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

My Love-Hate Relationship With Shapewear

Like lots of women, I have used shapewear over the years to “smooth out” my belly bulge and any cellulite that might peak through a fitted garment.  I have worn corsets, girdles, control top pantyhose and Spanx Booty-Booster Shorts. I always wanted to look sleeker and more toned because everyone knows that lumps and bumps are the anti-Christ (insert sarcasm here). God forbid I should look like the average woman. The idea that I could fool people into thinking that I do 100 squats a day seemed so easy and so, well, powerful.  I was screaming from the rooftops, “Look at my flat tummy and perfectly round glutes. Ain’t I awesome?” without ever having to say a word.  There was something safe about leaving the house and not worrying that a rogue body part might jiggle at the wrong time (i.e.anywhere other people roam). I literally feared and loathed my fat.  And that, my friends, is the sad truth.

Does this look familiar?

Does this look familiar?

In a society that worships thin women, I, for many years, believed that I had no other choice but to squeeze my body into uncomfortable contraptions, which would cut off my circulation and leave deep marks in my skin. Taking off a girdle at the end of a long day is by far one of the most freeing feelings ever (that and taking off your bra).  I was sort of addicted to looking thinner. But underneath all that, I think what I felt was bondage — not just physical bondage, but psychological too.

Naomi Wolf

That is exactly the sentiment I feel when struggling to get my thighs into a pair of Spanx.  I am obeying our culture’s decree that my body is inherently bad, and that a restrictive medieval contraption is the solution to body woes and low self-esteem.

Have you ever seen an ad for a man’s girdle?  I think I’ve seen one in my life, and I know plenty of men with large bellies, flabby arms and wide asses.  But they are somehow exempt from the same scrutiny that women endure.  Imagine if men had to wear “Slim-Cognito” briefs.  We would never hear the end of of their complaints.  But women have been altering their normal proportions for centuries in order to adhere to an unrealistic Barbie-like physique, and often at the expense of their health.

girdles

For the past few weeks I have been wearing clothes in varying degrees of fitted-ness without shapewear, and it’s felt incredibly liberating.  Yes, my ass jiggles when I move and I can feel my ample stomach poking through my faux leather leggings, but at least I’m comfortable. Oddly enough, I’ve actually started feeling better about myself since I deserted the Girdle Society. What’s more is that my fat is cute!  I even started this hashtag on Instagram:

#myfatiscute

Art by Tara O’Brien

With all that being said, I think as women we are entitled to do what feels best for us.  I may not abandon my tummy-tamer just yet, but I’m learning to live without it. If wearing shapewear makes you feel good, then go for it.  But if it irritates the fuck out of you, trying going without and see how you feel physically and emotionally. You might be surprised.

xo

25 Things You Didn’t Know: The Naked Truth About Me

Call it vulnerability, stupidity, craziness, bravery or whatever you want.  For some reason, I’ve decided to share this list with you. Some things are less compelling than others, and some are just naked truths that feel like burdens lifted off my heavy body.  Or maybe this my attempt at getting the support it requires to feel just fucking OK in a world obsessed with the thin female body. I suspect it’s the latter.  This whole acceptance of self thing is really hard, and I just want to acknowledge that.  Even the most confident of fatties struggles to keep her head up and exist peacefully in her body and the world.  I’m no different.  You’re probably not either. So, here it goes.
I am (in no particular order or importance):
  1. Often on guard about taking up space (airplanes, restaurant booths, narrow aisles).
  2. An occasional puller down of long shirts over wobbly bits.
  3. Worried I might look stupid when trying something new.
  4. Cautious to let you really see me and not care what you think.
  5. Courageous enough to call myself fat, even though it’s scary and controversial.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  6. Confused about how to be true to myself without disappointing others (this may not be possible).
  7. Hopeful that I will have peace around my body soon (define soon. right.).
  8. A writer who wishes to be understood and perhaps quoted one day.
  9. Someone with socially acceptable fat (i.e. fat that can be disguised in constrictive clothing).
  10. A work in progress.
  11. Still questioning whether complete self-love and acceptance is possible.
  12. Self-judgmental to a fault. I will forgive you more quickly than I will forgive myself for the same offense.
  13. People-pleaser and hence carry some resentments, which gets in the way of #21.
  14. Attention seeker (The I-was-a-dork-when-I-was-a-kid-and-I-need-your-validation garden variety bullshit).
  15. Consumerist—I just fucking buy too much shit.                                                                                                                                                                                   
  16. Uncomfortable being naked, even when it’s just me and the bathroom mirror.
  17. Somewhat uneasy being in a swimsuit in public.
  18. Sometimes believe I am less attractive than thin women, and thererfore less worthy of happiness and love.
  19. Lover of my curly hair.
  20. Eclectic in style and personality.
  21. Seeking a spiritual path that works for me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  22. A pretty decent friend.  See #10.
  23. A pretty decent wife. See #6 and #10.
  24. A fat model breaking down barriers and taking names.
  25. Silly and goofy because it makes me feel good to make people laugh.
  26. Intelligent but not always wise.
Ciao for Niao,
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


Guest Blogger Virgie Tovar on Hot FAT SEX

I am so thrilled that Virgie Tovar has agreed to be a guest blogger.  She is an inspiration to me on so many levels, and helps me to accept and love my body just as it is.  She is brave and funny and beautiful and wears her fat as a political statement, while donning mid riff lacy baby dolls and eating yummy desserts.  I really need her to rub off on me.  Seriously.  Ok, without further delay, here’s her amazing shit!

Jiggle Paradise
By Virgie Tovar
I orgasm the hardest when my belly is out – wobbling, undulating, jiggling, pushing my big breasts closer to my double chin, when my lover is staring at it, mouth open, squeezing the pads of his fingers into the soft flesh of my thighs as he holds me open, kissing my calves, sucking my toes.
The first time this sort of thing happened I was seeing a guy I had been in grad school with. He was a barista, the lead singer of a metal band in Santa Cruz and had a pet tarantula named “Thing” or “Death” or something. I know. We bonded over shared reading material and he seduced me in a San Francisco coffee shop with his critique of colonialism.
He told me that the way I walked into his coffee shop with my short skirts and enormous pitch black sunglasses to get free iced mochas – with the obvious and total conviction that I was hot shit – got him hard. He begged me to let him eat my ass in the stock room amidst all the hermetically sealed stacks of cups and bound bales of earth conscious brown napkins.
I said yes.
I’m a 250 pound woman, 5’5’’ with long black wavy-curly hair, olive skin, almond-shaped eyes. I’m half Mexican and half Iranian. My skin is soft, my lips have a pronounced cupid’s bow, and my manicure and pedicure always match.
I always say that my first introduction to radicalism was through sex. After being brainwashed between the ages of five and 18 into believing that my body was inferior (and, most heart breaking of all, that it was unsexy!) because I’m fat, you can imagine my shock when nearly every man I expressed interest in sexually reciprocated the feeling.
And for a long, long time that was enough.
Even though I met lovers and boyfriends who wanted more and who told me I was more, what I wanted was for my body to be desired and wanted, to be drool-inspiring, to stop traffic, to take people’s breath away. All the things that I was taught mattered. All the things I thought would make me complete.
Even though I’m smart, creative and funny, for a long time – like many fat girls who are top heavy – I thought my tits were what mattered most about me, the best thing I had to offer the world. They are big and round with perfect cleavage and seem to tick off on all the major criteria for pornographic boner worthiness. When I was 19 my boyfriend said that he loved my tits, but that they weren’t the hottest thing about me. After a decade of thoroughly entrenched boob supremacy, I started to believe him.
One morning in May, after a nine-hour romp with this fireman I’d been seeing for three months, who only left my bed because his balls were too sore (to which I feebly offered “put some neosporin on them.”), I stood in the mirror looking at my chubby face, applying some bright blue eye shadow, and I finally really realized something: that the sex scarcity isn’t real! Sex will always be something I can get (because I’m a woman in a patriarchal culture! And, yes, because I’m a hot fat girl) –  what else do I want?
I discovered that I wanted the following:
            1.       I want to sleep with people who inspire me!
2.       I want amazing, amazing orgasms that make me cry and scream and have deep realizations about the planets and freedom and shit!
3.       I want to ask for more when I want more and not settle for anything less!
4.       I want to have political conversations that lead to sex that lead to political conversations that lead to dessert sharing!
5.       I want to say “no” to hot dudes just because there are tons more hot dudes where they came from!
6.       I want dresses that look like fruit and I want someone else to buy them for me!
So, when a friend recently professed his feelings of desire for me (in the form of free styling an hour long poem at 11pm), it was clear he wanted me for my politics. Yes, yes, my body too. He wanted to hug me and squeeze me and be inside me, but my body was a vehicle for a bigger emotional experience – the experience of sleeping with a woman who loved herself and knew she was awesome. And I was ok with that – in fact, I was fucking hot for that. I decided to say “no” – even though I wanted him too – because it made me feel powerful and it reminded me that this jelly isn’t for everyone who wants a taste.
But I did feel like getting some belly petting and so I let him do that.
I’ve learned that my jiggly belly likes to be out. I show her off in crop tops and bikinis, in bright pink body con dresses and cheetah print pencil skirts. My belly is soft and textured with rivuleted stretch marks. It pokes out of dresses and lacy baby dolls.
It represents my politics, my hotness, my entitlement to the kind of pleasure I want, my refusal to bow down, the tender parts of me, a sacred battleground where I fight for ownership of my existence.  
And for me that’s what sex is all about.
Learn more about Virgie and buy her awesome book here: 
  
Virgie Tovar, MA is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012). She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. After teaching “Female Sexuality” at the University of California at Berkeley, where she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2005, she went onto host “The Virgie Show” (CBS Radio) in San Francisco. She is certified as a sex educator and was voted Best Sex Writer by the Bay Area Guardian in 2008 for her first book. Virgie has been featured by MTV, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Bust Magazine, Jezebel, 7×7 Magazine, XOJane, and SF Weekly as well as on Women’s Entertainment Television and The Ricki Lake Show. She lives in San Francisco and offers workshops and lectures nationwide. Find her online at www.virgietovar.com

Plus Size Office Chic

Last week, or maybe it was 2 weeks ago–I can’t remember because I’m getting old–I promised I would feature my co-worker, whose style I very much admire. She has clued me into some really great plus size fashion sites that I had never heard of, or just hadn’t really explored quite yet.  My co-worker, we’ll call her M, is very chic and always has on something great. We talk shop in the afternoon (when most people are taking coffee breaks) to chat about what we’re wearing, why we like it, and most importantly, where it’s from.  It’s fun to have someone in the office who shares my passion for fashion and style, and doesn’t keep all the good info to herself!

M. workin’ it at the office!

Now of course you’re wondering where she got the fab gear. 
Don’t worry, all the info is below.
___________________________________________________________

GET THE LOOK!

ASOS CURVE Wrap Dress
Goes up to a size 22



Sahara Shoe from Shoe Dazzle
Up to size 11


These days dressing for work doesn’t have to be dull.  Spice things up with a dazzling shoe and wrap dress that does everything for your hot body.  Happy shopping!

Ciao for Niao,
Pia