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.