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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.