Thursday, September 24, 2015

40 for 40

On August 1st I was at the city pool with a very dear friend talking about how I'd be turning the big 4-0 in less than two months time and how I should probably do something epic. Or go on a major vacation. Or buy something spectacular. Instead, I started thinking about how it might be sweet to do forty things. Tiny but beautiful things with people I loved. So I started to make a list under the newly discovered NOTES feature of my iPhone (yes, I'm a bit of a luddite).




My friend contributed his idea to start my 40 for 40 list, so #1 on my list reads, "Go out for a tiki drink with Zac" at a fun Boise bar we love, dressed in our greatest tiki attire, celebrating a kitschy era we appreciate. From there, the list grew to include things like having coffee with my friend Rachel, seeing Brandi Carlile in concert with a few of my favorite ladies, taking my eleven-year-old daughter Lucy to the fanciest French patisserie in town, having my first solo art exhibition, entering my herbs and garlic in the state fair, and browsing the feminist art section at Rainbow Books.



After a summer busy with camping and late night patio parties, I wanted to enjoy one last hurrah to my favorite season with our annual backyard movie night littered with neighbors and friends. I wanted to try paddleboarding with my daughters for the first time and wear fishnet tights and my FAT BABE pin while riding my bike in Tour de Fat. I infused my own vodkas to make a new signature cocktail, had ice cream cones at Fanci Freez, sexted (AHEM) my husband, and found the new baby anteater at Zoo Boise riding on his mama's back.

 
 
Sometime around August 15th, I saw (my new friend) Jae West's video go viral for all the best reasons and thought about it hard with all my fat activist and feminist thoughts and talked about it with some of the best people and came up with a plan which read, in simple non-sensational text in the NOTES section of my iPhone as #2 on my list, "body positive performance art downtown."

{photo courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}

Little did I know that my small subversive and personal experiment, one of the 40 things I should do before I turned 40, was to become one of the most life-altering and amazing accomplishments of my time here on this earth. I'm so damn proud of what we've achieved together in the body positive movement over the past month. We have ignited a revolution of love in honor of ourselves and each other.


{photos courtesy Melanie Flitton Folwell}
 
People are often saddened by the thought of turning forty, scared of what being middle-aged means. I say, 40 MIGHT JUST BE MY BEST YEAR YET. Tomorrow, September 25th, I celebrate 40 spectacular trips around the sun and look forward to an even brighter future, given the way we've changed the world, my friends. Thanks for the best birthday present a girl could ever imagine.

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}

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Stand For Self Love

Two years ago I started this private group on Facebook called the Boise Rad Fat Collective. We're a secret society of super-sized feminazis who can't get laid and sit around complaining about our ugly clothes while eating Big Macs and cake.

RRRRIIIIIGGHT.

That's not at all what our group is about, despite what Internet trolls and mean people would like to believe. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. We're a group of socially engaged Idahoans of all shapes and sizes who are fed up with mainstream media and society telling us what a valuable body should do\be\act\look like. And while it started with just a handful of my best strong female friends, it's expanded now to include people I've never met (even though we do try to plan regular meet-ups in real life). And generally speaking, we're a positive bunch who share lots of news on cutting-edge literature and scientific studies and fun films and personal stories, while being supportive and thoughtful in our Facebook wall discussions (gasp!). New members are always welcome and, no, you don't have to be fat to join in nor do you have to live in Boise, but you do have to be respectful and smart and adhere to one basic concept - that all bodies are good bodies.

(PSST! And most of us have sex. On a regular hot basis.)

.....

Two weeks ago this video by The Liberators International went viral. The Liberators are a group out of Australia whose mission is to involve people in participatory acts of freedom that allow us to see that beyond our differences there is love and humanity. If you haven't already seen it, you can do so by clicking my link above, but, in a nutshell, it's a moving social experiment where a young Liberator named Jae West sheds her clothing in London's busy Picadilly Circus, armed with markers, a sign, and a blindfold, asking people to draw hearts on her body if they share her promotion of self-acceptance, after overcoming an eating disorder. She has now been interviewed extensively about the importance of the project and how terrifying and exhilarating standing alone half-nude was for her, and the outpouring of humanity that has followed it.

My friend Angie and I posted a link to the video to the Rad Fat Collective and we all agreed it was a powerful performance art piece, and discourse ensued. How would it be received if the woman had been less socially acceptable in appearance, like, fat? And, say, a mom who's nearly 40-years-old? And in a place that was more conservative and less progressive than London like, say, Boise, Idaho? Turns out, we weren't the only people asking these questions and talking about this important project of West's - the alternative media was, too. So, I made a (GULP) plan and asked another one of my friends in the Collective (who also happens to be a professional photographer), Melanie, to document it.


We picked a date (Saturday August 29, 2015) and one of the most pedestrian-rich locations in the city (the Capital City Public Market downtown Boise) at the busiest time of day (noon). I decided to wear a black bikini instead of a bra and undies (conservative Boise) and changed the text on my sign to read something a little different and pertinent to me. I decided to tell no one except the Rad Fat Collective that this was happening, as the idea of leaving the experience organic and up to chance, rather than fill the audience with known body positive activists and friends, was more appealing. Everything seemed in order and to fall into place quickly.

Until my nerves set in.

.....

I woke up Saturday morning after a fitful night's sleep and puked. And bloated with horrid cramps. And a raging period. (Hey, Donald Trump! MAD MENSTRUATING WOMAN ON A MEANINGFUL MISSION ALERT!). And I was terrified. I was scared that I might get asked to leave by the police or that people would yell terrible things at me or that no one would draw a heart on my body and I'd stand there alone and crying for minutes that felt like hours.

Well, none of that came true. Except for the crying part.

.....

I let the farmers' market director (who happens to be a friend of mine) know what we were staging about an hour before the event. Not only did I have her support, she suggested I stand in the middle of the busiest spot of the market, that she would handle any negative feedback or complaints, and could she borrow a marker to draw a heart on me now in case she missed the performance? It was probably with that first heart that I knew this was gonna be good. I had no idea just how good it was about to get.

.....

Melanie set up her camera, Angie was my ear on the ground, and I hit my spot, barefoot, and stripped off my dress. The hush in the crowd around me was instantaneous and I barely had time to tie on my blindfold, prop up my sign and grab my markers before the first woman rushed up to me, touched my hand with her shaky one, told me I was brave and powerful and asked if she could give me a hug and started to cry. And then I cried, too. But I could tell she didn't just draw a heart on my body. She wrote a word. In fact, by the end of my fifty minutes of continuous public support, there were dozens of words that covered my body, and even more hearts.


Badass
Love
THANK YOU
Hope
Strong
Awesome
God Bless You
You are beautiful
You Rock
Divine
Stand Strong
I Love Me
You look great
Power
Amazing
You are gorgeous
Big Love
Inspire


You'll see all this in these photos and the video - that the hugs continued, as did the tears, a flower was placed by a young man at my feet, I got a kiss on the cheek and an ice cold lemonade left by my side for when I was done. And, undoubtedly, like me, you will also see other things in these photos - the sweat running down my rolls of back fat, cellulite (on strong legs that have carried me for four decades), a wonky bikini top with sagging breasts (that nourished three babies), stretch marks (that represent my transition from a chubby adolescent to a curvy teenager to a woman who's been pregnant four times), and darkly tanned skin (from a summer spent at the Boise Public Pools with my friends and my children).


The most important things about this performance, though, are the ones you can't see.

The personal stories of struggle.

The dad who stood in front of me with his two young sons and knelt down to tell them to "this is what a beautiful woman looks like."


Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts.

Old women who know life moves too preciously fast to hate themselves any longer.

Teenaged girls who ran up to me afterward as I was walking down a side street to tell me I'm an inspiration and a role model.


One woman came back to me several times during my nearly hour long stand for self love. While you can feel the people who are writing words of encouragement and faith on your body, what you can't see are all the lives you are touching by just existing in this space, she said. All these people that are stopping to look at you and read your sign and watch the rest of us? You've reached them all in ways unimaginable.



And the twentysomething man who stood behind me and whispered, The effects of what you are doing here are far reaching. It's absolutely amazing. The power of this moment will go on and in ways you never thought possible. You are changing more lives than you know.


Oh, Boise, you restored my faith in humanity, you blew my mind with your kindness, you saw the beauty in my body and your own. You are ready for a body positive revolution, and I'm honored to stand by your side. Take my hand, if you need, and I'll pull you up.


We can't truly love one another until we fully love ourselves. And once we do, I guarantee, that together we can move mountains.



Radical Self-Acceptance: The Stripped-Down Body Postivity Experiment from Melanie Flitton Folwell on Vimeo.
 

{all photos & video by the lovely, talented, witty, badass Melanie Folwell Portrait + Design}
 
*UPDATED TO ADD LINK LOVE FROM PRESS AROUND THE WORLD
 
 
BuzzFeed (story)
BuzzFeed (video)
Mamalode magazine, Fall 2015, Positively
The Dr. Oz Show, November 23, 2015
Beauty With Plus, Hungarian blog & accompanying newssite
All Bodies Are Good Bodies - Good To Know UK guest writer, January 2016