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.

 

Fat, Black, Muslim, and Stylish as Hell: An Interview with Fashion Blogger Leah Vernon

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Photo by Reel Clever Films

I discovered Leah Vernon’s Instagram a few weeks ago and was wowed by her style. Her vibrant and bold approach to fashion struck a chord with me immediately. She is a fat, Black, Muslim woman with a strong voice in a society obsessed with thinness, whiteness, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Talk about facing multiple forms of oppression! Vernon is always covered from head to toe, as required by her religion. She wears a hijab daily, which she sometimes substitutes for a fabulous head wrap or turban. But that doesn’t stop her from experimenting with fashion. I adore her creativity and personal style. The truth is, this fashion femme fatale just can’t be ignored!

Leah is the creator behind the blogs Beauty and the Muse and LeahVDaily. She is a 20-something style/fashion blogger, plus model, freelance writer, novelist, and body-positive activist from Detroit. She was inspired to start blogging in 2013 because there wasn’t enough diverse representation of real beauty in the media. Her goals are to continue to spread style and self-love to underrepresented groups, and to spark a fashion revolution!

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Photo by Remy Roman

MFC: When and why did you start blogging? What inspired the name Beauty and the Muse?

LV: I started blogging in the early 2000’s, three separate times actually, and didn’t know what I was doing and failed miserably. Haha. On the fourth try, I started blogging in 2013. My friends had forced me to create an Instagram account and after telling them ‘hell nah’, I finally caved in. I was feeling depressed because I had injured myself pretty badly at work. The sun was shining through my window when I woke up one day. I began scrolling through my IG timeline and saw Essie Golden looking bad as fuck in an army fatigue inspired getup. At that moment, I was like I can do that, too. I wanna slay!

In the next moment, the name Beauty and the Muse came out of nowhere. “That’s my blog name,” I said to myself. In my world, I have a split personality. There’s the beauty part, where it’s slayage and Gaga glam all the time. Then there’s the muse part, where I’m quiet, thoughtful, educated, and always seeking some answer to the world’s secrets.

Basically, I started blogging because I needed a creative outlet to express myself. As a fat, Black, Muslim woman, we are often times hidden from mainstream media and even within our very communities. I was tired of being overlooked and stuffed into a square. So, I made a conscious decision to bust out.

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Photo by Reel Clever Films

MFC: Do you consider yourself a feminist? How does that tie into your religious beliefs, if at all?

LV: Interesting question. I’m not going to lie. Over the past few years my views of feminism have changed greatly. At first, I didn’t get it. I thought that all feminism equated to was women having the right to show off their boobs in public and be sexually free. But as I started to actually learn and meet other feminists in real life, my views started to sway.

At this moment, I think that feminism is whatever a woman wants it to be, but it’s mainly compromised of wanting and deserving equality and inclusion. And sometimes feminism is in the eye of the beholder when we start getting down to the smaller details. It’d be a little different fundamentally from an atheist feminist point of view versus a Muslim or a Hindu feminist point of view. I don’t claim to be a ‘feminist’. But if wanting inclusion across the board equates to being one, then yes, I am. Lol.

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MFC: Do you think feminism and fashion can exist simultaneously?

LV: I’m a fat, Black , Muslim from Detroit who models… Anything is possible. Haha. I feel like in this time and age fashion is used to express so many different movements. So feminism and fashion can exist. Religion and fashion can exist. Culture and fashion can exist.

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Photo by Brooklyn Cashmere

MFC: You have great style, and you take big risks. Do you ever feel limited knowing that you need to cover your body? And is that challenging during the hot summer months?

LV: When I was younger and didn’t know myself or my fashion capabilities, I used to think that covering my body was an issue. That I could never mix the two: fashionable and covered! They didn’t show that in the media. If I wasn’t out there wearing booty shorts, then I could never be confident and cute.

When you truly start to be comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing in life, and not caring what others think, things become a lot easier. When I started being creative with my head scarves/turbans and my makeup and my ridiculous outfits, I had people from all walks of life coming up to me, a fat Muslim, asking me how they can do it, too. So, now, I’m never limited. When you have true style and imagination, nothing can limit you. Nothing.

And as for dressing in the summer for a Muslim girl, you get used to the heat. But you dress accordingly. Lighter fabrics and less layering.

MFC: What does body positivity mean to you as a Black, Muslim woman of size?

LV: I rep the body positivity movement because to me, it means inclusion of all sized bodies regardless of whether they are naked, covered, lumpy, thin, pale, or Black. It means freedom to do what you want, when you want to do it, unapologetically.

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MFC: What do you want the people who are reading this right now to know about you?

LV: I want the readers to stop being afraid of failure, of looking stupid in front of people who really don’t matter, of speaking out on human injustices. I want them to wear what they feel like with confidence and poise. I want them to embrace their perfections as well as their imperfections  — inside and out. I want them to stop believing what the media says or shows all the time, because most of the time its skewed.

MFC: Where can we find you on social media/web?

http://www.beautyandthemuse.net
FB: http://www.facebook.com/Beautyandthemuse
Youtube: Leahvdaily
IG: @Lvernon2000 (www.instagram.com/Lvernon2000)
Email: Lvernon20@yahoo.com

 

Thank you, Leah. You are a body-positive Queen, who slays and slays and slays!

xo

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Things You Should Know and Other Stuff, Too

I’ve read some really good articles this week and thought I’d share with you those really resonated with me. As always, I want to hear your thoughts!

Catching Up With Gloria Lucas and Nalgona Positivity Pride    By NATALIE MISCOLTA-CAMERON

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Nalgona Positivity Pride is a community-based effort to increase body positivity in the Xicana/Brown*/Indigenous community. Started in Los Angeles in 2014 by Gloria Lucas, the organization relies on community outreach, support groups, social media, and even an Etsy store to spread its message.

I recently sat down with Gloria for a Q&A to find out more about NPP and the person behind it.

You’re personally recovering from an eating disorder. Can you talk a little bit about this?

I recall secretly hiding food, sneaking to the kitchen in the middle of the night and overeating as young as 11 years old. I started inducing purging in my late teens.

It took me some time to find out why I had an eating disorder (ED). Most of the current information that explains the causes of eating disorders never mentioned racism and classism, so I didn’t feel like those theories didn’t quite fit me. It was not until I read up on historical trauma that I realized that my unhealthy relationship with food is a deeper issue caused by colonialism, poverty, systemic racism, and cultural sexism. Historical trauma is a theory by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart which explains trauma as a transgenerational occurrence. In other words… READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

 


Gabourey Sidibe Has the perfect Response to Love Scene Fat-Shamers      By ZEBA BLAY

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 05: Actress Gabourey Sidibe attends the Screen Actors Guild Foundation 30th Anniversary Celebration at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on November 5, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

On Wednesday night, the writers of “Empire” made a bold move when they included a scene of Gabourey Sidibe’s character Becky having sex with her boyfriend, MC J Poppa. The scene was refreshing because it reminded us that, yes, fat women like and have sex, and it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Unfortunately, the scene generated a few mean-spirited memes fat-shaming the actress. But, like the queen she is, the 32-year-old actress isn’t bothered.

In a blog post for EW published on Thursday, Sidibe wrote: “I, a plus sized, dark-skinned woman, had a love scene on primetime television. I had the most fun ever filming that scene even though I was nervous. But I felt sexy and beautiful and I felt like…” READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

 


Looking Back: Our Fave Ashley Nell Tipton Instagram Moments Before Project Runway     By MARCY CRUZ

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Project Runway Season 14 winner Ashley Nell Tipton may be new to the mainstream fashion industry with her appearance on the show but to the plus size community, she is already well known as an amazing designer who creates clothing for women in sizes 1X to 6X. While many plus size designers only stop at a 3X, Ashley is one of those designers who truly embraces women of all sizes.

Many of us have loved Ashley before Project Runway and it is exciting to see her progress on the show and in her career. In honor of her win, we took a look back and here’s our favorite Instagram moments from… READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.


I hope you enjoyed my picks. I really wanted to highlight all the awesome things that fat women everywhere are doing. They are healing, they are thriving, they are succeeding!

xo

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired. It’s Time for a Re-Evolution!

I like bodies.

I think bodies are marvelous.

I love their curious creases and billowing bellies.

I adore their freckles, their moles, their rad wrinkles.

I worship their lovely lumps and hefty humps.

I revel in their sacredness.

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photo by Substantia Jones (Adipositivity)

 

adipositivity

I am so fucking committed to loving the shit out of myself.

I’ve been to the mountaintop and we are in the midst of a re-evolution. And by that I mean change is coming. A strong wind is picking up speed and new ideas are ripe for implementation.

It's time for aRE-EVOLUTION

I believe we are constantly evolving, and that important movements get impeded by greed and the desire to be the in the limelight. But now we are in a time of recognizing that the isms of our society must be addressed in a more holistic and inclusive way. No more 2nd wave feminism that excludes women of color. No more vilifying fat bodies. No more leaving oppressed peoples out of the conversation.

I adore these drawings by Carol Rosetti.

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Carol-Rossetti-Joanna          9ccbb9f2d1e041a8a5177dd35b6d3b42

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The universe must evolve beyond stigma and hate. It must evolve past judgment and stereotyping.

Women are prepared to dismantle the patriarchy and all its hideous cousins — misogyny, racism, homophobia, and ableism.

Fat folks are taking back the “F” word, and refashioning in it into a big “FUCK YOU” needlepoint doily for the dieting society.

fuck-you

So you see, it’s inevitable. We’ve tried the white, male, cisgender, abled way of doing things for more centuries than I care to count. And it doesn’t work. Well, it works for them. But it sure as fuck doesn’t work for us.

Now is the time for female led, POC (people of color) led, LGBTQ led, and differently abled led, social movements. We must take up space instead of asking for permission.

The oppressed must stand in solidarity if we are ever going to create sustainable social change. And that happens through a sincere desire to learn from one another, and an awareness of our intersectional privilege. And it also requires action.

Sitting on your sofa, watching reality television ain’t gonna change the world.

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I think my colleagues and I are doing a decent job of being inclusive in our activism. It’s not perfect — though it’s a good start. But we need to step up our game. 

When we are inclusive in our activism, we lift everyone up. And that’s the fucking point.

We will encounter struggle and frustration for sure. And the road will be long. But can we at least commit to being collaborative and radical in our approach?

I can.

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?

I hope to see you on the road to #ReEvolution!

xo

Working Braless Whilst Vibing to Ravi Shankar is Just How I Roll

It’s how I like to work.  I write best when I’m super relaxed and letting the rest of the world become  a distant, calming buzz in the background. I hate to be bound up and tight. I put on my favorite cotton caftan and trod barefoot to my home office retreat, where I am beckoned by my ASUS to let my long fingers glide along the dusty keyboard until they are done.

While lying on my chiropractor’s table today, I had time to think about blog post ideas.  If only I’d written them down. 

I guess I’ll just have to wing this one.

Um….

Let’s see.  Well, I feel really proud of all the inner work I’ve done toward healing my relationship with my body. It is a commitment every single day. But, I find it completely unavoidable to be reminded that my fat body type is the butt of stupid sitcom punchlines and the worst nightmare of every human in Los Angeles, including me (sometimes).

I’m tired, ya’ll.

I am a woman. I am a woman of color. I am a fat woman of color.  I am living in a city where billboards donning, thin, white women with perky tits and quarter size nipples try to entice me into getting the fat sucked out of my ass for just $99 down.  It’s fucking tempting.

As some of you know, I had liposuction when I was 23.  I was about the same size as I am today (230 pounds and a size 18), and I hated myself something serious.  I desperately believed, with my early 20’s, brainwashed, depressed, confused heart, that my life was going to be beyond my wildest dreams if I could just be thin. So, 11 pounds of fat sucked out of my thighs, butt and stomach later, I was ready to see my name up in lights.

It did’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped. It’s kind of a long story that I’ll have to share another time. I promise.

My point is that I have plenty of white patriarchal forces that are trying to inhibit my calling as an activist and a writer who won’t obey.  But I’m like, fuck the patriarchy.  Cuz I’m a badass mixed fat bitch who takes up space when she dares to, and  is working on not apologizing for it.

So, the other day, when I was scolded by a male co-worker/pal for apologizing way too much in a particular situation, I was mortified.  It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  Proud, fat, feminist Pia? Apologizing too much?  Shit balls.

It took me some quiet reflective time to really think about what had transpired.  Maybe I wasn’t such a badass. Perhaps I was a disappointment to my fellow feministas. How could I, a self-proclaimed taker-up of space, find myself in such a quandary.

Or, maybe I was being a little harsh with myself. Probably. Yes. Pretty sure. Yeah. I think.

I am not Audre Lorde.  Not even Audre Lorde was Audre Lorde.  I mean, she was fuckin’ awesome, but I’m guessing she had her bad days too.

I find it very hard to break a pattern that I’ve been married to for most of my life. Especially when that pattern is encouraged in many areas of my life. And while I’m pleased I can identify the dirty bugger, self-awareness isn’t the only step in my quest to become free from the mental slavery to perfectionism and people-pleasing. I need to practice.  I have to try things that feel uncomfortable in order for them to become second nature. I have decided that my apologizing episode only proves that I’m human and that there is always room for improvement.

Today, on my way to the chiropractor’s office, I held my head up high as I walked alongside the bustling street with the kind of confidence and fearlessness that encourages me to keep going on this healing adventure. Some days I feel fucking great, and other days are shit.  But I press on, grateful for the path that my sisters have paved. Thank you Audre, Gloria, Rosa, Sojourner, Harriet, Frida, Bell, Hillary and Michelle.

In solidarity,
Pia