How Posing in a Swimsuit Changed Me Forever

I want to thank Jessica Peterson, designer of Sorella Swim for the opportunity to be a part of the Sisters of All Sizes campaign.  I’ve done many photo shoots, but this one was by far the most challenging and empowering.  



As a fat woman of color, my body is far from society’s ideal of beauty. For years I struggled with my weight and above all my self-esteem.  I really thought that having a thin body would dissolve all my problems, but I was wrong.  I’ve been thin more than a few times in my 38 years, and it only ever lasted for a few months because the real problem was that I still didn’t love myself and I still had the same life problems.

About 3 years ago I began a journey toward self-acceptance that has materialized into seeing my body in a very different way. I did lots of research on fat-acceptance, body diversity and feminism and eventually started my own website and blog to help other women like me begin to embrace themselves fully.

Since then I have met some amazing women and men who have supported me and pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone.  And I’m so grateful to all of them. 

I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go through with the Sorella Swim shoot.  I was already hesitant, but when I walked onto the set and realized that I was the largest model, I began to panic.  If I had been fully dressed, I probably would have been at ease.  But stripping down to what felt like near nakedness was altogether different.  


After hair and make-up, we had to get into our suits and I started to freak out. I pulled my dear friend and fellow model Melinda aside.

“I can’t do this. I cannot do this.  I’m so huge and everyone else is so small.” My voice wavered as I gripped her arm.

Melinda told me to relax.  She reminded me that I wasn’t just doing this to overcome my own fears, but to empower other women who look like me as well.  

I understood her point, but was still scared shitless.  I had to do a lot of positive self-talk that day.  I was going to have implement the “fake it til’ ya make it” strategy to get through the shoot.  So that’s what I did. 


I changed into the suit and stepped out of the bathroom for Jessica and Delia to see me.  My heart was pounding and I expected them to jump back, and wonder if they’d made the right decision.  But they both smiled and told me I looked great.  I wasn’t sure I believed them, but I just kept faking it.  

Before the group shots, we did individual photos and I was called first, of course. The Universe has a very twisted sense of humor!  Before I got in front of the camera, I got a quick pep talk from photographer Michael Anthony. I told him that I was afraid and that I was going to need a lot of support.  He was so kind and comforting, telling me that I was going to be great and he had my back. I trusted him, and off I went.  

Yes, I have cellulite and a tummy with multiple rolls, and I’m beautiful. 

The first minute was absolute torture.  The lights were bright, and the cellulite on my thighs was in plain view for the entire crew to see.  But Michael Anthony continued to put me at ease, encouraging me. I began to relax and eventually found myself getting more and more comfortable.  I started posing and channeling the the beauty that exists inside all of us.  I kept thinking of the women who would see this campaign and be grateful that I had the courage to represent them.  I was facing my fears head on and it felt good.  

From left to right: Melinda, Neidy, Lornalitz, Krista, Pia

I thought the group photos would be less scary, but then I realized that there were going to be small bodies next to my large one, and that my body would be under tremendous scrutiny when the photos were released to the public. But I channeled my energy in the same way as before, realizing that the ideas about body diversity that I write about were coming true, and I was an integral part of it. It was that thought which gave me the strength to continue and to model my ass off — pun intended.

Mid-shoot Delia pulled me aside to tell me that Jessica was so impressed with me. I was so touched by that. I think she must have sensed my trepidation. Thanks Jessica!

The Sorella Swim Sisters of All Sizes campaign has had a huge impact on the way I see my body.  I am grateful to Michael Anthony for releasing untouched photos of us so that people can see what real bodies look like. All the bodies in that shoot are beautiful, including mine. 

This experience made me put my money where my mouth is. All the positive body talk in the world is meaningless unless I truly believe it myself. Now when I tell other women to love their bodies — to set themselves free, I can speak from multiple experiences of having to walk the walk. 

I love how the suit looks great on all of us!

All bodies are good bodies and that’s the truth. When more clothing companies and designers realize that all women want to feel beautiful, regardless of their size, they will do what Jessica has done — create a garment that makes all of us feel included and special. Yes, big girls like to shop and be chic too!

Thank you to Jessica, Delia (DDH PR), Michael Anthony, Melinda, Krista, Neidy, Lornalitz, Rich Magana’s hair and make-up team and DTLA Studios for their commitment to making this happen. I am forever grateful and forever changed. 

In solidarity,
Pia

Plus Size Pageantry & The Feminist Who Had It All Wrong

I was a judge for the California Plus America Pageant over the weekend. Pageant Director, Danielle Zavala, asked me come on board and I’m still trying to figure out why she chose me. I’m a body positive lipstick feminist with a penchant for colorful mumus and comfy flats I can wear all day. And I had serious doubts about how my politics would align with judging women based on their beauty. I loved watching Miss America when I was a little girl, but as I got older, I began to see the whole thing as a patriarchal construct meant to keep women focused on seeing beauty as their only source of worth. 

But I also wanted to challenge my preconceived notions about the pageant business because I know a couple of women who have competed and I respect them very much. So I emailed Danielle and told her I would be honored to be a judge, and it was the truth. I was committed to keeping an open mind.

On Saturday morning I showed up at the Embassy Suites hotel and met my five fellow judges, including 15-year old Smile Juneja, the reigning Miss America Outstanding Teen. Smile is a bright and well-spoken young woman who impressed me with her poise and self-confidence.

Judges from left to right: Michael Anthony Hermogeno, Maryam

 Ahmadinia, Smile Suneja, Sherry Lee Meredith, Me, Gio  Messale



I also had the privilege of meeting one of the winners from last year’s pageant, Charlet InthavongxayShe and my friend, Melissa Rose (who was also a winner last year), are two of the kindest, and most service oriented people I’ve ever met. They were so open and positive about their experiences, using their titles to do good in the community. Reconnecting with Melissa and meeting Charlet was yet another step in challenging my views over the weekend. 
 

Charlet on the left & Melissa on the right.

Danielle explained all the rules to the judges, most importantly that we were not allowed to fraternize with the delegates. The delegates are the pageant contestants.  I didn’t know that’s what they were called. I like it. It sounds very official!The individual interviews took place soon after. As I read the delegates’ bios, my thinking shifted even more. The contestants included PhD candidates, single mothers who took in foster kids, a school teacher and a poised teenager with great ambitions! This is NOT what I was expecting. I honestly thought the delegates were going to be ditzy girls who spent hours at the tanning salon and used the word “like” five times in a sentence. But I was dead wrong.  

Perhaps my narrow thinking needed to be checked. I mean, how different was plus size pageantry from plus size modeling?  I know plenty of plus models, including myself, who also have other careers in industries like engineering, social justice and medicine. So, discovering that the delegates were bright and ambitious shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did — in the best possible way.

As the delegates sat before us, answering all sorts of interesting questions, I found myself having a lot of fun.  One of my favorite questions from judge Maryam Ahmadinia, was “How would you describe the color red to a blind person?”  It was such a good question, I wish I’d thought of it myself! I think I asked something corny like, “If you were banished to a deserted island for life, which person would you take with you?”  I’m new at this. Be nice.

During those interviews, the women were nervous but witty, shy but eloquent. They were funny and snarky and intelligent. And their platforms were impressive too. From autism awareness to domestic violence prevention, the causes were noble and their champions passionate. Many of them had been active in their causes long before they’d considered being in pageants. I know. Pretty cool, huh?

Later that night, we witnessed the delegates having fun at the red carpet event and fundraiser.  As I watched them do the “Wobble” and laugh with one another, it helped me see yet another side to them.  They were women of all ages, ethnicities and plus size body types, bonding with one another and letting the stress of the interviews wash away. I so wanted to dance with them and tell them how awesome I thought they all were, but we weren’t allowed to fraternize until the pageant was over. 

The next night was the evening wear competition and the crowning ceremony at the LA Convention Center. This was an opportunity for the delegates to impress us with their style and personality as they sashayed down the runway, their fleshy arms undulating in perfect rhythm. Their smiles were big, their fashion choices bold, and their personalities very evident. It was such fun and I found myself cheering them all on, wishing they could all win!  I was proud of them for loving their bodies and wearing dresses that said “Fuck you world.  I’ll wear whatever the fuck I want!” I saw many of them empowered and confident. I witnessed such beauty and grace.  I wish plus size pageants had existed when I was struggling with my body image as a teenager and young woman. These women proved me wrong and I’ve never felt better about not being right.  


As plus size women, we are all breaking barriers when we participate in activities that let the world know we are not ashamed of our bodies and that we are capable of so much more than the media gives us credit for. Contrary to popular belief, we are not lazy and unmotivated. We are smart, savvy role models who can recite the Greek alphabet while feeding the homeless and kicking ass.  So there.  

I think the biggest lesson I learned through this journey is that feminism has many faces. The way we choose to lift up women is not singular in nature. There are as many ways to express it as there are women in the world. The plus size delegates were a brand of feminism that I had yet to encounter. But now I can store it in my cadre of experiences, and recall it when I find myself judging something which I know nothing about.

And I would be remiss if I did not congratulate this year’s deserving winners:

                  Queanna Moore – Mrs California Plus America 2014
Chera Lenise – Ms California Plus America 2014

Lia Freeman – Miss California Plus America 2014

Emily Grace Fluke -Teen California Plus America 2014


Left to right: Emily, Lia, host Marcy Guevara, Queanna, Chera



And finally, thank you Danielle, for asking me to be a part of this wonderfully eye-opening occasion. Your hard work paid off in so many ways. I am forever changed. XOXO

In solidarity,
Pia

6 Reasons to Love Your Stretchmarks

These aren’t mine, but they are beautiful!
 
Women are told that stretchmarks are ugly and that we should use expensive creams to get rid of them.  I was sold on the idea that my stretchmarks were inherently bad and that getting rid of them would enhance my beauty.  I actually tried some of these so called “miracle cures” years ago with no results. I felt desperate and unattractive. That was then. This is now.  
Don’t let this be you.

I have a lot of stretchmarks — mostly from having an eating disorder that had my body going up and down in weight many pounds at a time.  With every 20-30 pounds gained and lost, a new set of stripes would appear on my hips breasts, and stomach.  I used to cringe at those marks as they altered the texture of my skin.  I still don’t love them 100%, but I’m really trying.  And here’s why:
  1. I earned these motherfucking stripes god dammit!  My stretchmarks are a steady reminder of where I’ve been.  When I look down at them, I see a girl who used to hate her body and cover it up in shame.  I see a woman who has evolved into having a more positive relationship with her body.  My marks tell a rich story, with lots of twists and turns.  These stripes are sacred now.  They are mine.
  2. They’re perfectly normalA lot of people have them;  both men and women, fat and thin. I am not unique!
  3. Stretchmarks are like fingerprints: No two sets are exactly the same.  How cool is that?
  4. I get to tell advertisers to fuck off.  I LOVE doing that.  No more selling me shit I don’t need.  I no longer have to be manipulated into believing that parts of my sacred body are ugly.  So next time I see an ad for stretch mark diminishers, I’m going to scream “NO THANKS MOTHER FUCKERS!”
  5. They’re kind of cute. I know it doesn’t feel like it right this second, but I’m going to give it some time.  I will be nice to my stretchmarks and tell them that I love them.
  6. I have an opportunity to set a good example for the women and girls in my life. It’s not what we say that has impact, it’s what we do.  So I will be brave and show the people in my life that stretchmarks are not scars to be hidden, but badges of honor to be worn with pride!

Here are some links to sites that celebrate stretch marks:
http://stretchmarksarebeautiful.tumblr.com/
http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/stretch-marks
Google search
 

In solidarity,
Pia

Why I’m Abandoning Heels For the Forseable Future

Damn it — my feet hurt!  Rude. I love heels.  I love how they look on my feet and how sexy my legs look whilst wearing them.  I do not, however, love how fucking painful they are.  In my 20’s and early 30’s I could handle them no problem.  I could dance all night long and deal with the discomfort.  But as I’ve gotten older, I have become less and less able to cope with the pain that heels cause me.  And for a long time I thought as a fat girl I had to wear heels to look “taller and leaner.”  But frankly, now I care less about what other people think about my size or my fashion sense. 

Yes. I know you do too.

I recently attended the 5-year blogiversary of The Curvy Fashionista with my girls, including Michelle of Zaftig Times, who always looks vintage chic.  I remember first meeting her at the POSH LA Fashion Week event last March and we talked about how she never wears heels anymore because they’re just too uncomfortable. At the time I wasn’t quite ready to give them up, but it did get me thinking about what I was willing to sacrifice.  Was I willing to sacrifice the health of my feet for the sake of an outfit?  Yes, I was.  But not so much anymore.  Maybe this is sort of like a New Year’s non-resolution.  Sure, why not?

Michelle, Julia, Me, Christine on the red carpet #tcfturns5

Anyway, at the blogiversary party I wore an ethereal black and white number (see above) with a pair of Calvin Klein flats in leopard and patent leather. They are divine and, though I try not to play favorites with my shoes, these are kind of my everything right now. In fact, I think I hear a choir of angels singing in the background…I felt so cute in those shoes and I danced and walked and was comfortable all night long.  I didn’t feel any less cute just because I wasn’t wearing heels. OK, there was perhaps a tiny part of me that wished I were taller, but that faded quickly as I watched and overheard other women in super high heels sitting down, complaining of foot pain

Calvin Klein, Size 11, Nordstrom Rack, $55


Like many women, I adore shoes!  Yes, I’m a feminist who loves shoes. Get over it. Shoes are my vice and I never tire of shopping for them.  At a size 11, it can sometimes be tough to find shoes that fit my long narrow feet without having to spend a fortune.  So, when I’m in Nordstrom Rack or Marshalls or TJ Maxx, I always head for the shoe section. And I’ve found some terrific deals too.

Clockwise from top left: Nordstrom blue suede loafers $50; 
Coach oxfords $39; Mix No. 6 metallic leopard loafers $29; 
Diane Von Furstenberg red suede & metallic slippers $119 (bday gift)


Flats have become so chic in recent years that I actually feel appropriate wearing them to dressy events.  These days anything goes, and I’m eternally grateful.  I can see myself being known for my splendid flat shoe collection and getting a spread in Skorch Magazine, where I am naked in a tub full of blinged out, feathery, bright flats, sipping a glass of champagne of course.


Hey Skorch, this is the tub I was thinking of. Thanks!


My point in sharing all this, is that if you are like me — fat and a lover of fashion — you don’t have to sacrifice style just because you hate wearing heels. Heels are not the only option, especially if you don’t care about looking thinner. Flats look great with skater skirts, pin-up dresses, skinny jeans and wide leg trousers alike.  Do some experimenting with your wardrobe and you’ll discover a whole new world of FUN in flats.

ciao for niao,
pia

P.S.  I will probably still have to wear heels in photo shoots.  That’s the exception to the rule. Ok, I’m done now.

My Interview with Velvet D’amour

Velvet, Velvet, Velvet.  There are no words to fully describe the divaliciousness of this woman.  I was recently lucky enough to interview the fashion photographer, founder of Vol Up 2 magazine, model and size acceptance activist.  She was in her Paris home, taking a break from editing some photos from a recent London photo shoot, when we made time to chat.  I had been following Velvet online for the last couple of years, and was so inspired by her beauty, honesty, confidence, grace, wit, and humor.  Needless to say that when she agreed to be interviewed by me, I was over the moon. I was also a nervous wreck.  I had no idea what to expect.  Could the seemingly cool diva end up being elusive and aloof?  Nope.  Not a chance in hell.  Here’s what she told me…
ME:  How did you begin in the modeling industry?
VDA: I was emulating mainstream (straight size) work in my photos and it ended up getting me the jobs because my book was so different than what the other plus size girls had. And my style was more outrageous and more editorial than what mainstream plus girls had in their books. And that ended up resonating with Galliano and Gaultier and got me on my way.  
ME: That’s quite a story!  I started my blog a few years ago and you were one of the people I looked to for inspiration. I so appreciate that. 
VDA: Thanks…you know, I’m happy to have been around a long time.  It’s great to see it all evolve.  In the early days there was like only one magazine that was really fetishy–Dimensions. There was also BBW magazine, Radiance, and other more feminist underground, wheat germy magazines.  I remember I was dating a body builder at the time and in our mailbox would be Muscle Mania and then there would be BBW.  It was so funny.
ME: What changes do you see happening in the media now in terms of our acceptance of plus size women and who we can look up to?
VDA: I think the most amazing thing is that’s come from us.  It’s not like one day the media said, let’s let the fatties in.  I think we, especially as bloggers, saw there was nothing available and created our own movement. Then the media saw there was money to be made off it and thus they let one or two token people in. But I think we have a long way to go in diversifying media in general.  It’s very much a grassroots effort and I applaud all the women who have partaken in it.
VDA: The difficulty is there were bigger models back in the day, but now we have “plus models” with agencies who consider a size 10 plus size.  That can do womens’ heads in in a big way.  And yet, there are women like Fluvia, Denise, and Clementine who are getting in. But they are women who primarily have socially acceptable fat, with lots of tits and ass, versus an apple shaped woman, or women who don’t have such “pretty fat.”  It would be nice to see the plus size industry itself be accommodating to all different sorts of body shapes and all different sorts of ages.  I like to show in Vol Up 2 (her magazine) not just plus people, but older women, differently- abled women and different ethnicities.  More efforts need to be made to push diversity.
People sometimes talk about the health issue. They ask me if I am I promoting obesity. But they never talk about the psychological or sociological issues of how people feel about themselves.  It doesn’t really matter…There are women who are a size two who hate their bodies, and size 24 women who hate their bodies too.  There needs to be an across the board effort to help women. The more diversity we see within in media, the better able people will be able to accept themselves and love themselves.  My message is all about diversity.
ME:  What projects do you have in the pipeline?
VDA:  Mainly I’m trying to make Vol Up 2 work, which is an enormous effort because it’s me myself and I for the most part doing everything. I’m hoping to expand to add a little section called Vol Up 2 TV, where I’m interviewing the models who I’m shooting.  And doing music videos starring plus size women. I think readers would appreciate seeing people in motion.  I’m doing my best on my own to make it happen.  It’s a challenge.
ME: Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me. I look forward to seeing what’s next for you.
After the interview, Velvet asked me to be a contributing writer for Vol Up 2.  I happily accepted. Keep your eyes peeled for my first article coming soon!  Below are some links to Velvet’s social media and website. Enjoy!

11 Non-Resolutions for 2014

As a teenager I was notorious for my overly ambitious New Year’s resolutions.  By the end of 1991 I was sure I would be a beloved published author of teen mystery novels, living in an East London flat with my high school crush, Greg Weisenberg. Forget that I was only 15 years old. It was going to happen. Wasn’t it?


Oh, Younger Self Pia , how right you were to aim high and dream fantastically of futures nary to come.  I mean honestly, how likely was it that anyone was going to read the teen angst version of Murder on the Orient Express and take it seriously?  Hell, how likely was it that I could write even one chapter in a year, much less live abroad at age 15 with my almost tall Jewish boyfriend? But I do appreciate the audacity of the dream.  I basically wanted to be on top without really committing to it, which I’ve come to find out is a bit of a Virgo thing.  (I’ll explain more later).  And it took me a long time to understand that it was nearly impossible to accomplish.

I’ve loved writing since childhood. I think my mother’s insistence on my siblings and I visiting the library every weekend and getting me my first library card at age 6 may have lit my passion for reading and writing. But I didn’t really share my writing with anyone.  Sure, I would write silly poems for my parents birthdays and Valentine’s day, but that was it.  The other stuff was squirreled away in my diary.  I didn’t think my stories were good enough to share with anyone.  And my Virgo perfectionism certainly didn’t help.   

As a teenager and well into my twenties, I was often in limbo about what I should be doing with my life. I would flutter from hobby to interest with enthusiastic fervor, claiming it as my life’s work.  But much like my 15 year old self, I wanted to be at the top without having to commit to it fully, in case I changed my mind and thought I’d excel at goat herding instead. But now I have figured out that it wasn’t so much that I had so many varied interests, it’s that if I thought I couldn’t do it perfectly, then I didn’t want to take a chance to really pursue it.  Hence I’d try my hand at painting, but give up because I couldn’t create a museum-worthy piece after a month of practicing.   I know it sounds silly, but in my defense it is a part of my Virgo personality trait, so I can’t entirely help myself.


But I’ve actually been writing the last several years, and my commitment hasn’t wavered.  Yes, I’ve gone through periods of taking breaks from it, but I always come back because it feels so good.  And yes, I still have dreams of publishing books that people other than my mother might actually want to read, and for the first time in my life, I feel like it’s actually possible.

The last few years I’ve been averse to resolutions because they mostly had to do with losing weight and getting in shape. But for 2014 I’m not worried about the fact that I can inhale a packet of Rolos in under 7 minutes. This year I commit to writing a body of work, or at least get started writing it. 

I was talking to my husband about it whilst sipping robust Mai Tai’s on the balcony of our small, but well appointed Catalina Island hotel last weekend.  It was the first time I’d fully shared my book-writing dream with him and he was unfailingly enthusiastic about it.  He suggested I calendar time on the weekends (3-4 hours) that are unchangeable appointments with myself.  It’s a good idea, but I’m so scared that based on my past lack of commitment, I’ll fall on my ass and disappoint myself and my husband.  And even though The Universe has given me more signs than an irate New York City cab driver, I sometimes doubt both my skills and level of commitment to the undertaking.

Then I remember how much I’ve grown from that 15 year old kid in 1991, into a woman of 38, who knows what it takes to accomplish goals.  And I recall that 2013 has been pregnant with writing opportunities, and that I’ve actually done a lot this year, whether I resolved to or not.  I recommitted to my blog and built a bit of a following.  I write for a fantastic magazine called VolUp2;  I scored a job with a wonderful organization where I get to practice my craft everyday as a grant writer and communications associate; and  I was asked to lead a workshop at the Body Love Conference in Tuscon in April of next year.  Not bad for one year!

Life is really good! There is no reason why 2014 should be anything short of marvelous.  But i think it’s useful to set some intentions.  And since I still don’t love the word “resolution,” these are my…

11 NON-RESOLUTIONS:

  1. Work on my own writing at least 3 hours a week;
  2. Blog more (as in at least 4 times per month.  OK, 3 times a month);
  3. Buy less;
  4. Be a better friend and neighbor;
  5. Send hand-written letters to friends far away — it’s so much nicer than email;
  6. Do more with less (see #3);
  7. Have a huge yard sale where I let go of the shit that’s weighing me down;
  8. Go on a belated honeymoon with my darling husband;
  9. See my family back east more;
  10. Accept that life is these unpredictable phases and cycles that I cannot control, and therefore; should ride them out with as much humor and grace as is possible for a Virgo;
  11. Claim myself as a writer!


I encourage you to give more time and effort to the things that move you and make you feel good in 2014. Don’t judge yourself, just do it.  Baby steps are fine.  

What are you non-resolutions for 2014?  This Virgo is ever so curious!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Ciao for niao,
Pia
xoxo