Friday, September 18, 2015

On Being Brave

I was told so many times during the near hour stand for self-love at the Capital City Public Market in Boise that I was brave. People whispered it to me and wrote it on my skin with the washable Crayola makers I'd taken from my daughters' art kit. And I've thought about that word a lot lately.

For me, wearing a bathing suit in public isn't that brave anymore. (Trust me, it used to be.) My bikinis are comfortable and functional and well-used. They allow me to ride waterslides with my daredevil seven-year-old Alice and allow me to pee with one hand in public pool bathrooms while clutching one-year-old Arlo in the other to keep him from licking the nasty concrete floor.

Something else I wore that day that did make me feel brave, though. That black blindfold (which is really a 1960s rayon belt from my killer stash of vintage clothing) was laden with meaning and putting that on felt courageous. To me, the blindfold represented many things. First, it made me even more vulnerable than I already was. Second, by obscuring my face, it made me more anonymous, so that the viewer could look at my body and see in it their body, any body and every body. And lastly, the black blindfold represented the way that TV and print media have often used black bars to cover the faces of fat people, taking away their humanity by showcasing them as nothing more than a body to be reviled.

Two weeks ago my friend and art partner, Melanie, and I hit publish on a little blog post and a Vimeo video that has now made it's way into hearts and screens around the world. And pushing that button - sharing one of the most raw, pure, honest and inspirational things I've ever been part of with the world - that felt brave to me. It's been picked up by press globally now, and I've been on the television, radio, newspapers, magazines, websites, and more, and the positive message of radical self-acceptance continues to touch people, including celebrities. Melanie's stunning video was edited to shorter versions by both HLN and BuzzFeed, and their cumulative reach has been over 100 million at this point. I'm humbled and honored and amazed and moved to tears several times a day by this overwhelming positivity and belief that all bodies are good bodies.

But, truthfully, the most brave people in this body positive project are you. You have stood up with me, through your messages that are flooding my inbox and Facebook wall and Instagram and my ears and said, "ME TOO." You have shared stories of incredible sadness and joy, love and shame, fear and change.

Because you know, like I do, that opening your heart and your healing to the world can be pretty brave, too.


I have struggled with body image since 3rd grade when a very loving teacher-- in a grandmotherly way, nicknamed me BB for bubble butt. But word got out to classmates and it was fat shaming the rest of my school days. Diet pills and extremely painful liposuction got my 5'2" frame down to a "healthy" BMI and 125lbs two years ago. But with incredible stress and family concerns, I'm now at 175. I struggle with wearing clothes since I am convinced I'll be losing 25lbs "very soon." I heard once, "There are worse things I could be other than fat." I believe that. I'm a mom, wife, teacher, friend, photographer, daughter, . . . . other amazing things. But-- I still struggle. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for being strong.


I, like many people, was very moved by your video and it impacted me greatly. A few years ago I lost some weight and started running 5ks. I got fit. At that time I was contemplating leaving a miserable marriage. Well, I made the decision and divorced my husband of 25 years and moved back to Massachusetts where my family lives. I met a great guy and settled in to a happy life. With that came carefree meals out, and a 25 pound weight gain. Never been happier, but very angry with myself for letting all my hard work go. I start a new job Monday and have been dreading clothes shopping. I am short and stocky and it's hard to find clothing that I feel doesn't make me look fat. So yesterday I went into a clothing store and found a few pieces to try on. I stripped down to my bra and panties and it was the first time I saw my reflection and was shocked at my weight gain. Immediately your video came to mind. I played it back in my mind. Slowly my shock shifted to love and admiration for this body that has served me so well, carried a baby. I proudly tried on outfit after outfit, sizes larger than I was before, but I was okay with that. I found pieces that are flattering and are my style and I left the stores very proud. I would like to get back into running but I want to do it for the right reasons with weight loss being a side effect, not a main reason. It's good for my mind. Thank you for posting your video. You truly helped me overcome a lot of insecurities.


 My 16 year old and I were discussing/watching your blog when over my shoulder I heard the soft sniffles of my tender, introspective twelve year old. She sat next to me, read your post, and together we cried over your video. She then shared how she had recently started restricting her food and hearing the inner critic get louder in her head that her body was not enough. Thank you!!!! Thank you!!! Your example was a bridge to my daughter's soul....and this momma couldn't be more grateful!


I've struggled with loving my [male] body for as long as I can remember. I particularly became aware of how much I disliked my body in the 8th grade. I've binge eaten. I've starved myself. I've purged. I've been fat. I've been skinny. I've been fit. And I've been fat to fit again and again. There isn't a day, even now, that I don't wake up and dislike what I see in the mirror. Why? I don't know. I have a beautiful family who loves me. I lead a happy life. I exercise daily. My diet isn't always clean, but it's not exactly atrocious, either. I don't know if I'll ever come to love my body, but this very moving, and touching video is a fantastic reminder that every(body) is beautiful.


You are my hero. This morning I watched the stand for body self-acceptance you took with the tears flowing freely, tragically and ironically into my drink full of Garcinia Cambogia to curb my appetite with the hope of changing my curvy stretch-marked body with its rolls and thighs that touch. It is a body cloaked in shame and wracked with self-doubt that began with the body messages I received before I ever took a step outside my family home. I struggle everyday to love the body I inhabit and the voice that resides inside. My need to accept myself is a must for myself and even more for my five year old daughter. Your powerful message needs to be seen and heard by every woman I know, as not one has ever looked in the mirror without a critical eye. I hope that one day I will grow to have even half of your strength and bravery. You are an inspiration!


I wanted to just say that as the father of a four year old little girl the world needs more role models like you. You are brave, amazing and beautiful! I know that the world is not always kind and that my daughter will struggle to find her place, but seeing you stand up and put yourself out there and to see the response that other had to what you were doing gives me a small modicum of hope.
I experienced as a young teen that my value had very little to do with my brain and talent & much more to do with my waist size, caloric intake, and number of hours I spent at the gym. I neglected the things I loved about myself and made "self improvement" my focal point. It did not take long before I was under the thumb of an obsessive eating disorder that controlled my life well into my twenties.
I look back at that little girl and I want to give her a hug and some advice : Be good to yourself first. Recognize the greatness that you are. Don't waste time on shitty people. To thine own self be true.
I cannot thank Amy Pence-Brown enough for being a champion of all people who've struggled with their worth and place in this crazy world. Show this video to everyone you know and tell them you love them and how amazing they are.


Greetings from Malaysia. I'm a 28 year old female. I have always been insecure about my stretch marks and cellulite. I would never wear shorts or bikini in public. I'm even scared that my husband would feel repulsed after seeing my body (I just got married 1 month ago), but it was totally the opposite. He didn't mind at all. In fact he accepts me fully and he said he feels honoured that I'm willing to trust him and show my body. He said he still finds me sexy no matter what. Your video also inspires me to love myself first. So thank you so much!


You are beautiful. I just watched your video and cried my eyes out. BEAUTY HAS NO SIZE. Every woman is beautiful. People in this world are so judgmental. They judge you on how much you weigh or how you look.  I have been so scared for 6 years to walk in public. I'm 14 and when I was 7 I had a ruptured brain aneurysm and stroke. I now have Dystonia. I have been so scared to go anywhere because I already get bullied at school because of my disability. I have been scared of others looking at the way I walk. This year, my first year of high school. I am not afraid anymore. Bullies wanna bully me, have at it because I am who I am.. I am blessed to still be here. God made us all different and we are supposed to love each other.


Brené Brown would say you are Daring Greatly. Show Up, Be Seen, Live Brave. As a 65 year old Idaho gal, your risking has reminded me that I am worthy of love and belonging.


And, speaking of professor and author Brené Brown, here's a little something else she wrote:

"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weaknesses." She also calls her tribe "brave truth-tellers and daring shit-starters," which couldn't more adequately describe you all.

Thank you for holding my hand and standing next to me and being rebellious. I like this shit we're startin'. xo

{all photos & video by the lovely, talented, witty, badass Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design}

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