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.