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.

 

7 ways Cosmo can undo their back-contouring video debacle

Dear “Beauty” People at Cosmo,

Your recent video featuring a tutorial on back contouring was majorly fu*ked up. Congratulations, you’ve just shamed an entire generation of vulnerable, young women and girls into worrying about the shape of their back bones. Well done.

 

“Back contouring is officially a thing and THIS is how to do it,” says the description of the video. Reminder: it’s only a “thing,” because YOU decided it was. You made an intentional decision to contribute to the low-self esteem of  young women with body-image issues and eating disorders.

The company overview description on your Facebook page says: “Cosmopolitan is the best-selling young women’s magazine in the U.S., a bible for fun, fearless females that reaches more than 17 million readers a month.”

Fearless females?

Uh, last time I checked, fearless females only contoured their backs with makeup when playing super sheroes in the movies.

And also, haven’t you heard about this thing called, Body Positivity?  See, it  started out as a grass roots movement for people with body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and poor body-image to claim their worth, beauty, and space in a world that tells them they should strive for unattainable physical perfection. But in the past few years, it’s been co-opted by large corporations who’ve mainstreamed the idea so they can make money off the hard work of those that pioneered the movement so many years ago. But I digress.

Let’s get to the matter at hand. You did bad. And you can fix it. Here’s how:

  1. Apologize profusely.
  2. Destroy the tutorial video and remove from all websites. Promise never to pull that shit again.
  3. Hire a diverse staff IMMEDIATELY, that would know better than to put this tom-foolery out into the Universe.
  4. Feature more girls and women of color, women of size, women who are differently-abled, and transgender folks on the cover and inside pages of your magazine.
  5. Stop photo-shopping your images. That’s so 2015.
  6. Use your platform to bring attention to underrepresented bodies and voices.
  7. You’ve been around since 1886, for heaven’s sake! Ok, you didn’t become a women’s magazine until the 1960’s, but still, this is 2016. Get it together.

Look, I know this letter seems harsh, but sometimes you just gotta let folks know what’s up. And what’s up, is that you owe us more than that. Every woman I know has read Cosmo at some point her life. It has sparked many a conversation about our periods, and led to good, safe sex for many of us all over the world. You taught us about anorexia and bulimia. And we thank you. Which is why we’re confused about that awful video!

I challenge you to do better, now that you know better. I encourage you take this opportunity to grow. And finally, I ask that that you surprise the shit out of us by actually implementing some the above changes.

Sincerely,

Pia Schiavo-Campo
Body Positive Activist, Writer, and Speaker

I Am #WhatAYogiLooksLike

I’m so pleased to be featured in Yoga International as part of the “This is What a Yogi Looks Like” (#whatayogilookslike) media series collaboration between the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Yoga International based on the YBIC campaign that launched in 2014 and their continued work in challenging stereotypes, growing community, working collaboratively, and highlighting the diversity of yoga practitioners and yoga practices, as well as their staunch commitment to diversifying yoga media. Also, a special thanks to Melanie Klein for making it possible!

yoga international

Photo by Sarit Z. Rogers

As published in Yoga International on June 29, 2016

For so many years, as my weight fluctuated up and down in multiples of 20, I was rarely present in my body. In fact, I spent most of my time researching new diets and abhorring my reflection in the mirror. No matter what the number on the scale, it was never the right one. And so I spent the better part of 25 years feeling like a stranger in my own skin, punishing myself for my “imperfections.”

It was yoga that finally allowed me to experience my large body in a positive way. But it wasn’t love at first sight.

My first experience with yoga was in 1999, and I really didn’t get it. That, and I felt like a bull in a china shop. Seriously, I was less than graceful, and I always felt rather awkward posing alongside people who looked nothing like me. So I said goodbye to yoga without a regret in the world.

It was yoga that finally allowed me to experience my large body in a positive way. But it wasn’t love at first sight.

Because of my poor body image and low self-esteem, I missed out on too many experiences: swimming in the ocean with my family, dating in high school because of my shy demeanor and insecurities about the size of my jeans, and positive sexual experiences because I was too busy trying to sleep my way to high self-esteem. It was a journey toward external affirmation that never ceased. I could not find peace.

In 2011 I became fed up. I was tired of obsessing about my body and weight. It was then that I began authoring my blog, Chronicles of a Mixed Fat Chick. I conducted lots of research on large bodies, plus fashion, body image, and self-acceptance. It became my mission to try to understand and move beyond my long-held negative body image. Well, I needed some support and inspiration along the way. In my research I came across so many amazing websites that featured women like me thriving proudly in their plump bodies. All along I’d been focused on attaining thinness so I could be happy, perfect, and free. But the ample women on those brilliant sites looked thoroughly content. They were smiling and laughing and basking in their fatness. It was the first time I ever really considered quitting dieting altogether.

Then, a few years ago I began to see pictures all over social media of fat women doing yoga. It was really a magical time for me—I was so attracted to the confidence of these women who were doing something I had always associated with being young, thin, white, and cisgender. And here were women like Dianne Bondy and Jessamyn Stanley, who were breaking all the “rules.” I thought, I’m black and fat, too. And maybe I can do this yoga thing.

Fast forward to 2014, when I finally found the courage to try my first yoga class in 15 years. I went to a sweet studio a few blocks from my house called Crenshaw Yoga and Dance. I showed up early, knots in my stomach. An lovely lady in a green leotard and dark tights greeted me at the door with the kind of warmth only old Black folks from the South can deliver. I adored her instantly. I explained to 70-something Adrienne that this was my first class in a long time—and that I was nervous. I also informed her that I had fibromyalgia and was hoping yoga could improve my symptoms. She smiled her wide smile, nodded, and the rest is history.

When I got on the mat—and finally let myself relax—I was astounded at what my body could do and how it could feel.

Adrienne’s class was life changing for me. There were mostly women of color, including some with large bodies (some smaller and some bigger than mine). The age range was 21 to 75, and there were various levels of experience represented in the room. When I got on the mat—and finally let myself relax—I was astounded at what my body could do and how it could feel. It was the opposite of an out-of-body experience—it was an in-body experience. A first for me.

pia-mantra-yoga (1)

In the weeks and months that followed, my poses got deeper and the reflection in the studio mirror became less and less important. I realized that what allowed me to really love yoga was having a safe space to practice, a space in which I never felt judged. I discovered that yoga is not a competition; it’s a way of being in the world. Yoga also helped me to see how my limiting thoughts and behaviors were keeping me from thriving in other areas of my life. And it absolutely proved to me that being in a large body does not determine my worth, my beauty, or my health. Only my opinion can do that.

xo

Why Do We Have to Be Pretty All the Fucking Time?

pretty

When I wake up in the morning, one of the first things I do before getting out of bed is to decide what I’m going to wear that day. I scan my overflowing closet in my mind’s eye, carefully matching (or in my case, not matching) the pieces I think will work together. Next, my thoughts wander to the perfect lipstick color and how best to style my unwieldy mane.

Yes, admittedly my first few thoughts upon waking are about how I look. And I’m kinda over it.

So why do I do it?

The simple answer — habit. The complicated answer — I have been brainwashed by a media that is largely influenced by making a business out of ugly-shaming me. Like so many of you reading this, I get frustrated by the constant pressure that I have to be pretty just to go to the grocery store, or to work, or to socialize.

And let me also say that I love having fun in fashion. But in my heart of hearts, I know that sometimes I’m doing it so I can feel like I’m enough.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve been sold a heaping load of stinking bullshit.

As a society, we have intentionally decided that pretty is the thing you should be, but you can never really get. It’s a total setup. And it absolutely requires you to be vigilant about the kinds of messages you allow yourself to hear. I know, you’re probably thinking, well, Pia, tell us how to do that so we can go and fucking do it.”

First, a teeny bit about my experience. My rocky road to healing only really started when I began making the kinds of environmental changes that created a safe space in which I could begin to experience worth beyond my appearance. And as I always say, I have not yet arrived. The journey is in the healing, and the healing is in the journey.

body  positive affirmations

Social media was the turning point in my recovery. All of a sudden I had access to resources and support for how to move past my eating disorder and begin accepting my exhausted self. I met fierce activists, proud fatties, plus size designers, chubby bloggers, thin allies, and now dear friends, all of whom have had an impact on my healing.

And I let myself be raw. I told my truth so that the collective energy  from these relationships began to kindle my spirit. I summoned a strength I never knew I had. I allowed my  thick, light-deprived thighs to bask in the sun’s warmth, aware that no one at all gave me a second glance.

Instead of reading mainstream magazines, I began to read blogs that celebrated larger bodies. Rather than hold onto old jeans that no longer fit me, I embraced the amazing options in plus size clothing and found a style that took into account my fluffy proportions AND my personal style.  I made a conscious choice to surround myself with images, words, and relationships that supported my work towards self-acceptance.

I became part of a revolution to take back my life, my choices, and my dignity. And in the process I became me — a mixed fat chick who fights for justice whilst eating gluten-free donuts. Because I’m allergic to gluten. Not because I give a fuck about carbs.

Ya know, I really want to not be writing about this in five years. I hope there won’t be a need.

In the meantime, bombard yourself  with positive messages with the same energy you were using to beat yourself up. It takes effort and planning to make fundamental changes in your thinking and your behaviors. Don’t worry, there is no race to the finish line. Take all the time you need, and celebrate the victories — big and small — along the way.

Sending much love, light, and healing to you!

xo

 

P.S. I have an amazing E-Course coming later this summer. Stay tuned!!

The Right to Bare Arms

fat arms

My ample arms!

My arms are fleshy, plump, and have cellulite on them. They are fat. And they are also beautiful.

Before I evolved into the body-loving woman I am today, I NEVER wore tank tops, even on the hottest summer days. Showing off my arms was the totally off limits. I would wear a sweater or something with sleeves that covered me to at least mid-upper arm. And let me tell you, being hot as fuck is not comfortable.

But one day, about 3 years ago, I decided it was time to conduct a social experiment. My theory was that if I wore a sleeveless garment, that people would stare at me in disgust, which would derail my journey toward self-acceptance. So, in an effort to break free from societal judgement, I did the unthinkable. I wore a tanktop in public.

I wanted to have Gabby's confidence!

I wanted to have Gabby’s confidence!

At first I found myself having a panic attack, wishing I’d brought a sweater with me just in case I chickened out. But then something weird happened. I saw another fat woman in a sleeveless blouse strutting down the street, her meaty arms undulating in rhythm with her steps. I saw in her what I had not been able to see in myself. I witnessed a woman taking up space and wearing a weather-appropriate garment with gusto! And no one batted an eye. Except for me of course.

That was a pivotal moment for me. I decided that the only solution to loving my arms was to show them off more often. Though I knew I wasn’t going to feel sure of myself right away,  I could certainly fake it for the time being. And that’s what I did.

with sonya and kim

With Sonya Renee Taylor and Kimberly Nichole at the Body Love Conference 2014.

That experience made me realize that most people aren’t looking at me and they don’t give a rat’s ass what I’m wearing. After a summer of donning tanks and halter tops, I no longer had to fake my comfort. I was comfortable.

For me the lesson is that I’m my own worst critic. When I can abandon perfectionism, even just for an hour, my whole world opens up. I become free. Free to love my arms and to free wear whatever the fuck I want.

I hope you’ll tune in for my upcoming post on plus swimwear, where you’ll see not just my ample arms, but my thunder thighs too!

  xo

Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel Campaign Misses the (Stretch) Mark

lb

Lane Bryant‘s #ImNoAngel campaign has gotten lots of attention for its recent diss on Victoria’s Secret’s long-time angels ads. But is it really that different from it’s straight size counterpart? Um, not really.

Why are we so damn excited that six flawless plus models who have been photoshopped to death are representing the plus size woman?

The bodies in that advertisement are young, have round butts, smooth thighs and not a stretch mark in sight. The message it sends is that there is a very specific non-thin body that is ok to have. It has all the markings of the Dove’s Real Beauty ad from 8 years ago, which in my opinion lacked body diversity too.

dove-models-real-beauty

Haven’t we come further than that? I hoped we had.

It still remains in the hands of grassroots body positive advocates to push the envelope and fight for inclusivity in the real sense of the word.

The #ImNoAngel campaign is a watered down attempt to make big girls feel good about themselves. But no one in that ad could have been bigger than a size 18. That leaves out a very important cross-section of Lane Bryant’s customer base. They carry sizes 14-28. Why aren’t the models in the campaign representative of that diversity?

In a news release, Lane Bryant says its campaign aims to “celebrate women of all shapes and sizes by redefining society’s traditional notion of sexy with a powerful core message: ALL women are sexy.”  Sorry LB, the message did NOT come across that way. You forgot to include women who wear a size 18 or bigger, or who have stretch marks, or cellulite, or any number of so called imperfections.

I can’t be the only woman of size who yearns to see herself reflected in a lingerie ad with fat, dimpled models. I give credit to companies like Curvy Girl Lingerie, who use models of different sizes on their website. It is seeing those images over and over that will really help us to get over our society’s hatred of fat bodies.

curvy girl model2

So excuse me for not being grateful to Lane Bryant for this mediocre attempt to be inclusive. As a company that has served plus size women since 1923, I expected more.

People may accuse me of being harsh, but we are in a time of great change, and I think companies like Lane Bryant often get credit for the work that body positive activists have been doing for years. And frankly, their version lacks the kind of progress we so desperately need.

I challenge Lane Bryant and other mainstream plus size clothing brands to really think outside the box. They can be agents of real change if they so choose. The time is now. The only question is, will they take the leap?

xo

I Hold My Stomach in Sometimes

Am I body love failure? No.

What I am is brainwashed from years of exposure to advertisements that promise a flat stomach in 10 days. It is so ingrained in my subconscious that I often hold my stomach in without realizing it.

unusual-tips-to-lose-body-fat-and-get-a-flat-stomach-1-728

I HATE these ads!!!

Today, as I walked back to my office from my lunch break, I caught a glimpse of myself in a storefront window and noticed the top roll of my stomach protruding under my t-shirt. Suddenly I stood up straighter and did my best to tuck in my tummy. In that moment I was aware of my embarrassment about my by body being so big and so exposed. And then I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed, because duh, I’m a body-positive activist!

I think about this shit all day — what Melinda Alexander calls “Getting Free.” So, when stuff like the tummy incident happens I feel like I’ve been set way back. It feels like being punched in the face after having trained in the ring for years.

The truth is, I have not come to terms with the size and shape of my stomach. It’s the biggest it’s ever been. For the most part, I almost always had a pretty small waist and stomach, giving me an hourglass figure that made my body acceptable by mainstream standards. But not anymore. It’s big enough that I just can’t hide it, or disguise it, or manipulate it. And though I’ve made peace with many of my body parts, this one is especially hard for me.

Pia model

This is me 3.5 years and 45 pounds ago.

Anyone feel me?

I know so many fat women who own their big bellies and wear clothes that accentuate them. I am not one of those women. Part of me wants to be at peace, and the other part of me just wants to have a small tummy again so I don’t have to overcome another hurdle.

The reason I share this with you is because I promised myself I would be honest and upfront about my own body image struggles. My friend Jen at Plus Size Birth just posted something I resonate with on this topic too.

Thank you for seeing me and accepting me the way I see and accept you.

Perhaps I need a pair of high waisted Spanx.

Or an affirmation…

Or to surround myself with images of large bellied women reveling in their gorgeous glory…

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Photo by Substantia Jones

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Photo by Substantia Jones

Or maybe some combination of all those ideas until I start feeling better.

xo