Two years ago I started this private group on Facebook called the Boise Rad Fat Collective
. We're a secret society of super-sized feminazis who can't get laid and sit around complaining about our ugly clothes while eating Big Macs and cake.
That's not at all what our group is about, despite what Internet trolls and mean people would like to believe. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. We're a group of socially engaged Idahoans of all shapes and sizes who are fed up with mainstream media and society telling us what a valuable body should do\be\act\look like. And while it started with just a handful of my best strong female friends, it's expanded now to include people I've never met (even though we do try to plan regular meet-ups in real life). And generally speaking, we're a positive bunch who share lots of news on cutting-edge literature and scientific studies and fun films and personal stories, while being supportive and thoughtful in our Facebook wall discussions (gasp!). New members are always welcome and, no, you don't have to be fat to join in nor do you have to live in Boise, but you do have to be respectful and smart and adhere to one basic concept - that all bodies are good bodies.
(PSST! And most of us have sex. On a regular hot basis.)
Two weeks ago this video
by The Liberators International
went viral. The Liberators are a group out of Australia whose mission is to involve people in participatory acts of freedom that allow us to see that beyond our differences there is love and humanity. If you haven't already seen it, you can do so by clicking my link above, but, in a nutshell, it's a moving social experiment where a young Liberator named Jae West sheds her clothing in London's busy Picadilly Circus, armed with markers, a sign, and a blindfold, asking people to draw hearts on her body if they share her promotion of self-acceptance, after overcoming an eating disorder. She has now been interviewed extensively about the importance of the project and how terrifying and exhilarating standing alone half-nude was for her, and the outpouring of humanity that has followed it.
My friend Angie
and I posted a link to the video to the Rad Fat Collective and we all agreed it was a powerful performance art piece, and discourse ensued. How would it be received if the woman had been less socially acceptable in appearance, like, fat? And, say, a mom who's nearly 40-years-old? And in a place that was more conservative and less progressive than London like, say, Boise, Idaho? Turns out, we weren't the only people asking these questions and talking about this important project of West's - the alternative media was, too.
So, I made a (GULP) plan and asked another one of my friends in the Collective (who also happens to be a professional photographer), Melanie
, to document it.
We picked a date (Saturday August 29, 2015) and one of the most pedestrian-rich locations in the city (the Capital City Public Market
downtown Boise) at the busiest time of day (noon). I decided to wear a black bikini instead of a bra and undies (conservative Boise) and changed the text on my sign to read something a little different and pertinent to me. I decided to tell no one except the Rad Fat Collective that this was happening, as the idea of leaving the experience organic and up to chance, rather than fill the audience with known body positive activists and friends, was more appealing. Everything seemed in order and to fall into place quickly.
Until my nerves set in.
I woke up Saturday morning after a fitful night's sleep and puked. And bloated with horrid cramps. And a raging period. (Hey, Donald Trump! MAD MENSTRUATING WOMAN ON A MEANINGFUL MISSION ALERT!).
And I was terrified. I was scared that I might get asked to leave by the police or that people would yell terrible things at me or that no one would draw a heart on my body and I'd stand there alone and crying for minutes that felt like hours.
Well, none of that came true. Except for the crying part.
I let the farmers' market director (who happens to be a friend of mine) know what we were staging about an hour before the event. Not only did I have her support, she suggested I stand in the middle of the busiest spot of the market, that she would handle any negative feedback or complaints, and could she borrow a marker to draw a heart on me now in case she missed the performance? It was probably with that first heart that I knew this was gonna be good. I had no idea just how good it was about to get.
Melanie set up her camera, Angie was my ear on the ground, and I hit my spot, barefoot, and stripped off my dress. The hush in the crowd around me was instantaneous and I barely had time to tie on my blindfold, prop up my sign and grab my markers before the first woman rushed up to me, touched my hand with her shaky one, told me I was brave and powerful and asked if she could give me a hug and started to cry. And then I cried, too. But I could tell she didn't just draw a heart on my body. She wrote a word. In fact, by the end of my fifty minutes of continuous public support, there were dozens of words that covered my body, and even more hearts.
God Bless You
You are beautiful
I Love Me
You look great
You are gorgeous
You'll see all this in these photos and the video - that the hugs continued, as did the tears, a flower was placed by a young man at my feet, I got a kiss on the cheek and an ice cold lemonade left by my side for when I was done. And, undoubtedly, like me, you will also see other things in these photos - the sweat running down my rolls of back fat, cellulite (on strong legs that have carried me for four decades), a wonky bikini top with sagging breasts (that nourished three babies), stretch marks (that represent my transition from a chubby adolescent to a curvy teenager to a woman who's been pregnant four times), and darkly tanned skin (from a summer spent at the Boise Public Pools with my friends and my children).
The most important things about this performance, though, are the ones you can't see.
The personal stories of struggle.
The dad who stood in front of me with his two young sons and knelt down to tell them to "this is what a beautiful woman looks like."
Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts.
Old women who know life moves too preciously fast to hate themselves any longer.
Teenaged girls who ran up to me afterward as I was walking down a side street to tell me I'm an inspiration and a role model.
One woman came back to me several times during my nearly hour long stand for self love. While you can feel the people who are writing words of encouragement and faith on your body, what you can't see are all the lives you are touching by just existing in this space
, she said. All these people that are stopping to look at you and read your sign and watch the rest of us? You've reached them all in ways unimaginable
And the twentysomething man who stood behind me and whispered, The effects of what you are doing here are far reaching. It's absolutely amazing. The power of this moment will go on and in ways you never thought possible. You are changing more lives than you know.
Oh, Boise, you restored my faith in humanity, you blew my mind with your kindness, you saw the beauty in my body and your own. You are ready for a body positive revolution, and I'm honored to stand by your side. Take my hand, if you need, and I'll pull you up.
We can't truly love one another until we fully love ourselves. And once we do, I guarantee, that together we can move mountains.
Radical Self-Acceptance: The Stripped-Down Body Postivity Experiment
from Melanie Flitton Folwell
*UPDATED TO ADD LINK LOVE FROM PRESS AROUND THE WORLD
Mamalode magazine, Fall 2015, Positively
The Dr. Oz Show, November 23, 2015