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

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

Baring It All. Sort Of.

I have had a fear of being seen in a swimsuit for many years.  I’ve heard people say FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.   Like a lot of women, I hoped for many years that I would have a “perfect” body that would be bikini worthy and the envy of supermodels everywhere.  Yes, I often live in fantasy.  Don’t judge me.  In my head being thin meant being acceptable and worthy.  I’ve shared candidly about that on my website, and accept that I’m on a journey of self-acceptance about my body, who I am, my passions and my aspirations.  If I were “perfect” then there would be nothing to strive for, and that makes Pia a dull girl.  But I digress. 
YOU ARE WORTHY!

Last week, my modeling agencyasked me to send them some photos of me in swimwear for a job.  My reply was “I’m not sure I’m swimsuit ready.  But I’ll send you something anyway.”  Shit! Was I ready for the world (I mean my agent) to see my thighs in all their imperfect glory? Would she balk at my fleshy arms? “You can’t do this,” my loud Fear said.  But there was another voice underneath it.  A gentler, kinder more Loving voice that said, “Why not, Pia?  Isn’t it time to walk the walk?”  I’d forgotten about my desire to have integrity.  Damn that conscience of mine!  I realized that this was an opportunity to overcome the anxiety of my projected judgment of others about my body.  I was still scared shitless.  But I did it anyway.

I sprang into action and called my dear friend and stylist extraordinaire, Melinda Alexander, of Jill of All Trades to get me ready for the pictures.  She pulled some great swimsuits for me, some of which I were sure were going to make me want to disappear into exile.  But she just kept telling me how amazing I looked.  Of course what I heard was a good friend trying to make me feel better.  But when I finally garnered the courage to look in the mirror, I was completely amazed!  I was in awe at the sexy, confident woman staring back at me.  Yes, my thighs were in full view for the world to see. My arms were broad wings, resplendent and ready for flight! I felt so beautiful.  I accepted what I saw in the mirror and didn’t judge it.  What I saw reflected was strength, grace, courage and unique beauty. We took loads of photos and I embraced my body in a way I never had before.  I was so moved by the experience that I knew it would be the subject of my next blog post.

What I learned about myself in this process is that I’m far braverthan I give myself credit for.  I learned that having big thighs is not a crime against humanity.  And I gained insight into how limiting fear can be in all areas of my life.   If you are in fear about something, I recommend walking through it.  It will empower you beyond measure. Go forth and conquer!