What Would You Like To Be Famous For?

One year ago I stripped down to a black bikini downtown Boise in a crowded farmers market, blindfolded myself, and stood vulnerable and terrified for what turned out to be one of the most extraordinary hours of my life. I stood brave and powerful and full of openness that said, I'm at peace with my body and have been for many years and think you should be, too. I asked you, without a word, to lay down the hateful and hurtful weapons that have been used to wage a war with your body (and mine, too) for just a moment (or maybe a lifetime). My silent protest called you to surrender to love and you did. You came at me with such a force of humanity that I couldn't even catch my breath and I cried. I cried that day over and over from relief and humility and joy and sorrow and compassion. I cried four days later when we made a little video and I wrote a little blog post and they resounded loudly inside broken hearts and hurting souls and aching minds and echoed in newsrooms and radio airwaves and celebrity Twitter accounts and popular magazines and in every corner of the internet.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

By the time I turned forty less than three weeks later the video of my stand for self-love had been viewed 100 MILLION TIMES and I'd been on CNN and NPR and in People magazine and on Huffington Post. I ended up on the Dr. Oz Show and turning down a few other primetime talk shows because they weren't true to my message. Cosmopolitan, the magazine that nearly destroyed my body image as a teenager, featured me as a fat fearless rebel in a story and I could've dropped the mic right there but I vowed TO NEVER LET GO.

My Instagram followers have jumped from 200 to 3,300 and my group of radical size positive feminists in the Boise Rad Fat Collective went from 30 to 1,260. And that little video currently sits at around 200 million views, making it one of the most viral videos of all time. I've written for magazines all over the world and been featured in them, too. I've presented at international conferences on body politics and spoken about fat feminism and standing up for what you believe in on the TED stage and presented at a handful of campuses to talk to college students about disordered eating and exercise addiction and tips for not letting either destroy you. You've reached out in public restrooms and on street corners and in emails and in Facebook comments and continued to say YES and NO MORE and THANK YOU and ME TOO. And still the tears come.

Courtesy of Dahlton Grover

Courtesy of Dahlton Grover

Reflecting upon the joy and growth of this body positive movement and my role in it this past year has been cathartic and uplifting, but I'd be remiss if I didn't honor the hard parts, too. I feel it's important to acknowledge that with this fame and accolades and changing the world for the better also came/comes/cums a lot of hatred and anger and loss and unsolicited dick pics. (See what I did there? Because a sense of humor is also important.) I've had a handful of people very, very close to me not be supportive in the slightest of my feminist thoughts, my body positive activism, or my media attention. I've lost relationships with family and friends and things have happened that have shaken me to the core, not to mention the weird shit that continues with internet trolls and people who just don't get it and fatphobes and bigots and creepy dudes I've never met. It's been hard - this summer being the worst. And that's made me cry, too.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

A few weeks ago I was sitting downtown on the front steps of a vacant funeral home eating a quick slice of pizza and checking my email on my phone in between rushing from one job to another meeting and this popped up into my inbox - and went straight to my heart:

Hi Amy
    Before you read this know it is not a press inquiry or anything of that nature. This is a thank you from a fan of yours, and a future self love activist.
     My name is _____ and I am 18 and just graduated high school. My sophomore year I became bulimic with restrictive tendencies. For the next two years I was fighting a losing battle with myself, no one knew (for sure) if I had and eating disorder or not and for a long time I denied it. This year I finally mustered up the courage to share my ongoing battle with my mom and some close friends. They have helped me more than I thought possible. It was only four months ago that I was formally diagnosed with ED and Major Depression by a professional. Everyday I fight my battles just as everyone else struggling does; but of course I have days where I feel I can no longer fight. It is on these days that people like you make a difference. There is so much self hate in this world that it is easy to get on your phone and see things that make you feel worse than before. The fact that I can see people making a difference and standing up for radical self love and acceptance is beautiful. So thank you for being you, and for spreading awareness for self acceptance. Right now I am trying my best to not let the space between where I am and where I want to be scare me, and am working little by little to learn to love myself. I hope to one day spread awareness for self love just as you do. You are truly beautiful inside and out. Thank you for the inspiration to keep moving on.

 

I could barely set down my phone before I started sobbing into my pizza. The kind of sobbing where your nose is dripping and you are gasping for air and you can't even talk when you call your husband on the phone because this email came to you right when you needed it. Right when I was so broken that I couldn't see the forest for the trees and it split me in half and then blew those two pieces of me up into the air and fused them back together again with the force of a thousand hearts (or at least mine and my new 18yo friend from the Midwest). Two women, 22 years and a dozen states apart, owned their stories and their fear and their strength and their voices and both being exactly what the other needed.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

The Boise Rad Fat Collective is filled with people of all genders, nationalities and ages and celebrates its 3rd birthday this month. It continues to be a game-changer, and if you're lucky enough to be a part of it will you understand what I mean. The respect and vulnerability and support and radical feminist body acceptance shared in there is a true joy to watch and participate it. It's an honor to share that space with so many people working towards a better life full of love. It's not unusual to see a post pop up that stops me in my tracks and brings me to my knees. A week or so ago this one came across my newsfeed:

I'm going to share my story, though I often feel as though I don't belong here. But Amy, your story and your stand, it just touches my soul in a profound way.
About 2 years ago, I was mentally in a good place. I was astonishingly happy and I just so happened to be a slightly larger woman. I enjoyed being outdoors, practicing yoga, hitting the gym, eating what I wanted, spending time with my phenomenal husband, had wonderful friends, and an incredible family. I had never been happier with my body and mind. At that point in time, I constantly liked to challenge my mind and body, so I spontaneously decided to compete in a bikini bodybuilding competition. I hired a coach and began a 6 day a week training program, coupled with an extremely strict meal plan. My coach warned me beforehand that I should make sure I was in a mentally healthy state before beginning and I thought I couldn't have picked a more perfect time. So I busted my ass for 6 months, no alcohol, no sugar, no processed foods, etc. And I busted my ass 6 days a week in the gym.
The last two weeks before my show, I began sinking into a depression. I was feeling unhappy with my results, I was struggling to remember why such an immensely body-positive person, had decided to put her body on display for others to judge. I was struggling to accept my infertility and the fact that all the exercise and healthy eating had done nothing to help. I lost 20 pounds and 6% body fat, but for what?
As I stepped on stage on June 4th, clad in a teeny tiny red bikini and plastic heels, sprayed head to toe with a ridiculous orangey-tan, I realized that I didn't know who this woman was. I didn't know what she stood for and what she was hoping to represent. This person, all tight and tanned and glammed-up, was this really the woman I wanted to be? I left the stage feeling even more let down.
Since then, I haven't stepped foot in the gym for almost 2 months and I haven't counted one single calorie in the same time. I don't know how much I weigh or what my body fat percent is. I'm still battling a depression and still trying to relearn how to love myself, but I'm getting there. Competing in a bikini competition was the worst decision I could've made for my mental health and sanity, but on the other hand, I don't regret a moment of it. I made a goal and followed it through, but I lost my spark, I lost my happiness through it.
Don't wait to be happy. Be happy now. And when you are happy, stick to that which makes you happy. All of your words here and all of your stories here, they leave me feeling strong and empowered and hit that passionate spark in me that drives me to help other women love themselves with abandon.
You all are worthy, you all are beautiful, you are more than the vehicle that houses who you are. Thank you to each of you who are currently reminding me to love myself and that I too, am worthy.
Perhaps one day, I will stand again in front of strangers and ask them to judge me. But maybe next time it will be with markers in hand, a blindfold and a heart full of hope and self-love.
Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

A couple of days ago I answered the door to a middle-aged man I didn't know, a City of Boise Code Enforcement Officer, who was stopping to talk with me about a complaint I had filed due to some safety concerns in the neighborhood surrounding our little elementary school. He came to check in and let me know he was on it and, by the way, he said. I'm a big fan of what you did in the market that day. My whole family is, actually. We all watched your video last year, but it really touched my 16-year-old daughter. I never thought I'd get a chance to meet you and say thank you.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

We have this little box of cards in our dining room that I made from some Pinterest suggestion on how to connect at the dinner table with your kids. Each card has a question that prompts discussion about our days in unique ways - for example, If you could have one superpower what would it be? What does your best day look like? What is your favorite thing about your sister? I just added a few new ones from a list that Glennon Doyle Melton posted for a similar thing they do at their house. These two stuck out like sore thumbs, and, of course, also made me cry:

What would you like to be famous for?

If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?

I have the answer to both, and they've been life-altering. I lit a match and you caught that spark and together we have started a wildfire that cannot be put out.  It is a true grassroots revolution of love. You, too, have bared your souls and for that, I will be forever grateful. So glad to be making trips around the sun with you all and with a little more appreciation and kindness to ourselves and each other.

Bodies of Water

I used to take a lot of baths when I was pregnant. At least, when I wasn't bleeding. It was the ultimate self-care for me, locking the door, blowing up my inflatable tub pillow for my head, dropping in a Lush bath bomb, and putting on a This American Life podcast if I was lucky. I loved to watch my babies roll and squirm in my growing belly and spend that time watching my skin stretch and move.

A few years ago Alice was in the shower with Dr. Brown. After sitting below him in the tub for a while, playing with her toys as the water sprinkled around them, she looked up and said, when I grow up I want to have a big, big, BIG peanut like yours, Daddy. At four-years-old, she often confused the word peanut with penis. When we laughed and told her that it was more likely she'd grow up to have big, big, BIG breasts like mommy, she cried.

Lucy is twelve now, and has been taking solo showers for years. These past few months, though, they've become longer, with top 40 radio music blaring and the door locked until I finally bang on it after half an hour yelling that she's used up all the hot water available. She won't let us come in when she's dressing anymore or see her naked at all. I can tell she's desperate for her privacy.

Last night I was in the tub with Arlo. I remembered those long leisurely baths with him in my belly, and some of his first earth-side where he laid on top of that same belly, this time out and in my careful hands. I'd feel his pink skin and he'd root around for my breast with his baby bird mouth. He's two now, and so strong and big and we barely fit in our small midcentury tub together anymore, not comfortably at least. It was a bath derived from necessity rather than pleasure - I was sick with body aches and a sore throat and a fever. Arlo turned over and we laid belly to belly while he kicked and laughed and bunched up my soft stretched out belly and kneaded it, giving it gentle kisses. That used to be your home, I told him. In many ways, it still is.

Keep Your Guns, Give Your Heart

Almost exactly one year ago I spent the evening working downtown Boise for Preservation Idaho's Up On The Roof event. I stood atop the 17th floor of the Zions Bank Building sharing stories of Boise's architectural history with folks drinking wine, enjoying music, eating appetizers and loving the views. We wandered around to various fabulous and secret rooftops that night, including the top of the Art Deco Hoff Building overlooking Bannock Street and the patio on the roof of the Owyhee Hotel. It was Pride Fest Week in Boise, and several of my gay colleagues, dear friends and attendees were enjoying the night with us, and we all ended up heading to the gay nightclub, the Lucky Dog Tavern, to continue the celebration and fun.

No one checked me for anything at the door, except my ID, but I was complimented several times on my cute dress. There I ran into several gay, lesbian and transgendered friends I hadn't seen in months - older introverted men who father sweet puppies and younger men I went to college with who are ardent Republicans. I shared loads of hugs and spilled my gin and tonic and another friend quickly bought me another. There was a catwalk on a stage for a fashion show and a kiddie pool filled with Jell-O that I was *this close* to stripping down to my bra and undies and diving in to. A few of my wild friends were cheering in support and a few of my more conservative ones talked me out of it. It was one of the most silly and spontaneous and celebratory nights out in Boise I've ever had, and despite all our obvious differences - I may well have been only one of three white, hetero, 40-year-old moms in the place - we enjoyed one another in the name of love.

Photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell

Photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell

This past weekend a young man entered a gay nightclub much like this one in Orlando, Florida, and killed at least 50 people and injuring more than 50 others. It was a crime fueled by hate, anger, and religion. People around the country, and certainly those in Florida and those who knew and loved these lost souls, are irate and sad and are looking for things to blame this horrific event on, rightly so. But it's not about the guns. It's never been about the guns (although I'm personally and ardently opposed to Americans owning assault rifles and I've read all the statistics about gun laws in other countries and agree with them wholeheartedly).

It's about living in a society that doesn't take seriously mental health and refuses it necessary funding and won't talk about it due to stigma. It's about raising boys who turn into young men who have never learned healthy ways to manage difference and anger and turn to violence. It's about religions that perpetuate hate of those who may look or act or believe in ways other than our own. It's about all of us adding a new Facebook profile picture in solidarity and talking, talking, talking but never taking action to change this vicious American culture that breeds shame and fear and ignorance and consumerism. And sure, it's a little bit about guns.  

But what it's really about is promoting self-love to our children at home and teaching that all bodies are valuable. It's about the right we all have to make individual choices about what to put in our body, put on our body and do with our body. The more tolerant and accepting we are of ourselves, and the little things that make us unique, the more accepting we will be of others. I know from experience that a personal revolution of love and acceptance can emanate from us and spread like wildfire to how we view and interact with others to change the world. Though we may vote or have sex or dress or love in a way that sometimes seems so opposite and contrary, we are deep down at our core more similar than we know.

It's about realizing that our mind and our hearts are the most valuable parts of our bodies and that opening both can be life-changing.

We can make all the changes in legislation and laws and regulations we want about firearms and more, but it seems the biggest changes necessary to stop this perpetual cycle of violence and hate are harder won. It's something that has been so ingrained in us and our culture and our minds for so long. It's a personal effort to alter your mindset that has to come from the deepest caverns of your soul.

So, you can keep your guns. Just give us your heart.

My Swim Body

When I became a mother I wanted to make sure my children all knew how to safely float on their back if surprisingly launched into a body of water, make their way to the edge, and hoist themselves safely to shore. While I've put them all in swim lessons every summer since the age of three, Dr. Brown has also taught them the ways of wild waters - how to hold safe to a secure branch if they topple overboard on a boat or raft and how to sit up in a seated position with legs out front to let the river current carry them.

Truth be told, I'm not a very good swimmer at all and I unfortunately inherited my mother's fear of the water. I can do one stroke and don't know how to hold my breath that well. Using my fingers to plug my nose when going off waterslides is the only surefire way I know how to keep from inhaling water. And that's pretty tricky if you're holding a toddler on your lap and lifting them several feet in the air to keep them from going under.

All that being said, I adore the pool. Every summer we purchase the family swim pass for the Boise Public Pools and spend nearly every afternoon there with friends. We bring snacks to share and shade tents and magazines. We laugh and talk and reapply sunscreen. And for the past four summers, I've put my body in a bikini while doing so. Every year the bright high desert sun comes out and reaches temperatures of 100 degrees and for years I longed for less clothing, less fabric sticking to my wet skin, but was too scared. I was terrified to show more of my jiggly bits, my stretchmarks, my cellulite, my wrinkles, my flabby arms, my dimpled knees.

But the freedom that came with those bikinis was extraordinary, and I'm not just talking about the skin that could breathe. I'm talking about the ease of pulling down a bikini bottom to pee in a public restroom with one hand while wrangling a baby with the other. I'm talking about feeling the sun on my shoulders and relaxing as it bore right into my heart and warmed my soul.

It still takes a conscious effort, but instead of focusing on what my swim body isn't, I choose to focus on what my swim body is. My swim body is able to carefully wade through masses of toddlers in two feet of water to snatch mine from the bottom of the slide at the kiddie pool. My swim body lays out towels to dry and rounds up dollars for popsicles from the snack shack and repairs broken goggles. My swim body is strong and sexy and soft and bares stripes of stretchmarks that get more golden in the sun. It shows off a maze of wonky tan lines from a million different bathing suits on dark Native American skin that I inherited from my ancestors. My swim body cheers on kids anxiously passing swim tests for the lifeguards and watches carefully in the wave pool. It loves ice cold beers on creeks while camping and packs sandwiches for hiking into Idaho mountain hot springs.

I was honored and excited to be asked by Swimsuits For All to participate as an "everyday model" of sorts for their summer #myswimbody campaign. I'm a big fan of their plus-sized bikinis (or fatkinis, as I like to call them) and their philosophy, and they're fans of my work as a body positive activist, too. You may know them as the company that put the first super sexy plus-sized woman in the pages of Sports Illustrated with their swimsuit advertisement. Last summer they featured me on their Instagram and website as part of their #curvesinbikinis June campaign and gave me a free swimsuit of my choice as part of it, and I happened to pick a pretty infamous Swim Sexy brand black bikini that has ignited a bit of a revolution.

For this campaign I picked  The Explorer bikini by Swim Sexy , size 14 top and size 16 bottom.

For this campaign I picked The Explorer bikini by Swim Sexy, size 14 top and size 16 bottom.

I'm super proud of all the things #myswimbody can do, both in and out of the pool. I think seeing bodies of all shapes and sizes uncovered and enjoying the water and the sun and their children and the summer is radical, revolutionary and so necessary. Today is the last day of school, something I've been anxiously awaiting for about two months now, and to celebrate, we're headed out for our traditional end-of-the-year afternoon celebration at the pool and slushies from Sonic Drive-Thru. Here's to a summer enjoying #myswimbody, and I hope you enjoy yours, too.

My Body Is Not Broken

My body was made to walk miles in the mountains and dig deep in the dirt. It was made to spot baby deer a mile away and sense hesitation. It was made to birth babies and carry them for years on wide hips.

It was made to sing made-up songs off key and build gardens. It was made to speak up and out and loud. My body carries me through forests and through sad days. It makes key lime pie from scratch and gives a thousand kisses.

It kneels down to pick up crayons and to snatch toddlers. My body writes and remembers and jiggles and stretches and makes change. My body is a vessel for my art, my love, and my stories. It can sleep and cook and build fires and throw frisbees.

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

Courtesy of Melanie Folwell

My body can teach classes and sew on buttons and blow noses and go down waterslides. My body can paint and arouse and excite and grow garlic. It can cuddle and bike and heal and lift. 

My body cannot do everything, but it is not a problem to be fixed. My body is not broken. It was made to do this.

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

{My TED talk, The Stand for Self-Love, is up on the TEDx YouTube if you haven't seen it yet. It's a story of a courageous girl from Idaho who grew up to be a brave mom with a blindfold and a black bikini. It's a story about body positivity, feminism, vulnerability, love and standing up for something you believe in - yourself.}  

Where I Get Hippie-Dippy & Naked

I first got interested in yoga when I was 19-years-old, as a student studying at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. It was making a revival in the college scene, and I was a serial exerciser - constantly trying to find the routine that I would adore and stick with, the gym my chubby teen body would fit in at, the sport that would make me fitter and thinner. I'd dropped out of sailing class because I was terrified of the water and when the hell would I use that skill when I was back at the University of Idaho anyway? I had to add the yoga class a few weeks late into the semester as a result, so was asked to meet with the middle-aged male instructor after-hours in his office, where he proceeded to lock the door and make sexually suggestive advances to me while feeling my back and neck for my "erotic chakras." Terrified, I bolted, and ended up nearly failing that class and ruining my GPA because I didn't want to be in the same room with him again.

What I usually wear to yoga: $5 sale Old Navy leggings and old tank tops or tee shirts, bare feet. I don't even own my own mat or gear because Zen Riot has it all for me to use.

What I usually wear to yoga: $5 sale Old Navy leggings and old tank tops or tee shirts, bare feet. I don't even own my own mat or gear because Zen Riot has it all for me to use.

Years later I gave yoga another try, only to feel completely out of place. As a fat woman in the early years of the 21st century, I most certainly did not have a lean, muscular yoga body, wasn't as graceful as I used to be, and my balance wasn't that good, either. I checked out Curvy Yoga DVDs from the library to do at home, but it just wasn't the same as the camaraderie I felt from being in a class, away from the clutter and my kids underfoot.

A yoga mat I saw recently at the Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store that I was excited about until I turned it over. This kind of body shaming marketing is EXACTLY why I used to hate yoga when it was focused on weight loss and a particular body type.

A yoga mat I saw recently at the Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store that I was excited about until I turned it over. This kind of body shaming marketing is EXACTLY why I used to hate yoga when it was focused on weight loss and a particular body type.

It wasn't long after I began my own body positive journey seven years ago that yoga was one of the first fitness studios to begin embracing the fact that all bodies could be yoga bodies - that we all deserved to move and feel good in our skin, with no weight loss goal or quick advancement of ability as an end result. Yoga studios around the country began seeing the value in being mindful of our own body where we are on this journey and being present in it, while moving it and breathing in it and feeling our muscles and our minds stretch and flow.

Luckily, a new body positive yoga studio recently opened up in my own Vista neighborhood on the Boise Bench, Zen Riot, owned and operated by a lovely and kind woman named Jenn. I attended their open house and asked about the studio's inclusivity of all bodies and levels, as I'd just had a handful of people in the Boise Rad Fat Collective inquire about fat positive yoga instructors locally. She assured me Zen Riot was a safe space, and I've been attending classes there for several months now and can't say enough good things about those hours I've spent in Jenn's quiet studio.

Fat legs are yoga legs, you guys. And I'm so excited to say that  Zen Riot  has just added Full Figure Flow - a yoga class especially for big bodies on Monday nights at 6:30pm. Join me!

Fat legs are yoga legs, you guys. And I'm so excited to say that Zen Riot has just added Full Figure Flow - a yoga class especially for big bodies on Monday nights at 6:30pm. Join me!

My recent yoga practice combines mindful meditation with flexibility, strength and deep stretching. I mostly practice with my eyes closed and envision being grounded to the earth, with roots growing out of my big fat ass and the bottoms of my feet and tying me to the dirt and rocks below. I often pretend to be outside, with Jenn's calming music playing softly, breathing in the crisp mountain air and feeling the sun on my shoulders. I pay close attention to my breaths, under Jenn's instruction, and let all thoughts leave my mind. For that one-and-a-half hours each week, I focus on nothing but my body and it feels divine.

It reminds me so much of hypnobirthing, something I intuitively did with all three of my childbirths, and something I've studied quite a bit about in recent years. The idea is that mindful meditation, breathing techniques and visualization can manage pain and allow for a natural unmedicated childbirth. I know this isn't for everyone, but it completely worked for me - moving into the pain, seeing it, feeling it, and breathing through it, while thinking about my uterus and cervix unfolding like a flower and pushing my babies out. In my mind, I also saw my contractions as ocean waves ebbing and flowing, crashing onto the beach and rolling back out.

Dat ass got roots and those flabby arms move mountains.

Dat ass got roots and those flabby arms move mountains.

Yoga has been such a great way to exercise my fat body, to treat it well and practice self-love at least once a week, giving my body some much-needed movement and time to re-energize. It's close enough to my home that I can ride my bike to and from the studio. Through Zen Riot I've even been able to introduce my kids to yoga, as Jenn and her sister came to our little elementary school's Earth Day Health Fair to do mini meditations with the kids and they were a huge hit. Right before I stepped on stage to give the talk of a lifetime in front of a full house at TEDxBoise a few weeks ago, I closed my eyes, repeated the wise words of Brene Brown ("Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Just stand your sacred ground."), and did a modified Tadasana (or Mountain Pose) as a way to ground and center my power. And it absolutely worked.

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

Courtesy of Tarek Richey

Like I said in a radio interview I did earlier this week, our mental health is just as important as our physical health and you cannot have one without the other. Learning to self-love is a journey, and takes lots and lots of practice. Sharing our truths and stories, images and ideas is the only way I know how to teach. I can only be me - leading by example and living out loud - even writing about hippie-dippy yoga journeys, speaking bravely on conservative Christian radio shows, and fighting back to body shamers and vicious Facebook trolls by posting nude photos of myself with love on the internets.

Wait.

WHAAAA?!

See for yourself.

In A Society That Profits From Your Self Doubt, Liking Yourself Is A Rebellious Act

I knew immediately upon stumbling across Caroline Caldwell's quote on Instagram that I was going to use it in the little iMovie video Melanie and I created after my stand for self-love in the marketplace last August. It hit me deep in my heart and couldn't be more fitting for the way I felt about our consumerist culture's crap and how it has normalized body shaming in America.

Caroline is a young artist and wordsmith in New York City and a recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College and is a master illustrator and guerrilla artist. She often creates thought-provoking graffiti work around the cities she frequents, and when she first penned the phrase:

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

on her dorm room wall, she didn't think much of it. She later wrote it on a blank poster frame on the train and snapped a photo of her roommate in the seat next to it, posted it to Instagram, and, well, the rest is history. People were so struck by her words that it was spread and used repeatedly, including by me in my now viral video and again in my TEDxBoise talk just last week. Her words are so powerful that it was the one quote several TED attendees pulled from my talk and tweeted about repeatedly.

Caroline's art is extraordinary (those houses on her website OMG), and we're kindred spirits in more ways than one. After many, many requests from her fans (and mine) all over the world, Caroline has created a few styles of a tee shirt now available for purchase, and when she sought out my opinion on which body positive organization to donate half the shirt sales proceeds to, I was thrilled that she immediately took my suggestion of the National Eating Disorders Association.

I ordered the Ladies Dolman, $30, in heather gray and an XL and it fits like a dream. I haven't washed it yet, but it's 50/50 blend so shouldn't shrink.

I ordered the Ladies Dolman, $30, in heather gray and an XL and it fits like a dream. I haven't washed it yet, but it's 50/50 blend so shouldn't shrink.

I'm still nursing an emotional hangover while riding the high that was my TEDxBoise experience and I'm so excited to share the fancy final official TED video with you all in just a few short weeks. I was the last speaker of the night and left my heart on the stage of that beautiful historic theater with a standing ovation and tears. It was powerful and exhausting and such a life-changing experience. I wrote my talk one night early November and began reading through it daily in December, memorizing it in January & February with twice daily practices and a handful of sessions with my amazing TEDx coach, and was solid and ready a month ago probably, but my coach Nancy says that's the best way to be and she's right, the words came so naturally and poured directly from my heart I didn't even have to think about what was coming next. I shared some super personal stories that I've never ever told before and I have to say, I hadn't felt that nervous since the day I stripped down at the market. Again, though, it proved to be so, so worth it.

Photo by Dahlton Grover

Photo by Dahlton Grover

Caroline got to watch the livestream of my talk and wrote to me about how she cried, twice, and that my strength has made her stronger. I'm so honored to be connected to this young woman, and she's absolutely right. Courage is contagious and sharing strength does indeed make us all stronger. Here's to being brave and being rebels, from the eclectic bustling streets of NYC to the mellow downtown avenues of Boise.

On 4-Leaf Clovers, Big Magic & Working Your Ass Off

The first time I found a four-leaf clover was in the 4th grade. I'd just moved to a small rural Idaho town and was the new girl in our elementary school. The class play that year was Robin Hood, and, of course, all the girls wanted to audition for the lead role of Maid Marian, including me. It was a musical and we had to sing a solo for the audition and for some hair-brained reason I chose Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I practiced and practiced the song and a monologue and apparently I nailed both, though, because I landed the part, and the chance to kiss Robin Hood on stage. Unfortunately, I also landed the dislike and distrust of several dozen 10-year-old girls I'd just met. So I spent lots of recesses sitting in the far fields of the playground grasses with one or two other kind girls looking for four-leaved clovers.

And I found one.

It didn't bring me luck, that I can remember, but did bring me a bit of elementary school fame for an afternoon, as everyone wanted to see my treasure, students and teachers alike. And it may have just gained me a few new much-needed friendships.

I think back fondly on that small version of myself, and how brave I was in that contested theater production on that little school stage and how my mom made my costume out of a nightgown and a piece of yellow poster board and some tulle.

Ever since, I've spent long stretches of time sitting on sunny lawns, drinking beers with friends or playing at parks with my kids, still searching for that illusive good luck charm. It only took me thirty years, but yesterday while enjoying the spring sun with Arlo in our backyard, I FOUND ONE. My second clover in a lifetime.

I don't think it's really about luck, though. It's about having a keen eye and good observation skills. It's about being persistent and relentless and patient. It's about coming back after you've spent countless hours and recesses with no luck. It's about trying a different patch of earth on a different date in a different season over and over and over again. It's about learning new tricks and revamping old ones.

But, it's also a little bit about magic. I'm currently on the last pages of Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In her easy conversational way, Gilbert writes about creativity and this kind of bullshit notion that inspiration is mysterious and that you have to suffer to live an artistic life.  She writes about catching a story or a poem and that it might not wait around for you to pay attention, but leave and find another writer who is ready. She talks about working shitty day jobs and writing and writing and writing for no money and for no other reason than for the sake of getting better. She talks about showing up and doing the work repetitively so you are always there and open and ready to capture that magic idea or opportunity when it presents itself.

photo courtesy of Nancy Buffington

photo courtesy of Nancy Buffington

I've been a body image activist for the past seven years, in small personal ways in in large internationally famous ways. I study and read and talk and listen and write and write and write and show up every day, doing the grassroots work of a revolution. I was ready when the TedxBoise producers asked me to share an idea worth spreading in 18 minutes on a major stage, and I was open to the magic that came out of my fingertips as I wrote a raw and engaging talk four months ago. I've woken up every single day for the past three months and memorized and practiced and tweaked that talk at least twice while Arlo naps. 

I think that little lonely girl on the playground would be pretty proud of the hard-working woman that will show up, again, on a big important stage this Saturday night, talking about courage and education and fear and love. I think she knew then, too, it's all about more than luck, but always being open to a little bit of magic.

(Join me in the magic-making of reframing radical at TedxBoise this Saturday April 2, 2016 at the Egyptian Theater downtown Boise. There are still a few tickets left for the all-day conference!)

 

Justin Bieber's Bullshit

Justin Bieber's Bullshit

Self-love is not a character flaw, but an attribute. I hope the girl in this song did, in fact, go and love herself and find others that admire that quality and value that strength in her. Unfortunately, boys like Justin Bieber abound, and grow into adulthood with the same sad notion as a means of keeping women down.

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Prized Meat

Our first trip to the Minneapolis Farmers Market was one of our earliest outings as fledgling parents with a newborn Lucy. Like all new papas and mamas, we were terrified to take our baby out in the spring, for fear of germs and breastfeeding in public and changing diapers somewhere that was NOT the changing table. But the market was outdoors, and we could wear her safely in the Baby Bjorn while trying out some tasty food and getting dressed and leaving the house for what felt like the first time in months.

I'd forgotten all about this memory from twelve years ago until I got an email from a guy named Brandon a few weeks ago. He works at a small craft meat shop called Man Cave in Minneapolis, and he'd stumbled across my website and blog when he was searching out Idaho foodies who might be interested in trying out their meat (yeah, I know, I can't stop giggling about that, too, because I'm either 14-years-old in my heart or have a dirty mind or both). Anyhow, he was thrilled to realize that not only was I a long-time Idaho blogger who loves to cook and eat fun foods, but that I was also that lady who'd become famous for her awesome radical stand for self-love in a black bikini. It wasn't until we began corresponding about his meat (yup!), that he learned that I also lived in Minneapolis for many years, as a grad student and young mother.

Much of the crew at Man Cave Craft Meats met as students at the University of Minnesota and began making their own sausages and bratwurst with care and flavor and selling it at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and backyard BBQ parties. They have worked their way up as a small business and are brand new to Winco Foods grocery stores (our favorite!) around the West, and here in Boise. For around $3.99/pack, you can try out some pretty tasty meat, friends, from turkey burgers to breakfast sausage.

Brandon sent me a cooler with an assortment of frozen Man Cave Craft Meats to try out. I got a few friends together on a sunny Saturday for a taste test, and we busted open some beers and the BBQ grill and cooked up both the bacon, beer & cheddar brats as well as the buffalo wing style with bleu cheese. While the little girls all loved the bacon, beer & cheddar, I have to say that the clear winner with all the adults was the buffalo wing style brats. They are super spicy and not "Minnesota spicy," as Eric and I used to call the wimpy Midwestern aversion to zest, but LEGIT spicy, in the best possible way. These are so good, in fact, that they need no other accoutrements except the bun (and definitely not ketchup).

Not only did Brandon make our Saturday afternoon a real treat, he also sent me some extra packages of meat and a super cool Man Cave Craft Meats tee shirt to give away to a lucky local Boise area blog reader FOR FREE (you just gotta be over age 18). You guys, I'm super stoked to be hosting my very first giveaway contest, and for something so yummy and affordable and dear to my heart (and my belly). I recommend giving these guys' meat a shot (yup again!) next time you're at Winco Foods and picking up something to grill this coming spring and summer. So, for your easy peasy chance to win a package of their breakfast sausage, the bacon, beer & cheddar brats AND a tee, tell me below what your favorite thing to grill outside is. That's it. No purchase necessary, just leave me a note with a few words. You have until Sunday March 13th, 2016 at midnight to leave a comment and I'll pick a winner AND arrange to hand over your meat prize (and yup! still giggling!) personally.

EDITED TO ADD: Congrats to Brina Anderson for winning the prized meat package, even though now I can't stop thinking about grilled peaches. YUM.

Art, Agents of Social Change, Activism & Other Seriously Important Shit Academics Say

I've been honored to start off 2016 by being asked to speak not only at one, not even at two, but THREE universities within the span of three weeks time. For two of them (the University of Idaho and the University of Wyoming) I've been asked to present the keynote address for their campus-wide Body Image Awareness Week, five days full of education and advocacy around healthy eating, positive body choices, smart ideas about safe sexuality and more. The first of the round up was a keynote address Valentine's Day weekend at Boise State University's THATCamp, an 'unconference' around humanities and technology. There was no real set agenda, except for a basic theme of expression and empowerment surrounding civil rights, and the impressive and powerful political activist of the Add The Words campaign here in Idaho, Nicole LeFavour, and myself were asked to give hour talks. The rest of the day's agenda was to be made up/identified that morning over our free breakfast. (Of note: the entire unconference was, in fact, free to participants, generously funded by BSU departments, and included a challenging and thoughtful day, free breakfast and lunch, unlimited new connections, and a really cool travel coffee mug.)

photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

The idea of an unconference was uncomfortable to me, even though I knew my role in the day was pre-planned. As a lifelong academic, I've attended and spoke at MANY conferences in my lifetime, and I just couldn't wrap my head around how this was going to work. Additionally, I'm a leader with strong organizational skills and letting that part of my personality slide felt different and good. Nicole spoke first and her words about growing up gay in Idaho and oppression and anger and fear were strong and serious. She shared insight about civil disobedience and logistics of mobilizing and the realities of being arrested as a protester. Over yogurt and cups of tea, she and I talked privately about hearing story after story from others and how both of us feel not only compelled to action, but called to it in the most personal and powerful way. About how we are part of something bigger and that, perhaps, we didn't chose the revolution, it chose us.

photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

We started the day off with a speed dating style meet and greet and ideas and alliances were formed with interests that came out of simple one minute conversations. Two other men, one an animator teaching at BSU and another a local fine art painter, and I threw around the idea of artists as agents of social change and turned it into a session in which around ten of us talked about concepts like grassroots uprisings, creative commons, new ideas, legislation, high art vs. low art, and reaching the masses. This quote by William S. Burroughs, brought forth by the painter, was the driving force of our hour session:

Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.

During lunch I gave my keynote, an hour of telling my story, from my upbringing in Burley, Idaho, and how I cut off all my hair into a pixie cut at the age of 16 in a defiant feminist act that even I was unaware of at that time. It was the beginning of a journey of understanding my body was a political vessel that I could use for change and art. My education, both undergraduate and graduate, has played so much into my activism and art, and that is something I always try to impart to my audience, especially when speaking at college campuses.

Immediately following, I hosted a session on activism, where about 20 of us gathered to talk about the role of civic engagement in our lives and questioned whether or not that could be viewed as activism. Students broadened my mind about using social media as an easier entry to activism and sparked ideas about passive activism and personal activism and leaders and followers. It was engaging and thoughtful. Do we need to open more than our laptops? Do we need to get our of our chairs and mobilize on our feet? 

A few days later my TED Talk coach posted this in our private Facebook group, where we share inspiring talks and support one another in the process of writing and rehearsing for the big day. I asked her if she specifically posted it with me in mind, because this man's ideas speak so clearly to my own heart on why I chose a life as an activist, or rather, why activism chose me.

Like this teacher says so eloquently, "Tell your truth. Because who ever needed a soapbox when all you ever needed was your voice?"

All Bodies Are Good Bodies

In October I was asked to come back to the Capital City Public Market as an important guest bell ringer, banging on a big brass bell to open up the Market. Not only did I get to say a few words on a microphone, but the Market gave the Boise Rad Fat Collective a booth to help spread the word about self-love and to promote body positivity. I was honored and excited to be back on hollowed ground, as I now refer to that spot in the middle of 8th Street between Idaho and Bannock Streets where I shed my dress and my life changed forever. But I wasn't sure, at first, what exactly we'd do with an entire booth.

My friend and fellow Rad Fatty Jenny Wren is a jewelry designer and artist and hand-letters the sweetest greeting cards with poignant messages and cute illustrations. I asked if she'd be willing to draw a coloring page in black and white, one that might be fun for kids and adults alike. We talked a bit about a message and design and she came up with something pretty perfect, as I knew she would, featuring an important mantra in the Boise Rad Fat Collective.

We had a great time in the Market that day, sipping coffee with families who leisurely sat down and shared in our ideas about the value of all bodies. Some of the Tri Delta sorority girls I had just spoken to at Boise State University earlier in the week stopped by to deliver flowers and pass out coloring pages. Grandparents and teachers grabbed a small stack to go to share with loved ones at a later date.

We brought ours home and taped them up on the mirrors in our bathrooms as reminders every morning. And tomorrow, as part of the University of Idaho's first ever Body Positive Week on campus, the students and staff will have a chance to take crayons to Jenny's sweet coloring page again, as it'll be available from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the Idaho Commons building. I understand there'll be other unique ways to support the notion that all bodies are good bodies, pick up some important resources and get a free snack.

I'm super excited to be headed up to Moscow on Wednesday morning myself to give the keynote address for the week later that night at 7pm in the International Ballroom in the Bruce Pitman Center. College students are my favorite group to speak to because I think it's crucial to help foster body positivity at an age where you are learning and growing and becoming your own person. Because I know from experience that negative body image contributes to disordered eating, I'm honored to be part of this week that raises awareness about how to maintain a positive body image no matter your size.

Dear Fat Shaming Facebook Friends

Dear Fat Shaming Facebook Friends,

Some of you are new. Since my stand for self-love I've received several thousand Facebook friend requests from people around the world. So many, in fact, that I maxed out at 5,000 and could receive no more friend requests per Facebook's policy - something I knew nothing about until it happened. I was overwhelmed with newfound fame and attention and know that my bravery and courage standing blindfolded in a black bikini was why you sent me a friend request in the first place. Some of you are old friends who've routinely posted body hating status updates in the past. A whole lot of you are trying to make your living off selling diet supplements or fitness coaches or nutrition plans. And that is just fine by me. You are free to post and sell whatever you like, as you are welcome to do whatever you want with your body, including dieting, "eating clean," or doing cross-fit twice a day. Seriously, I support your right to do what is best for you, even if that is different than what might be best for me.

But when you post commentary on other people's bodies as being bad or undesirable or wrong for being or looking or eating different from you, that's where I draw the line. I will not only stop scrolling at your status update, but I will very likely comment, with something along the lines of you cannot tell how 'healthy' someone is by just looking at them. And then when your friends comment in droves with even more shame and unkind remarks about fat bodies I will come back again, with something about how the $61 billion a year diet industry profits off making us feel bad about ourselves, even though they have a 97% failure rate after three years, but we keep buying into that shitty consumerist culture because offering a faulty product is apparently a BRILLIANT business plan. And when you respond to me with: but it's not a diet, it's a 'lifestyle change,' and folks just need to try harder and learn that eating whole foods is just better for them, I will likely respond with this:

How about we teach kindness? How about we teach that all bodies are good bodies, and that there is no wrong way to have a body. Or we teach that, in fact, food has no moral value. And we teach intuitive eating. How about we teach self-love.

And, historically, when I respond to you with this, you will not only refrain from responding or engaging in further discussion, you will delete my comments from your thread, and not only unfriend me, but block me.

Which is a little extreme for a simple disagreement on ideals. Except it's not just a simple disagreement on ideals, and you know that, too.

Courtesy of Son of Baldwin on Facebook

Courtesy of Son of Baldwin on Facebook

I know what I'm saying is a radical new (and therefore uncomfortable) way of thinking. It's difficult to hear that what you've been taught to believe about your body (and others') may, in fact, be wrong. What's right for me may not be right for you, I know, and we should all have sovereignty over what we do with, put in, and put on our individual bodies. I wish you love, kindness, and, most of all, peace on your journey to find your best self.

But please know that I will not scroll past the hate and body shame. It's important to open our mouths and speak up when we feel oppression, bigotry and injustice is being spewed, so I'll continue to put myself out there and be blocked on Facebook for something I believe so strongly in. It's been happening for nearly 7 years now, so I'm used to it. But it's happening less and less, and that, my friends, is progress.

Yours in the revolution of love,

Amy

Barbie Bods

Late last week the big news on the Internet was the launch of Mattel's new more body positive Barbie line - new dolls with various skin tones, hair-dos, and sizes, including curvy, tall and petite. The announcement immediately garnered a ton of press, both positive and negative. After decades of feminist criticism of the doll due to her promotion of unrealistic beauty standards, many people were thrilled that Mattel was finally getting with the times and listening to their consumer base. More radical body positive activists cried out that while it was a step forward, it was a tiny baby step, and one further promoting the 'acceptable' plus sized ideal of a size 12 (no fatter, please!) and calling out corporate culture for profiting on the body positive movement.


image courtesy www.usatoday.com

This week the debate has continued, with a Twitter campaign to revamp Ken as well as Barbie, giving him the more realistic "dad bod." While I agree the Ken doll proportions could use a little body positive/realistic upgrade, I find the term "dad bod" harmful and problematic in general.


My kids have never been big into toys at all. Lucy and Alice, as girls, have often received dolls as gifts and while they may play with them for about a week, they ultimately end up long lost at the bottom of a toy box. Barbies especially. They do, however, have a vintage suitcase full of them, most from my 1980s childhood, including one Latina Barbie, one Caribbean Beach Barbie with very dark skin that I bought for Lucy for her 2nd birthday, hoping to diversify her toy box, and at least three Kens with some serious plastic washboard abs.


Mostly these Barbies are naked because, let's face it, those tiny clothes are so damn hard to put on, let alone get off. Many have legs and feet chewed to bits, either by long deceased dogs or teething babies, and several are headless. One 1960s vintage mod Barbie lays lonely in Arlo's nightly bathtub, her slick blonde shoulder length bob floating amidst the bubbles.


Lucy and I were watching our beloved CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend, and they did a quick story about the new body positive Barbie body line. It was brief and to the point and during the next commercial break, my smart 11-year-old daughter turned to me and said,

You know what would be really cool, Mama? If they created a Barbie that looked just like you, and it came with a black bikini, and tiny heart stickers that you could put all over her body. Or three washable markers, so you could draw your own hearts and then wash them off and do it again and again.

image courtesy Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

That, my sweet girl, would be revolutionary, I said.

Barbie's new looks are certainly partly a money-making move in a consumerist culture, but I still think it's a step forward. By diversifying the bodies we see in mainstream media, companies like Mattel are helping make a more body positive visual landscape for our kids, one toy at a time. There is still so much ground to gain, however, so here's to future toy designers and entrepreneurs, marketing gurus and advertising professionals. Let's raise them right so that their future contributions to our consumer culture, or otherwise, may be even more positive.

Write Your Own Obituary

Last summer I was asked by the Boise Public Library to teach a "write your own obituary" workshop for their November Death in the Library series. As you may or may not know, I have some unique qualifications that make me the ideal person for such a job. 1) I used to work with dead bodies at a funeral home in Oregon 2) I went on to study the history of American death culture in graduate school AND wrote my thesis on the architecture of the American funeral home 3) I was hired by Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis to give art historical walking tours and I continue to give walking tours around Boise cemeteries and 4) I'm a writer.

But most importantly, not on this list, I'm a human and I'm a mother, two things that have made me even more aware of my own mortality.

A week or so ago one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, wrote this status update on her Facebook page, inquiring about the thoughts about death from all her fans:

At what point did you start seriously contemplating your own mortality? I mean in a real way. At what point in your life--if you have indeed reached this point in your life (some of you likely have not and some perhaps will never reach it) did the actual, vivid understanding that you and anyone you love may very well die today? I walked around in a cloud of never-imagining until my mom died. And then--every single day since then, since I was in a kid in COLLEGE--I've had the ...active, present thought that I or someone I love might die today. Today. It's not a neurotic fear thing. It's not a horrible monster that rules my life. I don't make decisions based on this feeling. It's simply an awareness of a presence and that presence is the stone cold fact of our mortality. Is it weird to have this daily awareness or do you also have this daily awareness? Is this awareness unique to people who were close to people who died young? (It would in some ways seems so.) Do you have this feeling even if you've not lost someone young? If you're a parent, did this feeling come/increase when you became a parent? Does this post feel utterly foreign to you because you hardly think of your own (or anyone's) mortality at all and you think I'm a mad hatter? I'm curious. I've always wondered.

For me, becoming a mother has made me so aware of this tenuous line between life and death that we all walk daily. Like Cheryl, I don't obsess over it (usually....unless I hear sirens within the 10 minutes my husband has left our house to bike to work or my kids have left our house to walk to school two blocks away because I am a bit neurotic and anxiety-ridden and please say YOU DO THIS TOO RIGHT), but it's something I'm constantly aware of.

I have had two miscarriages in the past three years and I've written about them before, often during October, which is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Making and growing babies is a miracle, as all mothers can attest to. Things can go so wrong in such an instant and in so many ways, that we are the luckiest - those of us with children who are down the street at elementary schools and sleeping in cribs in the other room. Honestly, birthing my dead babies into a toilet felt more like giant chunks of my heart just fell out of my body and, maybe, to the rest of the world I could just flush it away but to me, it clings and swells and informs every moment of my life since. I imagine that's the case with all deaths of those close to us, and although people experience grief in such diverse ways, it likely informs every moment of life after.

My writing workshops in November were amazing and the most thought-provoking conversations came up, about how obituaries tell specific stories of our lives, depending on who writes them. If they are funny, is that trivializing the intense pain of losing someone and downplaying the ritual? If we gloss over the hard or negative parts of the deceased's life is that preserving a false memory? When a person is gone, do we care where they went to college or worked or do we want to read more about how they grew the most beautiful roses in town and changed minds with their activism?

I set a goal for myself to write my own obituary as practice before the end of 2015, but I was too busy living and enjoying life to sit down with pen and paper and take on such a serious task. But also? It felt so solemn and scary to write my own obituary at the age of 40. And then I started thinking that, as a writer and a blogger, I have put so many words out into the world at this point, and that those words - THESE WORDS - are a true testament to my life story. I am, in effect, writing my own obituary on the reg.

At the age of 25 I became the only female mortician's assistant to pick up dead bodies at night for a small funeral home in Corvallis, Oregon. It was as weird and dark as it sounds. In fact, it may be even weirder and darker than you could ever imagine. I recently told some of these sad and heartbreaking, gruesome and hilarious tales as a celebrity storyteller for Starry Story Night for the theme 'departure' here in Boise - a fun public storytelling event at the Boise Contemporary Theater. So, instead of writing my body removal tales, I'll let you listen, because sometimes actions speak louder than words and sometimes it's better expressed in spoken word.

And sometimes it's all of these things and moments and living so much life while always on the verge of death that makes us beautifully human. So whether or not you put fingers to a screen and write or stand in front of an audience and talk or hug your kids or run up mountain trails or knit fingerless gloves or bake cakes or fix cars, we are all writing our own obituaries.

Make yours one worth reading.

** It's about 15 minutes long and you might not want to 1) have your kids in the room and 2) be eating your lunch - just fair warning. You may also want to have a tissue handy, because the audience cried, and so did I.


The Year of My Best Body

These past few months I've gotten to know some of the leaders in the body positive movement better, women who have helped pave the way before me and continue to inform and inspire. Chrystal Bougon is the owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie in California, a shop that not only sells plus-sized lingerie, but offers a supportive atmosphere for women of all sizes to reclaim and celebrate their sexuality. Yesterday she put forth a call for photographs from people of all shapes and sizes showing off our "best body" in response to Oprah's body shaming Weight Watchers commercials where she calls for finding that inner thin woman and shedding the weight for "your best body" in 2016.  Chrystal got angry, and rightfully so, and wrote this great rant on Facebook about this particular commercial yesterday:

What got me really fired up again about this #oprah #weightwatchers debacle is I caught the end of American Idol last night and there's Oprah telling me to try to have my #bestbody in 2016. All of those talented and excited young people watching American Idol hearing the message that even Oprah feels like she needs to diet down to be the best version of herself. That breaks my heart for all of the people who are ages 10 to 25 who are super impressionable and watching AI and who are going to think - wow, Oprah has given away more money in her life than I will ever even earn in a lifetime .... and she still can't seem to love her body. That fires me up. My 12 year old self watching this super successful accomplished woman peddling a diet that only works for 3% of people. And, a person who has EVERY SINGLE RESOURCE KNOWN to HUMANS, yet her body is still something she is trying to "find" the best version of. 
 
And literally almost in the same instant another body love badass, Adiba Nelson, published an article for Ravishly on the exact same subject titled "Thanks But No Thanks, Oprah #DitchTheDiet2016" in which she writes:
 
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for changing habits for your health, if that’s what you feel you want to do/need to do. But because we’re all thinking, breathing, non-idiotic human beings, we know that body size/shape, numbers on the scale, and health are not mutually exclusive.
 
Fitting into last summer’s skinny jeans does not shield you from a heart attack, just like tipping the scales at 205 pounds does not mean you can’t climb 17 flights of stairs in under five minutes or cycle 12 miles in under an hour or still look fly as hell in a size-16 wedding gown — ALL OF WHICH I DID IN MY BEST BODY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MISS O.
 

And pretty soon all three of us amazing fat warriors are writing on the same Facebook thread about this debacle and I'm sharing my open letter to Oprah and we're all answering Chrystal's call to share our favorite photos for the hashtag #bestbody2016. I sent her this image, because it certainly exemplifies my best body: a forty-year-old mother whose saggy breasts, cellulite, stretch-marked skin, silver streaks, heart, soul, vulnerability and courage are showing.
 
courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design
 
We all know as grown adult women that Oprah can do whatever she wants, and that she alone has sovereignty over what is right for her own body. That being said, she's got so much power over what other people think, especially impressionable young people. And she's got a lot to gain from peddling a product that has an over 90% failure rate, ensuring that its customers keep coming back and spending their money. She's profiting off making other people feel bad about how they look and (apparently) isn't required by law to disclose the fact that she owns 10% of the stock in Weight Watchers, despite being it's new spokeswoman and apparent enrollee (again).
 
Mostly, though, I take issue with the fact that in these two Weight Watchers commercials she makes claims that "inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be" and "let's let 2016 be the year of our best bodies."
 
Because you know what? There is not, and never has been, a skinny girl inside me dying to get out. There is only a fat fabulous feminist who is strong and smart and proud. I had a pretty damn good 2015, but 2016? It's gearing up to be the year of my best body yet, all 209 happy pounds of it.
 

Potty-Mouthed Mother Of The Year

This past weekend I came across this article written about me in September. I am still unearthing loads of press and websites and blog posts and Facebook mentions on business pages about my stand for self-love. Google Alerts hasn't been able to keep up for months, but I love this organic way of stumbling upon them or having people send them to me. They all touch my heart and make me proud.

But this one? BOOM.


Mother of the Year? My heart didn't just swell, IT EXPLODED.

In the article the author Kelly Bryant states, "In this age where bullying and negativity doesn't just happen in person, but anonymously all over the Internet, body positivity and self-love have become two of the biggest concerns parents have regarding their children." And she's absolutely right. Mothers (and I would argue fathers as well) may be the single greatest influence on their children's body image and self-esteem. (Don't just take it from me, doctors and scientists corroborate.) These kids of ours, both our daughters and sons, they listen when we tell them their bodies are strong and able and good and perfect as-is. They also listen to what we say in front of them, about ourselves and other people, and take it to heart. Not only are they aware that they are physically a part of us and love us just the way we are, they internalize everything we say. Especially right now, at the start of a new year, with January bringing out body shaming talk and resolutions to change physical appearance, we need to be so careful with our words.

"Ugh, that sweater makes him look fat."
"Well, she is dressed sort of slutty."
"Look at these love handles."
"No way am I putting on a bathing suit with these thighs."
"I can't have dessert tonight because I already ate a muffin at breakfast."
"I probably gained five pounds after eating Christmas cookies last week."
"We need to run this mocha off tomorrow."
"These jeans make me look so fat!"
"That haircut is really not flattering for her round face."

Image courtesy of www.amightygirl.com

This past weekend I also spent hours worrying and crying and yelling and, finally, hours on the Internet scouring resources to help us parent a child that was recently diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder with severe Hyperacusis. Part of that diagnosis means that she is neurologically wired differently than most of us and hears sounds many, many decibels higher than we do, making her ears very sensitive to noise and causing her ear pain to the point of making her physically ill. The other part of the diagnosis means that she is sometimes volatile and angry, sad and sensitive, overly active and falls down a lot, difficult and amazing, exhausting and terrific. All parts of the diagnosis have been hard in so many ways for our little family. This past weekend we put together an Anti-Anxiety Kit and ordered essential oils and crafted up a Calm Down Jar. The jar is handmade from glitter, glue, a Lego guy and water. I thought, how hard can this be? Um....

Hers.


Mine. (Pinterest fail, anyone? Whatever it looks like, it seems to be helping her.)

This past weekend I also bought tickets for a mama daughter date to Sights and Sounds of Cuba, an afternoon performance of Flamenco, piano, guitar, singing, drumming, and images of Cuban art. For my Lucy's 6th grade class project she's doing research all semester on the country. We've been having so much fun exploring Cuba from Boise along with her, from eating fried plantains and cubano sandwiches at Casablanca Cuban Grill just up the road, scrolling through a friend's photos and watching videos of her belt out jazz in Spanish at Cuban nightclubs, and checking out all the travel and history books on the country that our public library has to offer.


This morning I woke up to sad news that the beloved musician and artistic genius that was David Bowie had died at the age of 69 after a 18-month battle with cancer. I read this really sweet article once called "10 Things All Teenage Girls Should Know" by Caitlin Moran and the suggestions were so perfect - about beauty and sorrow and fear and being true to yourself. #9, though, really hit home today. Doing things differently, challenging the norm, standing out, and being brave sometimes really can change the world. We can be heroes, indeed, as Bowie sang in the 1977 song of the same title.

Image courtesy of www.bookofsuccess.tumblr.com

And while I was lamenting the loss of this treasure to the world and Facebooking on my phone and simultaneously trying to get dressed, Arlo grabbed an empty pint glass, dipped it into a toilet full of my old pee and filled it up. A toilet that I hadn't flushed all night long because 1) it wastes water 2) no way in hell am I risking waking the baby 3) I'm lazy. And then?

HE DRANK IT.

I didn't catch him until after a gulp or two (please please please let that be all he drank) and screamed, "OH FUCK! NOOOOOOO!" to which I completely startled him and he dropped said full cup of pee and it splattered ALL OVER MY ENTIRE BATHROOM.

(Which is a bigger parenting fail, screaming the f-word at my baby or letting him drink my urine? You decide.)

I won some and I lost some this past weekend, and every weekend for that matter. Mother of the Year? Probably not. But I do think that my stand for self-love was a huge win - for me, for my children, for all of you. So is being careful how I talk about my body and others' bodies, prohibiting food shaming conversations, being brave, taking risks, and showing my weird true colors to the world. Taking the time to do research on Cuba with my 6th grader is another "good mama" mark I can make. Yelling and flailing around a special needs child with a complicated diagnosis and swearing and letting my baby guzzle my piss? Prooooooobbbbbably not award-worthy parenting.

I don't know what I'm doing most of the time, but damn it, I TRY. I'm still figuring this out.

So instead of Mother of the Year, how about:

She's Trying Really Damn Hard

or

Sometimes Fucking Up But Really Doing Pretty Good

It may be the best I can hope for.

FOODIE : Shame Free Food Resolutions

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that we live on a little urban farmette in the heart of Boise, where we raise chickens, have a garden, and cook from scratch. My husband, Dr. Brown, is not only a chef extraordinaire, but grew up tending to a huge backyard garden. He taught me to love things like curry and was really the first one to teach me to cook complicated meals from scratch when we first met 18 years ago. That, combined with my indoctrination into radical homemaking seven years ago, has resulted in a love of gardening, growing, and spending time making good food for those I love. I also prescribe to the idea of intuitive eating - eating what I want when I crave it and not assigning any sort of moral value to food. I'm also a sucker for taking on big challenges.
 
 
 
My New Year's Resolution for 2015 was to bring back an old favorite. In 2010, I made the pledge to cook every single recipe in the Pioneer Woman's brand new, and first, cookbook, a la Julie & Julia. I've been a fan of Ree Drummond since way back in her beginning blogging days, and now she's a full-fledged celebrity chef. Six years ago I was super successful in making all fifty-something recipes in her book and it was a treasure and a treat. Many of those recipes are now mainstays in our culinary repertoire. I'm a bit of a Food Network Fangirl (see: the Food Network Cookoff I've hosted every year for the past six years). I'm also a bit of a cookbook hoarder. Combine the two and you've got a kitchen revolution in the making.

For 2015, I decided to take on the challenge of making every single recipe in one of my newer cookbooks. I lobbied for Smitten Kitchen, or maybe Paula Deen's classic, but Dr. Brown won me over with his profound love of PW, so I just completed making all the recipes in her second cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier (2012).

 You guys, there are 109 recipes in this book. ONE. HUNDRED. AND. NINE.



But I did it. It came out to be about 2 recipes per week, which wasn't too difficult to keep up with. What I didn't do well on was the promise to continually blog about our favorites and nopes each month. I did it for a few months, then summer happened, then fame happened, and, well...while I continued to cook, I did not inform you all about it.
 
Ultimately, this cookbook was not as good as PW's first. There were a lot of recipes that we just thought were okay, not great. Admittedly, we're pretty picky with our rave recipe reviews, but still. Our favorites include the three prize winners I made for my annual Food Network Cookoff this year, Billie's Italian Cream Cake, her spicy Asian Hot Wings, and her Herb Crusted Roasted Pork Tenderloin with cornmeal cakes, roasted root vegetables, and preserves. Additionally, we just busted out the final recipes on New Year's Eve, making her homemade donuts for the very first time and OMGYOUGUYS. I highly recommend it if you haven't ever done so. So time intensive, but delicious.
 
A few weeks ago I read this great article by food blogger Lindsey Leahy titled "10 Food Resolutions that Don't Involve Shame."  Her ten ideas are so spot on and simple and things that we've done in our house for the past two decades. They've made our lives richer and eating more fun. Here are just a few, and the ways I've incorporated them into our home.
 

Eat locally.

 
 
Leahy writes about easing into local: Choose one item you love and frequently buy—maybe it’s milk, eggs, chocolate, honey, or coffee—and commit to buying a locally-produced option in the coming year. To make the experiment even more meaningful, resolve to learn more about the artisan or farmer whose food you’re buying and consider visiting his or her farm or shop. This is such a great idea. We love buying a few new vegetables that we don't grow ourselves, like corn, from the kids produce stand at the Boise Urban Garden School (where Arlo loves to smell the flowers in their Pollinator Garden). Trying out restaurants in your town who make burgers from locally sourced beef (like The Skyvue Grill here in Boise did before they shut down) is another way to support local.


Eat seasonally.
 
One of the new garden spaces at the Boise Urban Garden School last spring when they were just planting baby tomatoes and herbs.
 
If you eat with the seasons, your food is going to taste so much better, especially if you're eating vegetables. Tomatoes in the heat of the summer in Idaho are divine, and so much better than the tasteless ones you might buy in the winter at Winco Foods that have been sitting on a truck for weeks making their way up from Southern California. In fact, I hate those so much that we don't eat tomatoes in the winter, with the exception of the ones we roasted, canned, and froze from our own garden this past fall. There are many charts online to what food is grown/caught seasonally in your area which will help with this task. And if you live somewhere in a warm climate where fresh fruit and veggies are seasonal to you all year round DAMN YOU.
  
Learn to cook.
 
My Alice, rolling out the dough to make 48 Pioneer Woman Sweet Orange Rolls this past Thanksgiving. We recycled old aluminum pie pans and gifted several trays to family and friends.
 
You can start simple and easy, like with online recipes that your aunt posts on Facebook or with a simpler chef's cookbook (think Sandra Lee's semi-homemade). Or commit to making just three meals at home per week and planning them out ahead of time. We actually plan dinners for each night of the week on Sundays prior to grocery shopping and buy all necessary ingredients then. Lunches typically consist of leftovers from those dinners, which is perfect. Cooking is such an important lifelong skill and can engage your sense of smell and experimenting with flavor. And once you learn a few tricks and tips by trial and error, you'll be brave enough to take up bigger challenges. I promise, it's worth it.

I made Mel's Kitchen Cafe's amazing crustless pumpkin pie cupcakes for Thanksgiving dessert this year and seriously, I don't think I'll ever make traditional pumpkin pie again.

This summer I made simple syrup from seasonal ingredients from the garden - plums and rhubarb both gifted to me from my father-in-law's garden. It made the best ingredient for summer cocktail parties ever.

We love us some homemade ice cream in our house but the more time intensive egg based vanilla from PW proved to be so worth it.
 
Grow your own food.

 
While cooking your own food is so gratifying, so is growing it. It's amazing science, really. You drop a tiny seed into some dirt, poor lots of water on it, watch, pick, and eat. Seriously, you can't mess this up, people. And you don't even need a big patch of earth. If you've seen photos of our urban farmette, you'll know we grow in flower beds and large pots and have an herb garden Dr. Brown built on top of our chicken run. Seeds are also so cheap. What a satisfying way to eat, and such an important life skill to teach your kids, how to grow their own food. We don't grow that many crops, but sometimes like to try out something adventurous, like peanuts. Typically, we grow lots of things we love and/or that are really expensive to buy at the store, like tomatoes and herbs.
 
This year we experimented with pineapple sage, which smells divine, and, as always, grew tons of our own garlic. I entered both in the Western Idaho State Fair and won a third place ribbon for my garlic braid!
 
Share meals together.
 


Eating with other people is the best way to eat. Leahy has great easy suggestions in her article:

Commit to sharing at least two meals a week with family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Whether it’s a brown-bag office lunch or a three-course dinner party, enjoy your food in the company of people you love.

My favorites are our family dinners each night, which sometimes take place in extraordinary locations like picnic tables atop Idaho mountains outside our remote yurt on camping adventures.

Have a food adventure.

Leahy has some great ideas for a culinary bucket list for 2016:
  • Try a something you’ve never eaten before—a vegetable or fruit, a meat, or a cuisine.
  • Visit a local farm or bakery.
  • Learn a new cooking technique.
  • Learn mise-en-place.
  • Visit that restaurant you’ve heard everyone talking about.
  • Adopt Meatless Mondays for a month.


This suggestion is my absolute favorite of all. I love trying out new things, like mise en place, because it totally jives with my repressed Type A personality need for order in a chaotic life. I got to learn to make these amazing Italian cheese noodles called pasatelli from scratch with my friend Nikki over the holidays. You lovingly feed the dough through a meat grinder and lay them on a cloth tablecloth to dry. It's a day long process that involves lots of eating, drinking, visiting, and sharing stories of Italian grandmothers and traditions and love.

And it brings me to this - my 2016 New Year's Food Resolution to make all 100 recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This is much more intense than PW's so I'm a bit worried, I've made Deb's recipes before, as I've been following her blog for years, and they are always so worth the time and effort. Wish me luck.



In her article, Leahy writes:

We don’t know about you, but we’re tired of shame-based resolutions and the inevitable failure that comes with them. This year, we’re making changes that count—commitments to food as a joy-filled, whole-health promoting lifestyle that connects us to ourselves, our community, and our world.

I couldn't agree more. Food is not your enemy. It is something that can be enjoyable, nourishing, and filled with ritual and ceremony. I can't wait to share more food adventures with my children this year, take handmade meals to new mothers, and deliver cookies to friends for their birthdays. Food can be a way to show kindness and love to yourself and others.

And food can be so fun! Resolve to eat what you want in 2016.

Bind Them As A Sign, Fix Them As An Emblem

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

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

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design

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

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

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

Motherhood Is Messy


This past week was rough, if I'm being honest. There was a lot of sadness in the world that was weighing heavy on my heart. My feelings got hurt and I was hanging on to some negative stuff a bit too long and with too tight of a grip. One kid came home from school with pinkeye and another with a terrible cold and within 24 hours it had spread through the entire house. We all ended up crabby and achy, and stuck inside our small home filled to the brim with Christmas crap for three solid days. The cabin fever and short fuses were visible, mainly from this mom who was so goddamn tired of entertaining bored daughters and breaking up arguments about who got the biggest candy cane and constantly keeping the baby from pulling the kitten up by her tail.

Since I was officially diagnosed with perimenopause last spring, my body has been doing some funky shit and putting me through the wringer. From morning sickness nausea to gingivitis, horrible heartburn to my hair falling out in clumps, it isn't pretty. A routine yearly well-woman checkup at my doctor last week ended with a sudden surgical procedure to repair a significant tear that was somehow missed during/after Arlo's birth. Yes, a birth that happened nearly two years ago and a tear that had healed in a large growth of scar tissue that had to be CUT OFF MY VULVA, in which afterward my vagina had to be stuffed with gauze for several hours. To add insult to injury, I COULDN'T HAVE SEX FOR A WEEK.

While I realized at a young age that my body was a political vessel I could use for my social activism and art, it was becoming a mother that really changed my relationship to myself and helped launch me on my body positive journey. The physical changes that come with pregnancy and motherhood are extreme - from stretch marks, swollen-turned-sagging breasts, dry skin, hormonal breakouts, lush hair and losing hair, extreme weight gain and loss, backaches, heartburn, pelvis bones shifting, and your heart growing too big to be contained. Not to mention the emotional and mental roller coaster of joy, fear, exhaustion, worry, excitement, concern, ignorance, and love. Creating and growing three babies was miraculous and significant in my life journey, as was miscarrying two more. Becoming a mother really solidified for me that I wanted to choose life - and live the best and happiest version of one starting right now. All my perceived imperfections are like a roadmap to this journey of mine and I love this body and the stories it tells. Even if those stories include dried snot stains on my ragged pjs and messy bathrooms with tampon boxes and bottles of bubbles and clothes tossed on the floor and a naked toddler hiding behind my thick legs that carried him into this world.