My Interview with Chenese Lewis

I met Chenese Lewis about a month ago at the POSH LA fashion event in Los Angeles.  I knew who she was immediately–who doesn’t? I passed her in the hallway just outside the main room.  She smiled at me and said, “I know you!  You’re a blogger right?  It’s so nice to finally meet you.” Then she gave a me big hug.   I was astounded she knew who I was and even more surprised at her genuine positivity.  I emailed her few weeks later to ask her for an interview, and she obliged. What I learned is that Ms. Lewis is a no nonsense southern belle with tons of ambition, a big message and an even bigger heart.  

ME:  You recently celebrated 5 years on the air with Plus Model Radio. How did the idea come about–how did it all start?  


CL:  Well I moved to LA to pursue a career in modeling and acting. But a couple of years after I got out here, somebody told me about hosting classes and maybe that was something I was interested in getting into to add to what I was already doing.  So I went to the class and I loved it and I was great at it.  And I was just looking for a way to practice my skills and find a platform for myself.  So I approached Maddy with Plus Model Magazine. I was already part of the magazine as the empowerment editor.  It was an easy sell.  They said they had been thinking about that since podcasts were getting more and more popular. They just didn’t know who was a going to do it. The very first episode had over a thousand listeners. So it was successful from day one.

ME:  That’s pretty amazing! On that note, what’s been your favorite interview so far?

CL: Hmmmm. That’s a tough one.  I really like when I interview someone I look up to.  I mostly interview people in the plus size community, but I also do interview celebrities.  So when I can interview a celebrity I’ve admired, that’s really exciting.  I’ve had the opportunity to interview Kimberly Locke from American Idol on the show.  Also Emme and Mia Tyler.  It was exciting that they were willing to do my podcast and second that I had the opportunity to use my platform to promote them as well. So it was a win win situation.

ME:  Let me ask you about Love Your Body day and NOW (National Organization for Women). How did that idea come about?  




CL:  The Love Your Body Day concept came about way before I even got involved. After I moved to Los Angeles and I was looking for ways to promote myself, somebody mentioned to me that NOW had this event.  So I did some research, went to the local chapter to join and it just so happened the Hollywood chapter, when they were brand new and forming, they were looking for people to take leadership roles to build the chapter. So I told them I was already doing things in the area of positive body image and empowering plus size women and that I wanted to be part of the Love Your Body Day initiative.  They were like, that’s great. Anything you want to do we support you.  So I created the event on my own and it went on for six years.  It grew bigger and bigger every year. I had celebrity hosts. I had fashion shows.  I don’t do it anymore, but Love Your Body Day still happens.


ME:  Who have been some of your idols in Hollywood?

CL:  I really look up to Oprah, as I’m sure everyone does.  She inspires me not only with her business sense, but as a philanthropist as well.  I love Queen Latifah as well and how she shaped her career as far as her size not being the forefront of her career.  Because I’m heavy into the plus size community but I also like to do mainstream things even more.  Because I’m plus size wherever I go.  It doesn’t have to be a plus size event or focus. I just want to be able to do business and have opportunities like everybody else.

ME:  Where do you see the future of plus size fashion in 5 years? We’ve already seen so many strides and have many more options than we did 5 or 10 years ago.  Where do you see it going?

CL:  I see it booming.  There are still parts of the market that are untapped.  There is still room for emerging designers.  You know it’s still room to grow and be in the forefront and be in mainstream magazines.  I think it’s going to continue to boom and continue to be a striving industry.  I would also love to see more plus size women in leading roles. On TV and movies and we’re starting to see that now with Melissa McCarthy in lead roles. And she’s opening the door for more to happen—for more opportunities with her success.  I’m an actor myself, so I’m always looking for projects and working on creating some as well.


ME:  You are an ambassador for BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association).  Why are you passionate about that?



CL:  Well, the exposure I got from Love Your Body Day was so massive that it exposed me to new people and a new audience.  I was my own PR person and I was able to get lots of press, especially in 2010 when I did the nude Love Your Body Day shoot with model Whitney Thompson. That skyrocketed and gave us international press. With the press coverage, one of the communities that discovered me was the eating disorder community.  I already had a relationship with the (NEDA) National Eating Disorders Associationand I wanted to do more with them, but I guess they already had spokeswomen in place so they didn’t have a fit for me.  So someone from the NEDA introduced me to the founder of BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) and we immediately clicked. Not because I had the disorder, but just to be a positive role model. Prior to that I had no idea what binge eating was. I never had an eating disorder personally. One of the things that eating disorder stems from is lack of confidence and poor body image.  When I found out that binge eating is the most common eating disorder among plus size women, I was shocked because prior to this I didn’t know a plus size women could have an eating disorder because I have such a strong plus size following.  So this is actually something great to promote because it appeals to my demographic.





ME:  Were you always a really confident person and comfortable with your body image?

CL: Always!  I’m originally from Louisiana—I’m from the south so part of my environmentwas that they appreciate a fuller figure with the southern cuisine [she laughs].  I’m African-American so culturally we prefer a curvier more fuller shape. [And growing up] my parents didn’t belittle me because of my weight.  ou know at a young age my mom told me I was smart and beautiful and that if anyone had anything negative to say about me, to ignore them.  I remember her telling me that in elementary school, so it really impacted me.  I was very blessed to be in a situation and an environment where I didn’t think anything was wrong with me because I didn’t have negative feedback.  You only think something is wrong with you if somebody is telling you negative things.  But if you don’t have anything to question you don’t have those feelings.  So I never had those feelings.  I got positive feedback in school—I was popular.  I didn’t have negativity period.

ME:  You were blessed. I know so many women who didn’t have that. They had parents who would comfort them with food and then the next minute tell them they needed to be on a diet. Between that and the messages we see in the media it’s hard.  I really appreciate your story.
 
CL:  I know I’m very blessed.  Maybe that’s why I’m able to be such a good spokesperson for this area because I have so much confidence I have enough to share. 

ME:  Well, I love it!  I know you travel a lot. How do you balance your personal life and your career?

CL:  [She chuckles] It’s not really balance.  I’m still young, I’m not married and I don’t have any kids. So I feel this is the prime time for me to focus on my career.  I do want kids and a family in the future, but I’m only 33 years old. So I still have time. 



ME:  You have plenty of time. So, what do you have coming down the pipeline? What’s next for you?

CL:  Well I have some major stuff coming up but I can’t give it a way just yet.  But maybe in a couple of months.

ME:  Can you give us a tiny little hint?

CL:  Well it has something to do with television.  So I should have a super-duper major exciting announcement. But besides that I’m always traveling, hosting plus size events, being a part of the

plus size community. And now I’m getting into the natural hair too.  So that’s even more things added to my schedule.  You know I just love to interact with people.  I’m southern, so I never meet a stranger. I love to talk, shake hands and take pictures—just spread some positivity and love to everybody.  

ME:  And you do it beautifully.  Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.  I’m excited to write about you and to let people know what a positive role model you are.  Not just for plus size women, not just for Black women, but for all women.  So, thank you, thank you, thank you! 

To learn more about Chenese Lewis visit her at:

www.cheneselewis.com
www.plusmodelradio.com
facebook.com/CheneseLewis
@CheneseLewis on Twitter

43 Grey Hairs And Counting. Rude.

Just when did it become okay for grey hair to just show up unannounced on my glorious afro? I mean, they’ve fucking packed serious luggage — this is not a weekend visit.  My grey hair has a lazy-boy, ESPN Deluxe cable package and fucking PBR’s on ice.  

Uh. Rude.

I doth protest.

Just when I’m getting comfortable with my fat, Winter arrives earlier than expected, in all it’s white splendor.  Er, grey dreariness.  
I have been plucking my grey hair.  There.  I said it.  I can feel my fellow feminists shaking their heads in dismay.  I feel like a soldier who’s deserted. Here I am, encouraging all of you to embrace yourselves no matter what, while I find a new patriarchal mandate to obsess about.  That’s just great.

This feminism thing, it’s kinda hard.  As in all things, I aim for perfection (one of my many vices, or virtues, or vices. I don’t know). So feeling like a C-average feminist is totally humiliating. But I figure honesty is still the best policy when it comes to my blog. So maybe my comrades will give me a pass on this one (fingers crossed).

These grey hairs, they aren’t ugly.  They’re just surprising.  And I know I can’t keep plucking them.  At this rate, and despite how much hair I have, I could be bald in a couple of years. And that, I am not ready for.   

Plus I always imagined I’d have a perfect grey fro, like model Renee Davis.  My coiffed curls framing my face in sophisticated style, making me look demure and cosmopolitan.  

This is how my grey hair DOESN’T look.

Yeah.  It hasn’t gone down like that.  It grows in disparate directions, staying close to the crown, and tries to hide behind the other hairs, so I can’t find it and pluck it.  Sometimes I win, and am washed over with the weird pleasure that only popping a pimple can rival. But other times I get frustrated,  give up and let them live another day.  

This dance, however, is getting laborious and dull.  I figure I have two options:

  1. Dye my hair, or
  2. Let it do what it do.
As tempting as it is to dye my hair, (and I’ve been thinking of doing it for a bold fashion statement), I don’t want to succumb to the pressure that accompanies women in their late 30’s and early 40’s, living in Los Angeles. The kind of pressure that would have me at the salon every 4-6 weeks for a $150 touch up.  Do you know what I could do with $150 dollars?  I can buy 2 pairs of designer leather flats at Nordstrom Rack.  

Shoe shopping heaven. 

I guess it’s an easier decision that I thought. Thank God for my shoe obsession.

Ciao for Niao,
Pia

Why Social Media Feels Like Degrassi Jr. High

Sometimes Social Media feels like high school, or worse yet, middle school.  It’s like Degrassi Junior High with memes. Do you ever get that feeling that somehow we are all fighting for a second chance at first place? Or at least to not be the Facebook version of the dweeb from Mrs. Kraft’s 6th period History class — which I actually was by the way — so that maybe, just maybe, you can experience a sliver of the popularity you missed out on as a teenager?


I’ve had that feeling.  And I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I fell into the dangerous trap of relying on comments and emoticons to determine my mood and perceived popularity. It’s that moment I Instagram a perfectly crafted selfie and then dive into a hash-tag orgy with attendees like #fatshion #happy #lovinglife #myfatiscute #honorcurves #effyourbeautystandards #plusmodel #plusblogger #youdontknowaboutthislife #onmywaytothetop #naturalbeauty#checkmeoutnowimafunksoulsista  #godisblessingme #fuckyes #thisliferighthere, and so on.

The anticipation of what may or may not arrive post-post, is what I call “The Twitch.”  It lasts approximately 7 minutes, which is how long I wait before I let myself see who enjoyed my post (ok, it’s more like 4 minutes). 

When it’s good, it’s really good.  I’ve beat my record.  56 likes in under an hour. 17+ comments.  4 shares.  Fuck yeah. 

Other days, not so much. 2 likes, and one is from my mom.  Fuck.

As a writer, my biggest vulnerability is that I rely on you to approve, validate and praise my work.  It’s like being in the teen movie Clueless and I’m a dorky Britney Murphy. I await the virtual high I might get as a result of my writing efforts…Was my comment witty? Was it inspiring?  How many people liked it? Did anyone comment? Any new followers? Who shared it? Has it been 4 minutes yet?  Nope.  It’s been 37 seconds. 

The roller coaster of emotions is violent and thrilling.  It’s a high.  Dare I say, an addiction.  

I found myself worn out a few weeks ago, overwhelmed at work and, trying to keep up with my blogging, modeling, and various other projects.  The stress caused me to have a fibromyalgia flare up that forced me to slow down.  I decided to lay low, realizing I was under too much stress and that something had to change.  I got to talk to my boss about my illness and get the support I needed at the office.  But I also knew I needed a break from social media.  I always think I’m going to miss out on something HUGE if I look away for a second. But that rarely happens.  Actually, it has never happened.  

Don’t let this be you


So, I took about a week off from Facebook, Instagram and blogging.  And while it was tough the first day — it felt like withdrawal — after that I felt quite free.  I was no longer hostage to insanely long hash tags and scary selfies.  My mind quieted down.  I picked up the book on my nightstand in the evenings and read for hours.  I had not realized just how much time I was spending trying to stay relevant in social media.  As much as I wanted to stay away another week, I couldn’t.  I had an editorial spread in volup2 magazine come out, and I wanted to share it, which is one reason social media can be so great.  I’m pretty much back to my old ways, crafting witty emails and posting awesome photos of cute fat girls on my page.  But I’m slightly less neurotic about the whole thing, and that feels good.

Taking a break showed me that life does go on without me.  I learned that I like having time for my hobbies, like crafting and creating collages on Polyvore.  I realized that I don’t need to over-post either (showing restraint can be a good thing).  I also discovered that I’m not alone. There are other people who have experienced the same addictive feelings I have, and we agree it’s a tricky business.  Finding the right balance is what I’m always seeking in life, and this experiment was no different.


At the end of the day, this is isn’t junior high.  This is life, swirling around me with enough stress of its own.  My love affair with social media is really more of a crush now.  I’ll always flirt with it, but I won’t commit.  I’ll need to use it to promote my work and see the beautiful photos of my nieces and nephew growing up across the continent.  But I’ll rely on myself and my spirituality a lot more to lift me up and keep me going.  To the best of my ability, that is.

ciao for niao,
pia

My Love-Hate Relationship With Shapewear

Like lots of women, I have used shapewear over the years to “smooth out” my belly bulge and any cellulite that might peak through a fitted garment.  I have worn corsets, girdles, control top pantyhose and Spanx Booty-Booster Shorts. I always wanted to look sleeker and more toned because everyone knows that lumps and bumps are the anti-Christ (insert sarcasm here). God forbid I should look like the average woman. The idea that I could fool people into thinking that I do 100 squats a day seemed so easy and so, well, powerful.  I was screaming from the rooftops, “Look at my flat tummy and perfectly round glutes. Ain’t I awesome?” without ever having to say a word.  There was something safe about leaving the house and not worrying that a rogue body part might jiggle at the wrong time (i.e.anywhere other people roam). I literally feared and loathed my fat.  And that, my friends, is the sad truth.

Does this look familiar?

Does this look familiar?

In a society that worships thin women, I, for many years, believed that I had no other choice but to squeeze my body into uncomfortable contraptions, which would cut off my circulation and leave deep marks in my skin. Taking off a girdle at the end of a long day is by far one of the most freeing feelings ever (that and taking off your bra).  I was sort of addicted to looking thinner. But underneath all that, I think what I felt was bondage — not just physical bondage, but psychological too.

Naomi Wolf

That is exactly the sentiment I feel when struggling to get my thighs into a pair of Spanx.  I am obeying our culture’s decree that my body is inherently bad, and that a restrictive medieval contraption is the solution to body woes and low self-esteem.

Have you ever seen an ad for a man’s girdle?  I think I’ve seen one in my life, and I know plenty of men with large bellies, flabby arms and wide asses.  But they are somehow exempt from the same scrutiny that women endure.  Imagine if men had to wear “Slim-Cognito” briefs.  We would never hear the end of of their complaints.  But women have been altering their normal proportions for centuries in order to adhere to an unrealistic Barbie-like physique, and often at the expense of their health.

girdles

For the past few weeks I have been wearing clothes in varying degrees of fitted-ness without shapewear, and it’s felt incredibly liberating.  Yes, my ass jiggles when I move and I can feel my ample stomach poking through my faux leather leggings, but at least I’m comfortable. Oddly enough, I’ve actually started feeling better about myself since I deserted the Girdle Society. What’s more is that my fat is cute!  I even started this hashtag on Instagram:

#myfatiscute

Art by Tara O’Brien

With all that being said, I think as women we are entitled to do what feels best for us.  I may not abandon my tummy-tamer just yet, but I’m learning to live without it. If wearing shapewear makes you feel good, then go for it.  But if it irritates the fuck out of you, trying going without and see how you feel physically and emotionally. You might be surprised.

xo

An Honest Letter to the Guy That Created #FatShamingWeek

Roosh Vorek, author of the blog Return of Kings (no, I will not provide a link to his site), is a self-proclaimed misogynist who couches his anti-feminist and fat-phobic rhetoric under the guise of concern that masculine superiority is losing its stronghold on Western culture. He also coined the hashtag #fatshamingweek which failed miserably when he launched it last week.  



If you don’t know who he is, then I’m incredibly happy for you.  

ROOSH BELIEVES (these are direct quotes from his website):

  1. A woman’s value is mainly determined by her fertility and beauty. A man’s value is mainly determined by his resources, intellect, and character.
  2. Women are sluts if they sleep around, but men are not. This fact is due to the biological differences between men and women.
  3. Ironically, the less you respect a woman’s intelligence, the more you will retain her interest long enough to get her into bed. You can’t turn a millenial chick into a philosopher, no matter how much you educate her. 
  4. Fat people are all self-absorbed assholes. Like an alcoholic, all they care about is the next slice of double stuffed crust pizza cruising down the conveyor belt. Instead of craving the high of drunkenness, they lust for the rush of harmful nutrition.
  5. Considering how self-absorbed feminists are, it only makes sense for them and fatties to unite. This often takes the form of “fat acceptance,” which is always couched in feminism, which means it is meaningless. It claims people are not responsible for their personal choices, that other people exist to validate them or mollify their self-hatred as it inevitably bubbles up when McDonald’s runs out of nuggets. Their feminism is simple extension—others exist to maintain their personal emotional state. And that state is never your responsibility. It was the gift of fatphobic patriarchy that privileges those who care about themselves over those who want to waste away in a fat-encased shell of a human body. 

Roosh states emphatically that women and homosexuals are prohibited from commenting on his site and that they will be immediately banned.  He has a right to say all these things-I believe in free speech.  However, I cannot support stupidity.  And so I write this letter to him.

Dear Roosh,

If only your parents hadn’t dropped you on your over-sized head as a child, I might not have needed to write this letter shaming you. In fact, I’ve started a new hashtag:  #RooshIsADouche. See, it even rhymes.  I know you don’t think I’m capable of this great feat (#rhyming) because I have a vagina, but you’re wrong. Let me break it down for you Douche. I mean, Roosh.  

Audre Lorde


See, feminism isn’t about devaluing men or what they offer. It is about lifting up women and recognizing that we are more than just baby-making machines that serve you up meatloaf and mashed potatoes whilst wearing corsets and stilettos.  We are people. And while we are capable of doing all of that, we also simultaneously get PhD’s, run for President, and masturbate, because men like you are incapable of getting us off.  We are not equals, you and I, because you are a blubbering fool. 


You say the term “fat acceptance” means that fat people are not responsible for their personal choices, and that feminism exists to make us feel better about ourselves.  Perhaps we can liken that to your use of Viagra which makes you feel better about being impotent.  But I didn’t start a hashtag called #impotenceshaming week because I’m not an asshole.  

It seems to me, Douche, that if feminism didn’t exist, that you would have absolutely nothing to talk about.  Is your masculinity so much in question that you must try to prove to the world that having a dick means you’re better than I am?  Prove it.  What do you offer the world that’s so fucking great? Yeah, I didn’t think so. 



I contemplated not writing to you about your failed attempts at shaming me and my people because I honestly thought it would give you bigger a platform for your bullshit.  But upon further reflection, I felt it was my duty to shine the light upon the sheer ignorance with which you pontificate on what most people agree is an archaic way of seeing the world.  And hopefully it will inform all types of people on what NOT to do when trying to be a decent human being.

And the thing is, your hashtag didn’t get much buzz because it was dumb and mean-spirited. Most sensible, decent people just aren’t going to jump on that bandwagon. Sorry Douche, but misogyny and fat hatred are the NOT the new black. 

Ya know, I don’t think you really hate women and fat people. I think you hate yourself for being feeble-minded and unoriginal. To spew your brand of hatred means you are in a dark and ugly place from which you may never return. Hell, I feel sorry for you. Perhaps a chunky female psychiatrist with a dual degree from Berkeley can help you through it, in between training for a marathon, raising her family, and feeding the homeless.

Wishing you radical change,
Pia
#MixedFatFeminist

P.S. Oh, and you spelled “millennial” wrong. 

The Urge to Purge (This is NOT About Bulimia)


I’ve been driving myself mad the past few years-ok, decades-to become willing to whittle down my wardrobe to just the basics with a few WOW pieces thrown in for good measure. It’s like yoyo dieting, only with clothes instead of food.  I’ve stopped dieting from my supposed “bad food” list this year and it’s felt great (most of the time).  But my failed attempts at putting the kibosh on my fashion addiction are catching up with my conscience.  To be blunt, I feel like the consummate consumerist.  I find the joy in purchasing things transformative and calming, though momentary at best. 



I will, 99% of the time, walk into a store for a specific item, not find it, silently say to myself, “I’m already here. I may as well have a look around,” and purchase something(s) else completely unrelated. I basically get high off of acquiring new things and believe I’ve somehow improved my life.  And that, my friends, is a lie. 




The reason that I struggle is I go back and forth between the ideas that I’m a creative who sees fashion as wearable art, and the overwhelm I feel at trying to easily find something to wear on a daily basis.  On the one hand, I love the diversity of my closet and all the fun looks I can create.  Plus it’s a political choice for me to wear things that challenge people’s ideas about what fat people should or shouldn’t wear.  But on the other hand,  I tend to wear the same tried and true items over and over.  They are my favorites, which not only look good, but feel really good too.  The extra clothes get tried on when I’m playing dress up (which happens a few times a week at least), and then I discover that something just doesn’t fit as I remembered, or it simply doesn’t go with anything else.  Or worse yet, I already have something exactly like it.  I mean, how many black crochet peasant tops does a gal need?

Having a closet full of stuff is hard to keep up with.  And my closet is actually an entire room, with a closet of its own-which is also filled to capacity.  Zoinks! My husband is in awe, or maybe it’s disgust, at the amount of shit I have.  I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not just a drain on my pocketbook, but on my psyche as well. What’s a gal to do?

Shot of my closet.  This is just one small section.


Do I buckle down, find some willpower and purge like crazy? Or do I accept the fact that I LOVE clothes and this is just a part of who I am?

Perhaps this is a plea for advice from my readers.  I invite you to share your experiences with me so that I might have a chance at finding peace.  Yes, I’m asking for help.  So bring it on ya’ll.

Ciao for Niao,
Pia

P.S. I have a gift card to Zappos that I’m dying to use.  Fuck.  This is not going well.  Or is it? 

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