What Does Body Positive Really Mean?

It’s a great question, and one that deserves a bit of exploring.

I believe that body positivity started out as a reaction to the under-representation and negative representations of non-thin and non-white women in the media. Women in particular had become sick and tired of not seeing themselves reflected in the pages of magazines or on television. It was really a grass roots effort to be seen and appreciated.

Having been a part of this disillusioned group, I got on the bandwagon almost seven years ago and created my own niche that includes discussing, fat acceptance, race, taking up space, feminism, chronic illness, accessible yoga, plus fashion, and more.

Of course there are lots of areas to explore underneath the BODY POSITIVITY umbrella. In fact, I’m hosting a teleclass this Saturday that’s all about starting your own body positive blog.

But as the years have gone on, body positivity has come to mean different things to different people.

  • For women of color it has become about becoming visible and being represented in a way that reflects our diversity and cultural richness.

Gaby Sidibe

  • For those with chronic illness or those who are differently-abled it is about showing our strengths despite a society that tries to limit us with negative descriptors.

 

  • For fat women it’s about so many things, including giving ourselves permission to wear what we want when we want. By now everyone knows what a fatkini is, right?!
Fat Woman of Color in a bikini

Art by Tatiana Gill

  • For many it’s about anti-dieting and how this billion dollar industry shames people into believing that a very specific body type (ie. thin) is the only standard of beauty we should ascribe to.

 

What I understand is that body positivity is really a movement about being seen, heard, appreciated and having equitable access to resources and positive representation across the board. It is constantly changing to be as inclusive as possible, as any well-intentioned movement should. I know my views have changed over the years and I’ve learned so much about my own biases. I do my best to stay open and learn from others who have different experiences than I do.

If you’ve ever wanted to blog about body positivity, join me this Saturday for a super fun class on BoPo Blogging 101. Early Bird tickets are just $15 and available through this Wednesday.

 

The Fat and the Skinny on Body Positive Comic Artist & Illustrator Tatiana Gill

I first saw the fat illustrations of Tatiana Gill on instagram some time last year. The undulating bellies, textured stretchmarks, and hairy legs of the fat super sheroes she draws jumped off the screen at me, delighting me with their unabashed sass and sparkle.

When this past June, my husband gifted me one of Tatiana’s comic books (and had it autographed),  I was ecstatic! Her quirky style and positive representation of diverse women is intoxicating. I set out to discover more about the Seattle-based badass behind the fabulous drawings. Specifically, I was interested in her journey toward body positivity and what inspires her to draw women of color as the subjects of some of her work.

carterc3c

Olympian, Michelle Carter

Pia: Were you ever a dieter or body-obsessor?

Tatiana: Yes I was, in fact it was my self hate and obsessive dieting in my teens and 20’s that led me to attempt body acceptance. If I’d been able to diet in moderation, perhaps I’d still do it like so many of my friends. But every time I started weighing myself and counting calories, I immediately went into obsessive thinking and wound up engaging in self-harm like eating disorders and drugs. It was healthier for me to try not to think about any of it and accept the way I was. But until I discovered the body positive movement, I never truly accepted the way I am.

3bpc

P: What has your body positive journey been like?

T: It’s been a long road full of ups and downs. I have always liked bigger women aesthetically, but was ashamed of my own weight. I didn’t know anyone who was vocal about NOT being ashamed of their body. Then a few years ago I discovered the body positive movement, and immediately jumped on the bandwagon! It has been such a solace and inspiration for me. It’s also been an incredible boost to my mental health to realize I don’t have to be ashamed – I have lots of options from acceptance to pride.

body love

P: When and why did you begin drawing large bodies?

T: In my 20’s – the 1990’s – I began drawing larger bodies than what is in mainstream media, adding a belly or a fat roll here and there. I was motivated out of aesthetics for what I found beautiful. In 2013 I gained a lot of weight and felt very ashamed – but also angry that I was so ashamed, when I believe that all bodies are good bodies. I have always wanted to see people like me in the media, and in reaction to my shame, I was inspired to draw even larger bodies than before. I began really looking in the mirror and using reference photos to draw larger bodies, including visible belly outlines, cellulite, and double chins. I began taking the heroines I admire – TV stars and comic characters – and drawing them with larger bodies.

mushroom queen

I had been living in a bubble of white privilege and now that I realize how bad the problem is, representation seems more important than ever.

P: What inspired you to begin drawing fat women doing cool shit?

T: It felt like divine inspiration! I was creating the change I wanted to see in the world. My drawings have always been aspirational – I draw women I find beautiful, sexy, heroic, interesting. I was so tried of only one body type being presented in the mainstream media, and realized I could start to fill that hole with my own work.

math is rad

P: What motivates you to illustrate women of color? Was that a conscious decision?

T: I don’t think it started as a conscious decision, I was drawing people in my life and in the world around me. My sisters are of Korean descent and that helped me notice the lack of representation of people of color. It became more of a conscious decision when, thanks to social media and some high profile cases like Trayvon Martin, I started to realize how rampant racism is in our society. I had been living in a bubble of white privilege and now that I realize how bad the problem is, representation seems more important than ever.

gabi fresh

Gabi Fresh

P: What has the response been like from women of color who have seen or been the subject of your work?

T: It has been very positive – one friend sent me a video of her friend, a woman of color, reading my book and laughing with delight and saying ‘this is my favorite thing!’ And I was so excited when Gabi Fresh, one of my first body positive role models, wrote that she loved a drawing I made inspired by her. At comic cons where so many of the comics are of white people, occasionally a woman of color will zoom in on my ‘Plus’ book and stop to check it out. At times like that I really feel stoked that I can use my drawing skills in a positive way.

unicorn babe

P: Do you consider yourself an ally to fat women of color? If so, why?

TG: I do, and I aspire to be a better one. Thinking about this question shone a light on the ways I could be more politically active. I believe fat women of color are incredibly beautiful, valid, and should be cherished and celebrated. I think that all people are equals and should be treated as such. The fact that fat women of color rarely see themselves represented as heroines or stars in movies, TV, comics, and magazines sucks. We all deserve representation.

summerfun

P: Do you have any future projects the horizon?

TG: I don’t have long term plans currently, I tend to get struck by inspiration and follow my nose. I am currently drawing a comic about birth control, which I think is an important public health issue. I plan to keep making body-positive drawings of larger women, and I’d like to make more art embracing body positivity for all genders. I hope to make more art celebrating race equality, sexual orientation equality, gender equality, mental and physical health, self-care, and working through obstacles like trauma, anxiety, and addiction.

Where can people find you online?

My website is tatianagill.com
Facebook artist page https://www.facebook.com/tatianagill
Instagram @rupeegroupie
Twitter @tats_tweets
Tumblr http://tatianagill.tumblr.com/

 
I’m so thrilled to have an ally and a pal in Tatiana Gill. Keep up the great work — we need you!

xo

Learning to Love My Totally Imperfect Ass

I’m a Black woman who yearns for a better ass.  It wasn’t always flat.  It used to be high and round and lovely.  But about 11 years ago I had a nasty fall on some steps, and my butt literally landed where the tread meets the risers.  It was incredibly painful, but I never went to see a doctor because I figured the pain would eventually go away. And it did. At least for a while.

But years later I began to notice that the shape of my butt was different, disfigured — there was a deep indentation that spanned the width of it, creating four quadrants, if you will.  I finally went to see a doctor who told me that scar tissue had formed under the skin to protect the area when I injured it.

That made sense to me.  So, I asked how it could be removed. I wanted my round ass back ASAP.  Apparently, it can’t.  I was upset, but not deterred.

My next stop was to see a plastic surgeon. I explained the problem to him and he began to tell me about all the other things that were “wrong” with my body.  And he too, said there was no way to get my ass back to it’s former loveliness.  I was humiliated and defeated.

In the years that followed, I visited massage therapists that specialized in myofascial release.  But the treatments were painful and yielded no results. Just more pain and more shame.

In addition to the shame I felt about my ass, the scar tissue was also painful and had begun to impact  the function of other parts of my body.  I was truly devastated.

I think the other part of the shame is cultural. In our society, Black women are often expected to have round, shapely asses, which are supposed to somehow validate their Blackness and attractiveness.  Which is why I feel like an anomaly.  My mom and sister both have amazing asses (and my mom is 72).  In truth, I have girlfriends of all colors and ethnicities who have amazing bootys, and I secretly wish I had one too.

The ass of my dreams.

A few years ago I began seeing a chiropractor to help me with my back, and I shared with her my “ass story.”  She reiterated what the other doctors had said, but was hopeful that she could help decrease the pain for me. I visit her once a week and my pain has been reduced significantly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the pain relief. But I still struggle with accepting the shape of my highly irregular, 38-year old, dented ass!  No amount of stair-stepping or squats will ever make the scar tissue disappear.  This is the ass I have and I need to find a way to love it.

Wearing fitted clothing on the lower party of my body is difficult for me without feeling insecure.  In the last year or so, I’ve tried to love my ass for what it is. I’m simply not there yet.

I know I’m not unique in struggling to love parts of my body. My hope is that having the courage to share my story with you, will allow you to do the same thing. And perhaps even inspire me to accept myself more fully.

My healing will be a journey that will last my whole lifetime.  However, I vow to all of you that I will be more consistent in speaking kindly of my body, because she deserves it.  I will caress my ass, look at her in the mirror, and declare her perfect!

In solidarity,
Pia

Why Is the Thick Sistah on the End? (Asked My White Husband)

Over the weekend I celebrated my birthday and I was feeling great in my fat body and channeling my inner goddess into everything I did. Friday I had a fabulous massage, mani/pedi and had drinks with one of my besties, Melinda Alexander of Mumumansion).  Saturday  was an amazing party at my house, and yesterday was spent sailing on my boss’ huge boat in Santa Barbara with my hubby and co-workers.  It was a wonderful way to start they year ahead.  I was surrounded by family, friends and loved ones. I even wore RED (which I said was my new signature color), so that’s exciting too–actually doing what I say I’m going to do.  LOL.

Me in my sexy butterfly dress!


But yesterday, while filling up on gas before the drive to Santa Barbara, I saw the billboard for the new film Baggage Claim, which opens September 27th. 

Jill Scott is on the far right.

I looked at it and thought, “I wonder why Jill Scott is on the end?”  As soon as the thought entered my mind, my husband popped his head in the window and said, “Oh, they put the thick sistah on the end.”  My mouth dropped open as we fist bumped it out.  First of all, my husband is white. From South Dakota. And is not known to ever use words like “sistah” in a sentence.  But more interestingly, he noticed what I also noticed, that Jill Scott–the thick sistah in question–was indeed on the edge of the billboard, as almost an afterthought. I was thoroughly disappointed in the placement of her photo, but pleasantly surprised that my husband even noticed it. 

What’s interesting, is that of the entire cast, Ms. Scott is, in my opinion, the most talented one.  But there’s one problem–she’s fat.  And in Hollywood if you’re fat, you cannot be the star.  In fact you are either the butt of stupid jokes, or you are the “funny friend,” or you are fat and need a makeover. Those are the choices.  I think few fat actresses have ever managed to be the star despite their size.  The obvious example is Queen Latifah (whose talk show premieres next Monday–woohoo!), who has starred in many movies and often gets the hot guy, without having to lose weight or justify her size.  She has starred opposite hot actors like Common and Dijmon Honsou, with ease, confidence and grace.  She is definitely one of my sheroes!

Queen Latifah & Common

That got me thinking about size acceptance and race.  In my experience, I have found that being plus size, fat, heavy, thick, etc., is much more acceptable in the black community (except in LA).  I remember black girls with big booty’s and thick thighs wearing daisy dukes when I was in high school in DC in the 90’s. They always got lots of attention from the black guys, and songs like Baby Got Back by Sir Mix A Lot, were homages to their fluffy proportions.  And it wasn’t an intentional grassroots size acceptance movement, it’s just the way it was. Why is that?  And what can we learn from it?  And more importantly, why in the hell is Jill Scott on the edge of that fucking billboard???


Jennifer Hudson
Mo’Nique


I think that Hollywood is using the tactic of “better health” to convince black female entertainers into being thin at all costs. I think they have largely been excluded from body scrutiny in comparison to white women, but now the jig is up, and body shaming has spread like wildfire.  Hollywood has convinced black women like Jennifer Hudson and Mo’nique, who were once confident in their ample figures, to publicly share their weight loss stories with the world as though it somehow justified their existence. I sometimes feel like, “where my fat girls at?” And I want to be clear that choosing to lose weight should be a personal decision.  I simply believe that now all women (even women of color) in Hollywood pay a high price in order to really make it.  And that sucks.  

And don’t get me started on the weaves….that’s a blog for another day. Oh, Lord!  

Ciao for now,
Pia