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

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

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

Black & White: The Exociticization of Mixed Race Women in Western Culture

As published in Volup2 Magazine, April 2015

dont_touch_my_hair_by_curlsclub-d77uqlcHas a White woman ever touched your hair without permission? It happens to me more often than not. They want to know, “Is it real? Is that all your hair?” Yes, and please stop petting me like an exotic animal. “Ohhh, mixed people are the most beautiful. Don’t you think?” No. I don’t. I think beauty is a social construct. I actually don’t say that, but I sure as hell am thinking it. The thing is, I’m being paid a compliment, and the person paying the compliment doesn’t know they are fetishizing me. But how do you explain to someone who subscribes to mainstream ideals of beauty, all the racialized nuances of what they are saying?

The mulatta has historically been the subject of much fascination for centuries. The iconic female figure of racial ambiguity has represented the exotic “Other” – an object of male fantasy in which mixed race women are reduced to their body parts. And the danger in exoticizing us, is that we are reduced to objects to be admired, or even conquered. It is in this way we dehumanize and further oppress mixed race folks, which only adds to the complexities of racism. All women of color have been exoticized and fetishized in various ways, but this story is mine, and so what you read below does not exclude others from having had similar experiences.

pia

I am half Black and half Italian. My honey-colored skin and curly hair give me a certain kind of privilege in the world. I am perceived as being more attractive than my darker sisters because our society has engrained in us the insufferable idea that lighter is beautiful, and somehow more valuable. This prevailing hegemonic cultural attitude has perpetuated competition amongst Black women for centuries, with dark skinned women getting the short end of stick. I have been praised, exalted, and envied for something I was born with, rather than something I earned, and I struggle with it daily.

My mixed race identity has always been a bit complicated. Having been called an Oreo by Black classmates in grade school made me insecure. I struggled with what it meant to be described as Black on the outside and White on the inside. I quickly discovered that I was perceived as thinking I was better than they were because I talked like a White girl, and that made me the enemy. My acute sensitivity and inherent shyness were no help to me. I was not quite sure where I fit in.

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As a college student I tried to fit in with my Black peers, who I wanted to connect with, especially living on a small, mostly White campus. And I began to make friends until Black guys started asking me out instead of my dark skinned sisters. And I was not any smarter or more charming than my counterparts. Rest assured, I was made to feel special because of my light skin and “good hair.” I felt a lot of guilt about this, but also reveled in having the male attention I’d been denied as an awkward high-school student. I yearned for those friendships, but valued being attractive to men much more at that time in my life. And I didn’t fully understand the implications of my choice until later in life.

I remained angry and confused about why I held privilege over women with darker skin and kinkier hair than mine. And despite the fact that I am half Black, to voice my frustration to Black women who were darker than I, felt dangerous and patronizing. I feared sounding like a White person who says, “I have lots of Black friends!” Which of course, is incredibly racist, because it implies that someone who has tremendous privilege (White people) can understand the oppression of others (people of color). And they never will. Just as I will never know what it’s like to live in a world that sees dark skin and kinky hair as third rate – undesirable even.

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And so when people pay me a compliment that alludes to my mixed race, I am polite, but indifferent. Because what they are really saying is that I’m beautiful because I’m just different enough. I’m Other. Though it may not be intentional, this type of fetishizing feeds into racism by reinforcing western beauty ideals that say to be too brown is overly exotic, and to be too pale isn’t exotic enough. And thus I am left with the feeling that I am somehow racially superior in many ways, yet I belong nowhere. I have been systematically reduced to an object of societal fascination.

I have also had the experience of White folks not seeing me as a Black woman. They have “otherized” me, which somehow gives them license to test out their racist theories about people of color on me. I am often shocked at how bold they are. It’s as though my light skin blinds them to the fact that I am a woman of color who has experienced oppression. And so it falls upon me to school them. To tell them that I am a Black woman – that Black women are as diverse in skin color as we are in culture, and that all of us are valuable.

Recently a co-worker made a comment about how nice my skin is. She asked what I do to take care of it. I told her, and no sooner did another co-worker come up and say, “It’s that Italian genetics working for you.” I said, “Actually it’s my African genetics. Haven’t you ever heard the saying good black don’t crack?” I said it jokingly, but really I meant it. My point is that people are so reluctant to ascribe any value or beauty to my Black side that I have to check them. It’s as though being half Italian (White) has won me a VIP pass. And I love my Italian culture very deeply. But it doesn’t require defending.

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The problem is that many folks are not as interested in celebrating my Black side. They don’t want to know that my mother is a Ph.D. and tenured professor who grew up in the projects of Boston, being called Black and ugly. They are not interested in knowing how intentional she was about making sure I understood the implications of the unearned privilege I was born with as light-skinned child in a highly-educated, middle-class family. They do not understand how I struggled to find my identity in a culture that demands we choose sides. I’m lucky. I’m not too brown and not too white. I’m just right. I’m exotic.

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But, who am I really? I’m the daughter of a socially conscious interracial couple who have been married 43 years. I’m a writer, a feminist, and an activist. At age 39, I’ve settled into a life that includes a progressive White husband from South Dakota, and a diverse group of friends who are committed to having discussions about race, oppression, and sexism. I am a lover of food—everything from the collard greens and spaghetti I grew up eating, to the tasty concoctions I prepare in my South Los Angeles kitchen. Phrases like, “Chile, please” and “Andiamo,–dai!” roll off my tongue in equal measure. I have found peace and purpose in my life as a Black woman who speaks Italian, wears her hair natural, and challenges the status quo. I have the kind of balance that I’ve always wanted, finding strength in my mixed heritage, and making sure to use my privilege to highlight injustice in the world. I’m not an object after all. I’m just one human being trying to make a difference.

xo