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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Six Favorite Body Positive Books for Kids

I write a lot about books, because reading is so important to me. I'm a lifelong academic with two bachelors degrees and a masters degree and, as a researcher and a writer, devouring books has become a way of life. It also fueled my body positivity and feminism and continues to do so. I've instilled that into my children as well - not only are we the stewards of a pink doghouse-turned-Little Free Library, we are avid users of the Boise Public Library system. My kids have had their own library cards since they were toddlers, and we are at the library at least twice a week, picking up books on hold or attending baby storytime or borrowing movies or going to fun kids art classes. As a writer and an artist I've been asked to teach classes and workshops there as well.
 
Christmas is a mere eight days away now, so I know it's a bit late in the shopping season, but I wanted to share six of our favorite body positive books for kids, in case you're looking for a last minute gift for little ones in your life, or an upcoming birthday gift or just more quality books for your home library. I do most of my shopping via Amazon (holla 2-day Prime shipping!), but our local bookshops also carry most of these books. And, of course, I know for a fact that the Boise Public Library does, too, if you're more of a borrower like we are. 
 
Brontorina by James Howe, 2010



This is probably one of my favorites this year, and Alice's, too. Brontorina wants to join in a ballet class but can't find shoes that are big enough nor a studio that is large enough to accommodate her. She's enthusiastic and kind, but all the other children are worried that she's going to smash them with her large body or knock them over with her long tail. Until the instructor realizes that "the problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that my studio is too small." So they make an outdoor dance academy that animals of all sizes and shapes can enjoy, expanding the love of dance for all. We got this at the library but I love it so much that it's now on my shopping list.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, 2013

 
A Caldecott Honor Book, Flora and the Flamingo is about dance and friendship between a chubby child and a lean bird. From the dust jacket: "In this innovative wordless book, a tentative partnership blooms into an unlikely friendship between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony." We love wordless stories in our house, as we make up different words each time. I think this is such a creative way to experience a book with children.

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, 2007


Yep, this one is written by THAT Julianne Moore, the famous actress known for her acting chops and beautiful red hair and freckles. However, as a kid, she wasn't so fond of either, and her freckles were always something everyone commented on. She was embarrassed by them and tried to scrub them out and cover them up until she met others with red hair and freckles who helped her learn to live with them because, after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU. Freckleface Strawberry is a sweet little girl who grew up to be a frecklefaced woman who realizes : who cares if you have a million freckles if you have a million friends.

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson, 2004

 
Lucy received this book as a Christmas gift ten years ago from a dear friend and it's become a favorite in our house. Hilda is a hefty hippo who loves all types of dancing, but she's so large that she shakes the earth when she moves her fat body, much to the chagrin of all the other animals around her. Unfortunately, they convince her to try out hobbies that are quieter and take up less space, like knitting, but she hates them and ends up synchronized swimming, combining water and dance. She loves it, ultimately, but I kinda hate the part where everyone else makes her feel bad for moving her fat body because it disrupts their peaceful world. I wanna yell, "FUCK THAT, HILDA. Make some noise and live large!" so I add that part into the story whenever I read it to my kids. Minus the f-bomb, of course.
 

 
This book came out of our Little Free Library, where we often pick up some treasures (and also some lame propaganda and trash, which, if you follow me on Instagram, you're familiar with). The story goes through ways we are all different, like how our noses look, featuring drawings of human noses of diverse shapes and skin tones along with Muppet noses, like those belonging to Snuffaluffagus and Big Bird. The next page talks about how our noses are the same, as they all breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff. It's goes on like this and is darling and the familiar characters are like salve to my soul.
 
It's Okay to be Different by Todd Parr, 2001


 
Another of my favorites, I ordered this a long time ago when I wanted to teach my kids about diversity in a unique way. Kind of like the Sesame Street book, it highlights ways that we are all different and that is what, in fact, makes our world such a beautiful interesting place. It's okay to have two dads, it's okay not to have hair, it's okay to get mad, it's okay to need some help, it's okay to be different. You are special and important just because of being who you are.
 
These are all messages I can get behind, and while I can (and do) tell my kids over and over that all bodies are good bodies and that there is no wrong way to have a body, it's so nice to expose them to other voices, artists, and stories in addition to mine. I truly believe that books can change the world and that as parents, we have the greatest influence on our children. Here's to raising readers and radicals. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

BOOK REPORT : A Popularity Guide

A few years ago I started a mother/daughter book club with a few literary loving friends and their book adoring girls. We all have daughters about the same age and thought it would be fun to let them each take turns picking an age-appropriate book and read it together and then join up for food and conversation. Some guidelines were set forth:
  • No more than about 300 pages
  • Ideally no one in the group has read it before
  • Also ideally, there have to be several copies available in the Boise Public Library system
  • We have around two months to finish each book
 
The book selector and mom host the book club and are in charge of assigning dishes for the potluck dinner, selecting the date, and organizing the discussion questions. We've read some amazing books and done cool things together to celebrate them - like reading The Giver and then going to see the movie and assigning everyone to bring an object from home that they think defines "art" to them for our discussion of Chasing Vermeer.

photo courtesy of www.dispatch.com
 

This past month Brigette and Sage, one of our six mama/daughter pairs, picked the 2014 book Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, a memoir by Maya Van Wagenen. Maya was 14-years-old when she picked up a thrifted copy of the 1950s Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide and decided to read it and give Betty's outdated advice a go during her 8th grade year as a social experiment. Maya was an introverted geek, she says, and secretly took on a different chapter in Betty's book each month of the academic year and journaled about it. From hair to clothes, good grooming to earning money, Maya tried out some of Betty's tips in an effort to see if 60+ year old advice from a mid-century fashion model still held true. And, would it, in fact, make her more popular?

Betty Cornell's book was out of print, I believe, until 2014, when Maya's project inspired a reissuing of it. You can find it at a few bookstores and on Amazon.com, but it's nowhere in our local public library system, so I haven't read it in its entirety. In addition to the quotes printed in Popular, I have found some chapters online, and it's pretty archaic, shallow, and body shaming, to say the least. Some excerpts from her Introduction and chapter 2, "Figure Problems:"

I was accepted as a model, but not for glamorous poses. My early modeling consisted of posing for tubby teen pictures. I soon learned there was not much future in being a tubby teen. So at sixteen I took stock of my situation and decided to really go to work on myself.

I did all the things that you will read about later in this book. I went on a sensible diet, cut out between-meal nibbling (I used to eat enough between meals to satisfy an army), did daily exercises, cleared up my complexion, and styled my hair. And with the help of my family, including Bob, and the advice of my friends and fellow-models, I learned how best to cope with the social situations that came up in both my private and my professional life. At the end of my self-improvement campaign, I was no longer a tubby teen in every sense of the term, I was a real junior-size model with a lot of self-confidence.

The reason I say it’s fun is that every girl, I don’t care who she may be, wants to be attractive and popular. To get to be that kind of girl, all you have to do is try some of my suggestions. They work. What I did, you can do too. I found that the best way to tackle the job is to recognize that success is up to you. If you put real elbow grease into acquiring beauty, poise and polish, you’ll find it pays off with more dates, more fun, more good times. Gee, what more could anyone ask?

But just because your body is restless and refuses to settle down is no reason to despair of having a good figure. It is a question of mind over matter. Start by intelligently figuring out your figure problem. Find out about your body. Are you large-boned or small-boned? Is your tendency toward longness and leanness or to shortness and plumpness? Stand before your mirror and contemplate yourself from head to toe. Fish out the measuring tape and take statistics.

Statistics are alarmingly accurate. Chances are when you take yours you will wish they weren’t so. Those extra pounds that you guessed you might have gained are unequivocally recorded on the tape measure. What you feared has come to pass, what a popped button or a pulled seam has been plainly insinuating for some time, is true: you are overweight.

Now overweight is nothing to be alarmed about. It is easy enough to do something about it and do something about it sensibly. Don’t lose your head and go on a starvation diet. First talk the matter over intelligently with your family and your doctor. It may be that your extra pounds have come about because of a glandular disturbance. It is more probable that they are a result of overeating. But never take the chance of upsetting your body routine by a silly diet. Always check first with your doctor before you make any plans to lose weight. When you get his O.K., then and only then diet, and diet under his supervision.

Betty goes on to give lots of dieting tips, including full on restricted meal plans, a few of which Maya does try out in the book, but quickly realizes how crappy the diet makes her feel, how she can't think straight, and decides it wasn't worth it for the 1-3 lbs she lost that month. She also wears pearls and white gloves to school, takes on a babysitting job, tries out makeup for the first time, and steps out of her comfort zone by eating lunch at table with a group of kids outside of her social standing and going to prom without a date. Maya is quirky and honest, funny and shy, smart and thoughtful, and takes Betty's old-fashioned wisdom in stride, which is what I loved about her so much. She learns that being true to herself is the most essential, and that being popular means something different to everyone and, maybe, isn't that important after all. In the end, everyone in Maya's rural Texas school near the Mexican border knows who she is and likes her, for her weird way of dressing and her noteworthy actions in the lunchroom. She resonates with one particular bit of wisdom from Betty Cornell, that I do, too:

Being pretty and attractive does help you to be popular, but being pretty and attractive does not and never can guarantee that you will be popular. There is another factor, a very important factor, and that is personality. Personality is that indescribable something that sets you off as a person. It is hard to explain but easy to recognize.

photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/popularthememoir
 
Lucy and I loved this book, and I looked forward every night to cuddling up in my bed and taking turns reading chapters out loud to one another. We laughed about Maya's nerdy professor father and her sweet autistic sister. We cringed at some of the mean kids at her school and related to Maya's thrift store shopping. I ripped up strips of an old tee shirt and put Lucy's hair into rag rollers and we tried to close up our pores with ice cubes at night just like Maya did. These sorts of mother/daughter bonding moments are significant, but the best part about reading this book with her were the discussions we had about being introverted or extroverted, pretty or plain, nerdy or cool, popular or unpopular, and how all of them are just fine ways to be.

That blurry disembodied hand is Lucy sprinkling crushed candy canes on our tiny personal sized bundt cakes. How perfect are our 1950s cake carriers, right?

Last night all twelve of us donned our best (or fake) pearls and cardigans and discussed the book over noodle casserole, classic Jello salad, Betty Crocker's Candy Cane Cake, vintage soda in bottles, deviled eggs and celery stuffed with pimento cheese. We heard from our preteens/teens that this popularity and group/clique stuff is real and consequential, as is your appearance in junior high school. The girls laughed as they took turns trying on my faux Spanx girdle (that I wore once and WTF NEVER AGAIN) and posed for silly photos. Serious conversations were had about how far body positivity has come since the 1950s, how dangerous dieting can be, how it's okay to be shy, and how you don't owe anything to a boy who takes you on a date except a polite thank you. We talked about how maybe it's more important to be kind than popular, and how maybe being inclusive and real can make you popular. Stories were shared about how overrated being pretty is in this country and how our lives are more enriched by being passionate, intellectual, and thoughtful.

 
 
While none of us came out as big fans of Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide in the end, we certainly came out big fans of Popular, and of Maya Van Wagenen. I follow the young author on Twitter and liked her Facebook fan page, and sent her a photo and a note thanking her for her wisdom and honesty, and for being a role model as a writer and a human being. She may not be super pretty nor popular, but we all know there are more important things in life to be, and that beauty and kindness are far more than skin deep. Kind of like a few other girls I know.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Get Off

I never thought the day would come when I'd be writing about erections on the internet, but I also never in my wildest dreams thought I'd become famous for standing in a blindfold and my black bikini in Boise in the name of self-love. Life is strange and amazing. And here I am sharing stories of boners and body shaming.

[photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design]
 

As the cumulative views of the video of my stand for radical self-acceptance in August near 130 million, making it one of the most viral videos of all time, the response to my courage and message that all bodies are valuable has been overwhelmingly positive. I've received thousands of emails thanking me for my bravery and compassion. Strangers have told me their stories of self-loathing and eating disorders, surgeries and sadness, joy and healing. The media and people on the street and new fans on the radio have all shared the same sentiment.

[One of my favorite Rad Fatty Merit Badges just received in the mail from UK artist Stacy Bias. Her body positive art celebrates the creativity and resilience of fat folks surviving stigma. ]
 
There have been, though, some people who have felt it their prerogative to share other viewpoints about my stand, my self, and mainly, about my body. The only negative feedback I heard during my hour blindfolded in the marketplace was the word "inappropriate" in reference to how I was dressed from one or two folks in the audience that August afternoon. I later saw in the photos and video footage some serious side-eyes from women giving me leery looks of disdain. The minute my blog post took off and the video reached 50,000 views and the local media picked up the story, though, things changed. Suddenly my story and images of my half-nude 40-year-old mom bod were EVERYWHERE. I was on national media homepages, websites, Twitter, Instagram and all over Facebook. And thus began the hateful vitriol. They made all sorts of assumptions about what kind of mother I must be, how smart I am, where I must be from, what I eat, and how little I obviously exercise and have sex. And most of the negative comments about my physicality have come from men.

Disgusting.
This is what an ugly ass fat bitch who needs to lose some weight looks like.
No one should be proud to have boobs on their back.
Feminists do look like that - fat, ugly and disgusting.
Her legs look like an old awful leather jacket.
What's wrong with her boobs? They're so saggy and look like she's hiding Oreo cookies in there to eat later.
Gross! She needs to keep that cellulite under wraps. She looks like an overripe pear.


Guess what, assholes? YOU JUST PROVED MY POINT.

Conversely, I also have attracted just as vile stuff in private messages, stating the reverse. Notes about how hot I am, how much they'd like to have sex with me or marry me.

I love your sexy legs.
Have you ever considered doing porn? You should, because you're a big, beautiful woman.
I've watched your video over and over and jacked off every time.
Do you have a boyfriend? Because I'd love to show you you're beautiful every day.
What man doesn't appreciate you? I'll help boost your self-esteem.
Girl, you damn hot.
I want to fuck your knees.
You shouldn't feel bad about yourself because you're thick and fine.

Guess what, creeps? YOU ALSO JUST PROVED MY POINT.

All of you who have responded to my performance art piece in these ways are part of the overwhelming majority of people in this country world who need this message so badly. You are, sadly, part of the reason I put myself out there in the first place. Regardless of how I'm dressed (or undressed), you have no right to shame my body.

I am not here for your lack of a boner.

Images of my body placed on the internet do not give you the right to make assumptions about me. This includes selfies, which are often misconstrued as vain and selfish, based on our misogynistic culture. They are especially a popular tool for self-acceptance and challenge the idea that we, as girls and women, need a justification to be seen. I am not asking for you to find me attractive, but I am asking that even if you don't like how I look, you don't deny me the respect of being a valuable human. Like fat activist Kath Read wrote in a blog post recently about this very phenomenon, many men only treat women with respect if they find them attractive.  It’s the Nice Guy phenomenon.  Those men who are only “nice guys” to the women they want to sleep with. Which leads me to this:

I am not here for your boner.

Nor did I stand half-nude in the market because I was desperate for a man to come and save me from my self-esteem woes. I don't need a boyfriend or a good lay or you to tell me that you want to bury your face in my big juicy ass. Not only do I not need it, I don't want it. Your messages are unappreciated and unwelcome, just like your asshole friends up above.

It's never okay to shame women for what we are wearing, or not wearing. Just like a little girl in a spaghetti-strapped tank top is not responsible for "distracting" little boys at school, a big girl wearing a bathing suit in public is not to blame for the bad behavior of big boys with a computer. Mini skirts are not "asking for it" and leggings are not "too revealing." This is not a new game, nor is it a new problem. Women's bodies have been objectified by men for centuries and, in fact, this is not my first experience with horrible male internet trolls, but it has been by far my worst. I have very thick skin and know that it's easy to make rude and unkind and irrational comments on the internet behind the safety of our screen. The horrible things written usually come from fear, lack of education, and self-esteem issues of the writer who is misplacing them onto me, but it still hurts a little. And it makes me angry and fired up.

Big boys all over the world would like to control what I, as a woman, do with my body. But I make the rules. I get the final say. And I will use my blog, my voice, my body, and my clothing (or lack of it) to say it.

[Another of Stacy Bias' Rad Fatty Merit Badges in my collection.] 
 

I glorify love. I glorify happiness. I glorify acceptance. I support health at every size. I support the fact that there is no wrong way to have a body, regardless of gender, age, ability, size, health or nationality. And that you alone have the right to sovereignty on what you do with it, put on it, and put in it. I glorify this one wild and precious life. I support this body.

[This Is What A Feminist Looks Like tee courtesy of the University of Idaho Women's Center]
 

And, since this album has been on repeat in my car for the past few months, it's become a bit of a soundtrack to a revolution, in my mind at least. So, as the badass P!nk says so succinctly what I tried to above:

I'm not here for your entertainment. And you don't really want to mess with me tonight.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Making Your Own Way

Nearly six years ago I got a surprise email from a woman I'd met only once before. She was the sister-in-law of a dear friend of mine, a fellow University of Idaho alumni, and a local interior designer in Boise. She wanted to meet for coffee and talk about a proposition. I'd recently been laid off from my job as a curator at the only art museum in Idaho. I was blazing my own trail and cobbling together the career that I really wanted, including being my own boss in the local art scene, a writer, and a burgeoning body positive activist. I'm always open to meeting new people and taking unexpected paths, though, and thought, why not?


I pride myself on having an intuitive read on people and a savvy sense, so after a long conversation over brunch at a little bistro at a garden nursery in Boise's North End, I knew I'd met my entrepreneurial match. Kristin had an idea - she'd seen a lack in the art and craft scene, particularly around quality holiday bazaars. I couldn't agree more, I said. Boise needs something a little edgy and indie and high quality. I think we should start one, but I need you. I've got the business experience and organizational expertise, but I need your curatorial eye and connections in the art world, she said.


A lot of research, organization, hard work, long hours, and creative sessions later, Wintry Market | Handmade for the Holidays was born. And here we are, celebrating our fifth birthday this weekend. Since the beginning, we have prided ourselves on hand-selecting our vendors for the best quality and diversity in one marketplace, while charging a modest booth fee and taking no artist commission. Kristin and I spend hours doing tax paperwork and making Excel spreadsheets and working with a local artist to design our poster each year. We write blog posts and Facebook updates and promote on the radio and craft press releases. Our assistant, Anna, is the creative genius behind our amazing website, where she volunteers her time. You'll see our husbands there up on ladders and our parents babysitting grandchildren and hanging signs and my 11-year-old daughter Lucy selling art at my booth, including embroideries she stitched with her own little hands. The behind-the-scenes work that goes into this successful local event is extraordinary and so worth it, as all the best small business endeavors are. Over 1,500 flock to our free event each November on the weekend before Thanksgiving and shop. They meet the artists in their neighborhoods and buy earrings for themselves and hand-crafted candles for their grandmas. Their kids hang out at our free art stations and snap photos at our photo booths and eat lunch at local food trucks in the parking lot.


Our very first Wintry Market was at Ballet Idaho with around 30 vendors one snowy weekend five years ago and we've grown to take over the entire historic El Korah Shrine with 63 vendors, both upstairs and down, and a full bar for your cocktailing pleasures. This year we're excited to partner with the Boise Public Library to bring you a free 3-D printing workshop where you can make your own tiny jewelry treasure. The annual Boise Holiday Parade will be happening in the neighborhood on Saturday morning as well, so bring the little ones, wave to Santa, and stop by to meet the makers afterward, including Kristin and myself. She'll be upstairs near the stage at Inspire Me Gifts with darling stockings she's been slaving away at over her sewing machine and I'll be downstairs at Ticky-Tacky, selling subversive cross-stitches and thrift store monster paintings. You may not find us at our booths much, though, as we'll be running around like happy little elves, stocking toilet paper in the bathrooms, helping with parking, chatting with vendors, (hopefully) sipping a cocktail in the Oasis Bar and spreading the truth and love about making your own way in the Idaho grassroots art scene.  Because not only do we at Team Wintry believe that to be true, we've proven it to be a successful business model and a way to give back to our art community, making it the best kind of business to be in.

 {I take unloved and discarded landscape and still-life paintings from thrift stores and rummage sales and illustrate and paint quirky monsters in them giving them a silly new life. $20-$40 at my Ticky-Tacky booth at this weekend's Wintry Market!}
 
{As a radical feminist artist, I often incorporate needlepoint, particularly cross stitch, in subversive ways. These stitched up bits of craftivism are all unique and available at my Ticky-Tacky booth at this weekend's Wintry Market, $15 each.}


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Uprising

I emailed Jae West before I took my stand for radical self-love at the Capital City Public Market in August to talk about it. To ask for her blessing in my interpretation, to talk about logistics, to get support, to tell her how inspirational and meaningful her project was. She wrote back with excitement right away, and told me she only stood in Picadilly Circus for about 20-30 minutes. I told her I stood for 50 minutes and could've stayed longer if I hadn't run out of skin to write on and ink in my markers. Very quickly my video went viral and news media from all over the world were calling and texting and emailing and it was being shared everywhere, from NPR's Facebook wall to Alanis Morissette on Twitter. Take care of yourself, Jae told me. Having your motivations and your body picked apart by the world can be very hard emotionally. She spoke from experience.
 
And it has been hard. It's been emotional and amazing, exhausting and exhilarating, scary and stimulating. It's been a ride that has taken me up and down paths I never imagined before, all in the course of a few months time. I have adventures and experiences on the horizon that I never dreamed of before, and I'll be forever grateful for that moment I took a deep breath, centered myself, and took off my dress, just in front of Juniper restaurant and the bakery tent that hot Saturday morning.
 
In addition to people all over the world reaching out to me, from celebrities to news reporters, writers to fathers, I've been so surprised to see women from all over the world rise up in black bathing suits in the name of self-acceptance and demand to be seen, for their imperfect bodies and broken souls, beautiful stories and courageous journeys. 
 

 {photo courtesy The Sudsbury Star}
 
Like Sheila Bianconi in Canada, who suffers from self-esteem issues and 'invisible disabilities' like fibromyalgia and depression.
 
 {photo courtesy of Gabby Allen}
 
And like this group of young women in Roseburg, Oregon, who sent me this photo along with a sweet note:
 
Hi! I just wanted to let you know that you were a big inspiration and source of strength for three of my friends and I. We saw your video and were very moved by it, and decided we'd like to see someone in Roseburg Oregon do the same. Amazingly, we were met with a huge amount of positive reaction. Thank you so much for being you.
 

 {photo courtesy Bustle.com}
 
{photo courtesy Bustle.com}
 
And Mary Ann Conlin, an American living and working in Seoul, South Korea, where there are strict standards of beauty and weight, bringing an interesting perspective as a foreigner to a native audience.
 
{photo courtesy of http://anaptuze.blogspot.com}
 
And this young woman, Zsofi Forras, whose stand in Budapest, Hungary, had the police worried for her safety, and rightfully so, given parts of her story she shared in her blog post:
 
There were a few incidents when I felt like the trust I had put into the public was violated. Somebody rubbed his face on my bottom while taking a picture. Another guy expressed his strong wish to be with me in a more private setting after drawing two dicks on me with his friend. He wouldn’t leave even though I made it clear how uncomfortable he was making me feel. Another man stuck a pen between my thighs. As I winced he pulled it back and asked if he could draw testicles on me. I asked him not to and he left.  
 
 
And this woman, who at 250 pounds, stood in a leopard print bikini downtown Chicago just last week, sharing in the message of no body shame.
 
It may be this unique video take on the radical stance of self-acceptance, though, by high school student Genny Zuniga, that is my favorite thus far.
 

 
There are probably dozens more stands for self-love that I have yet to hear of or that are still in the works. I can't think of a more beautiful legacy to the project. Here's to ARMIES OF WOMEN IN BLACK BIKINIS from all corners of the world rising up from the ashes of a society profiting from our self-doubt, standing alongside me and Jae, and saying, "US TOO." 

{photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell Photo + Design}

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Weighing In

I've been active in the body positive movement for nearly seven years now. In early 2009 I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy with it?" and after scrolling through pages and pages of diet industry links and how to be happier by losing weight, I finally stumbled across two blogs that forever changed the way I look at my body and the world. I will always be indebted to The Curvy Fashionista and the Fat Heffalump for leading me down a fat acceptance path of revolutionary feminist thought that has helped create the person I am today. I devoured book after book and blog after blog and researched like mad for the following three years, working internally on my voice and self-love, getting stronger day by day. It was showing up in my art and writing and, by early 2012, I was ready to take it public in a big way.

I applied for Ignite Boise, an innovative public presentation event where a few lucky speakers stand up and have 5 minutes and 20 Powerpoint slides to share an idea with the 800 Boiseans who pack the house at the historic Egyptian Theater that night and, later, the world via YouTube video. I offered up a program titled "Accepting the Big Ass: How to Be Fat, Fit and Flabulous," proposing a brilliant and subversive spin-off of a 2011 blog post by Dianne Sylvan called 10 Rules for Fat Girls. Ignite Boise said yes, and I was scared shitless as I stood shaking on stage and told the entire audience that I was fat and that I weighed 250 pounds. It was liberating and terrifying and I'm still pretty damn proud of that performance.

 
A few weeks later I wanted to do something guerrilla art related to celebrate International No Diet Day on May 6th. I had long been a follower of fat activist Marilyn Wann, who had created some body positive art called a YAY! scale, a traditional bathroom scale turned craftivism that gives you affirmations rather than numbers when you step on it each morning. I thought it was such a fantastic idea that I took my old scale and disassembled it, making my own radical piece.

I decided to sneak it in to Modern Art, a yearly event put on inside a mid-century boutique hotel, in which rooms are rented out to local artists to use as an impromptu gallery for the night. There's live music, drinking, dancing and performance art and it's a super popular Boise event that draws thousands of people to the small downtown hotel.

I placed my version of the YAY! scale along with a sign right near the women's restroom off the lobby. I tucked it into a corner, perfect for people waiting in line to use the only bathroom in the place. The spot was too tiny for covert photographing, but I secretly watched people read the sign and stand on the scale and laugh with joy about their "measurement."


Beautiful
Caring
Smart
Kind
Adorable

Instead of an arbitrary number.

 
Right before my Ignite Boise talk I had stood on this very scale before covering those numbers up with positive words, because it felt important to disclose my exact weight to the audience. I could reclaim those numbers like I had reclaimed the word fat.

I do, in fact, still keep another scale hidden in a cupboard alongside my YAY! scale, mostly used over the years to weigh my baby/toddlers to make sure they are getting enough to eat and on the right growth track. Sometimes it's used to weigh heavy packages for shipping estimates around the holidays. Every once in a while, though, I pull it out to weigh myself, especially if I'm about to speak/write about body positivity, because being honest in my work as a fat feminist is a source of pride.

Last year I wrote a story for Mamalode magazine called A Love Letter to 226 Pounds, about renewing my drivers license and the lady at the DMV refusing to update my weight. Again, part of my reclamation of my body as my own is sharing that number with the world, and not being ashamed of it.


In keeping with that spirit, I just pulled out my scale today. I'm down to 210 pounds, forty pounds less than I was three years ago when I stood on stage at the Egyptian Theater. There are many reasons for this. I've been pregnant three times since 2008. I've stopped taking birth control pills after twenty years, a medication that makes me gain weight. A few years ago I also stopped taking SSRI pills for panic attacks from an anxiety disorder that I've been able to manage sans medication. This is something I have gone through several times in my life - meds like Celexa and Paxil have historically caused me to gain 30-50 pounds within the first year on them, and later I've always shed that same 30-50 pounds when I go off of them. I'm also officially in perimenopause and my symptoms are wacky and intense, including severe morning sickness/nausea that makes me either vomit, not want to eat very much most days, or both. Weight loss is not my intentional goal, it is just something my body is doing naturally right now, finding its own rhythm at this place in my life journey, and I'm okay with that.


(This is how I really feel about the archaic brand name of my thrifted vintage bathroom scale hovering over those arbitrary numbers. Health at every size FTW!)
 
While just like proudly telling the world that I am 40-years-old, I will always powerfully declare that I am also 5'5" tall and 250 226 210 pounds and that I (usually) wear a size 22 20 18 and a 40C bra. And the freedom that comes with sharing those numbers is amazing. But none of these numbers really measure me. I'm more than a number on a scale. I am, in fact, so much more than my body at all.

I hope you know that, too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Oprah & Alex Trebek

Dear Oprah and Alex,

I'll start by saying I'm a big fan (pun not intended but also YES) of both of yours. I've been watching you on the television since I can remember, at least by the age of ten in the early 1980s. As a smart young girl, I was always so pleased when I could answer something in the $200 or $400 categories on Jeopardy!. When you brought on interesting young actresses or world-changing women to your show, Oprah, I knew in my teens that you were doing something good for daytime TV. Both your talk show and your game show, Oprah and Alex, were among my early favorites. I'd turn the TV off and feel I came away with a little more knowledge and a little less guilt for wasting precious time watching TV when I could've been crimping my hair or making out with my boyfriend.

I went off to college and grad school and watched less and less television, but was always thrilled when I'd catch Jeopardy! around dinner time. It's always been one of the cleverest game shows around, and I love how it highlights the nerd in all of us. Oprah, you've continued to empower women and be an uplifting woman yourself and I was excited to receive a subscription to O magazine a few years ago as a Christmas gift.

Unfortunately, you've both disappointed the hell out of me lately, I'm sad to say. First, Oprah, with the major faux pas in your magazine a few months ago about not wearing a crop top unless you were toned and tiny. Really? Well, backlash ensued, and your mag apologized, but I was still super bummed.

 
 image: Instagram user 

I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, since you've been quite boisterous about your personal (yo-yo) dieting and body shaming, ever since you pulled that little red wagon full of fat on stage back in 1988. But this latest thing where you've saved a (fortunately and finally) failing Weight Watchers by buying 10% of the company and joining their board is unforgiveable. How can such a feisty feminist not see how they are oppressing women by restricting us and profiting off our self-doubt? And you are a diet industry dropout yourself? You are not the feminist I thought you were. This quote by Naomi Wolf, from her 1991 book The Beauty Myth, which I read as an undergrad and changed my life, says it best:

A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.

And, you, Alex. Just a few weeks ago I hear that Jeopardy! had a category called THESE WORDS COULD GO ON A DIET.

 photo: Dances With Fat

Really, Jeopardy!? You pride yourself on being an academic-minded and forward-thinking program but dedicate an entire category to blatant size shaming and harmful use of language to degrade people and call them names? UGH.

I don't normally give much thought or power to television these days, just as I couldn't give two shits what celebrities are wearing or who they are dating. But, from an intellectual level, I know that popular culture, especially the media, set the bar for lots of things, body positivity included. My standards are pretty low, I guess, for anything on the television to be thoughtful. I've always seen you both, Alex and Oprah, as savvy, college-educated entertainers who prided your programs on considerate discourse. I was holding out hope for you, in a lame lineup filled with cupcake wars and snarky and slimy 'reality' families.

TV, I'm so done with you. (Except CBS Sunday Morning. PLEASE DON'T FAIL ME NOW.)

Feeling not surprised, but still sad,

Amy

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

There's this brilliant but wacky spiritual leader named Ram Dass, who was born Richard Alpert in Boston in the 1930s. He went on to get his PhD and do research on LSD in the 1960s and travel to India and become enlightened and write a lot of books and have retreats. People adore his teachings. Today he lives in Maui and spreads his guidance via the internet and has a lot of really great ideas and things to say. I'm not much of a follower, but since I started on my body positive journey as a fat activist nearly six years ago, I've been drawn to a story he tells on self-judgment:

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

 
One summer when I was 20-years-old I was camping near Payette Lake in Idaho with my boyfriend and laying under the sky looking up at the ponderosa pines. I grabbed a beer, a pen, and a paper plate, which was the only thing I could find to write on, and scrawled this poem:

They stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of a whole
The oaths, the families, the stories, the Friends
An old regal one scraggles over with years and rings and wisdom far beyond
the youthful inches of baby growth it protects.
Wise wide ones loom tall above, standing high with energy and vigor
And as long as this forested royalty remains
the Ponderosas will whisper gossip to the Blue Spruce
and the Hollies will always flaunt their scarlet berries
You see, this private community, so robust, yet equally as fragile, trust few to its realm.
Even the Deer must make a silent commitment to secrecy.
Those members of the Tree Society
So individual, yet so much part of their whole duty and beauty and strength unimaginable
Yet when the Rain pounds from above they all bow and hover
And when the Wind blows her loud tales they all laugh and dance and twist with joy
And when the Human and the Fire interrupt the peaceful power of this solemn circle
One never stands alone
Because they stick together, you know, those members of the Tree Society.


Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Two and a half years ago I got pregnant on accident after missing a few birth control pills one month. I'd been on the Pill for twenty years at that point and had missed several pills plenty of times before and never gotten pregnant. At the age of 37 with two daughters aged 5 and 9 years, we weren't planning on having any more children, but there were two pink lines and I was surprisingly so happy. It was meant to be, until it wasn't. I hadn't been to the doctor yet, and I had no real idea of when we'd actually conceived, but probably somewhere around 8 weeks pregnant I started cramping and gushing blood and went into what I can only describe as a 'mini labor,' complete with contractions, pain, nausea and an overwhelming fear and sadness that I can never appropriately describe.  Dr. Brown and I grieved hard and alone, as we'd told no one we were even expecting a new baby.

I spent a few months healing, both in my heart and in my uterus, and we decided to try again because we were certain there was a soul missing from our family. I conceived in June and knew almost immediately I was pregnant with twins; I could just feel it from very early on, as many mothers of twins can attest to. Not to mention the nausea and vomiting and growth and exhaustion were double what I'd experienced in any previous pregnancy (something else many mothers carrying twins will tell you). I was terrified for this pregnancy, so soon after my first miscarriage, and felt a tiny bit better after passing that 8 week mark that was so devastating the last time around. At 11 weeks pregnant I got really bad sciatica and nausea and sat down to pee one morning, gushed blood, and passed an 11 week old fetus into the toilet. I knew immediately what it was and snatched it out and went into shock and called my doctor. An emergency ultrasound a few hours later where I was expecting the worst news revealed a healthy heartbeat of the other baby in utero. I had another miscarriage in a somewhat unique phenomenon called 'vanishing twin syndrome,' where one of the twins die and usually dissolves back into the mothers system, never to be seen in an ultrasound again. In an even rarer situation, like what happened to me, the mother will actually miscarry the deceased fetus in what I call 'not-so-vanishing twin syndrome.'

I spent the rest of my pregnancy with Arlo puking and scared, sad and thrilled. I was mourning two dead babies and one growing in utero and the emotions of sorrow with joy were overwhelming. I was at once angry with my body and in awe of its strength. I couldn't keep any food down and was losing weight rather than gaining and I couldn't/wouldn't take the anti-anxiety medications that I'd been on for years for panic attacks. It felt impossible to see the forest for the trees.


The expression 'can't see the forest for the trees' is often used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole. I was a body positive warrior who spent much of 2013 so angry at this life-making vessel I'd worked so hard to love. But I was pregnant! A pregnancy that was at once terrific and terrible and brutal and beautiful. But I had the hardest time seeing the forest for the trees. I hadn't yet found others who had suffered silent miscarriages like me. I didn't yet know anyone who had lost a twin while pregnant. I hadn't yet discovered my Tree Society.


This past spring we planted a tiny plum tree near our pink Little Free Library on our corner lot in honor of the babies in our hearts. After Dr. Brown dug the hole, I placed in it a worry locket I'd purchased from an Etsy jeweler with the birthstone of the first baby we lost and a positive pregnancy test from the second baby we lost. Alice drew a picture for our 'dear dead babies,' as she calls them, and placed it in there, too, before soaking the hole with water necessary for the plum tree to take root. I cried and thought about how it will grow to shade the library stop so popular with neighborhood kids and will bear fruit for us to enjoy. About a month later, we noticed the tree had started leaning and looked crooked in spots, but it was also sprouting new leaves, and thriving.


All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies are scarred, twisted, scared, and complicated, as unique and lovely as trees. I'm so glad I can see you all out there in my forest now and am grateful for the roots I've planted with this blog, in Boise, and in my own front yard. Mother Nature can be a real bitch sometimes, and this time of year makes me very sad, as I honor my babies who live in both my house and in my heart. Here's to new growth rings and ancient stories and shedding bark and rebirth with seasons.