Capital City Public Market

All Bodies Are Good Bodies

In October I was asked to come back to the Capital City Public Market as an important guest bell ringer, banging on a big brass bell to open up the Market. Not only did I get to say a few words on a microphone, but the Market gave the Boise Rad Fat Collective a booth to help spread the word about self-love and to promote body positivity. I was honored and excited to be back on hollowed ground, as I now refer to that spot in the middle of 8th Street between Idaho and Bannock Streets where I shed my dress and my life changed forever. But I wasn't sure, at first, what exactly we'd do with an entire booth.

My friend and fellow Rad Fatty Jenny Wren is a jewelry designer and artist and hand-letters the sweetest greeting cards with poignant messages and cute illustrations. I asked if she'd be willing to draw a coloring page in black and white, one that might be fun for kids and adults alike. We talked a bit about a message and design and she came up with something pretty perfect, as I knew she would, featuring an important mantra in the Boise Rad Fat Collective.

We had a great time in the Market that day, sipping coffee with families who leisurely sat down and shared in our ideas about the value of all bodies. Some of the Tri Delta sorority girls I had just spoken to at Boise State University earlier in the week stopped by to deliver flowers and pass out coloring pages. Grandparents and teachers grabbed a small stack to go to share with loved ones at a later date.

We brought ours home and taped them up on the mirrors in our bathrooms as reminders every morning. And tomorrow, as part of the University of Idaho's first ever Body Positive Week on campus, the students and staff will have a chance to take crayons to Jenny's sweet coloring page again, as it'll be available from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the Idaho Commons building. I understand there'll be other unique ways to support the notion that all bodies are good bodies, pick up some important resources and get a free snack.

I'm super excited to be headed up to Moscow on Wednesday morning myself to give the keynote address for the week later that night at 7pm in the International Ballroom in the Bruce Pitman Center. College students are my favorite group to speak to because I think it's crucial to help foster body positivity at an age where you are learning and growing and becoming your own person. Because I know from experience that negative body image contributes to disordered eating, I'm honored to be part of this week that raises awareness about how to maintain a positive body image no matter your size.

Barbie Bods

Late last week the big news on the Internet was the launch of Mattel's new more body positive Barbie line - new dolls with various skin tones, hair-dos, and sizes, including curvy, tall and petite. The announcement immediately garnered a ton of press, both positive and negative. After decades of feminist criticism of the doll due to her promotion of unrealistic beauty standards, many people were thrilled that Mattel was finally getting with the times and listening to their consumer base. More radical body positive activists cried out that while it was a step forward, it was a tiny baby step, and one further promoting the 'acceptable' plus sized ideal of a size 12 (no fatter, please!) and calling out corporate culture for profiting on the body positive movement.


image courtesy www.usatoday.com

This week the debate has continued, with a Twitter campaign to revamp Ken as well as Barbie, giving him the more realistic "dad bod." While I agree the Ken doll proportions could use a little body positive/realistic upgrade, I find the term "dad bod" harmful and problematic in general.


My kids have never been big into toys at all. Lucy and Alice, as girls, have often received dolls as gifts and while they may play with them for about a week, they ultimately end up long lost at the bottom of a toy box. Barbies especially. They do, however, have a vintage suitcase full of them, most from my 1980s childhood, including one Latina Barbie, one Caribbean Beach Barbie with very dark skin that I bought for Lucy for her 2nd birthday, hoping to diversify her toy box, and at least three Kens with some serious plastic washboard abs.


Mostly these Barbies are naked because, let's face it, those tiny clothes are so damn hard to put on, let alone get off. Many have legs and feet chewed to bits, either by long deceased dogs or teething babies, and several are headless. One 1960s vintage mod Barbie lays lonely in Arlo's nightly bathtub, her slick blonde shoulder length bob floating amidst the bubbles.


Lucy and I were watching our beloved CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend, and they did a quick story about the new body positive Barbie body line. It was brief and to the point and during the next commercial break, my smart 11-year-old daughter turned to me and said,

You know what would be really cool, Mama? If they created a Barbie that looked just like you, and it came with a black bikini, and tiny heart stickers that you could put all over her body. Or three washable markers, so you could draw your own hearts and then wash them off and do it again and again.

image courtesy Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

That, my sweet girl, would be revolutionary, I said.

Barbie's new looks are certainly partly a money-making move in a consumerist culture, but I still think it's a step forward. By diversifying the bodies we see in mainstream media, companies like Mattel are helping make a more body positive visual landscape for our kids, one toy at a time. There is still so much ground to gain, however, so here's to future toy designers and entrepreneurs, marketing gurus and advertising professionals. Let's raise them right so that their future contributions to our consumer culture, or otherwise, may be even more positive.

Bind Them As A Sign, Fix Them As An Emblem

A few months ago I stood silently in a crowded marketplace in Boise, Idaho, in a black bikini, a blindfold, with a chalkboard sign at my feet and three Crayola markers in my hands. I said nothing, but you heard me loud and clear. My silence spoke to your heart and you stood up beside me and said, "Me, too."

I haven't erased the chalkboard since I hand-penned this sentiment four months ago and I just may never.
 
And then I started talking about that hour stand for self-love and telling stories about activists who came before me and the history of dieting and feminist literature and motherhood and sadness and joy and saying yes and saying no more. I've been preaching these things for years and writing about them here in this space, but now more people were hearing them, and media all over the world were sharing my story. The tales were coming out of my mouth and spilling onto the page. My words spoke to your soul and you kept reading and listening and said, "I've got a story, too."

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

One of my favorite posts from the media frenzy when all I could think was OMG THIS LIFE and FUCK YES.
 
Within three weeks of the video going viral my Facebook friend requests maxed out at 5,000. My Instagram followers have gone from 200 to over 2,000. The body positive community in the Boise Rad Fat Collective has grown from 30 to 730. The video stands around 130 million views at this point, making it indeed one of the most viral internet videos of all time. 

Illustration by a young fan and California artist Lexi Lozano, 2015


So many exciting things happened in 2015 to me, because of you. I got courageous and super brave and showed some vulnerability and you did, too. You have written me letters and emails and stop me in public restrooms and call out at the grocery store and share tears. You drew hearts all over my body that day in the market with my daughters' markers and later the sweat and tears and a warm shower washed them all down the drain, only not really. Those hearts have been etched into my own swollen heart and you kept sending them to me on the internet, in words and emoticons. I started drawing hearts with markers on my children each morning, and them on me, because the symbol has become such a powerful reminder of self-love in our home.


In October my friend and Presbyterian minister Marci Glass wrote a sermon about binding as a sign and talked about the mark making that people did on me that day in the market, and how I've continued the practice in my home with Sharpies and my children. That Sunday in church, she told her congregation beautiful stories, as she always does, some about historic body practices and tattooing and one of them was about me:

She said she has started drawing small hearts on her kid’s bodies each day. She says something to them while they eat their cheerios, something like “I believe in you” or “you are valuable”, “when you make a mistake you are still beautiful”. “trust your instincts”, etc.
 

She wrote that it is “something for them to look at while they are away from me, growing and leaning in to their own separate worlds from mine, and remember that they are good and strong and there is no wrong way to have a body.”

She said her children have started returning the gesture, drawing hearts on Amy and on her husband.

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The author of Deuteronomy is asking us to do what my friend does with her family. It doesn’t have to be with sharpies or tattoos. It doesn’t have to be tefilin or prayer shawls. We are called, however, to take these words into our very selves so that we are changed by them.

That day in the market people wrote words, not just hearts, and, like Marci said in church that day, I took those words into my self so that I am changed by them. So, as a reminder, especially for those hard days when things are just HARD, this morning I had one permanently inked.


On this last day of an extraordinary year, a fellow Boise artist whose illustrations and tattoo work I've admired for a decade drew one small heart just on top of those stretch marks on the dimpled fat of my right thigh. A thigh that has never failed me through four decades as I have learned to stand up, walk, run, jump, and kick. A thigh that I exposed to the world in all its imperfections. A thigh that many people examined critically and felt the need to write horrid mean things about, but also that many people felt the need to write heartfelt warm things about. Here's to continuing to expose those thighs, our hearts, and our kindness - to ourselves and each other. I'm planning to continue the revolution in 2016 and I hope you'll join me, because I'm just getting started.

Digital artwork by Boise artist Amy Granger, 2015. She told me that the profiles behind me are the other women I'm inspiring to follow my lead, take my hand, and stand beside me, herself included. So she created this to hang above her desk as a reminder every day, and shared it with all her friends and fans so they could do the same, and I cried my eyes out. Again.
 
There are a few great lists out there written by some amazing activists with suggestions for personal resolutions revolutions in the new year, like this one and this one, with lots of great ideas. One very simple thing you can do for yourself in this new year is take tiny steps toward being more body positive and kind to yourself. And I've got just the place to help you find out how. If you'd like more education, more tips, more kindness, and more love, I encourage you to ask for an add on Facebook to the Boise Rad Fat Collective. And if you're already there (thank you!), add just one friend who you think is ready for more positivity in their lives, who is ready to begin living with an open mind and heart.

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

I'll keep writing and talking and standing, if you promise to keep showing up. As the uber-talented Caroline Caldwell said so eloquently:

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

2015 was spectacular. Let's keep going with the rebellion in 2016.

Get Off

I never thought the day would come when I'd be writing about erections on the internet, but I also never in my wildest dreams thought I'd become famous for standing in a blindfold and my black bikini in Boise in the name of self-love. Life is strange and amazing. And here I am sharing stories of boners and body shaming.

[photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design]
 

As the cumulative views of the video of my stand for radical self-acceptance in August near 130 million, making it one of the most viral videos of all time, the response to my courage and message that all bodies are valuable has been overwhelmingly positive. I've received thousands of emails thanking me for my bravery and compassion. Strangers have told me their stories of self-loathing and eating disorders, surgeries and sadness, joy and healing. The media and people on the street and new fans on the radio have all shared the same sentiment.

[One of my favorite Rad Fatty Merit Badges just received in the mail from UK artist Stacy Bias. Her body positive art celebrates the creativity and resilience of fat folks surviving stigma. ]
 
There have been, though, some people who have felt it their prerogative to share other viewpoints about my stand, my self, and mainly, about my body. The only negative feedback I heard during my hour blindfolded in the marketplace was the word "inappropriate" in reference to how I was dressed from one or two folks in the audience that August afternoon. I later saw in the photos and video footage some serious side-eyes from women giving me leery looks of disdain. The minute my blog post took off and the video reached 50,000 views and the local media picked up the story, though, things changed. Suddenly my story and images of my half-nude 40-year-old mom bod were EVERYWHERE. I was on national media homepages, websites, Twitter, Instagram and all over Facebook. And thus began the hateful vitriol. They made all sorts of assumptions about what kind of mother I must be, how smart I am, where I must be from, what I eat, and how little I obviously exercise and have sex. And most of the negative comments about my physicality have come from men.

Disgusting.
This is what an ugly ass fat bitch who needs to lose some weight looks like.
No one should be proud to have boobs on their back.
Feminists do look like that - fat, ugly and disgusting.
Her legs look like an old awful leather jacket.
What's wrong with her boobs? They're so saggy and look like she's hiding Oreo cookies in there to eat later.
Gross! She needs to keep that cellulite under wraps. She looks like an overripe pear.


Guess what, assholes? YOU JUST PROVED MY POINT.

Conversely, I also have attracted just as vile stuff in private messages, stating the reverse. Notes about how hot I am, how much they'd like to have sex with me or marry me.

I love your sexy legs.
Have you ever considered doing porn? You should, because you're a big, beautiful woman.
I've watched your video over and over and jacked off every time.
Do you have a boyfriend? Because I'd love to show you you're beautiful every day.
What man doesn't appreciate you? I'll help boost your self-esteem.
Girl, you damn hot.
I want to fuck your knees.
You shouldn't feel bad about yourself because you're thick and fine.

Guess what, creeps? YOU ALSO JUST PROVED MY POINT.

All of you who have responded to my performance art piece in these ways are part of the overwhelming majority of people in this country world who need this message so badly. You are, sadly, part of the reason I put myself out there in the first place. Regardless of how I'm dressed (or undressed), you have no right to shame my body.

I am not here for your lack of a boner.

Images of my body placed on the internet do not give you the right to make assumptions about me. This includes selfies, which are often misconstrued as vain and selfish, based on our misogynistic culture. They are especially a popular tool for self-acceptance and challenge the idea that we, as girls and women, need a justification to be seen. I am not asking for you to find me attractive, but I am asking that even if you don't like how I look, you don't deny me the respect of being a valuable human. Like fat activist Kath Read wrote in a blog post recently about this very phenomenon, many men only treat women with respect if they find them attractive.  It’s the Nice Guy phenomenon.  Those men who are only “nice guys” to the women they want to sleep with. Which leads me to this:

I am not here for your boner.

Nor did I stand half-nude in the market because I was desperate for a man to come and save me from my self-esteem woes. I don't need a boyfriend or a good lay or you to tell me that you want to bury your face in my big juicy ass. Not only do I not need it, I don't want it. Your messages are unappreciated and unwelcome, just like your asshole friends up above.

It's never okay to shame women for what we are wearing, or not wearing. Just like a little girl in a spaghetti-strapped tank top is not responsible for "distracting" little boys at school, a big girl wearing a bathing suit in public is not to blame for the bad behavior of big boys with a computer. Mini skirts are not "asking for it" and leggings are not "too revealing." This is not a new game, nor is it a new problem. Women's bodies have been objectified by men for centuries and, in fact, this is not my first experience with horrible male internet trolls, but it has been by far my worst. I have very thick skin and know that it's easy to make rude and unkind and irrational comments on the internet behind the safety of our screen. The horrible things written usually come from fear, lack of education, and self-esteem issues of the writer who is misplacing them onto me, but it still hurts a little. And it makes me angry and fired up.

Big boys all over the world would like to control what I, as a woman, do with my body. But I make the rules. I get the final say. And I will use my blog, my voice, my body, and my clothing (or lack of it) to say it.

[Another of Stacy Bias' Rad Fatty Merit Badges in my collection.] 
 

I glorify love. I glorify happiness. I glorify acceptance. I support health at every size. I support the fact that there is no wrong way to have a body, regardless of gender, age, ability, size, health or nationality. And that you alone have the right to sovereignty on what you do with it, put on it, and put in it. I glorify this one wild and precious life. I support this body.

[This Is What A Feminist Looks Like tee courtesy of the University of Idaho Women's Center]
 

And, since this album has been on repeat in my car for the past few months, it's become a bit of a soundtrack to a revolution, in my mind at least. So, as the badass P!nk says so succinctly what I tried to above:

I'm not here for your entertainment. And you don't really want to mess with me tonight.

Uprising

I emailed Jae West before I took my stand for radical self-love at the Capital City Public Market in August to talk about it. To ask for her blessing in my interpretation, to talk about logistics, to get support, to tell her how inspirational and meaningful her project was. She wrote back with excitement right away, and told me she only stood in Picadilly Circus for about 20-30 minutes. I told her I stood for 50 minutes and could've stayed longer if I hadn't run out of skin to write on and ink in my markers. Very quickly my video went viral and news media from all over the world were calling and texting and emailing and it was being shared everywhere, from NPR's Facebook wall to Alanis Morissette on Twitter. Take care of yourself, Jae told me. Having your motivations and your body picked apart by the world can be very hard emotionally. She spoke from experience.
 
And it has been hard. It's been emotional and amazing, exhausting and exhilarating, scary and stimulating. It's been a ride that has taken me up and down paths I never imagined before, all in the course of a few months time. I have adventures and experiences on the horizon that I never dreamed of before, and I'll be forever grateful for that moment I took a deep breath, centered myself, and took off my dress, just in front of Juniper restaurant and the bakery tent that hot Saturday morning.
 
In addition to people all over the world reaching out to me, from celebrities to news reporters, writers to fathers, I've been so surprised to see women from all over the world rise up in black bathing suits in the name of self-acceptance and demand to be seen, for their imperfect bodies and broken souls, beautiful stories and courageous journeys. 
 

 {photo courtesy The Sudsbury Star}
 
Like Sheila Bianconi in Canada, who suffers from self-esteem issues and 'invisible disabilities' like fibromyalgia and depression.
 
 {photo courtesy of Gabby Allen}
 
And like this group of young women in Roseburg, Oregon, who sent me this photo along with a sweet note:
 
Hi! I just wanted to let you know that you were a big inspiration and source of strength for three of my friends and I. We saw your video and were very moved by it, and decided we'd like to see someone in Roseburg Oregon do the same. Amazingly, we were met with a huge amount of positive reaction. Thank you so much for being you.
 

 {photo courtesy Bustle.com}
 
{photo courtesy Bustle.com}
 
And Mary Ann Conlin, an American living and working in Seoul, South Korea, where there are strict standards of beauty and weight, bringing an interesting perspective as a foreigner to a native audience.
 
{photo courtesy of http://anaptuze.blogspot.com}
 
And this young woman, Zsofi Forras, whose stand in Budapest, Hungary, had the police worried for her safety, and rightfully so, given parts of her story she shared in her blog post:
 
There were a few incidents when I felt like the trust I had put into the public was violated. Somebody rubbed his face on my bottom while taking a picture. Another guy expressed his strong wish to be with me in a more private setting after drawing two dicks on me with his friend. He wouldn’t leave even though I made it clear how uncomfortable he was making me feel. Another man stuck a pen between my thighs. As I winced he pulled it back and asked if he could draw testicles on me. I asked him not to and he left.  
 
 
And this woman, who at 250 pounds, stood in a leopard print bikini downtown Chicago just last week, sharing in the message of no body shame.
 
It may be this unique video take on the radical stance of self-acceptance, though, by high school student Genny Zuniga, that is my favorite thus far.
 

 
There are probably dozens more stands for self-love that I have yet to hear of or that are still in the works. I can't think of a more beautiful legacy to the project. Here's to ARMIES OF WOMEN IN BLACK BIKINIS from all corners of the world rising up from the ashes of a society profiting from our self-doubt, standing alongside me and Jae, and saying, "US TOO." 

{photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design}

Drawing Hearts


Immediately after my stand for self love at the Capital City Farmers Market ended, I wanted to look at my body to see what words were written and take in all the loving hearts people made with markers on my body. As I had used washable Crayola markers from my daughters' art kit, some of the marks were already being lost due to sweat running down the rolls of fat on my back and in between my legs. It was nearly 90 degrees that late August afternoon, and, as we stood in the alley, Melanie captured much of the words on film while we basked in the glow of tears and humanity and joy over the love we had just witnessed.
 
 
As I got home, I stood naked in front of the mirror in my bathroom and looked lovingly upon the canvas that was my body that day. My husband, Eric, read off the words to me that people had written while I scrawled them quickly on the back of a public library checkout receipt. I dreaded taking a shower and losing the feeling of those felt tips on my skin, the warmth of a revolution.
 
 
Soon after my blog post dropped with the video that has now gone viral and been viewed cumulatively nearly 115 million times around the globe, I began replying to the messages of love that began pouring in to my email, Facebook messenger account, Instagram, blog comments and more with simply a heart emoticon. To me, that heart - the simple symbol I'd asked people to draw with a child's marker on my skin and the one I can push a button to leave on any social media post - had become the symbol of the rebellious body love revolution.
 
It turns out others felt the same way. So many of you responded to me that you shared in my message of self-love and were fed up with a society that profits from our self-doubt. You told me how you would've drawn a heart on me if you would had been there (including a handful of celebrities like KEVIN BACON OMG), and sent me the emoticon as your heart for my body and my message.
 

It may be the piece that fat activist and deputy editor at xoJane magazine Lesley Kinzel wrote about my radical art performance that really hit the nail on the head about the hearts. I recommend reading her article in its entirety, but at the end she sums it up with this:
 
She changes the framework, she stands up with confidence and a blindfolded smile and invites them to comment in the context of her own struggle for self-acceptance, and in the shock of this unfamiliar ground, they can only respond with love. They are kind, with no strings attached.
 
What if we looked at everyone around us with such care all the time? What if that was how we looked at ourselves? What a home for all bodies we would build, if only we could be psychically drawing hearts on one another’s skin every time we looked at each other.
 

 
A few days after I ceremoniously washed the marker from my body and watched it swirl pink and purple and blue down the drain and forever into my soul that hot August afternoon, I began drawing hearts on my children. Daily, we get out the Sharpie marker, and as a reminder that all bodies are good bodies, we say something kind to one another and each other, and draw a heart.
 
I believe in you.
You are valuable.
You are interesting.
You are beautiful.
When you make a mistake you are still beautiful.
Your body is your own.
You have say over your body.
You are creative.
Trust your instincts.
Your ideas are worthwhile.


 
I usually pick one of these affirmations each day to say while I look in their eyes or over a bowl of Cheerios. And then I draw a small simple heart. Something for them to look at while they are away from me, growing and leaning in to their own separate worlds from mine, and remember that they are good and strong and that there is no wrong way to have a body. And you know what? They've started doing it back - to me, to their father. Drawing hearts on us and their siblings, reminding us all that every time we look down at a little pen scribbled heart on our skin to follow our own.
 
You are capable.
You are deserving.
You are strong.
You can say no.
Your choices matter.
You make a difference.
Your words are powerful.
Your actions are powerful.




40 for 40

On August 1st I was at the city pool with a very dear friend talking about how I'd be turning the big 4-0 in less than two months time and how I should probably do something epic. Or go on a major vacation. Or buy something spectacular. Instead, I started thinking about how it might be sweet to do forty things. Tiny but beautiful things with people I loved. So I started to make a list under the newly discovered NOTES feature of my iPhone (yes, I'm a bit of a luddite).




My friend contributed his idea to start my 40 for 40 list, so #1 on my list reads, "Go out for a tiki drink with Zac" at a fun Boise bar we love, dressed in our greatest tiki attire, celebrating a kitschy era we appreciate. From there, the list grew to include things like having coffee with my friend Rachel, seeing Brandi Carlile in concert with a few of my favorite ladies, taking my eleven-year-old daughter Lucy to the fanciest French patisserie in town, having my first solo art exhibition, entering my herbs and garlic in the state fair, and browsing the feminist art section at Rainbow Books.



After a summer busy with camping and late night patio parties, I wanted to enjoy one last hurrah to my favorite season with our annual backyard movie night littered with neighbors and friends. I wanted to try paddleboarding with my daughters for the first time and wear fishnet tights and my FAT BABE pin while riding my bike in Tour de Fat. I infused my own vodkas to make a new signature cocktail, had ice cream cones at Fanci Freez, sexted (AHEM) my husband, and found the new baby anteater at Zoo Boise riding on his mama's back.

 
 
Sometime around August 15th, I saw (my new friend) Jae West's video go viral for all the best reasons and thought about it hard with all my fat activist and feminist thoughts and talked about it with some of the best people and came up with a plan which read, in simple non-sensational text in the NOTES section of my iPhone as #2 on my list, "body positive performance art downtown."

{photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}

Little did I know that my small subversive and personal experiment, one of the 40 things I should do before I turned 40, was to become one of the most life-altering and amazing accomplishments of my time here on this earth. I'm so damn proud of what we've achieved together in the body positive movement over the past month. We have ignited a revolution of love in honor of ourselves and each other.


{photos courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}
 
People are often saddened by the thought of turning forty, scared of what being middle-aged means. I say, 40 MIGHT JUST BE MY BEST YEAR YET. Tomorrow, September 25th, I celebrate 40 spectacular trips around the sun and look forward to an even brighter future, given the way we've changed the world, my friends. Thanks for the best birthday present a girl could ever imagine.

On Being Brave

I was told so many times during the near hour stand for self-love at the Capital City Public Market in Boise that I was brave. People whispered it to me and wrote it on my skin with the washable Crayola makers I'd taken from my daughters' art kit. And I've thought about that word a lot lately.

 
For me, wearing a bathing suit in public isn't that brave anymore. (Trust me, it used to be.) My bikinis are comfortable and functional and well-used. They allow me to ride waterslides with my daredevil seven-year-old Alice and allow me to pee with one hand in public pool bathrooms while clutching one-year-old Arlo in the other to keep him from licking the nasty concrete floor.

Something else I wore that day that did make me feel brave, though. That black blindfold (which is really a 1960s rayon belt from my killer stash of vintage clothing) was laden with meaning and putting that on felt courageous. To me, the blindfold represented many things. First, it made me even more vulnerable than I already was. Second, by obscuring my face, it made me more anonymous, so that the viewer could look at my body and see in it their body, any body and every body. And lastly, the black blindfold represented the way that TV and print media have often used black bars to cover the faces of fat people, taking away their humanity by showcasing them as nothing more than a body to be reviled.


Two weeks ago my friend and art partner, Melanie, and I hit publish on a little blog post and a Vimeo video that has now made it's way into hearts and screens around the world. And pushing that button - sharing one of the most raw, pure, honest and inspirational things I've ever been part of with the world - that felt brave to me. It's been picked up by press globally now, and I've been on the television, radio, newspapers, magazines, websites, and more, and the positive message of radical self-acceptance continues to touch people, including celebrities. Melanie's stunning video was edited to shorter versions by both HLN and BuzzFeed, and their cumulative reach has been over 100 million at this point. I'm humbled and honored and amazed and moved to tears several times a day by this overwhelming positivity and belief that all bodies are good bodies.


But, truthfully, the most brave people in this body positive project are you. You have stood up with me, through your messages that are flooding my inbox and Facebook wall and Instagram and my ears and said, "ME TOO." You have shared stories of incredible sadness and joy, love and shame, fear and change.

Because you know, like I do, that opening your heart and your healing to the world can be pretty brave, too.

.....

I have struggled with body image since 3rd grade when a very loving teacher-- in a grandmotherly way, nicknamed me BB for bubble butt. But word got out to classmates and it was fat shaming the rest of my school days. Diet pills and extremely painful liposuction got my 5'2" frame down to a "healthy" BMI and 125lbs two years ago. But with incredible stress and family concerns, I'm now at 175. I struggle with wearing clothes since I am convinced I'll be losing 25lbs "very soon." I heard once, "There are worse things I could be other than fat." I believe that. I'm a mom, wife, teacher, friend, photographer, daughter, . . . . other amazing things. But-- I still struggle. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for being strong.

.....

I, like many people, was very moved by your video and it impacted me greatly. A few years ago I lost some weight and started running 5ks. I got fit. At that time I was contemplating leaving a miserable marriage. Well, I made the decision and divorced my husband of 25 years and moved back to Massachusetts where my family lives. I met a great guy and settled in to a happy life. With that came carefree meals out, and a 25 pound weight gain. Never been happier, but very angry with myself for letting all my hard work go. I start a new job Monday and have been dreading clothes shopping. I am short and stocky and it's hard to find clothing that I feel doesn't make me look fat. So yesterday I went into a clothing store and found a few pieces to try on. I stripped down to my bra and panties and it was the first time I saw my reflection and was shocked at my weight gain. Immediately your video came to mind. I played it back in my mind. Slowly my shock shifted to love and admiration for this body that has served me so well, carried a baby. I proudly tried on outfit after outfit, sizes larger than I was before, but I was okay with that. I found pieces that are flattering and are my style and I left the stores very proud. I would like to get back into running but I want to do it for the right reasons with weight loss being a side effect, not a main reason. It's good for my mind. Thank you for posting your video. You truly helped me overcome a lot of insecurities.

.....

 My 16 year old and I were discussing/watching your blog when over my shoulder I heard the soft sniffles of my tender, introspective twelve year old. She sat next to me, read your post, and together we cried over your video. She then shared how she had recently started restricting her food and hearing the inner critic get louder in her head that her body was not enough. Thank you!!!! Thank you!!! Your example was a bridge to my daughter's soul....and this momma couldn't be more grateful!

.....

I've struggled with loving my [male] body for as long as I can remember. I particularly became aware of how much I disliked my body in the 8th grade. I've binge eaten. I've starved myself. I've purged. I've been fat. I've been skinny. I've been fit. And I've been fat to fit again and again. There isn't a day, even now, that I don't wake up and dislike what I see in the mirror. Why? I don't know. I have a beautiful family who loves me. I lead a happy life. I exercise daily. My diet isn't always clean, but it's not exactly atrocious, either. I don't know if I'll ever come to love my body, but this very moving, and touching video is a fantastic reminder that every(body) is beautiful.

.....

You are my hero. This morning I watched the stand for body self-acceptance you took with the tears flowing freely, tragically and ironically into my drink full of Garcinia Cambogia to curb my appetite with the hope of changing my curvy stretch-marked body with its rolls and thighs that touch. It is a body cloaked in shame and wracked with self-doubt that began with the body messages I received before I ever took a step outside my family home. I struggle everyday to love the body I inhabit and the voice that resides inside. My need to accept myself is a must for myself and even more for my five year old daughter. Your powerful message needs to be seen and heard by every woman I know, as not one has ever looked in the mirror without a critical eye. I hope that one day I will grow to have even half of your strength and bravery. You are an inspiration!

.....

I wanted to just say that as the father of a four year old little girl the world needs more role models like you. You are brave, amazing and beautiful! I know that the world is not always kind and that my daughter will struggle to find her place, but seeing you stand up and put yourself out there and to see the response that other had to what you were doing gives me a small modicum of hope.
 
.....
 
I experienced as a young teen that my value had very little to do with my brain and talent & much more to do with my waist size, caloric intake, and number of hours I spent at the gym. I neglected the things I loved about myself and made "self improvement" my focal point. It did not take long before I was under the thumb of an obsessive eating disorder that controlled my life well into my twenties.
I look back at that little girl and I want to give her a hug and some advice : Be good to yourself first. Recognize the greatness that you are. Don't waste time on shitty people. To thine own self be true.
I cannot thank Amy Pence-Brown enough for being a champion of all people who've struggled with their worth and place in this crazy world. Show this video to everyone you know and tell them you love them and how amazing they are.

.....

Greetings from Malaysia. I'm a 28 year old female. I have always been insecure about my stretch marks and cellulite. I would never wear shorts or bikini in public. I'm even scared that my husband would feel repulsed after seeing my body (I just got married 1 month ago), but it was totally the opposite. He didn't mind at all. In fact he accepts me fully and he said he feels honoured that I'm willing to trust him and show my body. He said he still finds me sexy no matter what. Your video also inspires me to love myself first. So thank you so much!

.....

You are beautiful. I just watched your video and cried my eyes out. BEAUTY HAS NO SIZE. Every woman is beautiful. People in this world are so judgmental. They judge you on how much you weigh or how you look.  I have been so scared for 6 years to walk in public. I'm 14 and when I was 7 I had a ruptured brain aneurysm and stroke. I now have Dystonia. I have been so scared to go anywhere because I already get bullied at school because of my disability. I have been scared of others looking at the way I walk. This year, my first year of high school. I am not afraid anymore. Bullies wanna bully me, have at it because I am who I am.. I am blessed to still be here. God made us all different and we are supposed to love each other.

.....

Brené Brown would say you are Daring Greatly. Show Up, Be Seen, Live Brave. As a 65 year old Idaho gal, your risking has reminded me that I am worthy of love and belonging.

.....

And, speaking of professor and author Brené Brown, here's a little something else she wrote:

"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weaknesses." She also calls her tribe "brave truth-tellers and daring shit-starters," which couldn't more adequately describe you all.

Thank you for holding my hand and standing next to me and being rebellious. I like this shit we're startin'. xo


{all photos & video by the lovely, talented, witty, badass Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design}

A Stand For Self Love

Two years ago I started this private group on Facebook called the Boise Rad Fat Collective. We're a secret society of super-sized feminazis who can't get laid and sit around complaining about our ugly clothes while eating Big Macs and cake.

RRRRIIIIIGGHT.

That's not at all what our group is about, despite what Internet trolls and mean people would like to believe. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. We're a group of socially engaged Idahoans of all shapes and sizes who are fed up with mainstream media and society telling us what a valuable body should do\be\act\look like. And while it started with just a handful of my best strong female friends, it's expanded now to include people I've never met (even though we do try to plan regular meet-ups in real life). And generally speaking, we're a positive bunch who share lots of news on cutting-edge literature and scientific studies and fun films and personal stories, while being supportive and thoughtful in our Facebook wall discussions (gasp!). New members are always welcome and, no, you don't have to be fat to join in nor do you have to live in Boise, but you do have to be respectful and smart and adhere to one basic concept - that all bodies are good bodies.

(PSST! And most of us have sex. On a regular hot basis.)

.....

Two weeks ago this video by The Liberators International went viral. The Liberators are a group out of Australia whose mission is to involve people in participatory acts of freedom that allow us to see that beyond our differences there is love and humanity. If you haven't already seen it, you can do so by clicking my link above, but, in a nutshell, it's a moving social experiment where a young Liberator named Jae West sheds her clothing in London's busy Picadilly Circus, armed with markers, a sign, and a blindfold, asking people to draw hearts on her body if they share her promotion of self-acceptance, after overcoming an eating disorder. She has now been interviewed extensively about the importance of the project and how terrifying and exhilarating standing alone half-nude was for her, and the outpouring of humanity that has followed it.

My friend Angie and I posted a link to the video to the Rad Fat Collective and we all agreed it was a powerful performance art piece, and discourse ensued. How would it be received if the woman had been less socially acceptable in appearance, like, fat? And, say, a mom who's nearly 40-years-old? And in a place that was more conservative and less progressive than London like, say, Boise, Idaho? Turns out, we weren't the only people asking these questions and talking about this important project of West's - the alternative media was, too. So, I made a (GULP) plan and asked another one of my friends in the Collective (who also happens to be a professional photographer), Melanie, to document it.


We picked a date (Saturday August 29, 2015) and one of the most pedestrian-rich locations in the city (the Capital City Public Market downtown Boise) at the busiest time of day (noon). I decided to wear a black bikini instead of a bra and undies (conservative Boise) and changed the text on my sign to read something a little different and pertinent to me. I decided to tell no one except the Rad Fat Collective that this was happening, as the idea of leaving the experience organic and up to chance, rather than fill the audience with known body positive activists and friends, was more appealing. Everything seemed in order and to fall into place quickly.

Until my nerves set in.

.....

I woke up Saturday morning after a fitful night's sleep and puked. And bloated with horrid cramps. And a raging period. (Hey, Donald Trump! MAD MENSTRUATING WOMAN ON A MEANINGFUL MISSION ALERT!). And I was terrified. I was scared that I might get asked to leave by the police or that people would yell terrible things at me or that no one would draw a heart on my body and I'd stand there alone and crying for minutes that felt like hours.

Well, none of that came true. Except for the crying part.

.....

I let the farmers' market director (who happens to be a friend of mine) know what we were staging about an hour before the event. Not only did I have her support, she suggested I stand in the middle of the busiest spot of the market, that she would handle any negative feedback or complaints, and could she borrow a marker to draw a heart on me now in case she missed the performance? It was probably with that first heart that I knew this was gonna be good. I had no idea just how good it was about to get.

.....

Melanie set up her camera, Angie was my ear on the ground, and I hit my spot, barefoot, and stripped off my dress. The hush in the crowd around me was instantaneous and I barely had time to tie on my blindfold, prop up my sign and grab my markers before the first woman rushed up to me, touched my hand with her shaky one, told me I was brave and powerful and asked if she could give me a hug and started to cry. And then I cried, too. But I could tell she didn't just draw a heart on my body. She wrote a word. In fact, by the end of my fifty minutes of continuous public support, there were dozens of words that covered my body, and even more hearts.


Badass
Love
THANK YOU
Hope
Strong
Awesome
God Bless You
You are beautiful
You Rock
Divine
Stand Strong
I Love Me
You look great
Power
Amazing
You are gorgeous
Big Love
Inspire


You'll see all this in these photos and the video - that the hugs continued, as did the tears, a flower was placed by a young man at my feet, I got a kiss on the cheek and an ice cold lemonade left by my side for when I was done. And, undoubtedly, like me, you will also see other things in these photos - the sweat running down my rolls of back fat, cellulite (on strong legs that have carried me for four decades), a wonky bikini top with sagging breasts (that nourished three babies), stretch marks (that represent my transition from a chubby adolescent to a curvy teenager to a woman who's been pregnant four times), and darkly tanned skin (from a summer spent at the Boise Public Pools with my friends and my children).


The most important things about this performance, though, are the ones you can't see.

The personal stories of struggle.

The dad who stood in front of me with his two young sons and knelt down to tell them to "this is what a beautiful woman looks like."


Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts.

Old women who know life moves too preciously fast to hate themselves any longer.

Teenaged girls who ran up to me afterward as I was walking down a side street to tell me I'm an inspiration and a role model.


One woman came back to me several times during my nearly hour long stand for self love. While you can feel the people who are writing words of encouragement and faith on your body, what you can't see are all the lives you are touching by just existing in this space, she said. All these people that are stopping to look at you and read your sign and watch the rest of us? You've reached them all in ways unimaginable.



And the twentysomething man who stood behind me and whispered, The effects of what you are doing here are far reaching. It's absolutely amazing. The power of this moment will go on and in ways you never thought possible. You are changing more lives than you know.


Oh, Boise, you restored my faith in humanity, you blew my mind with your kindness, you saw the beauty in my body and your own. You are ready for a body positive revolution, and I'm honored to stand by your side. Take my hand, if you need, and I'll pull you up.


We can't truly love one another until we fully love ourselves. And once we do, I guarantee, that together we can move mountains.



Radical Self-Acceptance: The Stripped-Down Body Postivity Experiment from Melanie Flitton Folwell on Vimeo.
 

{all photos & video by the lovely, talented, witty, badass Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design}
 
*UPDATED TO ADD LINK LOVE FROM PRESS AROUND THE WORLD
 
 
BuzzFeed (story)
BuzzFeed (video)
Mamalode magazine, Fall 2015, Positively
The Dr. Oz Show, November 23, 2015
Beauty With Plus, Hungarian blog & accompanying newssite
All Bodies Are Good Bodies - Good To Know UK guest writer, January 2016