Plus Size Pageantry & The Feminist Who Had It All Wrong

I was a judge for the California Plus America Pageant over the weekend. Pageant Director, Danielle Zavala, asked me come on board and I’m still trying to figure out why she chose me. I’m a body positive lipstick feminist with a penchant for colorful mumus and comfy flats I can wear all day. And I had serious doubts about how my politics would align with judging women based on their beauty. I loved watching Miss America when I was a little girl, but as I got older, I began to see the whole thing as a patriarchal construct meant to keep women focused on seeing beauty as their only source of worth. 

But I also wanted to challenge my preconceived notions about the pageant business because I know a couple of women who have competed and I respect them very much. So I emailed Danielle and told her I would be honored to be a judge, and it was the truth. I was committed to keeping an open mind.

On Saturday morning I showed up at the Embassy Suites hotel and met my five fellow judges, including 15-year old Smile Juneja, the reigning Miss America Outstanding Teen. Smile is a bright and well-spoken young woman who impressed me with her poise and self-confidence.

Judges from left to right: Michael Anthony Hermogeno, Maryam

 Ahmadinia, Smile Suneja, Sherry Lee Meredith, Me, Gio  Messale



I also had the privilege of meeting one of the winners from last year’s pageant, Charlet InthavongxayShe and my friend, Melissa Rose (who was also a winner last year), are two of the kindest, and most service oriented people I’ve ever met. They were so open and positive about their experiences, using their titles to do good in the community. Reconnecting with Melissa and meeting Charlet was yet another step in challenging my views over the weekend. 
 

Charlet on the left & Melissa on the right.

Danielle explained all the rules to the judges, most importantly that we were not allowed to fraternize with the delegates. The delegates are the pageant contestants.  I didn’t know that’s what they were called. I like it. It sounds very official!The individual interviews took place soon after. As I read the delegates’ bios, my thinking shifted even more. The contestants included PhD candidates, single mothers who took in foster kids, a school teacher and a poised teenager with great ambitions! This is NOT what I was expecting. I honestly thought the delegates were going to be ditzy girls who spent hours at the tanning salon and used the word “like” five times in a sentence. But I was dead wrong.  

Perhaps my narrow thinking needed to be checked. I mean, how different was plus size pageantry from plus size modeling?  I know plenty of plus models, including myself, who also have other careers in industries like engineering, social justice and medicine. So, discovering that the delegates were bright and ambitious shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did — in the best possible way.

As the delegates sat before us, answering all sorts of interesting questions, I found myself having a lot of fun.  One of my favorite questions from judge Maryam Ahmadinia, was “How would you describe the color red to a blind person?”  It was such a good question, I wish I’d thought of it myself! I think I asked something corny like, “If you were banished to a deserted island for life, which person would you take with you?”  I’m new at this. Be nice.

During those interviews, the women were nervous but witty, shy but eloquent. They were funny and snarky and intelligent. And their platforms were impressive too. From autism awareness to domestic violence prevention, the causes were noble and their champions passionate. Many of them had been active in their causes long before they’d considered being in pageants. I know. Pretty cool, huh?

Later that night, we witnessed the delegates having fun at the red carpet event and fundraiser.  As I watched them do the “Wobble” and laugh with one another, it helped me see yet another side to them.  They were women of all ages, ethnicities and plus size body types, bonding with one another and letting the stress of the interviews wash away. I so wanted to dance with them and tell them how awesome I thought they all were, but we weren’t allowed to fraternize until the pageant was over. 

The next night was the evening wear competition and the crowning ceremony at the LA Convention Center. This was an opportunity for the delegates to impress us with their style and personality as they sashayed down the runway, their fleshy arms undulating in perfect rhythm. Their smiles were big, their fashion choices bold, and their personalities very evident. It was such fun and I found myself cheering them all on, wishing they could all win!  I was proud of them for loving their bodies and wearing dresses that said “Fuck you world.  I’ll wear whatever the fuck I want!” I saw many of them empowered and confident. I witnessed such beauty and grace.  I wish plus size pageants had existed when I was struggling with my body image as a teenager and young woman. These women proved me wrong and I’ve never felt better about not being right.  


As plus size women, we are all breaking barriers when we participate in activities that let the world know we are not ashamed of our bodies and that we are capable of so much more than the media gives us credit for. Contrary to popular belief, we are not lazy and unmotivated. We are smart, savvy role models who can recite the Greek alphabet while feeding the homeless and kicking ass.  So there.  

I think the biggest lesson I learned through this journey is that feminism has many faces. The way we choose to lift up women is not singular in nature. There are as many ways to express it as there are women in the world. The plus size delegates were a brand of feminism that I had yet to encounter. But now I can store it in my cadre of experiences, and recall it when I find myself judging something which I know nothing about.

And I would be remiss if I did not congratulate this year’s deserving winners:

                  Queanna Moore – Mrs California Plus America 2014
Chera Lenise – Ms California Plus America 2014

Lia Freeman – Miss California Plus America 2014

Emily Grace Fluke -Teen California Plus America 2014


Left to right: Emily, Lia, host Marcy Guevara, Queanna, Chera



And finally, thank you Danielle, for asking me to be a part of this wonderfully eye-opening occasion. Your hard work paid off in so many ways. I am forever changed. XOXO

In solidarity,
Pia

6 Reasons to Love Your Stretchmarks

These aren’t mine, but they are beautiful!
 
Women are told that stretchmarks are ugly and that we should use expensive creams to get rid of them.  I was sold on the idea that my stretchmarks were inherently bad and that getting rid of them would enhance my beauty.  I actually tried some of these so called “miracle cures” years ago with no results. I felt desperate and unattractive. That was then. This is now.  
Don’t let this be you.

I have a lot of stretchmarks — mostly from having an eating disorder that had my body going up and down in weight many pounds at a time.  With every 20-30 pounds gained and lost, a new set of stripes would appear on my hips breasts, and stomach.  I used to cringe at those marks as they altered the texture of my skin.  I still don’t love them 100%, but I’m really trying.  And here’s why:
  1. I earned these motherfucking stripes god dammit!  My stretchmarks are a steady reminder of where I’ve been.  When I look down at them, I see a girl who used to hate her body and cover it up in shame.  I see a woman who has evolved into having a more positive relationship with her body.  My marks tell a rich story, with lots of twists and turns.  These stripes are sacred now.  They are mine.
  2. They’re perfectly normalA lot of people have them;  both men and women, fat and thin. I am not unique!
  3. Stretchmarks are like fingerprints: No two sets are exactly the same.  How cool is that?
  4. I get to tell advertisers to fuck off.  I LOVE doing that.  No more selling me shit I don’t need.  I no longer have to be manipulated into believing that parts of my sacred body are ugly.  So next time I see an ad for stretch mark diminishers, I’m going to scream “NO THANKS MOTHER FUCKERS!”
  5. They’re kind of cute. I know it doesn’t feel like it right this second, but I’m going to give it some time.  I will be nice to my stretchmarks and tell them that I love them.
  6. I have an opportunity to set a good example for the women and girls in my life. It’s not what we say that has impact, it’s what we do.  So I will be brave and show the people in my life that stretchmarks are not scars to be hidden, but badges of honor to be worn with pride!

Here are some links to sites that celebrate stretch marks:
http://stretchmarksarebeautiful.tumblr.com/
http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/stretch-marks
Google search
 

In solidarity,
Pia

Why I’m Abandoning Heels For the Forseable Future

Damn it — my feet hurt!  Rude. I love heels.  I love how they look on my feet and how sexy my legs look whilst wearing them.  I do not, however, love how fucking painful they are.  In my 20’s and early 30’s I could handle them no problem.  I could dance all night long and deal with the discomfort.  But as I’ve gotten older, I have become less and less able to cope with the pain that heels cause me.  And for a long time I thought as a fat girl I had to wear heels to look “taller and leaner.”  But frankly, now I care less about what other people think about my size or my fashion sense. 

Yes. I know you do too.

I recently attended the 5-year blogiversary of The Curvy Fashionista with my girls, including Michelle of Zaftig Times, who always looks vintage chic.  I remember first meeting her at the POSH LA Fashion Week event last March and we talked about how she never wears heels anymore because they’re just too uncomfortable. At the time I wasn’t quite ready to give them up, but it did get me thinking about what I was willing to sacrifice.  Was I willing to sacrifice the health of my feet for the sake of an outfit?  Yes, I was.  But not so much anymore.  Maybe this is sort of like a New Year’s non-resolution.  Sure, why not?

Michelle, Julia, Me, Christine on the red carpet #tcfturns5

Anyway, at the blogiversary party I wore an ethereal black and white number (see above) with a pair of Calvin Klein flats in leopard and patent leather. They are divine and, though I try not to play favorites with my shoes, these are kind of my everything right now. In fact, I think I hear a choir of angels singing in the background…I felt so cute in those shoes and I danced and walked and was comfortable all night long.  I didn’t feel any less cute just because I wasn’t wearing heels. OK, there was perhaps a tiny part of me that wished I were taller, but that faded quickly as I watched and overheard other women in super high heels sitting down, complaining of foot pain

Calvin Klein, Size 11, Nordstrom Rack, $55


Like many women, I adore shoes!  Yes, I’m a feminist who loves shoes. Get over it. Shoes are my vice and I never tire of shopping for them.  At a size 11, it can sometimes be tough to find shoes that fit my long narrow feet without having to spend a fortune.  So, when I’m in Nordstrom Rack or Marshalls or TJ Maxx, I always head for the shoe section. And I’ve found some terrific deals too.

Clockwise from top left: Nordstrom blue suede loafers $50; 
Coach oxfords $39; Mix No. 6 metallic leopard loafers $29; 
Diane Von Furstenberg red suede & metallic slippers $119 (bday gift)


Flats have become so chic in recent years that I actually feel appropriate wearing them to dressy events.  These days anything goes, and I’m eternally grateful.  I can see myself being known for my splendid flat shoe collection and getting a spread in Skorch Magazine, where I am naked in a tub full of blinged out, feathery, bright flats, sipping a glass of champagne of course.


Hey Skorch, this is the tub I was thinking of. Thanks!


My point in sharing all this, is that if you are like me — fat and a lover of fashion — you don’t have to sacrifice style just because you hate wearing heels. Heels are not the only option, especially if you don’t care about looking thinner. Flats look great with skater skirts, pin-up dresses, skinny jeans and wide leg trousers alike.  Do some experimenting with your wardrobe and you’ll discover a whole new world of FUN in flats.

ciao for niao,
pia

P.S.  I will probably still have to wear heels in photo shoots.  That’s the exception to the rule. Ok, I’m done now.