Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Breaking Up With Blogspot

It's with a heavy nostalgic heart that I write this. For those of you who know me, you know how old school I truly am at my core. I was hard-pressed to break up with my VCR a few years ago and I don't know if I'll ever let go of our landline. I just got an iPhone a year ago for chrissake. But, after seven years, the time has come for me to move on to a big girl website, notably one with more clean capabilities than my beloved Blogspot. You have served me and my baby steps as a fledgling activist and newfound blogger so well, and I feel a bit like I'm trading you in for a shiny new model. Please know, it's not you, it's totally me.

Thank you for saving me when I was a laid off loser. And through babies born and lost. And being a conduit for so much love from around the world. And fame, family, and fun. I heart you really hard.

While I'll always be Doin' It All, Idaho Style in spirit and soul, I've changed my name officially to Amy Pence-Brown in the virtual world. Dear readers, please follow me over at my new fancy pad -

I've got a new blog post up today about fat shaming Facebook friends that you probably don't want to miss.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

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

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.

Friday, January 22, 2016

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, 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.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

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.

Monday, January 11, 2016

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

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....


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

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?


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


Sometimes Fucking Up But Really Doing Pretty Good

It may be the best I can hope for.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

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.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

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.