What Would You Like To Be Famous For?

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

 Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

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

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

 Courtesy of Dahlton Grover

Courtesy of Dahlton Grover

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

 Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

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

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

 

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

 Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

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

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

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

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

 Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

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

What would you like to be famous for?

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

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