in the feminist activist realm for many months now and I'm stoked to see others speaking up about this hard truth as well. If you're interested in learning more there are many resources linked in this article, under the Resources and Press & Interviews tabs on this website, and always in the Boise Rad Fat Collective on Facebook.
I am building a body of work.
My skin tells stories of resilience and revolution.
I am sensual and scary.
I am damaged and dangerous.
My body is complicated and messy.
I wear marks. I make marks.
I rise. I fall.
I crawl. I climb.
I feed. I grow.
I push the limits.
Body in motion.
Art in action.