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

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.

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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!!

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)

 

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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

Instagrtam Trolls Try to Shame the Body Positive Movement Without Success

I’m quite active on Instagram, and I love that we can use it as a tool for body positive activism.  Women donning crop tops and fatkinis make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  They are freeing themselves from our diet culture and thin-centric society by being bold and unabashed about their rolls, stretchmarks and cellulite!  I use emoticons and encouraging words to support them on their journeys toward self-love. 

And on occasion, I  post selfies in solidarity. 

Today I posted this picture of myself with the hashtag #bellyrealness created by Michelle of  Zaftig Times. 

And most of the comments were uplifting and full of love. But, the Instagram trolls always seem to  try and shame us out of our self-acceptance.  Below are some examples of the comments I’ve received.

 

So, how do we stay positive when folks like these want to shut us down?  You post this instead:

When I first starting getting these kinds of comments, I was so upset. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be so hurtful.  But I realized it’s not about me.  It’s about them. It’s about the self-hate they haven’t dealt with. It’s about having too much free time on their hands. It’s about hiding behind the veil of Instagram so they don’t have to actually dialogue with anyone. More often than not, I now have compassion for these broken souls. Most of them have only a handful of followers (who are equally lost) and I always report and block them because I don’t tolerate hate.

And then, I move on to bigger and better things. Pun intended.

In solidarity,
Pia

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

A Fucking Awesome Rant Is Not What This Is.

OK. I seriously need to commit waaayyyy more time to this.  Blogging, I mean. After a long day at work, what I often do is totally chill out.  A nice dinner with the hubby followed by watching TV or reading books together (or separately), stretching, more reading, and to bed. It’s a routine.  I’m used to it.  I like, it even.

The problem with this precious routine is that it gets in the way of this writing thing that I’m supposed to do. (Sigh).

How can a writer exist without writing?  It’s like a light bulb with no filament.   It don’t work.

So, a new habit is in much needed order.  And I’m gonna need your help.

I enjoy having some accountability in my life (in small doses or never), and I’ve come to the conclusion that writing requires a bit o that.  Right?

I am committing to one blog per week.  I know that may not seem like much to the blogger-extraordinaire who shits out four posts a week. But some of us are a bit, well, challenged (read lazy).

You should know that I’m probably going to write about lots of different shit.  You know, feminism, pussies, curly hair, misogyny, spirituality, my period, cultural appropriation, gluten free coconut donuts, my obsession with style, and how I manage to stay so fat and cute. #MyFatIsCute

   
Me want now.
A Vagina Apple. I’ve never had one.

And so, it is with substantial curly hair, a mega-watt smile and sorta side-eye, that I ask you to check me. If you are one of the five people who read my blog, and don’t see a witty post in more than seven days, then I authorize you to message me and say, “Get yo shit together, gurl!”  And I will not cut you. That is my solemn promise.

I won’t really cut you. I just liked this meme.

I’m done.  I told you this was not going to be fucking awesome.

Ciao for niao,
Pia

8 Reasons I Loved The Body Love Conference

This first weekend of April I was in Tucson, presenting at the first ever annual Body Love Conference, conceived by Jes Baker of The Militant Baker, and executed by dozens of dedicated volunteers and enthusiastic speakers. For those of you who don’t know about this epic event, it was a one-day conference featuring some of the biggest names in body positive movement. I am still reeling from the ridiculous amount of positivity, strength and sisterhood that took place in such a short time span.



There are 8 reasons why I loved the Body Love Conference:

1.  It reinforced what I already knew — that I have a gift for connecting with people through my unique humor and honesty. My talk was entitled “Expanding Definitions of Beauty: Redefining the Thin White Ideal.” While I was giving my presentation I felt the audience’s energy, their spirits enthusiastic and thirsty for inspiration. Having women come up to me after my presentation and throughout the day, telling me that I impacted them deeply with my talk, was the best gift I could have asked for. When we are in alignment with the Universe and do what we are called to do, it isn’t work, it’s magic! You can view my rousing presentation here.

My presentation with some wonderful women present

2.  It was the biggest display of mutual respect, uplifting messages and sense of connection with women that I have ever felt. Four hundred people (mostly women and a few men) came from as far as Vienna, Austria to participate in what was an epic event.The loads of volunteers that worked to make this event happen were an integral part of what made the conference such a positive environment. They seriously kicked ass!


 With my new pal Michelle 
  
              With the awesome volunteers
3.  I got to meet fellow body loving activists in person who I only previously knew through social media. I can’t tell you how surreal it is to embrace women I only ever communicated with on Instagram and Facebook. Finally we were face to face, and we didn’t need emoticons to express ourselves. Our smiles were real, and the powerful high-fives echoed in the halls.
Blogger Jamie West and I
4.  I got to meet and hug the incomparable Jes Baker. This was one of those moments I will never forget.  In my head, Jes had a sweet, not quite high-pitched voice. So when she embraced me enthusiastically and kissed me on the cheek, and said “Yes. This is so gooood,” in the sexiest Kathleen Turner voice ever, I kinda lost it. I could feel strength come through her words, and was willing to do whatever she asked of me.  It was that powerful. Seriously. I wish you’d been there.

Jes and I. Aren’t we cute?

5.  I witnessed the powerful story of Tess Munster during her very moving keynote address. The plus size model raised the roof as she recounted her volatile upbringing in Mississippi with vulnerability and humor.  She paid homage to her mother — her biggest role model — who Skyped in to to hear her daughter speak.  She made us all cry and cheer and believe that anything is possible! I was already a big fan of Tess, but to hear her story of survival and overcoming great odds really made me fall in love with her. She is a true asset to the body positive movement.
Tess doin’ her thing 

6.  There was a nice representation of women of color presenters, speaking on various topics. The conversation around body image has largely been led by White cisgender women.  So it was a very pleasant surprise to be in good company with Sonya Renee Taylor and Kymberly Nichole among others. I was able to attend both their sessions and was psyched at the turnout for each.  They were able to bring their unique activism to the changing landscape of the body positivity movement. I hope next year’s conference will include more women of color, including Latinas and Asians.

From left to right: Sonya Renee, Kymberly Nichole, Me

7.  I was introduced to Tucson, a city that surprised me with it’s cultural diversity, community oriented population and delicious food. Everywhere I went, folks were friendly and laid back.  I even got to enjoy drinks and super yummy pork tacos at the famous Hotel Congress, with its rustic interior and old-timey charm.  I hope to get back there again before too long.

The bar at the Hotel Congress

8. I was so lucky to have met the other amazing women who presented at the conference. We shared our stories with one another, without judgment or fear. There was an instant bond among us despite the fact that we’d only spent two days together. But it was real. We exchanged ideas and hugs in equal measure, so happy to be a part of the grassroots movement we’ve all helped to cultivate.

Photographer Liora K. introducing me to Photographer Jade Beall


I am forever grateful to Jes Baker for bringing together women of different ages, races, abilities, genders, occupations and walks of life, who shared a common goal: to love and accept themselves fully. The bonding that took place last weekend was easy and fluid. The genuine smiles on the faces of the attendees were an invitation to chat and connect. Every single person I met had a unique story, a perspective to share or advice to offer. Be sure to check out the full list of speakers and their contact info here.

My biggest take away can best be summed up in the photo below.

YES WE ARE.

In solidarity,
Pia