fatkini

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.

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.
 

Bind Them As A Sign, Fix Them As An Emblem

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

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

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

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

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

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

Get Off

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

[photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design]
 

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

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

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


Guess what, assholes? YOU JUST PROVED MY POINT.

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

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

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

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

I am not here for your lack of a boner.

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

I am not here for your boner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uprising

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

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

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

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

{photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design}

40 for 40

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




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



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

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

{photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}

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


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

On Being Brave

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

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

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


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


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

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

.....

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

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

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


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

A Stand For Self Love

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

RRRRIIIIIGGHT.

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

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

.....

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

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


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

Until my nerves set in.

.....

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

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

.....

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

.....

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


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


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


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

The personal stories of struggle.

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


Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts.

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

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


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



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


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


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



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

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

Diving In

“I’m gonna jump off that high dive,” my reserved, anxiety-ridden, long-legged eleven-year-old Lucy told us on the scenic drive from our Pocatello, Idaho, hotel to Lava Hot Springs.  I gave Eric the side-eye in disbelief.

Located in the mountainous valley of the Portneuf River along the historic Oregon Trail, the site boasts a handful of soothing hot springs pools, several waterslides and a series of high dives, including a dizzying 10 meter diving tower into 17 feet of clear, warm water. It’s the playground of my youth and I was excited to share it with my children. Except maybe not the high dive part.

I tentatively signed the waiver that we wouldn’t sue in the case of death, got the wrist band, heard the instructions. Lucy went right out and climbed the stairs, stood in line, hung her toes over the edge in anticipation, and looked down. The lifeguard held her number up and watched carefully, as did the rest of us. She stalled for what seemed like an eternity, turned and came back down the stairs. She wasn’t ready, she told me. Maybe in an hour.

It was just the time she needed. Lucy thought it through, watched a few others, went on the waterslides, gathered her courage. We talked about maybe plugging your nose, being pencil straight, keeping your arms to your side. She jumped. It wasn’t that bad, she said. It looks so much higher than it feels. She wanted to do it again, but just as it came her turn, a small boy launched off the tallest high dive and attempted a flip which turned into a belly flop that knocked the wind out of him and required emergency assistance from the lifeguards. Lucy turned and came back down the stairs again, this time in tears. The boy’s accident scared her, and knocked her courageous feeling from her heart. She felt like a failure, that her accomplishment was somehow diminished because she couldn’t replicate the jump. She’d lost her bravery, and her pride.

Eric and I spent nearly an hour that afternoon talking her up from her perceived failure. We explained that sometimes being brave means knowing when to stop. It takes courage to know your limits and be true to your heart, follow your gut instinct, take your time.

Bravery can be not taking that risk, it can be saying no.
 

“I’m gonna buy another bikini, a tinier one,” my 220 pound, brown-skinned, body loving, 39-year-old self said out loud while perusing a plus-sized swimsuit website in my pajamas a few months ago, to no one in particular.

And I did it – first a sky blue retro looking bikini with white polka dots and a high waist. It makes me feel glamourous and flirty, strong and sexy. My youngest daughter, Alice, snapped a photo of me wearing it while lounging in the bright sun one afternoon in our backyard while the baby slung the hose around and the neighborhood kids chomped up popsicles. I hesitantly posted it on Instagram and the photo ended up being selected for a curves in bikinis challenge, promoting the fact that all bodies are beach bodies. My prize was a $100 shop credit from my beloved polka dot swimsuit maker. I didn’t hesitate a second to snatch up two new bikinis- a sleek black two piece with a plunging neckline and a cute red, white and blue number with a fireworks print and underwire and boy shorts.

And they don’t just sit in my closet. I’ve worn them nearly every day this summer, to the river and the public city pools, lounging with cold beers and chasing my baby down wet kiddie slides. It takes courage to push your limits, follow your heart, take a chance.

Bravery can be taking that risk, it can be saying yes.
 

#perimenopause #stillseventeen #polkawhaaaaat

I can't even begin to describe how insane my life, and the other four lives in my house, has been over the past few months. So much goodness, so much business, so much school stuff, so much extracurricular activities. All my babies were born within three weeks of each other in March/April, so we had birthday parties for a one year old, a seven year old, and an eleven year old. There's been a testing and a diagnosis and school IEP team meetings regarding my youngest daughter which has been so hard (a story and a post for another day). We've celebrated and played Little League baseball, and won track meets, and participated in piano festivals, and written grants, planted gardens, been in the news not one, not two, but three times in about a week's time. Life is so wonderful and fun and the adventures are amazing and my life is charmed indeed.
 
During all this living of my life, friends I graduated from high school and college with have started celebrating their fortieth birthdays, with grand weekends away, raging parties, and quiet retreats at spas. I've been thinking about how I'd like to celebrate mine, sneaking up on me in just six months. I've also been thinking about how scary it sounds to be 40. How middle of my life I am. Is it really half over? Maybe. But we're all dying, every day. I'm not super afraid of my mortality for my sake, but for my childrens' sake. I have to be around as long as possible for them. There's also this nagging part of my brain that I can't shake: I still feel seventeen. I'm not alone in this notion - one of my dearest gal pals from high school, Mandilyn, feels just the same way. So much so, in fact, that we've been hashtagging each other in all sorts of posts on social media about buying jewelry at Claire's in the mall and loving Taylor Swift and our affinity for the high school TV drama Friday Night Lights as #stillseventeen.
 
As life would have it, Mother Nature has added insult to injury by officially setting into motion PERIMENOPAUSE. Like, seriously, I went to the doctor because my body has gone HAYWIRE and here's the documented proof because THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING I'M STILL 39 AND I JUST HAD A BABY FOR CHRISSAKE:
 
 
The journey to this diagnosis was two months in the making and many late night internet searches for what seemed to me to be unrelated symptoms that turned out to be related after all. So, to aid my fellow young friends who have entered menopause freakishly early, and should they come upon this blog post in a frantic late night internet search to find out if they are crazy or dying or just MENOPAUSING, here's a list of a few of the crazymakingly odd symptoms that you may be experiencing right now and may last for 5-10 years and may get worse or change AREN'T WE LUCKY:
  • Mittelschmerz like you can't believe, but the cramping and back pain doesn't just last a week, it's constant!
  • Menstruation for three weeks straight! Heavy and filling the toilet with lots of internal tissue and clots.
  • Headaches!
  • Moodiness and tearfulness! And not just during PMS or menstruation, but all the time.
  • Moments of sudden rage! Like maybe you are making scrambled eggs and talking with your husband and it turns into an argument and you slam the plastic spatula on the stovetop to make a point and it breaks and he's like WTF ARE YOU CRAZY?! and in turn you pick up the entire pan of eggs and throw it on the floor BECAUSE YES.
  • Bloating! Again, not just during PMS or menstruation, but a permanently puffed out belly.
  • Gingivitis! Swollen, bleeding gums that make it so painful to eat.
  • Lack of appetite! Everything tastes off and weird like it did when you were pregnant (hello again, crazy hormones!) which is probably fine anyhow because GINGIVITIS.
  • Hair loss! My hair is falling out in huge clumps, just like it does a few months after I give birth. At least it's growing back; I've got a head full of baby gray hairs to prove it.
  • Acne! I keep breaking out. ON MY BACK. Which hasn't happened since I was in high school (the irony of #stillseventeen is not lost on me here).
  • Weird muscle and joint aches! I threw my back out for the first time in my entire life last week. Ain't got no time for ice when you're crawling after a toddler on the floor. Also, picking up a 25 lb. baby in this condition SUCKS.
  • Sudden dark spots appear on your face! The technical term is melasma, or hyperpigmentation of the skin due to extreme changes in hormones. Sometimes it happens during pregnancy, or sometimes you just wake up one day when you're 39 AND LEAST EXPECTING IT and your upper lip is strangely dark brown.
  • Itchy dry skin! I feel like bugs are crawling on me and my EARS ARE PEELING. Thank goodness for bulk jars of coconut oil from Costco.
  • Breast swelling and tingling! This actually ain't that bad. Except it feels like I'm pregnant but my body is actually doing the exact opposite of making a baby (sob).
  • Heart palpitations! This happened when I was pregnant as well, it's something due to hormones and thinning of blood, but it is also a version of hot flashes, I guess. Anyhow, my heart will flutter and race for a few seconds several times a day and it's real off-putting.
I'm stopping there because I'm literally in tears over it. Turning 40 and the loss of my fertility is making me so sad and depressed and I KNOW IT'S FINE and part of life and I'm so lucky and it's no big deal and it's the biggest deal ever and I just have to go through it (MENOPAUSE EVEN THOUGH I'M ONLY 39) like every woman before and after me and be brave and look on the bright side. I'm trying.

So I bought myself a blue polka dot bikini.

Because I deserve it.

And #YOLO.

And #STILLSEVENTEEN.


 
Swim Sexy blue polka dot bikini from Swimsuits For All, size 18 top and size 20 bottom. It might be the best plus sized swimsuit shop in all the world, because of the high quality and ability to order different sized tops and bottoms. It was recommended in a Facebook group I'm part of called the Curvy Girl Guide, and the suit has become such a tour de force we've christened it with it's own hashtags. #polkawhaaaaaaat #thesuit