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.

 

3 Ways to Deal with the Fat & Body Shamers in Your Family Right Now!

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Most of you reading this right now have been body-shamed at some point in your life. It was likely a relative who first made you feel like shit about your body. The first person who body-shamed me was my father. At age 14, standing 5′-7″ tall and weighing 145 pounds, he thought I needed to go on a diet. And it hurt like hell.

I don’t think most of our family members intend to hurt us with their opinions, but it stings like a motherfucker anyway. And unless you have the unusually high self-esteem of say, Donald Trump, it’s likely to leave an impression on you. In my case, the impression was felt for the better part of 20 years.

Up until the last few years, any comments about my weight from my family cut me deeply. I didn’t understand why my body needed policing, regardless of whether it was thin or fat. I just wanted to be left alone — to just be in my body without having to account for my worth based on its size.

We wrongly believe that pointing out so-called imperfections and flaws in others will somehow distract from our own shortcomings. But that’s a lie. The only thing it does is magnify our assholeness.

Today, I am mostly free from the abuse of body-shaming from my family. But it took learning some lessons before I could stand up for myself and realize that I had a lot more control over the situation than I realized. Here are three ways that I’ve found helpful to get through the pain of body-shaming from relatives and friends:

1

I know it seems counter intuitive, but having compassion for your body-shamer is very healing. It’s not about you. It’s about them. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the damn truth. After having observed the way my parents had fat-shamed me and others over the years, it occurred to me that they had their own set of insecurities which plagued them. Their insults were just a reflexive response to hating some part about themselves. We’ve all read stories about how a bully was once the object of a bullier. Well, same idea here.

We are exposed to so much pain and judgement in this world. None of us are free from it. We wrongly believe that pointing out so-called imperfections and flaws in others will somehow distract from our own shortcomings. But that’s a lie. The only thing it does is magnify our assholeness.  Yes, I just invented that word. You’re welcome.

When we realize that negative comments are really reflections of how others feel about themselves, it easier to forgive and let go. Don’t get me wrong. It takes a lot of practice. But it does work.

*Side note: they do still fat shame other people, but I call it out when they do it every time!

2

Please stop expecting other people to change. You can’t. You can only change yourself. Once I decided that I was done with dieting and that I was comfortable with the way I looked, the comments completely stopped. I literally stood with my head held high. I wore what wanted and ate whatever I wanted in front of whoever was there. I am still in awe of how powerful self-love is. When we stop giving away our power, life is so much better.

12-Step programs and therapy  were instrumental in helping me to get to this point. For so long I hoped my parents would change their tune and simply stop commenting on my body. But this misguided hope was the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Probably not gonna happen in this lifetime. So stop. Right now! Stop it!!!

Instead, I want you to focus on finding ways to love your body more. If you’re reading this, chances are you are on social media and have access to a myriad of resources that DO celebrate your body. Just search for hashtags like #iamenough#bodypositive, and #effyourbeautystandards,  to fill your feed with inspiring images. It really does work!

3Be willing to create boundaries. You have the right to choose not to be around people who make you feel bad about yourself. And you also don’t need to explain your decision. Self-care and self-preservation are your God(ess) given right. So claim it!

You can still love your family and choose not to be around them. They might not understand. They might get angry. But would you rather be angry, or let them be angry? I know what I would do. And if they do confront you about your absence, it’s okay to tell the truth. Again, they may not get it. In fact, they may get defensive (my family certainly does) Simply go back to tips #1 and #2: have compassion and don’t expect them to behave differently.

And then get the hell out! LOL

Look, I don’t have all the answers. All I can do is share what has worked for me. I hope these tips are useful and that you find more ways to release yourself from the grip of the body-shamers in your life. Until then, I wish you self-love and light!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

#IAmEnough©: Sharing my Path to Self-Acceptance on Good Morning America

GMA2This past Tuesday I was incredibly blessed to have been interviewed alongside my sister on America’s favorite morning show. Good Morning America  produced a great segment in which I shared my journey toward self-acceptance, and how it contrasts with my sister’s path. We both found self-love in very different ways. Hers was a diet and fitness journey. The strict diets never made me feel good, so I abandoned them years ago. My journey has been about embracing my large body and recognizing the beauty and strength I have no matter my size. I’m happy to know that there are many different paths to freedom and living your truth.

On Tuesday morning, at 8:45am, I stood in Times Square in polka dot yoga pants and a clingy “Ohmazing” tank from Lineage Wear (thank you so much Katie!) – my thunder thighs, voluptuous arms, and visible belly outline on display for the world to see. And I felt so damn good! (P.S. I’m at my heaviest weight ever, and have never felt more free.) I was claiming my space unapologetically as a fat, brown, afro-wearing woman. Describing it in words simply doesn’t do it justice. Let’s just say it was a #BlackGirlMagic moment!

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As I stood soaking up the energy of NYC (a.k.a. the center of the universe) surrounded by soaring skyscrapers, blinking billboards and a curious crowd, I took a few moments to let the reality of the experience set in. Here I am, 40 years old, finally living my dreams, and in a visibly fat body. Yes, it is possible!

You guys know I come from a history of self-hate and insecurity. So, to be feeling amazing in my skin with the world watching was truly one of the best experiences of my life. I hope it has helped to set others free – that has been my goal all along.

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For nearly six years I’ve been writing about my tumultuous journey toward accepting my body and realizing how amazing it is. I’ve come to understand that my body tells the story of so many women and men who inhabit large bodies but have felt unseen and unworthy. I know now that my voice is my gift. And the Universe needs all of us to lean into who we really are.  Were it not for my years of dieting and self-loathing, I would not be who I am today. And who I am today is a strong, smart, confident, mixed fat chick, with a talent for inspiring others. I am joyful! And as far as I’ve come, I still have so much more to learn and experience. So bring it, Universe!

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Before the live segment in Times Square we did a Facebook Live event where we talked to  panel of women on what body positivity meant us. Among the panelists were fellow body positive activists Alysse D’Alessandro and Essie Golden, who represented beautifully on the show. Y’all are awesome! I also met other wonderful women, including Dana Suchow who is a body-posi tiger!

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I have so many people to thank, beginning with my sister Mara Schiavocampo, whose idea it was to pitch the segment to GMA. I also want to give a big shout out to producers Danielle and Alison – thank you for allowing me to show the world who I am and how body positivity has transformed my life. You are both class acts! And I can’t forget hair and makeup mavens Juanita and Lisa, who hooked me up and with whom I had a wonderful connection.

Until next time, remember #iamenough ©.

xo

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!

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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.

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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

How the Body Positive Movement Unintentionally Shames People Who Choose to Lose Weight

I began my journey to body positivity (BP) and self-acceptance almost six years ago. It’s been a wild ride, with lots of bumps and bruises. But mostly it’s been an amazing experience resulting in the formation of a wonderful community of advocates and friends. And I’m proud to say that I’ve allowed my views to change and grow as I’ve learned more about inclusivity and the importance of hearing one another with an open heart and mind.

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Admittedly, I’ve also witnessed and been a part of shaming people in the BP community who openly express their desire to lose weight. The pervading thought seems to be that BP folks who want to lose weight are inherently self-hating and thus negate all the strides the movement has made to be seen and heard. That, and we tend to internalize the choices of others as an attack on us. I get that the space we’ve created is so special and hard-won, that we’ve become very protective of it. But we must remember that this movement is based on the idea that ALL bodies are GOOD bodies. The BP movement is about learning to love and accept our bodies and those of others without judgment. So, if we shun people who make a personal decision to lose weight (for whatever reason), then we are hypocrites. Me included.

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I know plenty of women who have learned to love themselves because of the movement, and still want to lose weight and do what feels right for their bodies — and it’s OK!  I’m a firm believer in health being something you define for yourself. As I’ve said before, there are people who are fat and healthy, and fat and unhealthy. The same goes for thin people. So if you are fat (or thin), and you don’t feel good in your body, then do whatever you need to do to feel good. Don’t let anyone, not even the BP movement, shame you into staying where you don’t want to be. By the same token, abstain from judging those folks who choose not to lose weight.

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I’m bringing this divisive topic up because I’ve had conversations with many women in the movement who are expressing a desire to lose weight for their own personal reasons, but feel afraid to share it for fear of banishment from a movement that purports to be inclusive.

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Let me remind you that people have all sorts of reasons for why they want to lose weight, and frankly, it’s their business. Hell, I’m thinking about losing weight because my plantar fascitis is getting increasingly worse (I’ve tried everything, including orthotics and special shoes, but to no avail). And 30 pounds ago, I didn’t experience this problem (for someone who loves to dance, it’s a real bummer). Let me also say that at my current weight I can do yoga,  have great cholesterol levels, and my blood pressure is normal. So yes, I have health in many areas, but not in others (my feet hurt!!!). And I want to feel fully vibrant: physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s my God-given right, and it’s no ones’ business but my own.

Side note: For those of you who do want to lose weight, I hope you’ll do it sanely and healthily.

My ultimate desire is that the body-positivity movement embrace all forms of self-love and wellness. It may look different for each of us, but at the end of the day, all most of us really want is to feel our best and to be accepted without fear of judgement. Your thin body is no better than mine. My fat body is not more worthy than yours. And my desire to lose a few pounds so I can dance without achy feet is no reflection of your personal choices.

Patti-Digh

Being inclusive can only strengthen our cause. So, can we just open our hearts and mind a little more and make space for everyone to feel supported and seen? I sure hope so.

xo