Get Lucky

I learned as a teen that my body was a political vessel and I often use it as a canvas for my art and activism. Over the years I’ve done several performance art pieces and guerrilla art installations geared around bodies in Boise and they’ve received mixed reviews – from hateful to positive. As a fat feminist body image activist I also use social media as a revolutionary tool in sharing my art and my message of body positivity, which includes talking about a lot of things important to me as a woman, like aging, motherhood, my sexuality and bodies. I believe strongly that you cannot make positive change as a social activist unless you clearly understand where and who has worked before you and your place in history. When not using my writing and body as artistic tools, I will sometimes use printmaking combined with found objects and stitching. My two-dimensional artwork often blurs the boundaries between fine art and craft. For me, the repurposing of found materials adds both tactile and historical elements integral to the contemporary story each piece tells. My foundations with fabric and needlepoint, combined with my academic background, have allowed me to explore traditional women’s handiwork in a non-traditional way as part of a movement called craftivism. As a writer I think a lot about words and they often play a big part in my art. Their history, meanings, double entendres, spellings. How we fling them, mean them, change them, reclaim them.

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Slut is one of the words that have been used against women, myself included, for decades. It’s typically meant in a derogatory way, making a judgement on how a woman dresses, how many sexual partners she has had, if she dares to talk about her sexuality in a positive way. As far back as 1380 we see the word used to describe a slovenly or dirty man and by 1450 it was often used to describe women similarly, especially kitchen maids. There is also an old reference to a slut also being a homemade candle of sorts (which is, interestingly, how we see it used in an Idaho Statesman newspaper article about Atlanta, Idaho, in 1873). By the 1800s it is usually a word to refer to a woman of “loose morals,” and our own Idaho Statesman corroborates this and follows the national usage of the term. In the 1950s the word appears a few times in the Statesman, in reference to a female prostitute character in a Broadway play and a Biblical reference to Salome. In the 1960s and 70s the term appears more in our newspaper, often in Dear Ann Landers’ columns about young women who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock and wives cheating on their husbands. There are also numerous concerns about The Man of La Mancha coming to the Morrison Center for Performing Arts and the important character arc of a woman’s “transformation from a slut to an ideal woman.” By the turn of the century slut has absolutely entered our vernacular and it’s used over and over in the newspaper, in regards to things like Monica Lewinsky, the play Avenue Q (again at the Morrison Center), sexting and teens, sexual abuse and harassment. For the past ten years, at least, the reference to slut in the newspaper has been in regards to the damage slut-shaming can to do women – emotionally, professionally and legally.

Mention of a French slut in the fiction piece Moonhollow printed in the  Idaho Statesman , August 29, 1942

Mention of a French slut in the fiction piece Moonhollow printed in the Idaho Statesman, August 29, 1942

A mom’s shocking letter to Ann Landers filled with slut shaming and fat shaming of her pregnant daughter, printed in the  Idaho Statesman,  March 17, 1970

A mom’s shocking letter to Ann Landers filled with slut shaming and fat shaming of her pregnant daughter, printed in the Idaho Statesman, March 17, 1970

I recently created this piece for Wingtip Press’ annual printmaking exchange and exhibition called Leftovers, as it was created to use the leftover small pieces of paper and odd supplies found in artist studios. I’ve participated for years and my work always come from other “leftovers” in house, particularly otherwise mundane items from history and my life as a woman and mother, like birth control pill packets and paper dolls. This year’s pays homage to the history of this controversial word as well as paying homage to the historical home of institutionalized “sluttery” in Boise. It was called Levy’s Alley, Boise’s largest red light district prior to its demolition in 1909 on the site of today’s City Hall, mixed into the site of Boise’s original Chinatown on the same square block. Both groups, whose bodies, differences and choices, made them marginalized and “othered” (as also noted in many an Idaho Statesman article from the time), were pushed out to neighborhoods a few blocks away. Both the Chinese population in Boise, which, at one time, rivaled the size of Seattle’s and San Francisco’s Chinatowns, and our prostitutes were beloved, necessary, important members of our Western town and at the same time treated poorly and reviled. The vintage keno lottery tickets were something that could be found in most Chinese shops in the early 20th century, and these were saved just before the demolition of the Hop Sing Building downtown Boise in the old Chinatown at 706 ½ Front Street, built in 1924 and demolished in 1972.

The Hop Sing building (b. 1924) downtown Boise was in Chinatown until it was demolished in 1974. It was on 7th Street (renamed Capitol Boulevard) near where the new parking garage is today north of the Grove Hotel. (photo courtesy Idaho State Archives)

The Hop Sing building (b. 1924) downtown Boise was in Chinatown until it was demolished in 1974. It was on 7th Street (renamed Capitol Boulevard) near where the new parking garage is today north of the Grove Hotel. (photo courtesy Idaho State Archives)

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Leftovers (Get Lucky), 2019

Medium: image transfer print on plastic stitched to vintage Boise Chinatown keno ticket c. 1960

*The show opens this Friday night May 5, 2019 at Push & Pour in Garden City, Idaho, with a silent auction of prints (including mine!) if you’re interested in purchasing it. I have to tell you, this exhibition is stellar and this year’s prints might be my favorite of all time. You can see more of them here along with show event details.

10 Years of Feeling Big

March is filled with a lot of emotional change for me. It’s the spring equinox and in our part of the world when the snow melts and weeds are cleared away and green growth that has been buried in the dark reaches for the sun. It’s a month where six years ago I found out about a surprise pregnancy and lost it in a traumatic first miscarriage at home. It’s a month where five years ago my rainbow baby boy came bursting into this world just after the season changed and made our family complete. (In fact, all my babies were born within three weeks time from the end of March through early April, like so many mama animals in this world spring is for birthing time for me.) It’s a month where ten years ago I got laid off from a shitty job and it changed everything. I left what I thought I knew and wanted behind in a radical move. It’s been a decade since I talked my family into doing The Compact for a New Year’s Resolution - committing to not buying anything new (except toiletries and food) for an entire year. It was the year I started this blog, originally called Doin’ It All, Idaho Style, where one of my first blog posts as a mommyblogger was about being featured as a “Laid Off Loser” in a local column of others hit hard by the recession. It was the year I Googled “why am I fat and happy?” turning me onto fat acceptance launching me into body image activism.

I’d never been offered or sought out professional birth photography before but in hindsight wish I would’ve. St. Als Hospital where Arlo was born in 2014 sent a young woman around to see if we wanted some candid professional portraits in our room before leaving and I’d just gotten out of the shower and had wet hair and a maternity tee shirt and he was naked in his baby blanket and I’m so glad I said yes please. I sobbed when I saw these.

I’d never been offered or sought out professional birth photography before but in hindsight wish I would’ve. St. Als Hospital where Arlo was born in 2014 sent a young woman around to see if we wanted some candid professional portraits in our room before leaving and I’d just gotten out of the shower and had wet hair and a maternity tee shirt and he was naked in his baby blanket and I’m so glad I said yes please. I sobbed when I saw these.

I stumbled across this Sharon Olds poem again this month in one of my favorites, her collection called The Dead & the Living from 1983 and this just pierced my heart.

I stumbled across this Sharon Olds poem again this month in one of my favorites, her collection called The Dead & the Living from 1983 and this just pierced my heart.

I got to drive to Northern Idaho to be the keynote speaker at Lewis-Clark State College’s Women’s Leadership Conference on International Women’s Day a few weeks ago. The sun was shining on the glittering snow and I relished in the silence and the alone time in my truck to listen to whatever I wanted. I devoured Glennon Doyle’s audio version of her memoir Love Warrior about her own unbecoming, her own story of motherhood and activism and marriage and finding her purpose and her voice. Listening to her story I was struck with the reminder that it was pregnancy that gave me the permission I had been looking for all along to be big. Like always happens for me when I’m pregnant, possibly due to nausea and a loss of appetite, I lost weight when I was pregnant and for the first time in my life wanted to gain more. I was free to eat almost anything and everything and as much of it to help sustain and build the little life inside me. I couldn’t wait to buy larger clothing to accommodate my ample belly and breasts. It was after the birth of my first daughter and again with my second that I realized my big body had no purpose or “excuse” any longer and that made me sad, and then angry, and then defiant. What if I didn’t need my baby girls to give me a reason to be so big? Or what if they were, in fact, the reason I should be claiming that space?

This photo was taken the week I got a surprise, nasty and traumatic layoff from my job as the Associate Curator at the Boise Art Museum, days before Alice’s 1st birthday and she took her first steps. Lucy was 4-years-old. It felt like the worst thing that could happen to me but turned out to be the best thing.

This photo was taken the week I got a surprise, nasty and traumatic layoff from my job as the Associate Curator at the Boise Art Museum, days before Alice’s 1st birthday and she took her first steps. Lucy was 4-years-old. It felt like the worst thing that could happen to me but turned out to be the best thing.

And, wow, have I ever claimed some space in the past decade. I’ve found my voice and it’s getting louder. I’m getting bigger and braver than I ever thought possible. I’ve now got three kids who I see doing the same and it’s magnificent to watch. I’ve become a more prolific writer, artist, gardener, activist and public speaker. And now I’ve got thousands of others following along here doing impossible things and being big and beautiful and radical alongside me.

This photo was snapped just after I ended my keynote speech on taking up space and fat feminism at the Lewis-Clark State College Women’s Leadership Conference a few weeks ago on International Women’s Day. This standing ovation really shook me up.

This photo was snapped just after I ended my keynote speech on taking up space and fat feminism at the Lewis-Clark State College Women’s Leadership Conference a few weeks ago on International Women’s Day. This standing ovation really shook me up.

It’s also the 4th anniversary of being diagnosed with perimenopause, and these perimenopausal symptoms have reached a fever pitch lately, just in time for my middle daughter to start her own hormonal shift into puberty and with a teenager and a toddler we’re just a wild mess of emotions. I can cry at the drop of a hat and I’m feeling a lot of things really intensely. I’ve always had a strong sense of nostalgia and I try to remember that each March as it rears up but this year it seems to be even more so with this big anniversary/birthday looming. I’ve also had to deal with some really shitty things and recourse for this work and how it’s affected my family. So while its definitely worth it I can’t say it hasn’t come without its complications, some of them very serious, especially lately. I’ve lost a lot but gained so much more. It’s been a hard ten years but what a fanfuckingtastic ride it’s been.

If I could only tell my 33-year-old self that I’d be so fierce and fat and fabulous and changing the world and being banned from Facebook every other fucking month in ten years and being so big.

If I could only tell my 33-year-old self that I’d be so fierce and fat and fabulous and changing the world and being banned from Facebook every other fucking month in ten years and being so big.

A DECADE.

Happy birthday to this little blog that grew up. And happy anniversary to this girl who grew up, too, and so many other important moments that have made me who I am. Here’s to rebirth and living and unbecoming and feeling and being bigger.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d have a full page nude photo in an international magazine at the age of 43. Here’s to taking up ALL THE SPACE in media everywhere with our fat, fearless unphotoshopped bodies and unabashed joy to be living in them. The  Fabuplus  spring issue is out now.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d have a full page nude photo in an international magazine at the age of 43. Here’s to taking up ALL THE SPACE in media everywhere with our fat, fearless unphotoshopped bodies and unabashed joy to be living in them. The Fabuplus spring issue is out now.

Seeds of Change

I’ve been accused of “promoting obesity” for years. This is obviously from people deeply invested in our fatphobic culture, which, to be fair, is not entirely their fault. We all have grown up in a world steeped in dieting and healthism. This is, however, a simplified accusation and a misunderstanding of my work. I've done a lot of interviews and public speaking in which someone inevitably asks me about how body positivity/fat acceptance is promoting "obesity" or an "unhealthy lifestyle" to which I always answer the same:

Am I promoting obesity? Hell yes. I'm promoting radical self-love and body acceptance at any size. And about that “unhealthy lifestyle” you speak of? Study after study has shown that shame is one of the UNhealthiest things for us. The message I'm sharing is one of the healthiest things I've ever done for myself. And it may be for you, too.

"Healthy" looks different for all of us and isn't really something that we have that much control over. It also is NOT a determining factor in body positivity or our value as human beings worthy of kindness and respect. One of my Rad Fatties, as I lovingly refer to members of my Boise Rad Fat Collective, recently shared this hard and heartfelt story with me specifically to tell if I thought it would be of help to others:

This is where I get emotional. Because I have so much to say. Ostracizing me from your lives, staring at my second stomach (my apron of fat) embarrasses me and makes me self-conscious on a level I cannot even begin to share. I hurt emotionally. I also hurt physically. I have arthritis. Because I am also fat, I am embarrassed to tell people I live with chronic pain because I know that they will just say "lose weight. you'll be fine" - right now I hurt. Your suggestion piles on to my hurt and makes it hard for me to breathe because now you are judging me for how I look, how I have lived and pushing away the fact that I have been transparent enough with you to tell you I am hurting. I wake up each morning with a sore back. I get out of bed and wait for my right kneecap to jump in where it's supposed to. I limp around the bedroom for a couple minutes. I go to the bathroom and walk into the kitchen to make coffee. I then get into a shower that feels slightly cramped because of my size. I get into my bathrobe and sit with my puppy and cuddle while I have a cup of coffee. My puppy doesn't judge me and she gives me the love I need to get through the day. I then get dressed - sometimes changing clothes 4-5 times to find an outfit that best covers my fat so I am judged as little as possible and shield the world from seeing my ugliness. I hide all of this from my family and friends because they judge me too. I walk downstairs and out the door and into a world of people who stare at me. I arrive at work and walk to the elevators while my coworkers laugh and take the stairs. I walk slower than they do and miss out on their weekends/evenings chats as they animatedly share what they did and how they are feeling. I walk to my desk and flop into my chair. I start working. I work harder than my peers because I feel a desire to prove myself on a higher level to compensate for the fact that I am fat. Some days I don't get up to do anything other than work from the time I get in until lunch. My bladder hurts. I finally use the rest room and avoid the scale in there and the way I look under the weird lighting. They have full-length mirrors in there too. I wonder if it's like that in the men's room? After work (often the last to leave when it's dark and I am alone) I head home. I trudge painfully up the stairs and back into my safe space (house). Then I make dinner - feel guilty for every bite I eat but eat anyway - sometimes more than I should - and then I help my daughter with school work and sit next to my husband on the couch and play with the dog. It's a normal life for the most part - but every.second.of.it. is dictated by the fact that I've never been comfortable in the world outside of my home. A day in my life involves constant thought of how I appear to people and how I can keep from being seen/noticed.

I’m so honored to bear witness to stories like these but out here helping folks recognize their stories, articulate them and own them. I’m also so honored to help inspire and lead folks in being activists in their own small ways every single day. As people in bodies (like fat bodies, gender nonconforming bodies, brown bodies or disabled bodies) that don’t fit the status quo know very well, simply living your life is a revolutionary act because your body is inherently political.

Another one of my Rad Fatties recently shared a story about how hard she’s finding it when she tries to share the ideas of body positivity in other fat support spaces online. About how reluctant her fellow friends of size are in hearing her share our message.

I told her that in my years of experience speaking out about these things, I've found that sharing the ideals of Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating will often not only be completely ignored but vehemently hated if the person hearing about the concepts is still fully steeped in body shaming and diet culture. If one is not open to different possibilities, research, science, medicine, etc. they will think this is the wildest thing they've ever heard and it may also make them angry. This anger often stems from the fact that you are now telling them:

1) that they don't actually have that much control over their health that they've previously thought they did

2) that they may have been manipulated and lied to and feel embarrassed about it

3) the body currency they are so dedicated to fighting for/getting actually means nothing; that the value of their humanity is not actually found in their size or their health.

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Last week I spent a day speaking to nearly 400 teenagers on positive body image and self-esteem at a local junior high school. I was invited there by the 8th grade counselors as part of a training day on real life skills and share with them some advice, including my 10 favorite easy tips to body acceptance and self-love.

I’ve done this for this age group many times before (once I even had anti-abortion protesters show up at the school for me) and every single time I’m surprised by the amount of fatphobia these children have already been so steeped in by the age of 13. I’m also surprised by how eager so many of them are to soak up my words when I tell them there is a different way, a better way to live and thrive in their bodies. This is especially true for all the girls in the room - I can literally see their jaws drop with amazement and their shoulders drop with relief.

I had students ask hard things about school dress codes and when to know their mental health issues were really, really serious and fun things like what my favorite book was and how they could come to this summer’s RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens.

It’s most definitely a tough crowd to speak to, but may perhaps be the most important stage I stand on.

It's impossible to change someone's mind (or open it) if they aren't willing and can feel like a waste of your energy and time. To be honest, I’m feeling exhausted and worn down and the constant negative push back from people I’ve been receiving daily for years is starting to get to me. Or maybe it’s just a combination of hard things in my life and the dreary gray of February. I don’t know, exactly, but I do know that stories like these help remind me to never giving up on dropping the seeds of change, even if the wind blows them away, there is no water, the earth is barren, and I never see them sprout. Or sometimes strong green buds burst from the frozen earth only to get covered again with snow saying not yet. Growth is sometimes slow, but a new season is coming. I can feel it.

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Off the Deep End

Sensory seekers

Finger suckers

Noncompliant

Too loud

Anger management

Sick

Too tight

Explosive

Meticulous

Strict

Organized

Obsessions

Compulsions

Manic

Sad

Hyperactive

Mental illness

Anxiety

Panic attacks

Chronic pain

Repeat

Sensitive

Vomiting

Migraines

IEP

504

Depression

Troubling

Disorder

Testing

Medication

Therapy

Diagnosis

Chronic

Acute

Migraines

Dark

Hormonal

Counseling

OCD

Fear

Appointment

Documentation

Bullied

Exposure

Meltdown

Screaming

Worry

These words have filled our lives for the past five years, and as any parent of a special needs or neurodiverse or child with mental illness knows, these words contain multitudes, not to mention mountains of paperwork and piled up books on bedside tables and so many phone calls and emotions.

Our sweet baby Alice the day we brought her home from the hospital, April 2008

Our sweet baby Alice the day we brought her home from the hospital, April 2008

Alice at 2-years-old at my step-sister’s wedding in McCall, Idaho

Alice at 2-years-old at my step-sister’s wedding in McCall, Idaho

Smart

Beautiful

Giving

Positive

Open

Helpful

Empathetic

Forgiving

Athletic

Deep

Kind

Honest

Raw

Passionate

Understanding

Brave

Writer

Artistic

Advocate

Voice

Happy

 

The definitions of these words, too, are wide and deep and tell you everything and nothing at the same time.

Our amazing ten-year-old daughter, Alice, has been diagnosed with some specific things - finally - including some unique iterations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and chronic migraines. It’s been a long arduous journey to identifying these things and I’m certain this is just one stop on a lifelong journey.

Our star Little League pitcher.

Our star Little League pitcher.

Family photo by  Maike Devon Photography , December 2018

Family photo by Maike Devon Photography, December 2018

We are no strangers to mental and neurological differences in this family.

It was just before I graduated from college standing in the kitchen near the balcony patio of my apartment when I had my first panic attack. I had no idea that was what was happening at the time – I thought I must’ve got something stuck in my throat, like I’d swallowed my saliva wrong and I began choking like I couldn’t breathe for about a minute and then it subsided. It happened again and again, every few months or so, for several years, each time I was sure something must be malfunctioning in my throat, my mouth, my tongue, but never in my mind. Fast forward three years and I had moved in with my boyfriend in Oregon and it began happening weekly, this not breathing for a minute and suddenly starting up again. It scared my boyfriend and I so much that I finally made an appointment with a doctor who kept asking me questions about stress levels, mental health, anxiety. She told me I was having panic attacks. I scoffed – I mean, I was completely calm and in relaxed situations when this was happening. I wasn’t hysterically crying or angry or sad. We talked, she examined me, and then she gave me some paper tests to take and determined I was low risk for depression but high risk for anxiety.

Dr. Brown and I at a very windy moment at my little brother’s wedding on the Clark Fork River in Montana, September 2018

Dr. Brown and I at a very windy moment at my little brother’s wedding on the Clark Fork River in Montana, September 2018

She suggested I try therapy and a SSRI pill like Paxil. I did, and the panic attacks stopped. I also gained 30-50 pounds every time I went on a SSRI for the next decade and lost it when I went off, which was every time I got pregnant. I talk often about how important this process was to my body positive journey – the weight gain was dramatic and concerning at first but the elimination of the panic attacks, the mental clarity and the peace the drugs brought to me at the time were worth it. I discovered I’d rather be fat and happy than slightly smaller and miserable. My boyfriend agreed – and he became my fiancée and later my husband and suffers from some mental health struggles of his own, including severe anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, two things he has managed throughout his life on his own without the help of medication.

Family photo by  Maike Devon Photography , December 2018

Family photo by Maike Devon Photography, December 2018

We always joked, kind of, about how “screwed up” our future kids might be, not only from inheriting our brilliant but bonkers genes but also from how my weird ideas and his quirks might provide them lots of fodder for future therapy sessions. Only now it’s no longer a joke, it’s very serious and very, very real. And they not only inherited some stuff from us, but have added some of their own unique stuff as well.

I’ve written before about how motherhood for me has been terrifying and terrible, extraordinary and fills my heart so much I fear it might burst. It also reminds me every damn day what true love really looks like, how little I know about anything, but how much I will do to try and learn and grow and figure it out.

Family photo by  Maike Devon Photography , December 2018

Family photo by Maike Devon Photography, December 2018

All bodies are good bodies and there’s no wrong way to have a body has taken on an even more critical role as our family mantra. Even when that body is hurting or feels broken. Our other family mantra, We Can Do Hard Things, has also become even more powerful as well.

Alice  drew this coloring page  for me and my Boise Rad Fat Collective earlier this year. Making art is not only fun but therapeutic for our children.

Alice drew this coloring page for me and my Boise Rad Fat Collective earlier this year. Making art is not only fun but therapeutic for our children.

Family photo by  Maike Devon Photography , December 2018

Family photo by Maike Devon Photography, December 2018

Alice does a lot of writing of poetry and songs as a way to process her thoughts and emotions and was inspired to write this the other night after we watched the documentary UNSTUCK about kids with OCD.

Alice does a lot of writing of poetry and songs as a way to process her thoughts and emotions and was inspired to write this the other night after we watched the documentary UNSTUCK about kids with OCD.

We’ve been trying to figure out, as parents, how to talk to Alice about these things, about how much to focus on them, on whether or not to make it a big deal or not. We want to honor her unique traits as something that makes her special and amazing despite the challenges they might create but also don’t want these things to define her. I want to empower her to not be silent in shame but to have the ability to keep some things private if she chooses. I want to be careful because it’s not entirely my story to share. This is, quite honestly, a big struggle of being a writer - a mommyblogger for the past ten years - on the internet.

I once read this interview with Glennon Doyle where she talked about how we should write from a place of a scar not an open wound. I generally believe that to be true, but I’ve been living with this open wound for over five years now and sometimes I feel like I’ve got it well bandaged up and a care plan in place and sometimes I feel like I’m bleeding out. I’ve struggled with how and when to share this story publicly, mostly because I feel like I’ve jumped off the deep end and I’m treading just to stay above the water.

But to be honest, as a mother for the past fifteen years, I feel like my heart is always hanging out wild and naked on my sleeve - huge and throbbing and cracked - when it comes to parenting and my family anyhow. Writing through my thoughts and feelings sometimes helps, not only me, but others, too. It also helps me remember that I actually do know how to swim, and reminds me that I’ve made sure my kids know how, too.

And my Alice is one of the best swimmers I know.

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A few resources that have helped our family, especially Alice, Eric and I, recently (UPDATE: I’ll keep adding to this list as I find more books, podcasts and recommendations from others!):

UNSTUCK: and OCD kids movie (documentary)

Living With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (podcast)

AT Parenting Kids with Anxiety and OCD (Facebook group)

Anxious Toddlers website and podcast

Support group for parents of Kids with OCD (Facebook group)

PEDIATRIC, TEEN & YOUNG ADULT MIGRAINE & HEADACHE DISORDERS PARENT SUPPORT (Facebook group)

Parent support group of children/teens suffering with migraines (Facebook group)

Too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight : what to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world by Sharon Heller (book)

Freeing your child from obsessive-compulsive disorder : a powerful, practical program for parents of children and adolescents by Tamar Chansky (book)

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons (book)

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham (book)

Talking Back to OCD by Dr. John March (book)

 

New Year's Revolutions

A major step in my own body positive journey was relinquishing the control that New Year’s Resolutions had over me. They were often filled with shame – promising to make changes to “better myself,” specifically my body, in some way that felt forced upon me by society instead of some way I personally wanted to grow. I recently found three lists of New Year’s Resolutions I’d penned in the early 1990s to my teenage self. Every year, the top three resolutions I made were exercise more, eat healthier, and lose weight. And every year I tried to do those things and ended up feeling worse about myself and failing because the truth was? I was already unhealthily addicted to exercise – I was captain of my cheerleading squad and had practice every morning, performed at one or two games after school, and attended one or two aerobics classes in between. I literally couldn’t have fit in more exercise if I tried. I also felt bad when I ate candy bars from the vending machine and buttery popcorn from the football concession stand, which fueled the exercising obsession, because I needed to “work off those calories.” I tried diet pills (which I hated because they made me feel nauseous) and making myself vomit after eating (which I also hated because I dislike puking as much as I dislike nausea). It took me fifteen more years before I learned that there was a different way, a more positive way, to celebrate the ringing in of a new year.

Brilliant words by  Caroline Caldwell  that has become my life - and work - mantra since 2015. I made it into these body positive buttons for my  RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists  (and  Feminist Teens ).

Brilliant words by Caroline Caldwell that has become my life - and work - mantra since 2015. I made it into these body positive buttons for my RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists (and Feminist Teens).

And when I did, it was not only eye-opening, it was soul-awakening. I finally learned the healthiest way to shed the weight I’d been longing for this whole time – only it wasn’t the pounds of flesh on my body that needed to go. It was the heaviness in my heart telling me I was a failure. I realized that it wasn’t me that needed fixing or changing, it was society. So I decided to take that on, one little New Year’s Resolution – scratch that – Revolution at a time. I already had an extraordinary life and a body I was comfortable with that allowed me to move through my days doing the things I loved. I decided to focus on the DOs rather than the DON’Ts.

Spending more time making things with my hands is always a good intention for me, anytime of the year. This unfinished cross stitch piece has been waiting in my art room for a few years now but I have to say that it’s perfectly done enough. I love the simple but important sentiment. There’s perfection in the incomplete projects, too.

Spending more time making things with my hands is always a good intention for me, anytime of the year. This unfinished cross stitch piece has been waiting in my art room for a few years now but I have to say that it’s perfectly done enough. I love the simple but important sentiment. There’s perfection in the incomplete projects, too.

Maike Devon Photography  took some amazing family photos in 15 minutes flat in thrift store sweaters and snow and laughter. This stolen kiss sums up my relationship with Dr. Brown perfectly.

Maike Devon Photography took some amazing family photos in 15 minutes flat in thrift store sweaters and snow and laughter. This stolen kiss sums up my relationship with Dr. Brown perfectly.

January marks new beginnings – a fresh calendar with an empty slate to fill with living life in extraordinary ways. I also love the notion of taking on a good hearty challenge and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, to do something hard, to make a difference. Here are a few of my favorite shame-free body positive suggestions:

  • Buy a fun piece of clothing in a style that pushes you outside of your normal comfort zone, with no regard for the size on the tag.

  • Find a cookbook from a new chef and learn to make all (or several) recipes out of it.

  • Take your bathroom scale to the thrift store. (Better yet, take it to the backyard and smash it with a hammer!)

  • Revamp your media feed. Delete all the weight loss and diet pages you follow and replace them with fierce fabulous fatties on Instagram and Facebook pages from body positive resources (like me!).

  • Add a body positive book (or three) to your reading list this year, like Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology, Brittany Gibbon’s Fat Girl Walking, or August McLaughlin’s Girl Boner.

  • Invest in yourself. Spend a little money taking up the space your deserve and on things that will bring you more joy in the new year. If you’re local to the Boise area - I’ve got the best place to start adding more sex positivity to your life. Kick off 2019 with me at the Positively Good Sex workshop at the Linen Building on January 5th!

Photo from our first  Boise Rad Fat Collective  Body Positive Boudoir mini photo shoot last spring; wise words by Dolly Parton inspired by  Dumplin’

Photo from our first Boise Rad Fat Collective Body Positive Boudoir mini photo shoot last spring; wise words by Dolly Parton inspired by Dumplin’

Wearing a crop top with my belly rolls has been a push out of my comfort zone as well as liberating. This cute one was thrifted from  Curvy Girl Kate’s  consignment shop, Curvy jeans by Lee, decade old sandals from Walmart, sexy attitude courtesy my own hotel room at the Mirage in Las Vegas for a self-love mini workshop I was leading for a body positive girls’ birthday weekend.

Wearing a crop top with my belly rolls has been a push out of my comfort zone as well as liberating. This cute one was thrifted from Curvy Girl Kate’s consignment shop, Curvy jeans by Lee, decade old sandals from Walmart, sexy attitude courtesy my own hotel room at the Mirage in Las Vegas for a self-love mini workshop I was leading for a body positive girls’ birthday weekend.

Remember, New Year Revolutions don’t have to be grand proclamations. They can be tiny, beautiful and personal things that mean something to you. So here’s to celebrating revolutions and changing the world – one big or small step at a time.

“Full of shit” was a comment made about me recently regarding my ideas on body positivity and feminism and opting out of our body shaming pro-diet culture. I’m not full of shit, actually. What I am full of is positivity and hope and love and acceptance and pride and courage and resilience and power.  So I’ll gladly climb up on this soapbox and preach the liberation of bodies and stand up for the most marginalized among us all year long.

“Full of shit” was a comment made about me recently regarding my ideas on body positivity and feminism and opting out of our body shaming pro-diet culture. I’m not full of shit, actually. What I am full of is positivity and hope and love and acceptance and pride and courage and resilience and power.

So I’ll gladly climb up on this soapbox and preach the liberation of bodies and stand up for the most marginalized among us all year long.

11 Fashion Faves

While I’m certainly no fashionista, as you know if you follow me on Instagram or know me in real life, I do have a style that is all my own. It’s unique, quirky, fun, practical and usually casual. This goes for my make-up, hair and skin care routines as well. I’ve written before about my philosophy on wearing what I want, doing what I want with my body and not abiding by nonsense fashion rules. I’m thrifty and not at all afraid to look outside of the box when I need or want something particular. (If you follow me on IG you also know I’m on the hunt for mom jeans crossed with boyfriend jeans in plus-sizes with a high waist, medium wash and lightly distressed with a LOOSE FIT NOT SKINNIES that I can find and try on in a brick and mortar store but I’ll be searching for this unicorn a LONGGGGG TIME I know.) Anyhow, I’ve been sitting on some new fun personal faves for a while and in true good Oprah fashion (not in diet-pitching Oprah style), I thought the holidays would be a good time to share eleven of my favorite things, both new and old.

1)      Oiling : I started oiling my face nearly two years ago now and IT IS AMAZING. I even got my Lucy on board and she loves it, too. It’s so simple to make your own and here’s my favorite recipe for dry skin: 1/3 c. avocado oil, 1/3 c. castor oil, 1/3 c. jojoba oil, several drops of rosemary essential oil. (You can use any kind of essential oil you choose; we had rosemary on hand and it smells great and has protectants against sun damage plus antiseptic properties so works well for me. You can find some other oil recipes here.) I get all the oils in larger jars at Whole Foods (about $30 total) and measure them out into a squeeze bottle and shake it up, with plenty left to make another future batch. My recipe makes 1 cup’s worth which lasts me at least 6 months, if not a year, as I only use a dime-sized bit in the palm of my hand in the shower each night. I wet my face with warm water, massage the oil all over my face, neck and eyes to remove any make-up, leave on for about 5-10 minutes and wipe off with a wet, warm washcloth. That’s it. It leaves my skin so clean and soft that no other moisturizer is needed. It doesn’t cause me to break out, nor my teenager either. I swear by this!

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2)      Men’s wear : Since I was a plus-sized teenager who grew up in a rural Idaho town that had zero options for larger sized women’s clothing I learned that the more generous fit of men’s wear was my friend. I started with Levis, moved on to shop men’s wider width shoes which fit my feet so much better, and have always purchased men’s ski pants, ski coats and boots, as they were the only ones that would fit over my big butt and calves. I’m lucky to live in a world now where feminine plus-sized fashion has grown leaps and bounds since my teen years (but still has a LONG WAY to go), yet I still shop them men’s side for a few things: hats and Chaco sandals. They are often cheaper, wider and rounder, making for a more comfortable fit for my fat head and feet. Luckily the styles are super cute and more neutral, which is always my style in hats and shoes. I love Target or JC Penney for men’s hats for around $20 or less and Sierra Trading Post for Chaco sandals for less than $40.

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3)      Dr. Pepper LipSmackers : Many of you who know me know that I am never ever without a tube of Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper LipSmackers in my pocket. In fact, I probably currently have 30 in possession, in every single pocket of every item of clothing I own, in all make-up and travel bags, both vehicles and my purses. I literally cannot live without its slight pink tint and sweet scent. I have tried a gazillion other lip balms, trust me, but none are as long lasting and keep my lips moist as this one. They used to be so easy to find and were $1.25 at every drugstore in town, but there was a big scare by Bonne Bell that they were discontinuing it a few years ago and all my friends were buying them for me and telling me every time they saw them and I’m worried that the discontinuation was a bit delayed because now I’m not seeing them anywhere and am beginning to get freaked out. (SOS let me know if you see any or if you want to get me something special this would be it. They currently run about $1.99 each.)

You can tell how well loved and used these are when the labels start to wear off. (And you can also see how well loved our sweet kitty Penny is.)

You can tell how well loved and used these are when the labels start to wear off. (And you can also see how well loved our sweet kitty Penny is.)

4)      Salt + Oil bath : While I love me some bath bombs and fancy bubbles and oils that feel luxurious, I always come back to the basics in my baths, especially when I’m sick and sore, both mentally and physically. Plain old Epsom salts and a few drops of whatever essential oil I have on hand (peppermint and lavender are faves and usually always in our home). It really does get into my bones and my nose and ultimately my head, making everything better. The Epsom salts can be found at the grocery store for around $5 a bag and essential oils at places like Whole Foods and even Walmart for about $7-9 for a small bottle that will last a long time.

image courtesy www.bulksaltsbathandbody.com

image courtesy www.bulksaltsbathandbody.com

5)      Homemade dry powder shampoo : My wily silver hair has gotten kinkier and drier as it changes, leaving my scalp really sensitive and dry. In an effort to preserve my tender skin on my head as well as prolong the beautiful red highlights my stylist gives me every three months or so, I usually only wash my hair once or twice a week. It never looks or gets oily, and my natural curls are enhanced by bedhead, so it works. Plus, I don’t really use product and don’t curl or blow dry, so my style is natural and usually looks different every day. To keep it a bit manageable, make it smell fresher and to style with my fingers I use a salt shaker full of corn starch, shake a bit either on my hands or on the roots of my hair, and rub through. (You can also use baby powder for the same effect.) It’s like a natural alternative to dry shampoo, super cheap, and lasts forever. You probably have one or the other in your house already.

Double the pro-tip: this is also the exact same way we used corn starch as THE BEST diaper rash treatment ever for all our babies. And we tried all of those different options, too.

Double the pro-tip: this is also the exact same way we used corn starch as THE BEST diaper rash treatment ever for all our babies. And we tried all of those different options, too.

6)      Gold Bond Friction Defense stick : Every single summer I post this beloved find of mine for all the thick thighed folks in the world because I’ve tried all the products and this is not only cheap but hands-down my fave. I usually have three sticks at once – one in the travel box, one in the bathroom, and one in my purse for emergency reapplications. It looks like deodorant that you apply to the inside of your thighs to prevent chafing and unless you’re wet or sweating a lot, will last for hours. Perfect for short shorts or dresses. And it’s around $5 at Walmart, Target or online and is almost always found in the men’s athlete foot section of the health care department.

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7)      Queen Helene Original Cholesterol cream: My mom introduced me to this stuff when I was a kid with thick long hair and I thought it was so bizarre and uncool but soon realized there is nothing else that works better and for this price point. It’s usually $8 a tub now (it used to be $3.99 when I first started using it) and now more difficult to find locally, but always available online on Amazon or at places like Sally Beauty Supply. I use it once a month for that super dry scalp I mentioned. I wet my hair, towel dry, apply generously and rub especially into my scalp, cover my head with a shower cap and wrap it all up in a towel turban for about an hour before showering. So luxurious and moisturized! (There are many different kinds and versions of this which I’ve also tried but they are not the same as my tried and true original.)

image courtesy www.amazon.com

image courtesy www.amazon.com

8)      Thrifting & consignment shops : It was when I was in high school in that rural Idaho town that carried no plus sizes for women that I discovered the joy of thrift shopping. I loved the hunt, the quirky treasures, the vintage finds, helping the environment by reusing and the fun you could have with fashion on the cheap. This carried over into college where I perfected my thrift store style and it’s never left me. In fact, it’s only gotten stronger, especially after a surprise layoff in 2009 during the Recession that luckily happened to coincide with my family taking on The Compact for our New Year’s Resolution further bucking our consumerist culture.  I’ve also been hosting a yearly clothing swap for the past ten years and this has also been amazingly fun. Shopping your friends’ closets and cool styles for free? Yes please! Two years ago Curvy Girl Kate’s, the local plus-sized consignment shop, opened up in Boise by my friend Bobbie Jo and this has also been game-changing, not only for me, but for so many other big beautiful people in the Treasure Valley. Sure, it can be a challenge to find exactly what you’re looking for, but if you’re open-minded, creative and flexible you’ll find it as fun and liberating as I do (and not just on your wallet).

Channeling a little Joan Holloway crossed with a little Michelle Obama in this sweet dress from Curvy Girl Kate’s, $10, and black thrift shop Dansko Mary Janes, $8. for my lectures on fat feminism and art activism at Oregon State University last spring.

Channeling a little Joan Holloway crossed with a little Michelle Obama in this sweet dress from Curvy Girl Kate’s, $10, and black thrift shop Dansko Mary Janes, $8. for my lectures on fat feminism and art activism at Oregon State University last spring.

9)      Ivory soap : Like most women, I’ve tried every single body wash, fun new face product, acne cream, etc. I’ve spent $4 and $90 and everything in between. For me, nothing – and I mean nothing – works better for body wash (and face wash in between my oilings) than plain old white Ivory bar soap. It’s simple and smells clean and so cheap. I think it’s like $3 for a pack of three at Winco. I use it and every person in our family uses it and it doesn’t dry out our skin terribly or cause breakouts or have a lingering sickening sweet stickiness or smell.

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10) Reading glasses : After squinting and pulling back my kids homework at least two feet from my face to be able to read it for about a year I finally called for an eye appointment with the doctor. I had a feeling it was time for reading glasses, and I was right. He prescribed me a 1.25 and told me I should buy like 10 pairs at the dollar store and put one in every room of my house and in each car. I couldn’t believe what a difference this made and SO FAST. The dollar store also has cute little beaded neck chains and readers in a bunch of funky colors and I don’t feel bad when my toddler snaps them in half (which he often does).

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11)   Bralettes : I wore hefty sports bras for years daily even when I wasn’t working out because I detest underwire. Eventually  - maybe ten years ago – someone started creating cuter and more trendy sports bras that were less for hard core physical exercise and more for everyday wear. These only came in straight sizes, though, and not plus-sized, so if I got lucky and found a really stretchy brand that carried an XXL or the like I MIGHT be able to fit in one. I don’t know who invented the bralette (wait, thanks to Google, I see it was Marie Phelps Jacobs in 1914!!) but I’m so glad. Lacy, sexy and sweet and available now in a TON of sizes, I’ve purchased them from Torrid to Walmart in a variety of colors and LOVE them. While I still have a few underwire bras for certain outfits, namely dresses I wear to formal events or speaking engagements, I live in bralettes.

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Redwoods

“Your legs look like redwood trees.”

This comment was just one of many I got over the last weekend from trolls on Instagram, usually white teenage Trump loving, racist, homophobic and misogynistic boys in Boise. (How do I know this? Well, often their username is so appalling it contains some bigotry but a quick glance of their page makes it so clear so fast it will turn your stomach.) The other comments were more typical: you’re a liberal, you’re disgusting, you make me want to puke, and various emojis representing such. I’ve woken up to comments like these every single day for the last 1,185 days (yes, I counted). I’m often referred to in animalistic ways – fat pig, landwhale, old cow. Never before have I been referred to as a tree, though.

photo by  Maike Devon Photography  for her female nude in nature photo series, summer 2018, Grimes Creek, Idaho

photo by Maike Devon Photography for her female nude in nature photo series, summer 2018, Grimes Creek, Idaho

I’ve written often about the importance and beauty of trees in my work as a body image activist, as a mother, as a metaphor for life and death. I’ve written before about my connection to the earth and the planting of seeds I do both literally as the school garden coordinator at my neighborhood elementary school, and metaphorically, as a body image activist dropping tiny bits of radicalism in education here and there and watching them sprout, take root, reach for the sky, blossom. Though I’ve not been called a tree, I often think of myself as one. Especially when I’m doing a guided meditation with Jenn of Zen Riot or taking a yoga class from her. Barefooted, I ground myself into the earth and concentrate on feeling my roots pull into the planet’s core, my feet dirty and solid and strong.

photo by Melanie Folwell of  the stand for self-love , radical self-acceptance performance art activism piece, August 2015

photo by Melanie Folwell of the stand for self-love, radical self-acceptance performance art activism piece, August 2015

I was thinking about this comment all weekend as my big thighs carried me up and down flights and flights of stairs at JUMP Boise, as I helped run the biggest and best indie holiday art & craft bazaar in the state of Idaho (seriously FOOD & WINE MAG SAID SO). I thought about it today as Jenn did some Thai bodywork on my naked and aching body after this long weekend running Wintry Market, especially as she rolled her oiled hands around my fat legs, pushing her arm into my generous behind, wrapping my cracked feet with warm, wet scented washcloths. I thought for a moment about apologizing for how dirty my perpetually bare feet are from walking the hardwood floors of my home, picking up the same toy a gazillion times, doing the dishes, carrying laundry, emptying garbage cans. But I’m done apologizing for my body. My feet, like the rest of my legs, show signs of life – I have hips covered with the glittery stretchmarks of puberty and childbirth, thighs dimpled with cellulite, skin dry from the winter cold and still golden brown from the summer sun, a giant bush of black pubes – a few glinting silver.

photo by Kristin Montgomery, my Wintry Market business partner, of me being  interviewed by KIVI news  this past weekend at JUMP Boise where we welcomed over 13,000 people shopping 72 makers buying handmade for the holidays

photo by Kristin Montgomery, my Wintry Market business partner, of me being interviewed by KIVI news this past weekend at JUMP Boise where we welcomed over 13,000 people shopping 72 makers buying handmade for the holidays

When I was a teen my parents took our family on a road trip to the California coast, and it was the first time I ever saw the Redwoods. They were magnificent and larger than life – we drove our car through one and stopped in the middle in awe. The National Park Service website tells you a lot of information about these spectacular trees – about their rings of wisdom, about how it’s still a mystery why the Redwoods grow so tall, about how they’re virtually immune to their natural enemies. They tell about how superlatives abound when a person tries to describe old-growth redwoods: words like immense, ancient, stately, mysterious, powerful. Yet the trees were not designed for easy assimilation into language. Their exterior is rough and ragged a deep red texture. But their existence speaks for themselves, not in words, but rather in a soft-toned voice of patience and endurance.

Clap, from the self-portrait series  Mother Figure,  2017

Clap, from the self-portrait series Mother Figure, 2017

I know he meant to insult me, but telling me I look like Redwood trees might be one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

Jennifer Lives

The movies Thelma & Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes both came out in 1991 when I was sixteen-years-old. This was the same year I cut off all my long curly hair into a pixie cut without my parents permission and wore a pantsuit to my high school homecoming dance in perhaps my first intentional act of defiance against beauty standards that had been imposed upon me. (Women have a long history of drastically cutting off their hair during times of distress, discomfort, personal revolutions.) Although I’m quite certain I’d not yet heard the word “feminist” at that age, in just a few years I’d discover there was a word and a whole movement of women and folks who'd paved the way ahead of me, including the writers of these stories and films.

I watched them both in awe and excitement, the thrill of seeing women be so outwardly brave and angry and messy and violent was both terrifying and liberating. Standing up, speaking out, opening restaurants, running away, tearing down walls, crashing cars, killing an abuser and barbecuing his body, blowing shit up, driving off of cliffs. I watched their defiance on the screen and was hungry for more stories like this about dissent and rage. I soon discovered that one of them was based on a book, Fannie Flagg’s 1987 Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Café, and the original copy sits on my bookshelf still today, a prized possession. When we’d just moved in together in 1999 in Oregon, I convinced Eric to take turns reading chapters aloud to one another each night in bed. We both cried about Ruth’s death and Idgie’s heartbreak.

About the time Eric and I read the book he came home one day and said, “I heard this girl band on the radio and I think you’d really like them. They play country, but it’s different. They write lyrics you’d love. They’re called the Dixie Chicks.” He was right. I immediately fell in love with them and was absolutely taken with their song Goodbye Earl, another story of two female friends taking justice of a male abuser into their own hands, poisoning his peas, hiding his body and running off together.

I got to see them in concert when I was so very pregnant with Lucy in Minneapolis in 2003, the year received so many protestors after backlash for criticizing President George W. Bush at a concert and ignited even more controversy about their right to speak up for change and refusal to speak nice and apologize. (They later wrote a hit song about it, too.)

That same year Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill came out, a powerful and gruesome martial arts film starring Uma Thurman as The Bride who enacts revenge on a team of assassins who tried to kill her and her unborn child. It’s bloody and filled with female violence and I am here for it.

Sarai Walker published the book Dietland in 2015 and in 2016 I started the Boise Rad Fat Collective Radical Reads Book Club and made them also read it almost immediately. The novel follows Plum Kettle, a 300-pound ghostwriter hired to respond to the hundreds of emails written to the editor of popular teen magazine, Daisy Chain. Plum fantasizes about being thin and after years of failed diet plans, schedules an appointment for weight loss surgery. While awaiting her surgery date, Plum finds herself recruited by an underground feminist cabal known as "Calliope House". Meanwhile, a guerrilla group known as "Jennifer" begins carrying out increasingly violent acts of vigilante justice against those who mistreat women, and Plum soon finds herself at the center of a sinister plot. My friend Rachel and I began hashtagging all sorts of news stories we’d read with #jenniferlives and I started adding it to radical things I wrote, too. When AMC hired Marti Noxon to create a TV show based on the book and fat activist Joy Nash to play Plum, I squealed with excitement. We had a premiere watch party at Curvy Girl Kate’s plus sized consignment shop and binge watched the rest with a crew of my Rad Fatties. (I was so disappointed it wasn’t picked up for a second season, but it was just re-released on Hulu TODAY, so if you haven't watched yet, please do. It’s so worth it!)

Last year one of my Rad Fatties, as I lovingly call the members of my Boise Rad Fat Collective, was harassed on the street near my house while she was helping push a broken down car out of the road. A man stood on the side of the street screaming at her the words “fat sow” and “fat bitch” and she, in all her rightful angry rage, physically rushed up and confronted him. He pushed her and she took photos of his license plate and called the police. She shared her story on Facebook and in our group and her response blew my mind. First, for being a good and helpful citizen in my neighborhood and my city when someone was in need. Second, for calling attention to this type of misogynistic fatphobic bullying we see all too often. Third, because there is so much power in speaking up for yourself and by doing so helping us all to do the same. I was so proud of her and appalled by his behavior that I shared the post on social media and was met by backlash from other women that her response was inappropriate and that I, as the leader of the local body positive movement, was promoting violence and putting vulnerable people like her at risk for suggesting they fight back, both physically and verbally. While the assumption of these women was wrong - I don’t actually suggest or recommend to my Rad Fatties that fighting back is the way to handle aggression at all -I do think that her response was warranted and powerful and felt right to her. And I will always wholeheartedly applaud that. And, yes, sometimes that includes getting physical. Sometimes it’s okay for women to rage, jump in, be loud.

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Sometimes we need to get angry.

Raise our voices.

Stand up.

Take a leap.

Burn it down.

Fight.






Body Positive Tips for Parents

I often say that it was really motherhood that launched me into body image activism. Watching my body change so intensely during pregnancy, seeing what it could do during childbirth, and the overwhelming period of post-partum was a crash-course in self-acceptance. I began to think that there must be a new way to relinquish the body shame of my past - for myself and my child.

Fast-forward a decade and a half and I’m now the mother of three young children. A few years ago, in a radical act of self-love and body positivity, I stripped down to a blindfold and a black bikini as a fat, forty-year-old mom in a busy market downtown Boise, Idaho. I had markers in my hand and a chalkboard sign at my feet asking people to draw a heart on my body if they’d ever struggled with a self-esteem issue and believed all bodies are valuable. Afterwards I got a message from a mother with a page of homework from her six-year-old daughter, with an answer to the question “Have you ever been teased?” followed by a drawing and the answer “one time someone said my legs were fat.” There is a real war being waged right now on people of size and our children are the most vulnerable victims. Lay down your weapons and make peace with your body and teach your children to do the same. It’s revolutionary.

I spend a lot of time at home and making it as comfortable and radical a space I can is important and conducive to not my growth and that of my family. Here are a few of my favorite (and easy!) ways to make your family life and home more body positive.

My daughter, Alice, hand drew this We Are All Unique coloring pages for our Boise Rad Fat Collective events. The All Bodies Are Good Bodies coloring pages underneath were created by Idaho artist Jenny Hefner.

My daughter, Alice, hand drew this We Are All Unique coloring pages for our Boise Rad Fat Collective events. The All Bodies Are Good Bodies coloring pages underneath were created by Idaho artist Jenny Hefner.

Me speaking on body positivity to a crew of 5th and 6th graders at the Foothills School of the Arts & Sciences in 2017. Their teacher instructed us to give our most powerful pose for this photo together.

Me speaking on body positivity to a crew of 5th and 6th graders at the Foothills School of the Arts & Sciences in 2017. Their teacher instructed us to give our most powerful pose for this photo together.

This print is titled  Rad Women  and made by artist Cassandra Schiffler based on tracings of the diverse bodies of women at my first  RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists  in 2017. She gifted this to me and it now hangs in my home.

This print is titled Rad Women and made by artist Cassandra Schiffler based on tracings of the diverse bodies of women at my first RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists in 2017. She gifted this to me and it now hangs in my home.

A page from the kids’ book  Brontorina , one of our body positive family favorites.

A page from the kids’ book Brontorina, one of our body positive family favorites.

  1. Our family mantra is “All bodies are good bodies and there is no wrong way to have a body.” We have a coloring page stating such hung on all our bathroom mirrors as a reminder.

  2. Read body positive books from the library. Some of our favorites for kids are Your Body Is Awesome by Sigrun Danielsdottir and Brontorina by James Howe and Randy Cecil.

  3. Put something new and rad on your shelves for you while you’re at it. Treat yourself to Charlotte Cooper’s new book Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement or buy the DVD of the movie Patti Cake$. Enjoying body positive books and movies are a fun and educational way to move forward on your own body positive journey.

  4. Some of my favorite family-friendly movies with strong female characters not defined by their looks are Brave, Frozen, Penelope or Ponyo.

  5. Move your body for fun rather than out of fear and invite your kids to join in! This can be as easy as gardening, walking to school or riding your bikes to the grocery store.

  6. Compliment your kids (and others) on things like courage, resilience, and smarts rather than physical attributes.

  7. Get rid of that bathroom scale. Give it away to the thrift store or ceremoniously smash it with a hammer. Your gravitational pull on the earth is irrelevant and has no bearing on who you really are.

  8. Buy and hang some size-positive art. Surrounding yourself with inspiration and beauty is good for the spirit. There are many artists creating beautiful images of fat folks and diverse bodies (Instagram and Etsy are my favorite places to shop). You can also have your kids create some of their own!

  9. Clean out your closet - and everyone else’s, too. Just like the number on the scale is meaningless, so is the number on the tags of your clothing. Keep things that fit well and make you feel fantastic and donate the rest.

  10. Spend some time together in your kitchen. Check out a new cookbook by a well-known chef from the library or print off one of those recipes everyone is sharing around Facebook and give it a try. Bake a birthday cake for a friend or learn mise en place. Food should be easy and enjoyable, not stressful or scary. (Check out the Ellyn Satter Institute for some amazing tips on creating a positive relationship with food for your children.)

*This blog post is a combination of two previously published articles I wrote for FabUplus magazine in the Spring 2017 edition titled “Raising Body Positive Kids” as well as the Winter 2017/18 edition titled “How to Create a Body Positive Home.”

Years ago I took on the challenge of making every single recipe out of this cookbook in one year’s time. It provided our family with a fun culinary adventure and learning about different kinds of foods and how to plan for recipes.

Years ago I took on the challenge of making every single recipe out of this cookbook in one year’s time. It provided our family with a fun culinary adventure and learning about different kinds of foods and how to plan for recipes.

In addition to spending summer weekends camping and hiking with our kids and working often at the school garden, we love to take them skiing and sledding, which are fun and easy ways to move our bodies outdoors.

In addition to spending summer weekends camping and hiking with our kids and working often at the school garden, we love to take them skiing and sledding, which are fun and easy ways to move our bodies outdoors.

photo raising body posi kids spring 2017.jpg

How To Be Healthy

Nine years ago as a 33-year-old feminist mother of two daughters I was done hating my body and knew there had to be a better way, a different way to raise my daughters than the misogynistic body shame filled society I had grown up in so I Googled the words “why am I fat and happy” because I literally knew no one else in real life who felt the same way I did. It led me down a rabbit hole of the history of the fat acceptance movement (later called body positivity) and books and blogs and Tumblr feeds and artists that forever changed my life.

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I spent the first three years reading, reading and reading some more, educating myself on the history of bodies and beauty standards and those who came before me and the folks who were working in this arena now. What I was feeling and learning about bodies and how there might be a new way, a better way to live than I’d been taught started showing up more and more, coming out of my mouth, showing up in my writing, in my art and on my Facebook wall. It was met with extraordinary pushback and continues to, from those I know and love and strangers, trolls, people on the internet. This is true of women who live in the public eye of any sort, but especially fat women who love themselves as they are and encourage others to do the same.

I learned as a teen that my body was a political vessel and I often use it as a canvas for my art and activism. Over the years I’ve done several performance art pieces geared around bodies in Boise and they’ve received mixed reviews – from hateful to positive. Three years ago I tried a little performance piece in a black bikini with a blindfold and markers in the Capitol City Public Market with a chalkboard sign that read, “ I’m standing for anyone who has ever suffered from a self-esteem issue like me because all bodies are valuable.  To support self-acceptance draw a heart on my body.” Much to my surprise it was an hour filled with the most overwhelmingly emotional humanity and kindness compassion imaginable as people from all walks of life not only participated in my project but changed it in extraordinary ways. I wrote a blog post and had a photographer on site and we turned some of the photos into a little iMovie that went viral for the best possible reason. I was handed a microphone on major media all over the world and it seems they like what I have to say about bodies, as I’ve not let go since.

*I know this happens every year around this time and it's currently going through a massive re-viral sharing, but can I just take a moment to tell you what a head and heart exploding phenomenon this beautiful vulnerable thing is? This version of the stand for self-love video just received 1.2 MILLION new views in the past FIVE DAYS ALONE.

I encourage people, and women especially, to really think hard about whether or not losing weight is their life’s purpose. For me, hating myself, exercising out of shame rather than loving moving my body, being fearful of rather than enjoying food put me in a constant battle with myself and war against my body that I never wanted to fight. It caused so much emotional strain, mental anguish and trauma not to mention so much time and energy wasted that I now spend loving, learning, teaching, speaking out and standing up and changing the world for the better.

health indicators happy healthy RD.jpg

Over the past few months I’ve been asked to speak at both of the largest hospitals in the state on health and wellness and what they look like to me - which is markedly different than what many of them as health professionals learned in medical school. “Being healthy” looks and means something different to each of us. It’s important to realize that we don’t have that much control over our health in the first place. There are so many things that play into our health, like age, gender, sexuality, race, class, illness, accidents, etc. that we actually have very little control over. The things I do have some control over, in conjunction with these other factors, help define wellness to me. Whole health is so much more than the number on the scale, your BMI, what you eat or don’t eat, how much you exercise. It includes mental health, emotional health, spiritual health and sexual health. It includes having a positive relationship with food, energy, low stress levels and happiness.

What a treat it was to spend time with writer and sexual health educator  August McLaughlin  of  Girl Boner  the other night. We realized we had so much in common over drinks and summer rolls at  Mai Thai Restaurant & Bar , most importantly, perhaps, the knowledge of how much body confidence and self-esteem makes sex - and life - a whole lot more fulfilling, powerful and fun. (Along with sex toys and freedom from shame.) 🙌🏼🤩  She read from her new book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment, followed by a Q&A at my fave indie bookstore  Rediscovered Bookshop  afterward which was the dessert to wrap up the evening. Looking forward to diving in, boner first, to her book. 📖 💪🏼💜  {also: I’m totally giving side eye to the dudes hooting and hollaring on the pedal bar on the street here but August said it looks like I’m thinking a naughty little thought 💭 😳 which also works. And big thanks to  Amberjack Publishing  for inviting me 🙏🏼}

What a treat it was to spend time with writer and sexual health educator August McLaughlin of Girl Boner the other night. We realized we had so much in common over drinks and summer rolls at Mai Thai Restaurant & Bar, most importantly, perhaps, the knowledge of how much body confidence and self-esteem makes sex - and life - a whole lot more fulfilling, powerful and fun. (Along with sex toys and freedom from shame.) 🙌🏼🤩

She read from her new book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment, followed by a Q&A at my fave indie bookstore Rediscovered Bookshop afterward which was the dessert to wrap up the evening. Looking forward to diving in, boner first, to her book. 📖 💪🏼💜

{also: I’m totally giving side eye to the dudes hooting and hollaring on the pedal bar on the street here but August said it looks like I’m thinking a naughty little thought 💭 😳 which also works. And big thanks to Amberjack Publishing for inviting me 🙏🏼}

I was also asked to consider my biggest pet peeves about the current state of health and wellness in this country. I wouldn’t say I have pet peeves so much as legit and serious concerns with the health and wellness industries and the previous beliefs about them.

One of my major problems with the contemporary beliefs about health and wellness is this notion that skinny=healthy, even when the data and research and studies and a bunch of life stories tell us otherwise. You cannot tell how healthy someone is by looking at them. There are thin unhealthy people and there are fatter healthy people and all sizes in between. And we find this major misconception not only pervasive within our own culture, but perpetuated by some medical professionals as well. I’ve had so many people of size, in particular women, who have told me horror stories of going in to urgent care for a sinus infection or into the doctor with a broken bone from a fall and leaving with a diet plan and a “prescription” to lose weight or consider weight loss surgery. It’s making people not want to go to the doctor and avoiding necessary self-care for years and years because they’ve been wrongly diagnosed and shamed for living their lives in their bodies. So, as you can tell, it’s more than a pet peeve to me, it’s appalling and time to change.

*I made this little video the day I was preparing to speak to St. Alphonsus Hospital on health and wellness as part of a panel at their Wine, Women & Wellness fundraiser. It was inspired by the body positive rapper from Minneapolis, Lizzo, (in particular this song and this video) whose concert I also attended later that night and all the haters who love to make comments about my fat body and assumptions about my health on the internet.

Another concern I have is how disconnected we have become from our food and the basics of understanding, preparing and growing it perpetuated by the ever changing science of nutrition. Like Robyn, a registered dietician and nurse practitioner said, “If your food choices are causing you more stress, isolating you from social situations, disconnecting you emotionally, not satisfying your taste buds and cravings, or leaving you feeling chaotic and out of control around certain foods…your food choices are not healthy at all.”

I cannot recommend these health and wellness books enough.

I cannot recommend these health and wellness books enough.

So much of our current health and wellness industrial complex is more about selling us shame and profiting off insecurities rather than real whole health. I think we buy into it, and often get so caught up in perfecting and changing our bodies that we forget that the fact that they are supposed to change throughout time is inherently human. It’s literally what being human is all about. We’re born at around 7 lbs and less than two feet long and grow exponentially through our youth to puberty when significant changes happen to sometimes pregnancy, childbirth, post partum and eventually menopause and aging until we die – not to mention throwing in there accidents and illnesses. I think that learning to accept this as a natural way of life, even if we don’t LIKE it necessarily, is one of the healthiest things you can do for your whole health and your body.



Let Yourself Go

My uterus started falling out of my body the day I flew across the country to spend twenty-four hours alone in Boston before meeting up with a friend. My back ached on the airplane the entire way, my thighs hurt and I felt a constant need to stretch and twist and rub my swollen abdomen. I thought it was just my newly intense period cramps starting, as officially entering perimenopause and getting off all medications, including birth control pills, has made my experience with menstruating a different one. I put a tampon in and luckily also had a pad on and when I bled heavily through both, and, along with the more intense pain, I knew something was unusual for me. I pulled out the tampon and with it came part of my internal organ. I panicked, grabbed a small mirror from my make-up travel bag, and didn’t really know what I was looking at so turned to Google like all smart people do. I sat on the toilet trying not to cry and calmly used my finger to push my uterus back up inside me as far as I could. I laid down on the hotel bed for a while and recalled I had walked past both a CVS pharmacy and an urgent care clinic near the hotel in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. I called Dr. Brown who also Googled it and we both read that if I wasn’t in extraordinary pain or bleeding extensively that this was a relatively normal occurrence, especially for middle-aged women who’d had three natural childbirths with large babies with gigantic heads, and not particularly worrisome.

Day five in Boston where it was cold as hell in March but my uterus was warm and snug INSIDE where it belongs.

Day five in Boston where it was cold as hell in March but my uterus was warm and snug INSIDE where it belongs.

I first wrote about my whirlwind, confusing and painful experience with starting menopause nearly three and a half years ago when I was 39 and Arlo was just one year old. I thought my post-partum hormones were just taking a long time to regulate (or maybe I was dying of some unusual disease because my anxious mind always goes there) as my symptoms seemed to me so random and disconnected – gingivitis for the first time in my life, my hair falling out, intense bouts of crying, a higher than my normally high libido, waking up one morning in February to large dark spots on the skin above my lip called melasma. This is all a natural part of aging, really, and includes my body getting softer and my skin a bit more crinkly. For me this also included my first bout with ovarian cysts earlier this summer, which began with a sharp shooting pain down my thigh followed by weeks of severe bloating, cramping and nausea. My gynecologist did an ultrasound to check and make sure nothing looked off because I was CERTAIN I had ovarian cancer (I don’t) and I also made her check and see how my uterus was fairing (it’s hanging in there, but maybe not for long).

Enjoying summer, my new teeny tiny yellow bikini and my skin and body that are getting softer all the time like butter. Taken at Payette Lake this summer at my annual RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminists.

Enjoying summer, my new teeny tiny yellow bikini and my skin and body that are getting softer all the time like butter. Taken at Payette Lake this summer at my annual RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminists.

I write and speak often about how motherhood and aging, along with my work as a death historian, have affected and informed my work in positive body image. For me, they are crucial, ordinary and extraordinary parts of my life and being a woman. So I was thrilled when Amy Keller Laird, former Beauty Director for Allure and Editor of Women’s Health magazines, contacted me for an interview for a long piece she was writing for TIME (yes, as in TIME fucking magazine - read the really good article featuring ME!!!! called Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? here) this summer on Gen X women, aging, and body positivity. We talked about a lot of things, some of which didn’t make it into the piece but many of them did.

Read the TIME magazine article Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? in its entirety  here

Read the TIME magazine article Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? in its entirety here

She talked to me about how she’s found that most brands that claim body positivity as their message usually feature only models in their 20s and maybe early 30s and although a few are using much older women (like in their 80s) it’s a veritable wasteland for those of us ages 38-53. As a body image activist pretty steeped in the movement, I have noticed the same thing - most of the others are really young (in their 20s), not middle-aged mothers who are doing important things to change the world in big and small ways while changing diapers at the same time. There aren't a lot of "everyday women" represented in this area and I think that brand campaigns are really missing out on an important demographic, as unphotoshopped campaigns from Target, Swimsuits For All, and Aerie have proven. Women (and men!) in my age demographic are working their asses off in both professional and domestic ways and are smart and have LOTS of money to spend on products and services that feel relatable and worthy. Representation matters - in life, activism and consumer culture. 

A portion of the TIME piece featuring me.  Read the TIME magazine article Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? in it's entirety   here

A portion of the TIME piece featuring me. Read the TIME magazine article Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? in it's entirety here

She brought up the fact that some celebs in this age group seem to be talking a bit more about their aging bodies, in references to wrinkles and such, but that’s about it. I agreed. So many people my age have been brought up in a looks and youth obsessed society and this radical notion that losing weight and looking young is NOT our life's purpose is first shocking, then sad, then angering and finally a revelation (and a revolution). Diet culture, which has recently been rebranded as "health" culture, was born from consumerism fed by our desire to cheat death, if we think about it. We don't like to see our body changing and "breaking down" or "looking our age" because that's a sign of a life well lived and nature taking its course. (Our bodies are supposed to change over time - that's what they do - from birth to puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, illness, accidents, menopause, aging, to ultimately death.) It's also a fear of becoming irrelevant, which is a very real problem for women. My age demographic has learned from watching our mothers and grandmothers (and media, to be honest) that the older we get the more invisible and disposable we become, and none of us want that, right? Body positivity and age positivity are changing that narrative, though, by saying that we are more than how we look, our body size, our perky breasts, or our sexual desirability.  I find it an honor to age and realize daily how lucky I am to still be alive and hope to be around for a very long time. We only get one body and one life and I'm keenly aware of that every day.

I've done a ton of press this summer on positive body image and feminism. I wore this sweet thrifted outfit to be interviewed recently on Idaho's NPR station. You can here the 10 minute segment on aging and body positivity  here.  

I've done a ton of press this summer on positive body image and feminism. I wore this sweet thrifted outfit to be interviewed recently on Idaho's NPR station. You can here the 10 minute segment on aging and body positivity here. 

I definitely think women in this Gen X age demographic would benefit from seeing other women in this age group and I know this from personal and professional experience. As a body image activist for the past nine years most of my followers and fans are women (and men!) between the ages of 35-60 and have been since the beginning. They continue to reach out to me with heartbreaking and heart-filling stories about their own middle-aged struggles with body image, which often started as children or teens and has continued to adulthood. They often tell me about how they're done waging a war with their bodies in a battle they are exhausted from fighting. They find my work and my life such an inspiration for living their best lives in their bodies and are so ready for the message that there may be a new way, a better way to live and embrace their aging bodies.

My annual goofy photo in front of the vintage map in our cabin at RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists, where someone brings me amazing panties and I use some baked good in the kitchen as pasties (this time featuring the notorious RBG and Stacey Cake's spicy ginger snap cookies.

My annual goofy photo in front of the vintage map in our cabin at RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists, where someone brings me amazing panties and I use some baked good in the kitchen as pasties (this time featuring the notorious RBG and Stacey Cake's spicy ginger snap cookies.

I think we are also a demographic that people (and the media) don't really know what to do with. We're often moms or dads, who are supposed to be frumpy, non-sexual beings striving to get our "bodies back" after children and doing all sorts of treatments to eradicate our wrinkles, muffin tops or beer bellies. We're no longer young but we're not really old yet and so many of us are at this sort of "tipping point" and terrified of hearing the words whispered, "wow, she's really let herself go." To which I say:  Let yourself go - from the bondage of body shame, the shackles of unrealistic beauty standards, and the ridiculous notion that your only value lay in the way you look.

Takeoff

At 4am this morning I put my baby on an airplane with a young girlfriend to take three flights halfway across the country to spend three weeks in Minnesota. They’ll be in the hinterland of her birthplace - so far north it's almost Canada - to a place she barely remembers since she hasn't been back since we moved to Idaho twelve years ago yesterday. I'm so excited for her to have a blast with a dear family we love on the biggest adventure of her lifetime thus far. 

These sweet girls have been friends since they were two-years-old. I look at them and see all at once their baby faces and the women they are becoming and I'm crying as I type this.

These sweet girls have been friends since they were two-years-old. I look at them and see all at once their baby faces and the women they are becoming and I'm crying as I type this.

Three days ago we started packing for this adventure to her homeland and I started to get that pressure behind my eyes and that stinging in my throat that indicates THE TEARS are coming because of THE GROWTH and THE CHANGE. Truth be told they've been coming a lot over the past year. When she got her first iPhone. When she surpassed me in height. When she wrote badass feminist poetry unbeknownst to me and bravely recited it on a microphone at a slam in front of a packed house. When Dr. Brown taught her to drive a few months ago on the dirt roads of the Oregon Trail while we were camping. When I took her to the DMV to get her first official state ID card. When we went to the bank to open her first checking and savings accounts and get a debit card. When she got her first job as a youth activist a few weeks ago.

lucy learning to drive at grandma lous.jpg

But when we started packing for this Minnesota trip those physical sensations came again. We were looking through our motley assortment of backpacks for her to select as a carry-on she picked a tan one. An ordinary canvas backpack her dad and I picked out fifteen years ago as her diaper bag. A bag that Dr. Brown and I wore on our backs all over the streets of Minneapolis on public transit with her tiny body tucked carefully in our Baby Bjorn on our fronts.

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At the Delta counter they put barcoded ID bracelets on the girls for minors traveling alone and I stared at it and choked back that burning in my heart again because suddenly her whole life was flashing before me. She's had ID bracelets like that a few times before - also in Minnesota. Once when she first left my body in the hospital and again a few days later as she was transferred to an ICU for infants at another due to a traumatic birth situation. And again when she woke up one morning at 18-months-old with her eye swollen shut and a routine trip to urgent care turned into a serious life-threatening situation which landed us in the hospital for several days again.

Photo from Stories of Transformation, April 2018, by Jason Sievers

Photo from Stories of Transformation, April 2018, by Jason Sievers

I also remembered the last time she was on a plane - at the age of three we flew to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with friends at Disneyland while I was nauseous and in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Alice. I thought about this as I speed walked through the airport terminal so I could track her Delta aircraft through the giant windows as it taxied down the runway towards takeoff hoping she remembered what I told her about popping her ears and how to use the personal seat fan if it got too hot and suddenly the pressure behind my eyes and the stinging in my throat could no longer be contained.

lucy and mom.jpg

She recently got to experience a fun family 4-H type camp in northern Idaho for eight days with other family friends but this three weeks she'll be gone is the longest time we've been apart from her in her whole life. I'm acutely aware that this is not only training for what is to come in just a few years from now when she leaves for college. I'm acutely aware of how important these adventures are for her growth and the opportunity for life experiences we aren't able to give her with the generous help of our friends. It's still an experience that's super hard on a mama's heart. I'm acutely aware of how much her life and her stories are growing apart from mine into her individual powerful self and are hers alone to experience and tell, not mine. And, finally, I'm also acutely aware she's not lost in a foreign country or ripped from my soul and I'm not seeking asylum or refuge from anything but this human condition called love and motherhood - an affliction of the heart that is so strong and powerful and universal and something we can all understand. 

 

 

Fabulous Fatkinis

It began five summers ago when I was tired of hiding underneath bathing suit dresses with bunches of heavy cumbersome fabric as I spent my summers at the city pool with my young children. I was several years into my own body positive journey and was getting braver with my self-love and bolder with my fashion choices, slowly exposing more skin and rolls. Showing up in my already ready “bikini body” has given me so much more courage to enjoy life more and be comfortable while doing it. Here are four ways wearing bikinis has boosted my self-confidence:

1)      Plus-sized bikinis are cute. My first one was a darling retro-inspired black and white striped number from Walmart, one of the first and affordable retailers in the US to make them widely available. Since then so many designers have jumped on board with amazing styles, shapes and colors, coming a long way from the dark swim dresses I felt relegated to in the past.

2)      They help me feel bold. At first, I was self-conscious and felt like everyone was staring at me. Turns out, many people WERE looking at me, but because they thought my suit was so cute and I looked great in it. I get so many compliments every time I wear bikinis in public.

Bikini:  Old Navy

Bikini: Old Navy

3)      Bikinis make the water more enjoyable. They allow me the flexibility of jumping in lakes and floating on tubes and careening down water slides with my children. Additionally, they make going to the bathroom while wet (and often clutching the hand of a toddler at the same time) so much easier.

4)      Exposing my skin is cathartic. I’d been hiding it for so long that letting it out was freeing. I love flaunting my curves in the sun. Turns out, everyone (including myself) knows I’m fat anyhow so covering up my body with more fabric isn’t fooling anyone. I enjoy the feeling of sand sticking to my cellulite and sweat dripping down my cleavage. It happens to everyone and it's what summer, and life, is all about.

++ This piece originally appeared in  Fabuplus magazine , Summer 2017

++ This piece originally appeared in Fabuplus magazine, Summer 2017

Perfect

There's this real phenomenon in America - and especially on the internet - that you must be perfect in order to interact or show up. All your words carefully chosen, your photos on Instagram carefully staged, your activism carefully crafted. It feels daunting and terrifying, even when you try so hard to make sure it's perfect before you speak/present/post because it's almost never good enough. (I mean, I know from past experience that over the next few days I'll come back to edit this blog entry no less than five times because I'll find a typo or repetitive word choice and it will eat at me until I fix it.) Someone will always call you out on your mistakes/typos/errors and in some cases try to destroy you and your credibility if you're not perfect enough for them.

I've seen it happen over and over, especially to celebrities or famous folks. You can have a legacy of amazing and radical work that speaks to so many but mess up one time and suddenly it negates everything that person has contributed and "they are DEAD TO ME." (Hell, it's happened to me a handful of times as well.)

"Perfect is the enemy of good" is an old saying that has roots in several places, going back to the 1770s with Voltaire using the phrase in his French writings. Shakespeare uses the concept in King Lear and even Aristotle and Confucius talk about it with the golden mean, which warns against extremism in general. The main point of it being that someone may never attempt or complete a task if they can't do it PERFECTLY. Winston Churchill is credited with saying something very similar about how perfection is the enemy of progress.

As someone who was born with a Type A personality and the oldest child in my family, I've struggled with personal goals of perfection my entire life. In addition to unattainable feminine beauty standards imposed upon me by our patriarchal culture, it's really this notion of being perfect that has been the biggest battle on my body image journey. I spent so many years trying to alter my natural body to be different, or "perfect," with no acne, stretchmarks or cellulite. We've owned our home in Boise for nearly twelve years now and I spent so many of them obsessed with keeping it organized and clean and afraid to let anyone in the front door unless it looked "perfect." I worried about writing about how hard motherhood is or how shitty and heartbreaking it was to have two miscarriages because I was sharing my imperfections and that is vulnerable.

I learned, though, that it was my imperfections that made me beautiful and powerful. Embracing my life and body and motherhood as it is right now and doing the best that I can and sharing the process is important. I found that owning my perceived imperfections removed their control over my life and, yes, my progress. I learned that life is too short to wait to try new things or learn stuff or share my work (in progress). I'm always a careful student and do my research and check my words and think all of this is super important, but so is taking chances and asking questions, both things that are scary and risky in this day and age.

hilda amy jump rope side by side.JPG

I started reviving Hilda, the plus-sized curvy pin up girl drawn for calendars in the mid-century, in a subversive selfie series last summer in a fun and feminist way. I use things I find around the house or buy at the dollar store, set up my iPhone on a tripod with the 10 second timer and run to take my place. There's a lot of accidental nipple and things aren't perfect by any means. I have much more cellulite than Hilda has (because, um, she's not a real human woman and has none in the drawings) and her body angles are sometimes impossible to re-create as is the perspective in the illustrations (and thus the angle I would have to shoot the images from). And people love to point out all these flaws (and more) in my photos when I share them. But thousands more people like to tell me how poignant, encouraging and sexy it is seeing my Hilda images. How they've come to accept their bodies more because of my vulnerability.

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It's rare to see a 42-year-old fat mom taking up space - both on the internet and in the world - like I do. Sharing my imperfections in all their glory. Summer is nearing and as the temperatures rise so does baring more skin and the body shaming and unnecessary striving for the "perfect" summer body. I love presenting my "summer body" with all its luxurious rolls and dimples and unabashed love of tiny bikinis, tank tops and flip flops. The warmth, on both my skin and my soul, is glorious.

amy pumpkin.jpg

Another example of this irrational demand of perfectionism can be seen in the recent criticism of the new Amy Schumer film I Feel Pretty! (Or any film or song or book taking on body image or any other social justice element these days, really.) Immediately upon the release of the concept of the film - and later the film trailer - the hate came. I always find this shocking, but no longer surprising. I have a general principle of not critiquing any work of art before I’ve read/seen/viewed it myself first; many others do not abide by this principle. 

I co-organized an event with our local plus-sized consignment shop and the Boise Rad Fat Collective to meet for dinner and drinks before going to see the movie together as a group. I think the consensus of most of the group of folks aged 14 an up was that everyone really liked the movie. Some people even got teary and cried and applauded at the end. There was lots of LOLing as well. It’s funny and sweet and uplifting. I loved that the male love interest was also quirky and unconventional.

While I agree with so many of the criticisms and shared many initial concerns, I also realized early on that perhaps the film isn't/wasn't made for ME and that is okay. There were a few problematic parts, but overall the message was a good one. As I suspected it is pretty Body Positive Lite - not super radical, but it is a RomCom starring Amy Schumer so I didn’t expect it to be. And that's okay. Overall, it was a step in the right direction for mainstream Hollywood, even if it’s a baby one.

Just like the film, the event wasn't perfect. The restaurant forgot to reserve the large tables for our huge group and took forever getting our food out despite ordering early enough. We didn't get to all sit together in the theater due to rushing in smaller groups to get there on time.

The best part about seeing the film, honestly, was the amazing community I got to see it with and the companionship beforehand with the discussion after, despite the small snafus and imperfections of our timing and the restaurant's mistakes. We shook it off and laughed and snuck our to-go food into the theater. These people and "imperfect" experiences all enrich my life and my own body positivity more than a film ever could. And perhaps it's really our imperfections that bind us.

i feel pretty movie night.jpg

My 10-year-old daughter Alice is playing her third year in Little League softball and started pitching this year and is a badass. I've seen her practice and focus and shake it off and strike out three girls in a row. I've also seen her obsess and feel the pressure and in tears because she didn't pitch perfectly one game. She's told me she's not good enough and that messing up while pitching is embarrassing and hard. Witnessing this, and having a very similar personality to my small girl, I know this is all true. Having the self-confidence and tenacity to stand up and learn on the spot is rare and valuable and certainly traits that I hope to continue to instill in her. What a joy it is to see her coaches agree and voice encouragement and give tips when the going gets tough. And I can see how Alice perks up when her teammates call out to her from the field with "you got this, Alice!" or when her dad and I cheer loudly from the sidelines. I am intensely proud of her defiance of perfection.

Alice baseball.jpg

I talked to the girls at my 2nd annual RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminist Teens about this quite a bit a few weeks ago. We created these beautiful body biographies, maps of our bodies and their histories and I made mine as an example beforehand, complete with stories of body parts I perceived imperfect for so long and how I now see them as important parts of what make me ME. The girls followed suit and the projects were hard, heartbreaking, strong and stunning.

body biographies 2.jpg
body biographies.jpg

Some of them struggled with the concept and I ran out of paper due to my imperfect planning so a few of us had to create body torsos instead of full bodies. We talked about not being afraid to ask questions and make mistakes when discussing the meaning of feminism and defining terms like "privilege" and "intersectionality." About how hard and scary it can be to ask questions these days but I assured them this was a safe space and they should ALWAYS feel empowered to ask questions and try to learn and understand. That they should take chances with sharing their voice and their art. That it's okay to get it wrong and make mistakes and share works in progress and defy this notion of being perfect, on Instagram, on Facebook, in the classroom and everywhere.

Toolbox

I got my very own tool box about nine years ago - right around the same time I Googled the words "why am I fat and happy?" and when I made my family embark on that wild New Year's Resolution to not buy anything new for an entire year called The Compact. It was also around the time that I got laid off from my career as a museum curator and pulled my babies out of preschool and daycare as a result because it was also the recession. To say it was a time of significant change and forging of new paths for me would be an understatement. It was also the same time I started this blog.

I've written about some of this in the past, and talked about it a bit in my TEDx talk, too. It was liberating and terrifying and brutal and brilliant and simultaneously one of the worst and best things to ever happen to me. Immediately upon my layoff I was hired on contract as a curator for the City of Boise Arts & History Department to help them install and care for their public art collection and roving exhibitions all around town, hanging art in places like the airport, City Hall and the convention center. I worked with signmakers to design and install large signs on public art pieces in city parks and museums and educational centers. I'm trained in doing this sort of work, and it's always been really hands-on, wearing jeans and sneakers and crawling on my hands and knees digging and carrying and lifting heavy and dirty things sometimes. And other times wearing white gloves for precious and expensive artworks and fancy clothes for galas and exhibition openings. At the museum I had a crew of people with tools who provided them to me, but out on my own I finally had the need for my very own toolbox. 

We had an unused one at home that was plastic and yellow and I filled it with all the necessary things I'd need to install art: hammer, nails, level, white gloves, museum putty, Velcro for signage, pencils, measuring tape, screwdriver, scissors. I taped a business card on the inside for identification if I ever misplaced it, kind of like I do with my luggage when I'm traveling. I soon found that this toolbox morphed into a holding place for so many things - my keys, cell phone, a granola bar for lunch. And I started to decorate it with stickers that were given to me on the job. 

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Shortly after that stint with the City I started Wintry Market, a handmade for the holidays indie art & craft bazaar every November. We just celebrated our seventh successful year, where we were named best holiday market in the state of Idaho by Food & Wine magazine!, and are launching our first Summery Market, a handmade for the sunny days sister event this June. Turning quirky locations like gymnasiums, dance studios, historic warehouses and old Shrine Halls into a creative art show for 60 artists required a similar use of my toolbox. So I took things out - no more need for the white gloves, for example, or the museum putty - and put new things in - like painters tape, Christmas tree ornament hooks, and mylar for marking off booth spaces.

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Six years ago I got a big idea to start a little veggie garden at my neighborhood elementary school and the principal said a hearty HECK YES. I became the School Garden Coordinator, a volunteer position I take very seriously, and one that has me shoveling, building, planting and constructing in more ways than I ever thought possible, as we've expanded our eight raised veggie garden beds to include a half-acre Idaho Native Plants Learning Landscape & Teaching Garden. I was not only the chief designer and grant writer for the project, but the forewoman as well. My toolbox has become my trusted confidant and is now covered in mud more than ever before, and filled with things like zip ties, construction gloves, safety goggles, seeds, a weeding tool, shop keys, receipts from nurseries and equipment rental, tiny dino toys of Arlo's, pinecones and pieces of owl pellets. 

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It was also nine years ago that I began building my body positive toolbox, that led me to a life of activism through art, writing, teaching and leadership. It doesn't live in a physical plastic space, though, but in the depths of my heart and mind and in loads of files both on my computer and in the "FILES" section of my beloved Facebook community, the Boise Rad Fat Collective. As a lifelong learner, there's a bibliography a mile long and, admittedly, many of those books do live on my bookshelves at home, which actually IS a toolbox, if I think about it. I've got lists of websites and Powerpoints I've created on my laptop and so much information floating around in my brain that I could write a book on it. (OH WAIT, I DID.)

I also carried around a diaper bag (aka the new parenting toolbox) for the better part of the last decade but have recently abandoned it for the parenting toolbox that lives in my big ol' brain along with the one for architectural history and one for the American way of death and so many other things I'm obsessed with becoming an expert on.

A small sampling of books I brought to RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists last summer in McCall.

A small sampling of books I brought to RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp for Feminists last summer in McCall.

I love my toolboxes, both my physical one and the ones living in my brain. I love feeling them in my hands and my heart and filling them with things that are necessary and important and help me to do the things I need to do. I love cleaning them out and making way for new stuff. Knowledge is power and having these tools at the ready are a necessity for me and carrying them around makes me feel more full and happy than any briefcase full of files from a desk job ever did.

Worst Case Scenario

During the season finale of This Is Us, the real and raw and lovely show that is, in my opinion, the best thing NBC has brought to television in a long time, married couple Randall and Beth share a game they play together called "Worst Case Scenario." It's something that helps Randall deal with his severe anxiety and desire for control by speaking out loud with a safe person something they are worried about and all the bad things they are thinking with no judgement and no censorship. The idea is that it gets out of your system and makes you feel better and you can forge on. For example, Beth reveals that she's fearful the volatile foster child they are caring for will resent them and become a stripper or that she'll kill both Randall and herself in their sleep.

I'm a big fan of This is Us and have been excited about it from the announcement of the show a few years ago, in particular when it was revealed that there was a fat character as a main star. There aren't that many characters of size on television, nor many that are complex and positively portrayed, so when the creators/directors asked for input two years ago I immediately sent this this email:

Hi there, the trailer for your new show looks great, and I’m super excited to see a beautiful fat woman who appears to be a main character. Unfortunately, though, it seems she’s set to play the same tired tropes and stereotypes of hating herself, being shamed, not finding love, and dieting in hopes of “fixing” herself and everything that is wrong in her life. Since you asked for comments/suggestions to be direct messaged, I’m hoping you’re amenable to pushing the envelope and being part of the radical conversation to change the message that all fat women are sad, stupid and shallow. Please take this chance to do something different, extraordinary and brave on mainstream television. Sincerely, Amy Pence-Brown, Body Image Activist, Boise, ID
Kate and Toby's wedding, season 2 finale from earlier this week on This Is Us. Photo courtesy variety.com

Kate and Toby's wedding, season 2 finale from earlier this week on This Is Us. Photo courtesy variety.com

We're now two seasons in and much has been written in the fatosphere about the character of Kate, who is controversial due to her very real plot line and fear that we'll all continued to be pummeled with the usual fat girl tropes of weight loss and fat shaming. Worst Case Scenario: the writers didn't read my message nor do they care about what I or anyone else thinks and Kate has weight loss surgery as threatened. The jury is still out, but I remain hopeful, as thus far I feel the show is beautifully written and powerful and thoughtful and adding to important body positive conversations in many ways.

A colleague of mine, Dr. Cat Pause in Australia, recently wrote a lovely little blog post on failure. About how social media often only celebrates the greatest hits of our lives but isn't really a place where we share things gone wrong. She makes a lovely comparison to the difference between that and how -  being a fat woman - the perceived "failures" of her body have always been public:

As a fat person, I’m very familiar with failure. My body, to most, represents a failure. A failure of discipline. A failure of self control. A failure to appropriately manage my body and the burden it may become for society (NEOLIBERALISM, AM I RIGHT?!)

As a super fat person, I’ve spent decades failing at making myself smaller. Bodies get to be my size after decades of succeeding, and then failing, at weight loss. I get the congratulations and appreciation when I succeed to lose. And the sheltered looks of pity and “you’ll get ‘em next time” pep talks when I fail through growth.

My failures at weight loss are public. People in my daily life know when I’ve failed. I don’t have to tell them, it’s written on my body. Social media makes it more likely that people who entire my life long after those failures could discover them for themselves; here’s a memory for you from 10yrs and 100lbs ago, Cat. Hoozah!

My failures as an academic, though, aren’t as public. No one knows if an article is rejected by an editor, or if I’m turned down for a funding grant, unless I chose to tell them. And while I do speak about such things with my close friends and colleagues, I don’t share them on social media in the same way I share my successes. We don’t talk about failing in academia very often, and this probably leaves many out in the cold. It may appear that everyone else is only ever succeeding, if that’s what we share on social media. So, I’m going to work on failing out loud.

She goes on to write about some recent failures and a job she really wanted but didn't get. What I really loved about her post, though, was how she didn't necessarily want to wax poetic about what can be learned from losing. I'm a big fan of talking about the hard stuff and sharing struggles, too. Worst Case Scenario: someone doesn't and rolls their eyes and scrolls right by or stops reading. Or maybe leaves a nasty internet comment on my words. (Trust me, they won't be the first or the last. I'm a bit of an expert in negativity online.)

Nine years ago this month I lost my dream job in a surprise "lay off" that left me stunned and shocked and angry and afraid of the Worst Case Scenario: that we'd lose our house after losing nearly half our income and I'd never find another position. I had already grown to dislike that job so much, so we pulled our two babies out of their really expensive daycare and preschool and got rid of a whole bunch of extra luxuries like Direct TV and a house cleaner, and were able to keep our home. It catapulted me into starting this blog and an alternate career path that I may never have been brave enough to attempt without that forced decision no matter how much my spirit desperately needed it.

My very first blog post almost nine years ago. Still silly, less depressed but more cynical.

My very first blog post almost nine years ago. Still silly, less depressed but more cynical.

Five years ago I was surprised to find out I was pregnant with a baby we did not plan for nor really want while on the birth control pill. We thought we were done having kids, until I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test and suddenly I didn't want anything more in the world than that third baby. Our Worst Case Scenario happened just a few weeks later when I miscarried that baby at home, somewhere around eight weeks along. It was devastating, but we went on to conceive our sweet Arlo a few months later.

About a year ago I applied to two Idaho-based arts grants to help pay for writing residencies to write my book. I didn't get either of them, and the granting committees' feedback consisted of things insinuating I wasn't a real writer and that it sounded like "I just wanted time away from my kids." Worst Case Scenario: I had to create my own "writing residency" which consisted of holing up in a tiny private room for free for 10 hours a week at Boise State University for 8 solids months while Dr. Brown was home with the kids to get that manuscript out. But I did it.

And after three amazing beta readers read the first draft of that manuscript and offered amazing advice and changes I made it even better and decided to go all the way to the top and send it out to eight of the best and most well known literary agents I could find in the genre of feminist nonfiction literature. It was risky and terrifying, but I worked up a pretty good proposal and query letter and sent them off from my laptop at the airports in San Fransisco and Salt Lake City to and from a weekend teaching a private self-love workshop in Las Vegas. Worst Case Scenario: I'd never hear from them or get nasty rejection letters and be sad and embarrassed and have to move on to the next round of literary agents. Or try to send my manuscript to smaller book publishers myself. Turns out I got more than one offer of representation by amazing literary agents and ended up signing with the perfect one.

This past fall a friend in the Midwest sent me notification that the Obama Foundation was opening applications for their first round of fellows - 20 amazing and lucky people who are "outstanding civic innovators from around the world" to give them resources and money "in order to amplify the impact of their work and to inspire a wave of civic innovation." She thought my work in body image activism and feminism fit the bill and I agreed. I asked a few amazing people familiar with what I do to be references, worked long and hard on the application, including making this little one minute video on my work, and submitted my application. 

Worst Case Scenario: I haven't found out the results yet (the Fellows should be announced this month!), but in all truth the odds are I won't get accepted. So I spent several hours of time making a video and writing up really thoughtful and succinct application responses (they could each only be a limited number of characters). It was already worth it, as I've re-used that prose in several other applications and I've now got this great little promo video.

In January Melinda Gates wrote a piece in Time magazine about how it's a new era for women. "You may never know their names. They work beneath the headlines and far from the spotlight. When they receive formal recognition from bodies like the Nobel Committee, it is the exception, not the norm. But the fact remains: under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world," she wrote. Another friend, this time in the Pacific Northwest, sent this to me and said, "I think it's time you wrote a letter to Melinda." So I did. Worst Case Scenario: it gets tossed in the garbage. She never reads it. She reads it and unbeknownst to me, laughs about it.  I haven't received any reply. Since this more recent piece by her just out about funding important women-driven projects in mainly third-world countries, my guess is I won't.

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Here's the thing, though, about Worst Case Scenarios. Sometimes there is a lot at stake. Sometimes saying your fears out loud is too hard and emotional and not a good idea (if you're also a This Is Us fan you know this happened when Randall tried to play the game with his brother Kevin in the car). There's been a lot of situations in my life over the past few months in which I dare not speak my Worst Case Scenarios out loud because they loom so large in my head and heart and I know they will do no one else any good hearing them, least of all me. Sometimes, though, the Worst Case Scenario never happens. Or sometimes it does and it was actually the best thing that you never ever anticipated could happened. Because I'm an optimist at heart and sometimes the most cliched advice is the best: you won't know unless you try.

 

Womanizer

When you Google the word Womanizer the first thing that comes up is the first thing I used to think of - the dictionary definition:

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The next thing is this Brittany Spears song and video from 2009, which I totally don't remember at all:

The third, and most important, is the official website for the revolutionary sex toy, for all people with clitorises. Created in Germany, the Womanizer's mission is pretty fantastic: It's about enjoying being yourself. "With Womanizer you can be who you are, embrace who you are, enjoy who you are. Feel great within your body and yourself. Because truly being yourself is freedom. This is our revolution: Making orgasms for women a standard."

The technology is pretty revolutionary - and I mean that both scientifically and orgasmically:

I'm also pretty in love with the idea that they took this word that defined a man who liked to have sexual affairs with lots of women and gave it to a toy in which women can take the reins and the control back themselves.

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They've got a handful (ha, see what I did there?!) of toy options, including the Womanizer2Go, a tiny thing disguised as a tube of lipstick to allow you to come anywhere! They also make the Womanizer Plus, which is a longer-handled version of the original. My friend Chrystal, owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie in California, wrote this about it recently in a great little piece for The Curvy Fashionista blog in a gift guide including 5 romantic gifts for plus-sized babes:

Womanizer Plus is NOT actually a vibrator. It uses the revolutionary PleasureAir technology, which gently draws the clitoris into the soft silicone tip using gentle suction, and surrounds and stimulates the user with 12 levels of incredibly effective pressure waves. This creates fast – and often multiple – orgasms. (And, it does vibrate while it’s doing that!)

There are several versions of this product, but we love the “Plus” version because it is 8.25” long. That nice long length will make it easy for most everyone to reach the good stuff easily. And, the buttons are on the back side of the handle which makes them placed in just the right place for moving the speed of the suction lower or higher. Did I mention how much I love this product? Our customer and my employees, too. If you need a Galentine gift for your bestie and she is a woman of size, buy her a Womanizer. You will be her best friend FOREVER.
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This toy is one of Crystal's biggest sellers and it's no cheap investment at $209. It's also been highly recommended by several women in my Boise Rad Fat Collective when I was lamenting the loss of my trusty 17-year-old silver bullet a few months back. (Curvy Girl Lingerie also sells those! In fact, I immediately purchased two for $18 from her (a screamin' deal!) so I had a back up. And then she sent me a free one to giveaway at our raffle drawing at the Rad Fatties Chunky Dunk Pool Party and 4th Birthday Bash because she's so thoughtful like that.)

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You may recall that Curvy Girl Lingerie sent me some sexy lingerie things to try out about a year ago and I wrote then about how my sexuality has been something I used to hide and be ashamed of and how powerful it can be to embrace it and take back control of it. It's been such a liberating and important part of my body positive journey, too. Having lots of sex, both with yourself and with a partner, can, both literally and psychologically, help you get more in touch with your body and appreciate all it does for you.

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So when Crystal asked if I'd be interested in trying out a Womanizer Plus you can bet I DID NOT HESITATE. It's exciting and flirty to get an anonymous brown package in the mail holding a silky black bag with a sex toy that is seriously one of the most expensive things I own. It feels so grown up and luxurious and was the perfect thing to receive before taking a solo trip to Las Vegas to teach a private workshop on body positivity and self-love for one of my Rad Fatty's 45th birthday girls' weekend.

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It also feels, well.....fucking amazing. I've been giving myself orgasms for a lotta years now and am pretty in tune with my body. And my husband's been giving them to me for a lotta years as well. This technology is not like a vibrator and seriously works in like 30 seconds flat (for me, at least) so that's something to beware of if you're trying to plan out your climax. I can attest to its fun in both solo and partner play. It's also got so many other benefits.

1) The extra long handle is super helpful for those with big bellies who might have difficulty reaching your clitoris.

2) It comes with two silicone removable head attachments for easy switching and washing. One has a larger hole for larger clits or coverage (I prefer the small one).

3) It recharges via USB but holds its charge for like 200 hours of play or something ridiculously amazing.

4) It came with a tiny packet of free lube.

5) The whole thing is waterproof, making it submergeable in the tub.

6) I think it has 12 different intensity modes (I usually prefer number 6 but that varies from day to day).

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Considering how long I had my silver bullet and how much wear and tear it got (a lot), I imagine I'll have this Womanizer for life. And let me tell you, it certainly makes my life more pleasurable to live. It's a tool that can be a lot more empowering than just in the bedroom. Figuring out what you like (or what you don't), what you want and what you need sexually can translate to doing to same in the boardroom, the classroom, at your neighbor's house or to the bully at church. I'm a fan of anything that can bring pleasure and help us get in touch with ourselves more. Life's too short for bad sex and being quiet.

Courtesy of the  Womanizer on Instagram

Courtesy of the Womanizer on Instagram

I received a Womanizer Plus from Curvy Girl Lingerie to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.

Tethered

Every day for 874 days I’ve woken up to hateful mean and sometimes threatening messages to me on the internet. Every fucking day. Often, before I even have a cup of coffee or kiss my baby good morning I’m scrubbing my Instagram clean, reporting bigotry, blocking people. In the middle of making Alice a sandwich for her lunch bag just the way she likes it and doing dishes, biking to school and getting a phone call from my banker, I’m responding to concern trolls asking about my “health” on Facebook, because I can’t possibly be fat, happy and left to live my life in peace.

It’s not a good way to start your day.

Often I’m exhausted at the end of the day after homework, laundry, baths, meetings, doctor appointments, baking bread, riding bikes, and driving to piano lessons. I crawl into bed at 11pm to take on nasty comments from women who are supposedly “on my side” or also “body positive” or screenshotting "dick pics" for my safety file. The hostility of the internet is widespread, surprisingly even among groups of like-minded women, people I’ve sometimes considered allies, colleagues and friends. I don’t think we’d speak to each other that way in real life and I don’t think our opinions are as different or as black and white as they may appear on the screen. I think if we sat in the same room we’d take more care, choose kinder words, look one another in the eye.

It’s not a good way to end your day.

But in the middle of my days ordinary things happen – little magical things that remind me of what a joy life is. Some of those things happen via the internet – emails I get from a PRIDE festival and a League of Women Voters asking about the possibility of me speaking at their events, messages from teens with disabilities whose lives I’ve touched with my work, real personal connections I’m making with strangers in another country or the school teacher around the corner. I can find myself down a nerdy rabbit hole of academic research and journal articles on misogyny and performance art and feminism. So much good stuff happens on the internet in the middle of all the bad and has every single day for the last 874 days.

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We’ve been talking about this a lot with Lucy, our teenager, lately, too. How to safely navigate ourselves and our mental and physical health on our phones and online. Because my safety and the safety of my family has been threatened on the internet more than once. I’ve notified the necessary authorities, like the police, school administrators, the social media providers. We’ve learned and armed ourselves and taken measures.

I speak often about how what we see on the screen affects us more than we know, which is why diversifying our newsfeed to include people of all shapes, sizes and genders can be so powerful in bettering our body image. Following fierce feminists of color, for example, can empower us in more ways than one. Our consumerist culture is also something to be very aware of, as they try to sell us products often by using shame as a tactic – that we need their item to be happier, thinner, more successful, richer.

Since she got her phone at age 13, we implemented guidelines for the teen in our house about phones and technology that we're always tweaking. Most of them apply to all of us of all ages. No phones after 8pm on weeknights, all devices are charged in the community space of the kitchen, no phones at school, no Snapchat and screenshot anything dangerous, hateful or damaging. We check our daughter’s newsfeed and private messages for anything mean, scary or just off. These things have helped us all spend more time tethered together, sometimes doing mundane things like collecting chicken eggs, folding laundry, making popcorn or walking to the coffee shop. This also means we’re spending more time doing important things like reading books out loud together, talking about what happened in science camp, figuring out how to apologize to a friend whose feelings we’ve hurt or what we should do this weekend.

Earlier this week I came across this post from Rachel Macy Stafford, aka Hands-Free Mama, about the concern of raising kids so attached to their phones and how to balance that with what’s really important in life. I feel like we are raising a generation of kids being used as guinea pigs in a technological world that none of us know how to navigate – no parents have come before us and have written books or can offer advice on what to do or not to do and it feels scary.

Rachel’s piece brought forth some important reminders, for our kids and ourselves:

Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life. 

Tether yourself
To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.

Tether yourself
To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.

Tether yourself
To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.

Tether yourself in love.

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I think people often forget there are real people out there behind the screen, real humans living complicated lives. I’m choosing more often these days to tether myself to people and love.

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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

 

 

 

On Saving Little Libraries & Big Books

I've been working on the manuscript for my book actively for six months now. Every Friday I've reserved a tiny writing room at Albertsons Library on the Boise State University campus and pack my lunch and a big thermos of hot coffee and don't come out for about eight hours. It's been much harder than I thought it would be and the stories of my life are still spilling out of me and being written and are much sadder, scarier and angrier than I thought they'd be. But they are also still so hopeful and heart-full. It's a collection of essays on feminism, bodies, motherhood and standing up. And it's done -  all 22 chapters are being printed and shipped off to three of my first readers for edits and suggestions and changes before they go off to editors and publishers after the first of the new year. I was typing up some notes for my manuscript readers yesterday morning at my desk next to the window in our family room, listening to Kacey Musgraves Christmas album (which I can't recommend enough BTW), and home alone for the two hours Arlo is as preschool every morning when I heard five rapid fire gunshots on the street. While my gut knew exactly what they were and after counting people in my family in my head and logically logging their locations of safety I tried to rationalize it as probably squirrels jumping on my tin woodshed roof or a transformer blowing. My gut was right and my neighbor was shot.

Alice and I have been re-reading Little House on the Prairie for our Mama & Daughter Book Club every night before bed. We were gifted the entire Little House series box set and the paperbacks match the ones I had as a child when I, too, was fascinated by Mary & Laura's wild prairie life and the amazing things Pa could build with wood and the delicious meals Ma cooked over the open fire. Alice read a passage out loud last night about Pa's instructions for the girls to stay in the river only where the water was shallow and ankle-deep for safety and Laura's rebellious nature got her in trouble for disobeying. She noted how much she was like Laura Ingalls - in spirit and age. I nodded fervently in agreement. Little House was one of those transformative books for me and thousands of little girls across this country and continues to be. We're getting together to make old fashioned crafts with our book club in honor of this book this weekend and I can't wait to introduce Alice to the TV series.

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A few months ago we woke up one morning to six blocks of our neighborhood tagged with pink spray paint in the night, including the side of our new-to-us white truck, our tree, and our entire beloved Little Free Library covered in graffiti. The police came and then the news came and then two neighbors I'd never met showed up with paint and scrapers and repaired our pink library the next morning as I headed to South Junior High to give an all school assembly to teens on positive body image and self-esteem and anti-abortion protestors stood out from with giant signs depicting dead fetuses and lots of words about the "dangers" of self-love and feminism.

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Our elementary school native plants garden had it's grand opening in October and a few days before Dr. Brown and I installed our school's new little free library late one night at dusk. With our cell phone flashlights we painted the words on it : "Hawthorne Elementary School Little Free Library. Take a book. Leave a book." We're pretty lucky to have an amazing school library inside the building as well, a place where they make things and play with robots and learn about science and slam poetry and have books like Little House on the Prairie beside the one I found in Alice's backpack yesterday called Bad Girls: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World. My preschooler attends the same school and is sent home with a blue bag full of fun books on a topic each Wednesday and this week's are all about dinosaurs - a subject near and dear to his tiny three-year-old heart. We read about dinos A-Z yesterday in bed in the middle of the afternoon and sounded out words and identified the parts of a book - the cover, the back cover, the author's name, the illustrator.

When you're a tiny dino lover and your neighbors have SEVEN Christmas ones in your yard life is magical.

When you're a tiny dino lover and your neighbors have SEVEN Christmas ones in your yard life is magical.

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Another of my favorite body positive books for kids, on display at Hawthorne Elementary School Library.

Another of my favorite body positive books for kids, on display at Hawthorne Elementary School Library.

So much of my time is spent reading and writing and devouring and thinking about words and books. I'm so glad books still play such an important role in my life and my children's. As I prepare to print out my blood, sweat, tears and heart onto 150+ pieces of paper to send off in the mail I feel nervous, anxious, and excited. Do other people really read books anymore? I've heard many other academics and writers lament the loss of education, research, and time spent exploring topics in depth these days. As a historian and a feminist and a body image activist and a mother and a human I worry about this, too. I sometimes make up quippy complicated stories distilled right down to one sentence since it's being made painfully clear people are no longer interested in reading a (text)book or even the Cliff Notes version anymore. In my head I write these American histories, abbreviated, like : "Women are alright if they're pretty, quiet and nice." Turns out I've got a lot more words to say about that, though, like nearly 49,000 of them. So thankful for others who do, too.

I recently read   The Fat Studies Reader   by Esther Rothblum & Sondra Solovay (who, coincidentally, I did a peer review of a journal article for recently) in the car on Monday nights while Lucy is at piano lessons. This snap is of some of the incredibly rich and diverse table of contents.

I recently read The Fat Studies Reader by Esther Rothblum & Sondra Solovay (who, coincidentally, I did a peer review of a journal article for recently) in the car on Monday nights while Lucy is at piano lessons. This snap is of some of the incredibly rich and diverse table of contents.

Just some of the inspirational décor by our amazing librarian at Hawthorne Elementary School, and a good reminder for all of us.   

Just some of the inspirational décor by our amazing librarian at Hawthorne Elementary School, and a good reminder for all of us.