body acceptance

Reclaiming My Time

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

Behold the many talents of the big booty.

Behold the many talents of the big booty.

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

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

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

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

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

Like the Washington Post wrote soon after the incident:

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

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

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

Here's to reclaiming my time from the internet trolls

Reclaiming my time from those who spend theirs tearing me down

Reclaiming my time from feeling shame over my cellulite

Reclaiming my time from feeling like an imposter

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

From not asking for what I’m worth

From saying yes too much

Reclaiming my time from seeing unwanted penises and predatory sexual contact

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

Reclaiming my time from what others think about me

Reclaiming my time from the guilt of motherhood

Reclaiming my time from diet culture and healthism

Reclaiming my time from other women’s internalized misogyny

Reclaiming my time from keeping up appearances

From striving for perfection

From pretending to be something I’m not

From exercising out of fear

From hiding my body to make others comfortable

Reclaiming my time in the sun and the dirt

Reclaiming my time in a bikini

Reclaiming my time in the kitchen

Reclaiming my time in the yoga studio and in the foothills

Reclaiming my time in the bathtub with my books

Reclaiming my time in front of the camera

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

Reclaiming my time in 20 second hugs

Reclaiming my time in my head and my heart

 

 

 

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.

Write Your Own Obituary

Last summer I was asked by the Boise Public Library to teach a "write your own obituary" workshop for their November Death in the Library series. As you may or may not know, I have some unique qualifications that make me the ideal person for such a job. 1) I used to work with dead bodies at a funeral home in Oregon 2) I went on to study the history of American death culture in graduate school AND wrote my thesis on the architecture of the American funeral home 3) I was hired by Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis to give art historical walking tours and I continue to give walking tours around Boise cemeteries and 4) I'm a writer.

But most importantly, not on this list, I'm a human and I'm a mother, two things that have made me even more aware of my own mortality.

A week or so ago one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, wrote this status update on her Facebook page, inquiring about the thoughts about death from all her fans:

At what point did you start seriously contemplating your own mortality? I mean in a real way. At what point in your life--if you have indeed reached this point in your life (some of you likely have not and some perhaps will never reach it) did the actual, vivid understanding that you and anyone you love may very well die today? I walked around in a cloud of never-imagining until my mom died. And then--every single day since then, since I was in a kid in COLLEGE--I've had the ...active, present thought that I or someone I love might die today. Today. It's not a neurotic fear thing. It's not a horrible monster that rules my life. I don't make decisions based on this feeling. It's simply an awareness of a presence and that presence is the stone cold fact of our mortality. Is it weird to have this daily awareness or do you also have this daily awareness? Is this awareness unique to people who were close to people who died young? (It would in some ways seems so.) Do you have this feeling even if you've not lost someone young? If you're a parent, did this feeling come/increase when you became a parent? Does this post feel utterly foreign to you because you hardly think of your own (or anyone's) mortality at all and you think I'm a mad hatter? I'm curious. I've always wondered.

For me, becoming a mother has made me so aware of this tenuous line between life and death that we all walk daily. Like Cheryl, I don't obsess over it (usually....unless I hear sirens within the 10 minutes my husband has left our house to bike to work or my kids have left our house to walk to school two blocks away because I am a bit neurotic and anxiety-ridden and please say YOU DO THIS TOO RIGHT), but it's something I'm constantly aware of.

I have had two miscarriages in the past three years and I've written about them before, often during October, which is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Making and growing babies is a miracle, as all mothers can attest to. Things can go so wrong in such an instant and in so many ways, that we are the luckiest - those of us with children who are down the street at elementary schools and sleeping in cribs in the other room. Honestly, birthing my dead babies into a toilet felt more like giant chunks of my heart just fell out of my body and, maybe, to the rest of the world I could just flush it away but to me, it clings and swells and informs every moment of my life since. I imagine that's the case with all deaths of those close to us, and although people experience grief in such diverse ways, it likely informs every moment of life after.

My writing workshops in November were amazing and the most thought-provoking conversations came up, about how obituaries tell specific stories of our lives, depending on who writes them. If they are funny, is that trivializing the intense pain of losing someone and downplaying the ritual? If we gloss over the hard or negative parts of the deceased's life is that preserving a false memory? When a person is gone, do we care where they went to college or worked or do we want to read more about how they grew the most beautiful roses in town and changed minds with their activism?

I set a goal for myself to write my own obituary as practice before the end of 2015, but I was too busy living and enjoying life to sit down with pen and paper and take on such a serious task. But also? It felt so solemn and scary to write my own obituary at the age of 40. And then I started thinking that, as a writer and a blogger, I have put so many words out into the world at this point, and that those words - THESE WORDS - are a true testament to my life story. I am, in effect, writing my own obituary on the reg.

At the age of 25 I became the only female mortician's assistant to pick up dead bodies at night for a small funeral home in Corvallis, Oregon. It was as weird and dark as it sounds. In fact, it may be even weirder and darker than you could ever imagine. I recently told some of these sad and heartbreaking, gruesome and hilarious tales as a celebrity storyteller for Starry Story Night for the theme 'departure' here in Boise - a fun public storytelling event at the Boise Contemporary Theater. So, instead of writing my body removal tales, I'll let you listen, because sometimes actions speak louder than words and sometimes it's better expressed in spoken word.

And sometimes it's all of these things and moments and living so much life while always on the verge of death that makes us beautifully human. So whether or not you put fingers to a screen and write or stand in front of an audience and talk or hug your kids or run up mountain trails or knit fingerless gloves or bake cakes or fix cars, we are all writing our own obituaries.

Make yours one worth reading.

** It's about 15 minutes long and you might not want to 1) have your kids in the room and 2) be eating your lunch - just fair warning. You may also want to have a tissue handy, because the audience cried, and so did I.


The Year of My Best Body

These past few months I've gotten to know some of the leaders in the body positive movement better, women who have helped pave the way before me and continue to inform and inspire. Chrystal Bougon is the owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie in California, a shop that not only sells plus-sized lingerie, but offers a supportive atmosphere for women of all sizes to reclaim and celebrate their sexuality. Yesterday she put forth a call for photographs from people of all shapes and sizes showing off our "best body" in response to Oprah's body shaming Weight Watchers commercials where she calls for finding that inner thin woman and shedding the weight for "your best body" in 2016.  Chrystal got angry, and rightfully so, and wrote this great rant on Facebook about this particular commercial yesterday:

What got me really fired up again about this #oprah #weightwatchers debacle is I caught the end of American Idol last night and there's Oprah telling me to try to have my #bestbody in 2016. All of those talented and excited young people watching American Idol hearing the message that even Oprah feels like she needs to diet down to be the best version of herself. That breaks my heart for all of the people who are ages 10 to 25 who are super impressionable and watching AI and who are going to think - wow, Oprah has given away more money in her life than I will ever even earn in a lifetime .... and she still can't seem to love her body. That fires me up. My 12 year old self watching this super successful accomplished woman peddling a diet that only works for 3% of people. And, a person who has EVERY SINGLE RESOURCE KNOWN to HUMANS, yet her body is still something she is trying to "find" the best version of. 
 
And literally almost in the same instant another body love badass, Adiba Nelson, published an article for Ravishly on the exact same subject titled "Thanks But No Thanks, Oprah #DitchTheDiet2016" in which she writes:
 
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for changing habits for your health, if that’s what you feel you want to do/need to do. But because we’re all thinking, breathing, non-idiotic human beings, we know that body size/shape, numbers on the scale, and health are not mutually exclusive.
 
Fitting into last summer’s skinny jeans does not shield you from a heart attack, just like tipping the scales at 205 pounds does not mean you can’t climb 17 flights of stairs in under five minutes or cycle 12 miles in under an hour or still look fly as hell in a size-16 wedding gown — ALL OF WHICH I DID IN MY BEST BODY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MISS O.
 

And pretty soon all three of us amazing fat warriors are writing on the same Facebook thread about this debacle and I'm sharing my open letter to Oprah and we're all answering Chrystal's call to share our favorite photos for the hashtag #bestbody2016. I sent her this image, because it certainly exemplifies my best body: a forty-year-old mother whose saggy breasts, cellulite, stretch-marked skin, silver streaks, heart, soul, vulnerability and courage are showing.
 
courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design
 
We all know as grown adult women that Oprah can do whatever she wants, and that she alone has sovereignty over what is right for her own body. That being said, she's got so much power over what other people think, especially impressionable young people. And she's got a lot to gain from peddling a product that has an over 90% failure rate, ensuring that its customers keep coming back and spending their money. She's profiting off making other people feel bad about how they look and (apparently) isn't required by law to disclose the fact that she owns 10% of the stock in Weight Watchers, despite being it's new spokeswoman and apparent enrollee (again).
 
Mostly, though, I take issue with the fact that in these two Weight Watchers commercials she makes claims that "inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be" and "let's let 2016 be the year of our best bodies."
 
Because you know what? There is not, and never has been, a skinny girl inside me dying to get out. There is only a fat fabulous feminist who is strong and smart and proud. I had a pretty damn good 2015, but 2016? It's gearing up to be the year of my best body yet, all 209 happy pounds of it.
 

Potty-Mouthed Mother Of The Year

This past weekend I came across this article written about me in September. I am still unearthing loads of press and websites and blog posts and Facebook mentions on business pages about my stand for self-love. Google Alerts hasn't been able to keep up for months, but I love this organic way of stumbling upon them or having people send them to me. They all touch my heart and make me proud.

But this one? BOOM.


Mother of the Year? My heart didn't just swell, IT EXPLODED.

In the article the author Kelly Bryant states, "In this age where bullying and negativity doesn't just happen in person, but anonymously all over the Internet, body positivity and self-love have become two of the biggest concerns parents have regarding their children." And she's absolutely right. Mothers (and I would argue fathers as well) may be the single greatest influence on their children's body image and self-esteem. (Don't just take it from me, doctors and scientists corroborate.) These kids of ours, both our daughters and sons, they listen when we tell them their bodies are strong and able and good and perfect as-is. They also listen to what we say in front of them, about ourselves and other people, and take it to heart. Not only are they aware that they are physically a part of us and love us just the way we are, they internalize everything we say. Especially right now, at the start of a new year, with January bringing out body shaming talk and resolutions to change physical appearance, we need to be so careful with our words.

"Ugh, that sweater makes him look fat."
"Well, she is dressed sort of slutty."
"Look at these love handles."
"No way am I putting on a bathing suit with these thighs."
"I can't have dessert tonight because I already ate a muffin at breakfast."
"I probably gained five pounds after eating Christmas cookies last week."
"We need to run this mocha off tomorrow."
"These jeans make me look so fat!"
"That haircut is really not flattering for her round face."

Image courtesy of www.amightygirl.com

This past weekend I also spent hours worrying and crying and yelling and, finally, hours on the Internet scouring resources to help us parent a child that was recently diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder with severe Hyperacusis. Part of that diagnosis means that she is neurologically wired differently than most of us and hears sounds many, many decibels higher than we do, making her ears very sensitive to noise and causing her ear pain to the point of making her physically ill. The other part of the diagnosis means that she is sometimes volatile and angry, sad and sensitive, overly active and falls down a lot, difficult and amazing, exhausting and terrific. All parts of the diagnosis have been hard in so many ways for our little family. This past weekend we put together an Anti-Anxiety Kit and ordered essential oils and crafted up a Calm Down Jar. The jar is handmade from glitter, glue, a Lego guy and water. I thought, how hard can this be? Um....

Hers.


Mine. (Pinterest fail, anyone? Whatever it looks like, it seems to be helping her.)

This past weekend I also bought tickets for a mama daughter date to Sights and Sounds of Cuba, an afternoon performance of Flamenco, piano, guitar, singing, drumming, and images of Cuban art. For my Lucy's 6th grade class project she's doing research all semester on the country. We've been having so much fun exploring Cuba from Boise along with her, from eating fried plantains and cubano sandwiches at Casablanca Cuban Grill just up the road, scrolling through a friend's photos and watching videos of her belt out jazz in Spanish at Cuban nightclubs, and checking out all the travel and history books on the country that our public library has to offer.


This morning I woke up to sad news that the beloved musician and artistic genius that was David Bowie had died at the age of 69 after a 18-month battle with cancer. I read this really sweet article once called "10 Things All Teenage Girls Should Know" by Caitlin Moran and the suggestions were so perfect - about beauty and sorrow and fear and being true to yourself. #9, though, really hit home today. Doing things differently, challenging the norm, standing out, and being brave sometimes really can change the world. We can be heroes, indeed, as Bowie sang in the 1977 song of the same title.

Image courtesy of www.bookofsuccess.tumblr.com

And while I was lamenting the loss of this treasure to the world and Facebooking on my phone and simultaneously trying to get dressed, Arlo grabbed an empty pint glass, dipped it into a toilet full of my old pee and filled it up. A toilet that I hadn't flushed all night long because 1) it wastes water 2) no way in hell am I risking waking the baby 3) I'm lazy. And then?

HE DRANK IT.

I didn't catch him until after a gulp or two (please please please let that be all he drank) and screamed, "OH FUCK! NOOOOOOO!" to which I completely startled him and he dropped said full cup of pee and it splattered ALL OVER MY ENTIRE BATHROOM.

(Which is a bigger parenting fail, screaming the f-word at my baby or letting him drink my urine? You decide.)

I won some and I lost some this past weekend, and every weekend for that matter. Mother of the Year? Probably not. But I do think that my stand for self-love was a huge win - for me, for my children, for all of you. So is being careful how I talk about my body and others' bodies, prohibiting food shaming conversations, being brave, taking risks, and showing my weird true colors to the world. Taking the time to do research on Cuba with my 6th grader is another "good mama" mark I can make. Yelling and flailing around a special needs child with a complicated diagnosis and swearing and letting my baby guzzle my piss? Prooooooobbbbbably not award-worthy parenting.

I don't know what I'm doing most of the time, but damn it, I TRY. I'm still figuring this out.

So instead of Mother of the Year, how about:

She's Trying Really Damn Hard

or

Sometimes Fucking Up But Really Doing Pretty Good

It may be the best I can hope for.

FOODIE : Shame Free Food Resolutions

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that we live on a little urban farmette in the heart of Boise, where we raise chickens, have a garden, and cook from scratch. My husband, Dr. Brown, is not only a chef extraordinaire, but grew up tending to a huge backyard garden. He taught me to love things like curry and was really the first one to teach me to cook complicated meals from scratch when we first met 18 years ago. That, combined with my indoctrination into radical homemaking seven years ago, has resulted in a love of gardening, growing, and spending time making good food for those I love. I also prescribe to the idea of intuitive eating - eating what I want when I crave it and not assigning any sort of moral value to food. I'm also a sucker for taking on big challenges.
 
 
 
My New Year's Resolution for 2015 was to bring back an old favorite. In 2010, I made the pledge to cook every single recipe in the Pioneer Woman's brand new, and first, cookbook, a la Julie & Julia. I've been a fan of Ree Drummond since way back in her beginning blogging days, and now she's a full-fledged celebrity chef. Six years ago I was super successful in making all fifty-something recipes in her book and it was a treasure and a treat. Many of those recipes are now mainstays in our culinary repertoire. I'm a bit of a Food Network Fangirl (see: the Food Network Cookoff I've hosted every year for the past six years). I'm also a bit of a cookbook hoarder. Combine the two and you've got a kitchen revolution in the making.

For 2015, I decided to take on the challenge of making every single recipe in one of my newer cookbooks. I lobbied for Smitten Kitchen, or maybe Paula Deen's classic, but Dr. Brown won me over with his profound love of PW, so I just completed making all the recipes in her second cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier (2012).

 You guys, there are 109 recipes in this book. ONE. HUNDRED. AND. NINE.



But I did it. It came out to be about 2 recipes per week, which wasn't too difficult to keep up with. What I didn't do well on was the promise to continually blog about our favorites and nopes each month. I did it for a few months, then summer happened, then fame happened, and, well...while I continued to cook, I did not inform you all about it.
 
Ultimately, this cookbook was not as good as PW's first. There were a lot of recipes that we just thought were okay, not great. Admittedly, we're pretty picky with our rave recipe reviews, but still. Our favorites include the three prize winners I made for my annual Food Network Cookoff this year, Billie's Italian Cream Cake, her spicy Asian Hot Wings, and her Herb Crusted Roasted Pork Tenderloin with cornmeal cakes, roasted root vegetables, and preserves. Additionally, we just busted out the final recipes on New Year's Eve, making her homemade donuts for the very first time and OMGYOUGUYS. I highly recommend it if you haven't ever done so. So time intensive, but delicious.
 
A few weeks ago I read this great article by food blogger Lindsey Leahy titled "10 Food Resolutions that Don't Involve Shame."  Her ten ideas are so spot on and simple and things that we've done in our house for the past two decades. They've made our lives richer and eating more fun. Here are just a few, and the ways I've incorporated them into our home.
 

Eat locally.

 
 
Leahy writes about easing into local: Choose one item you love and frequently buy—maybe it’s milk, eggs, chocolate, honey, or coffee—and commit to buying a locally-produced option in the coming year. To make the experiment even more meaningful, resolve to learn more about the artisan or farmer whose food you’re buying and consider visiting his or her farm or shop. This is such a great idea. We love buying a few new vegetables that we don't grow ourselves, like corn, from the kids produce stand at the Boise Urban Garden School (where Arlo loves to smell the flowers in their Pollinator Garden). Trying out restaurants in your town who make burgers from locally sourced beef (like The Skyvue Grill here in Boise did before they shut down) is another way to support local.


Eat seasonally.
 
One of the new garden spaces at the Boise Urban Garden School last spring when they were just planting baby tomatoes and herbs.
 
If you eat with the seasons, your food is going to taste so much better, especially if you're eating vegetables. Tomatoes in the heat of the summer in Idaho are divine, and so much better than the tasteless ones you might buy in the winter at Winco Foods that have been sitting on a truck for weeks making their way up from Southern California. In fact, I hate those so much that we don't eat tomatoes in the winter, with the exception of the ones we roasted, canned, and froze from our own garden this past fall. There are many charts online to what food is grown/caught seasonally in your area which will help with this task. And if you live somewhere in a warm climate where fresh fruit and veggies are seasonal to you all year round DAMN YOU.
  
Learn to cook.
 
My Alice, rolling out the dough to make 48 Pioneer Woman Sweet Orange Rolls this past Thanksgiving. We recycled old aluminum pie pans and gifted several trays to family and friends.
 
You can start simple and easy, like with online recipes that your aunt posts on Facebook or with a simpler chef's cookbook (think Sandra Lee's semi-homemade). Or commit to making just three meals at home per week and planning them out ahead of time. We actually plan dinners for each night of the week on Sundays prior to grocery shopping and buy all necessary ingredients then. Lunches typically consist of leftovers from those dinners, which is perfect. Cooking is such an important lifelong skill and can engage your sense of smell and experimenting with flavor. And once you learn a few tricks and tips by trial and error, you'll be brave enough to take up bigger challenges. I promise, it's worth it.

I made Mel's Kitchen Cafe's amazing crustless pumpkin pie cupcakes for Thanksgiving dessert this year and seriously, I don't think I'll ever make traditional pumpkin pie again.

This summer I made simple syrup from seasonal ingredients from the garden - plums and rhubarb both gifted to me from my father-in-law's garden. It made the best ingredient for summer cocktail parties ever.

We love us some homemade ice cream in our house but the more time intensive egg based vanilla from PW proved to be so worth it.
 
Grow your own food.

 
While cooking your own food is so gratifying, so is growing it. It's amazing science, really. You drop a tiny seed into some dirt, poor lots of water on it, watch, pick, and eat. Seriously, you can't mess this up, people. And you don't even need a big patch of earth. If you've seen photos of our urban farmette, you'll know we grow in flower beds and large pots and have an herb garden Dr. Brown built on top of our chicken run. Seeds are also so cheap. What a satisfying way to eat, and such an important life skill to teach your kids, how to grow their own food. We don't grow that many crops, but sometimes like to try out something adventurous, like peanuts. Typically, we grow lots of things we love and/or that are really expensive to buy at the store, like tomatoes and herbs.
 
This year we experimented with pineapple sage, which smells divine, and, as always, grew tons of our own garlic. I entered both in the Western Idaho State Fair and won a third place ribbon for my garlic braid!
 
Share meals together.
 


Eating with other people is the best way to eat. Leahy has great easy suggestions in her article:

Commit to sharing at least two meals a week with family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Whether it’s a brown-bag office lunch or a three-course dinner party, enjoy your food in the company of people you love.

My favorites are our family dinners each night, which sometimes take place in extraordinary locations like picnic tables atop Idaho mountains outside our remote yurt on camping adventures.

Have a food adventure.

Leahy has some great ideas for a culinary bucket list for 2016:
  • Try a something you’ve never eaten before—a vegetable or fruit, a meat, or a cuisine.
  • Visit a local farm or bakery.
  • Learn a new cooking technique.
  • Learn mise-en-place.
  • Visit that restaurant you’ve heard everyone talking about.
  • Adopt Meatless Mondays for a month.


This suggestion is my absolute favorite of all. I love trying out new things, like mise en place, because it totally jives with my repressed Type A personality need for order in a chaotic life. I got to learn to make these amazing Italian cheese noodles called pasatelli from scratch with my friend Nikki over the holidays. You lovingly feed the dough through a meat grinder and lay them on a cloth tablecloth to dry. It's a day long process that involves lots of eating, drinking, visiting, and sharing stories of Italian grandmothers and traditions and love.

And it brings me to this - my 2016 New Year's Food Resolution to make all 100 recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This is much more intense than PW's so I'm a bit worried, I've made Deb's recipes before, as I've been following her blog for years, and they are always so worth the time and effort. Wish me luck.



In her article, Leahy writes:

We don’t know about you, but we’re tired of shame-based resolutions and the inevitable failure that comes with them. This year, we’re making changes that count—commitments to food as a joy-filled, whole-health promoting lifestyle that connects us to ourselves, our community, and our world.

I couldn't agree more. Food is not your enemy. It is something that can be enjoyable, nourishing, and filled with ritual and ceremony. I can't wait to share more food adventures with my children this year, take handmade meals to new mothers, and deliver cookies to friends for their birthdays. Food can be a way to show kindness and love to yourself and others.

And food can be so fun! Resolve to eat what you want in 2016.

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.

Motherhood Is Messy


This past week was rough, if I'm being honest. There was a lot of sadness in the world that was weighing heavy on my heart. My feelings got hurt and I was hanging on to some negative stuff a bit too long and with too tight of a grip. One kid came home from school with pinkeye and another with a terrible cold and within 24 hours it had spread through the entire house. We all ended up crabby and achy, and stuck inside our small home filled to the brim with Christmas crap for three solid days. The cabin fever and short fuses were visible, mainly from this mom who was so goddamn tired of entertaining bored daughters and breaking up arguments about who got the biggest candy cane and constantly keeping the baby from pulling the kitten up by her tail.

Since I was officially diagnosed with perimenopause last spring, my body has been doing some funky shit and putting me through the wringer. From morning sickness nausea to gingivitis, horrible heartburn to my hair falling out in clumps, it isn't pretty. A routine yearly well-woman checkup at my doctor last week ended with a sudden surgical procedure to repair a significant tear that was somehow missed during/after Arlo's birth. Yes, a birth that happened nearly two years ago and a tear that had healed in a large growth of scar tissue that had to be CUT OFF MY VULVA, in which afterward my vagina had to be stuffed with gauze for several hours. To add insult to injury, I COULDN'T HAVE SEX FOR A WEEK.

While I realized at a young age that my body was a political vessel I could use for my social activism and art, it was becoming a mother that really changed my relationship to myself and helped launch me on my body positive journey. The physical changes that come with pregnancy and motherhood are extreme - from stretch marks, swollen-turned-sagging breasts, dry skin, hormonal breakouts, lush hair and losing hair, extreme weight gain and loss, backaches, heartburn, pelvis bones shifting, and your heart growing too big to be contained. Not to mention the emotional and mental roller coaster of joy, fear, exhaustion, worry, excitement, concern, ignorance, and love. Creating and growing three babies was miraculous and significant in my life journey, as was miscarrying two more. Becoming a mother really solidified for me that I wanted to choose life - and live the best and happiest version of one starting right now. All my perceived imperfections are like a roadmap to this journey of mine and I love this body and the stories it tells. Even if those stories include dried snot stains on my ragged pjs and messy bathrooms with tampon boxes and bottles of bubbles and clothes tossed on the floor and a naked toddler hiding behind my thick legs that carried him into this world.

Six Favorite Body Positive Books for Kids

I write a lot about books, because reading is so important to me. I'm a lifelong academic with two bachelors degrees and a masters degree and, as a researcher and a writer, devouring books has become a way of life. It also fueled my body positivity and feminism and continues to do so. I've instilled that into my children as well - not only are we the stewards of a pink doghouse-turned-Little Free Library, we are avid users of the Boise Public Library system. My kids have had their own library cards since they were toddlers, and we are at the library at least twice a week, picking up books on hold or attending baby storytime or borrowing movies or going to fun kids art classes. As a writer and an artist I've been asked to teach classes and workshops there as well.
 
Christmas is a mere eight days away now, so I know it's a bit late in the shopping season, but I wanted to share six of our favorite body positive books for kids, in case you're looking for a last minute gift for little ones in your life, or an upcoming birthday gift or just more quality books for your home library. I do most of my shopping via Amazon (holla 2-day Prime shipping!), but our local bookshops also carry most of these books. And, of course, I know for a fact that the Boise Public Library does, too, if you're more of a borrower like we are. 
 
Brontorina by James Howe, 2010



This is probably one of my favorites this year, and Alice's, too. Brontorina wants to join in a ballet class but can't find shoes that are big enough nor a studio that is large enough to accommodate her. She's enthusiastic and kind, but all the other children are worried that she's going to smash them with her large body or knock them over with her long tail. Until the instructor realizes that "the problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that my studio is too small." So they make an outdoor dance academy that animals of all sizes and shapes can enjoy, expanding the love of dance for all. We got this at the library but I love it so much that it's now on my shopping list.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, 2013

 
A Caldecott Honor Book, Flora and the Flamingo is about dance and friendship between a chubby child and a lean bird. From the dust jacket: "In this innovative wordless book, a tentative partnership blooms into an unlikely friendship between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony." We love wordless stories in our house, as we make up different words each time. I think this is such a creative way to experience a book with children.

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, 2007


Yep, this one is written by THAT Julianne Moore, the famous actress known for her acting chops and beautiful red hair and freckles. However, as a kid, she wasn't so fond of either, and her freckles were always something everyone commented on. She was embarrassed by them and tried to scrub them out and cover them up until she met others with red hair and freckles who helped her learn to live with them because, after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU. Freckleface Strawberry is a sweet little girl who grew up to be a frecklefaced woman who realizes : who cares if you have a million freckles if you have a million friends.

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson, 2004

 
Lucy received this book as a Christmas gift ten years ago from a dear friend and it's become a favorite in our house. Hilda is a hefty hippo who loves all types of dancing, but she's so large that she shakes the earth when she moves her fat body, much to the chagrin of all the other animals around her. Unfortunately, they convince her to try out hobbies that are quieter and take up less space, like knitting, but she hates them and ends up synchronized swimming, combining water and dance. She loves it, ultimately, but I kinda hate the part where everyone else makes her feel bad for moving her fat body because it disrupts their peaceful world. I wanna yell, "FUCK THAT, HILDA. Make some noise and live large!" so I add that part into the story whenever I read it to my kids. Minus the f-bomb, of course.
 

 
This book came out of our Little Free Library, where we often pick up some treasures (and also some lame propaganda and trash, which, if you follow me on Instagram, you're familiar with). The story goes through ways we are all different, like how our noses look, featuring drawings of human noses of diverse shapes and skin tones along with Muppet noses, like those belonging to Snuffaluffagus and Big Bird. The next page talks about how our noses are the same, as they all breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff. It's goes on like this and is darling and the familiar characters are like salve to my soul.
 
It's Okay to be Different by Todd Parr, 2001


 
Another of my favorites, I ordered this a long time ago when I wanted to teach my kids about diversity in a unique way. Kind of like the Sesame Street book, it highlights ways that we are all different and that is what, in fact, makes our world such a beautiful interesting place. It's okay to have two dads, it's okay not to have hair, it's okay to get mad, it's okay to need some help, it's okay to be different. You are special and important just because of being who you are.
 
These are all messages I can get behind, and while I can (and do) tell my kids over and over that all bodies are good bodies and that there is no wrong way to have a body, it's so nice to expose them to other voices, artists, and stories in addition to mine. I truly believe that books can change the world and that as parents, we have the greatest influence on our children. Here's to raising readers and radicals. 

BOOK REPORT : A Popularity Guide

A few years ago I started a mother/daughter book club with a few literary loving friends and their book adoring girls. We all have daughters about the same age and thought it would be fun to let them each take turns picking an age-appropriate book and read it together and then join up for food and conversation. Some guidelines were set forth:
  • No more than about 300 pages
  • Ideally no one in the group has read it before
  • Also ideally, there have to be several copies available in the Boise Public Library system
  • We have around two months to finish each book
 
The book selector and mom host the book club and are in charge of assigning dishes for the potluck dinner, selecting the date, and organizing the discussion questions. We've read some amazing books and done cool things together to celebrate them - like reading The Giver and then going to see the movie and assigning everyone to bring an object from home that they think defines "art" to them for our discussion of Chasing Vermeer.

photo courtesy of www.dispatch.com
 

This past month Brigette and Sage, one of our six mama/daughter pairs, picked the 2014 book Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, a memoir by Maya Van Wagenen. Maya was 14-years-old when she picked up a thrifted copy of the 1950s Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide and decided to read it and give Betty's outdated advice a go during her 8th grade year as a social experiment. Maya was an introverted geek, she says, and secretly took on a different chapter in Betty's book each month of the academic year and journaled about it. From hair to clothes, good grooming to earning money, Maya tried out some of Betty's tips in an effort to see if 60+ year old advice from a mid-century fashion model still held true. And, would it, in fact, make her more popular?

Betty Cornell's book was out of print, I believe, until 2014, when Maya's project inspired a reissuing of it. You can find it at a few bookstores and on Amazon.com, but it's nowhere in our local public library system, so I haven't read it in its entirety. In addition to the quotes printed in Popular, I have found some chapters online, and it's pretty archaic, shallow, and body shaming, to say the least. Some excerpts from her Introduction and chapter 2, "Figure Problems:"

I was accepted as a model, but not for glamorous poses. My early modeling consisted of posing for tubby teen pictures. I soon learned there was not much future in being a tubby teen. So at sixteen I took stock of my situation and decided to really go to work on myself.

I did all the things that you will read about later in this book. I went on a sensible diet, cut out between-meal nibbling (I used to eat enough between meals to satisfy an army), did daily exercises, cleared up my complexion, and styled my hair. And with the help of my family, including Bob, and the advice of my friends and fellow-models, I learned how best to cope with the social situations that came up in both my private and my professional life. At the end of my self-improvement campaign, I was no longer a tubby teen in every sense of the term, I was a real junior-size model with a lot of self-confidence.

The reason I say it’s fun is that every girl, I don’t care who she may be, wants to be attractive and popular. To get to be that kind of girl, all you have to do is try some of my suggestions. They work. What I did, you can do too. I found that the best way to tackle the job is to recognize that success is up to you. If you put real elbow grease into acquiring beauty, poise and polish, you’ll find it pays off with more dates, more fun, more good times. Gee, what more could anyone ask?

But just because your body is restless and refuses to settle down is no reason to despair of having a good figure. It is a question of mind over matter. Start by intelligently figuring out your figure problem. Find out about your body. Are you large-boned or small-boned? Is your tendency toward longness and leanness or to shortness and plumpness? Stand before your mirror and contemplate yourself from head to toe. Fish out the measuring tape and take statistics.

Statistics are alarmingly accurate. Chances are when you take yours you will wish they weren’t so. Those extra pounds that you guessed you might have gained are unequivocally recorded on the tape measure. What you feared has come to pass, what a popped button or a pulled seam has been plainly insinuating for some time, is true: you are overweight.

Now overweight is nothing to be alarmed about. It is easy enough to do something about it and do something about it sensibly. Don’t lose your head and go on a starvation diet. First talk the matter over intelligently with your family and your doctor. It may be that your extra pounds have come about because of a glandular disturbance. It is more probable that they are a result of overeating. But never take the chance of upsetting your body routine by a silly diet. Always check first with your doctor before you make any plans to lose weight. When you get his O.K., then and only then diet, and diet under his supervision.

Betty goes on to give lots of dieting tips, including full on restricted meal plans, a few of which Maya does try out in the book, but quickly realizes how crappy the diet makes her feel, how she can't think straight, and decides it wasn't worth it for the 1-3 lbs she lost that month. She also wears pearls and white gloves to school, takes on a babysitting job, tries out makeup for the first time, and steps out of her comfort zone by eating lunch at table with a group of kids outside of her social standing and going to prom without a date. Maya is quirky and honest, funny and shy, smart and thoughtful, and takes Betty's old-fashioned wisdom in stride, which is what I loved about her so much. She learns that being true to herself is the most essential, and that being popular means something different to everyone and, maybe, isn't that important after all. In the end, everyone in Maya's rural Texas school near the Mexican border knows who she is and likes her, for her weird way of dressing and her noteworthy actions in the lunchroom. She resonates with one particular bit of wisdom from Betty Cornell, that I do, too:

Being pretty and attractive does help you to be popular, but being pretty and attractive does not and never can guarantee that you will be popular. There is another factor, a very important factor, and that is personality. Personality is that indescribable something that sets you off as a person. It is hard to explain but easy to recognize.

photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/popularthememoir
 
Lucy and I loved this book, and I looked forward every night to cuddling up in my bed and taking turns reading chapters out loud to one another. We laughed about Maya's nerdy professor father and her sweet autistic sister. We cringed at some of the mean kids at her school and related to Maya's thrift store shopping. I ripped up strips of an old tee shirt and put Lucy's hair into rag rollers and we tried to close up our pores with ice cubes at night just like Maya did. These sorts of mother/daughter bonding moments are significant, but the best part about reading this book with her were the discussions we had about being introverted or extroverted, pretty or plain, nerdy or cool, popular or unpopular, and how all of them are just fine ways to be.

That blurry disembodied hand is Lucy sprinkling crushed candy canes on our tiny personal sized bundt cakes. How perfect are our 1950s cake carriers, right?

Last night all twelve of us donned our best (or fake) pearls and cardigans and discussed the book over noodle casserole, classic Jello salad, Betty Crocker's Candy Cane Cake, vintage soda in bottles, deviled eggs and celery stuffed with pimento cheese. We heard from our preteens/teens that this popularity and group/clique stuff is real and consequential, as is your appearance in junior high school. The girls laughed as they took turns trying on my faux Spanx girdle (that I wore once and WTF NEVER AGAIN) and posed for silly photos. Serious conversations were had about how far body positivity has come since the 1950s, how dangerous dieting can be, how it's okay to be shy, and how you don't owe anything to a boy who takes you on a date except a polite thank you. We talked about how maybe it's more important to be kind than popular, and how maybe being inclusive and real can make you popular. Stories were shared about how overrated being pretty is in this country and how our lives are more enriched by being passionate, intellectual, and thoughtful.

 
 
While none of us came out as big fans of Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide in the end, we certainly came out big fans of Popular, and of Maya Van Wagenen. I follow the young author on Twitter and liked her Facebook fan page, and sent her a photo and a note thanking her for her wisdom and honesty, and for being a role model as a writer and a human being. She may not be super pretty nor popular, but we all know there are more important things in life to be, and that beauty and kindness are far more than skin deep. Kind of like a few other girls I know.

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}

Weighing In

I've been active in the body positive movement for nearly seven years now. In early 2009 I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy with it?" and after scrolling through pages and pages of diet industry links and how to be happier by losing weight, I finally stumbled across two blogs that forever changed the way I look at my body and the world. I will always be indebted to The Curvy Fashionista and the Fat Heffalump for leading me down a fat acceptance path of revolutionary feminist thought that has helped create the person I am today. I devoured book after book and blog after blog and researched like mad for the following three years, working internally on my voice and self-love, getting stronger day by day. It was showing up in my art and writing and, by early 2012, I was ready to take it public in a big way.

I applied for Ignite Boise, an innovative public presentation event where a few lucky speakers stand up and have 5 minutes and 20 Powerpoint slides to share an idea with the 800 Boiseans who pack the house at the historic Egyptian Theater that night and, later, the world via YouTube video. I offered up a program titled "Accepting the Big Ass: How to Be Fat, Fit and Flabulous," proposing a brilliant and subversive spin-off of a 2011 blog post by Dianne Sylvan called 10 Rules for Fat Girls. Ignite Boise said yes, and I was scared shitless as I stood shaking on stage and told the entire audience that I was fat and that I weighed 250 pounds. It was liberating and terrifying and I'm still pretty damn proud of that performance.

 
A few weeks later I wanted to do something guerrilla art related to celebrate International No Diet Day on May 6th. I had long been a follower of fat activist Marilyn Wann, who had created some body positive art called a YAY! scale, a traditional bathroom scale turned craftivism that gives you affirmations rather than numbers when you step on it each morning. I thought it was such a fantastic idea that I took my old scale and disassembled it, making my own radical piece.

I decided to sneak it in to Modern Art, a yearly event put on inside a mid-century boutique hotel, in which rooms are rented out to local artists to use as an impromptu gallery for the night. There's live music, drinking, dancing and performance art and it's a super popular Boise event that draws thousands of people to the small downtown hotel.

I placed my version of the YAY! scale along with a sign right near the women's restroom off the lobby. I tucked it into a corner, perfect for people waiting in line to use the only bathroom in the place. The spot was too tiny for covert photographing, but I secretly watched people read the sign and stand on the scale and laugh with joy about their "measurement."


Beautiful
Caring
Smart
Kind
Adorable

Instead of an arbitrary number.

 
Right before my Ignite Boise talk I had stood on this very scale before covering those numbers up with positive words, because it felt important to disclose my exact weight to the audience. I could reclaim those numbers like I had reclaimed the word fat.

I do, in fact, still keep another scale hidden in a cupboard alongside my YAY! scale, mostly used over the years to weigh my baby/toddlers to make sure they are getting enough to eat and on the right growth track. Sometimes it's used to weigh heavy packages for shipping estimates around the holidays. Every once in a while, though, I pull it out to weigh myself, especially if I'm about to speak/write about body positivity, because being honest in my work as a fat feminist is a source of pride.

Last year I wrote a story for Mamalode magazine called A Love Letter to 226 Pounds, about renewing my drivers license and the lady at the DMV refusing to update my weight. Again, part of my reclamation of my body as my own is sharing that number with the world, and not being ashamed of it.


In keeping with that spirit, I just pulled out my scale today. I'm down to 210 pounds, forty pounds less than I was three years ago when I stood on stage at the Egyptian Theater. There are many reasons for this. I've been pregnant three times since 2008. I've stopped taking birth control pills after twenty years, a medication that makes me gain weight. A few years ago I also stopped taking SSRI pills for panic attacks from an anxiety disorder that I've been able to manage sans medication. This is something I have gone through several times in my life - meds like Celexa and Paxil have historically caused me to gain 30-50 pounds within the first year on them, and later I've always shed that same 30-50 pounds when I go off of them. I'm also officially in perimenopause and my symptoms are wacky and intense, including severe morning sickness/nausea that makes me either vomit, not want to eat very much most days, or both. Weight loss is not my intentional goal, it is just something my body is doing naturally right now, finding its own rhythm at this place in my life journey, and I'm okay with that.


(This is how I really feel about the archaic brand name of my thrifted vintage bathroom scale hovering over those arbitrary numbers. Health at every size FTW!)
 
While just like proudly telling the world that I am 40-years-old, I will always powerfully declare that I am also 5'5" tall and 250 226 210 pounds and that I (usually) wear a size 22 20 18 and a 40C bra. And the freedom that comes with sharing those numbers is amazing. But none of these numbers really measure me. I'm more than a number on a scale. I am, in fact, so much more than my body at all.

I hope you know that, too.

An Open Letter to Oprah & Alex Trebek

Dear Oprah and Alex,

I'll start by saying I'm a big fan (pun not intended but also YES) of both of yours. I've been watching you on the television since I can remember, at least by the age of ten in the early 1980s. As a smart young girl, I was always so pleased when I could answer something in the $200 or $400 categories on Jeopardy!. When you brought on interesting young actresses or world-changing women to your show, Oprah, I knew in my teens that you were doing something good for daytime TV. Both your talk show and your game show, Oprah and Alex, were among my early favorites. I'd turn the TV off and feel I came away with a little more knowledge and a little less guilt for wasting precious time watching TV when I could've been crimping my hair or making out with my boyfriend.

I went off to college and grad school and watched less and less television, but was always thrilled when I'd catch Jeopardy! around dinner time. It's always been one of the cleverest game shows around, and I love how it highlights the nerd in all of us. Oprah, you've continued to empower women and be an uplifting woman yourself and I was excited to receive a subscription to O magazine a few years ago as a Christmas gift.

Unfortunately, you've both disappointed the hell out of me lately, I'm sad to say. First, Oprah, with the major faux pas in your magazine a few months ago about not wearing a crop top unless you were toned and tiny. Really? Well, backlash ensued, and your mag apologized, but I was still super bummed.

 
 image: Instagram user 

I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, since you've been quite boisterous about your personal (yo-yo) dieting and body shaming, ever since you pulled that little red wagon full of fat on stage back in 1988. But this latest thing where you've saved a (fortunately and finally) failing Weight Watchers by buying 10% of the company and joining their board is unforgiveable. How can such a feisty feminist not see how they are oppressing women by restricting us and profiting off our self-doubt? And you are a diet industry dropout yourself? You are not the feminist I thought you were. This quote by Naomi Wolf, from her 1991 book The Beauty Myth, which I read as an undergrad and changed my life, says it best:

A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.

And, you, Alex. Just a few weeks ago I hear that Jeopardy! had a category called THESE WORDS COULD GO ON A DIET.

 photo: Dances With Fat

Really, Jeopardy!? You pride yourself on being an academic-minded and forward-thinking program but dedicate an entire category to blatant size shaming and harmful use of language to degrade people and call them names? UGH.

I don't normally give much thought or power to television these days, just as I couldn't give two shits what celebrities are wearing or who they are dating. But, from an intellectual level, I know that popular culture, especially the media, set the bar for lots of things, body positivity included. My standards are pretty low, I guess, for anything on the television to be thoughtful. I've always seen you both, Alex and Oprah, as savvy, college-educated entertainers who prided your programs on considerate discourse. I was holding out hope for you, in a lame lineup filled with cupcake wars and snarky and slimy 'reality' families.

TV, I'm so done with you. (Except CBS Sunday Morning. PLEASE DON'T FAIL ME NOW.)

Feeling not surprised, but still sad,

Amy

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

There's this brilliant but wacky spiritual leader named Ram Dass, who was born Richard Alpert in Boston in the 1930s. He went on to get his PhD and do research on LSD in the 1960s and travel to India and become enlightened and write a lot of books and have retreats. People adore his teachings. Today he lives in Maui and spreads his guidance via the internet and has a lot of really great ideas and things to say. I'm not much of a follower, but since I started on my body positive journey as a fat activist nearly six years ago, I've been drawn to a story he tells on self-judgment:

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

 
One summer when I was 20-years-old I was camping near Payette Lake in Idaho with my boyfriend and laying under the sky looking up at the ponderosa pines. I grabbed a beer, a pen, and a paper plate, which was the only thing I could find to write on, and scrawled this poem:

They stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of a whole
The oaths, the families, the stories, the Friends
An old regal one scraggles over with years and rings and wisdom far beyond
the youthful inches of baby growth it protects.
Wise wide ones loom tall above, standing high with energy and vigor
And as long as this forested royalty remains
the Ponderosas will whisper gossip to the Blue Spruce
and the Hollies will always flaunt their scarlet berries
You see, this private community, so robust, yet equally as fragile, trust few to its realm.
Even the Deer must make a silent commitment to secrecy.
Those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of their whole duty and beauty and strength unimaginable
Yet when the Rain pounds from above they all bow and hover
And when the Wind blows her loud tales they all laugh and dance and twist with joy
And when the Human and the Fire interrupt the peaceful power of this solemn circle
One never stands alone
Because they stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society.


Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Two and a half years ago I got pregnant on accident after missing a few birth control pills one month. I'd been on the Pill for twenty years at that point and had missed several pills plenty of times before and never gotten pregnant. At the age of 37 with two daughters aged 5 and 9 years, we weren't planning on having any more children, but there were two pink lines and I was surprisingly so happy. It was meant to be, until it wasn't. I hadn't been to the doctor yet, and I had no real idea of when we'd actually conceived, but probably somewhere around 8 weeks pregnant I started cramping and gushing blood and went into what I can only describe as a 'mini labor,' complete with contractions, pain, nausea and an overwhelming fear and sadness that I can never appropriately describe.  Dr. Brown and I grieved hard and alone, as we'd told no one we were even expecting a new baby.

I spent a few months healing, both in my heart and in my uterus, and we decided to try again because we were certain there was a soul missing from our family. I conceived in June and knew almost immediately I was pregnant with twins; I could just feel it from very early on, as many mothers of twins can attest to. Not to mention the nausea and vomiting and growth and exhaustion were double what I'd experienced in any previous pregnancy (something else many mothers carrying twins will tell you). I was terrified for this pregnancy, so soon after my first miscarriage, and felt a tiny bit better after passing that 8 week mark that was so devastating the last time around. At 11 weeks pregnant I got really bad sciatica and nausea and sat down to pee one morning, gushed blood, and passed an 11 week old fetus into the toilet. I knew immediately what it was and snatched it out and went into shock and called my doctor. An emergency ultrasound a few hours later where I was expecting the worst news revealed a healthy heartbeat of the other baby in utero. I had another miscarriage in a somewhat unique phenomenon called 'vanishing twin syndrome,' where one of the twins die and usually dissolves back into the mothers system, never to be seen in an ultrasound again. In an even rarer situation, like what happened to me, the mother will actually miscarry the deceased fetus in what I call 'not-so-vanishing twin syndrome.'

I spent the rest of my pregnancy with Arlo puking and scared, sad and thrilled. I was mourning two dead babies and one growing in utero and the emotions of sorrow with joy were overwhelming. I was at once angry with my body and in awe of its strength. I couldn't keep any food down and was losing weight rather than gaining and I couldn't/wouldn't take the anti-anxiety medications that I'd been on for years for panic attacks. It felt impossible to see the forest for the trees.


The expression 'can't see the forest for the trees' is often used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole. I was a body positive warrior who spent much of 2013 so angry at this life-making vessel I'd worked so hard to love. But I was pregnant! A pregnancy that was at once terrific and terrible and brutal and beautiful. But I had the hardest time seeing the forest for the trees. I hadn't yet found others who had suffered silent miscarriages like me. I didn't yet know anyone who had lost a twin while pregnant. I hadn't yet discovered my Tree Society.


This past spring we planted a tiny plum tree near our pink Little Free Library on our corner lot in honor of the babies in our hearts. After Dr. Brown dug the hole, I placed in it a worry locket I'd purchased from an Etsy jeweler with the birthstone of the first baby we lost and a positive pregnancy test from the second baby we lost. Alice drew a picture for our 'dear dead babies,' as she calls them, and placed it in there, too, before soaking the hole with water necessary for the plum tree to take root. I cried and thought about how it will grow to shade the library stop so popular with neighborhood kids and will bear fruit for us to enjoy. About a month later, we noticed the tree had started leaning and looked crooked in spots, but it was also sprouting new leaves, and thriving.


All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies are scarred, twisted, scared, and complicated, as unique and lovely as trees. I'm so glad I can see you all out there in my forest now and am grateful for the roots I've planted with this blog, in Boise, and in my own front yard. Mother Nature can be a real bitch sometimes, and this time of year makes me very sad, as I honor my babies who live in both my house and in my heart. Here's to new growth rings and ancient stories and shedding bark and rebirth with seasons.

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.

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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!

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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.
 
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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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