Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2014-10-10

Nine Steps to Be Ready to Wear Sleeveless Shirts or Shorts Next Summer

If you spent this summer consistently covering up your arms because you were ashamed to show that part of your body, now is a great time to start working on being ready for next year. You can unlearn the lies that people tell you about how you have to cover up in order to be socially acceptable.

I remember very distinctly an episode of the Oprah show I watched when I was a teenager where she waved her upper arm in the air and spoke derisively about the skin and fat “waddle” dangling there. I turned crimson with the recognition that I already had that “waddle” and that because Oprah was opposed to it then I should be ashamed of it.
2957045493_cb41415748_zI thought I’d do a little flashback Friday with photos of me sleeveless through the last decade. Here is a photo of me showing my arm waddle during a performance at the International Drag King Extravaganza in Columbus circa 2010. This is the dapper and amazing Heywood Wakefield.

Oprah is in a unique position—she’s so influential in US culture that many people listen to what she says with the same kind of attention that we might give to a parent or relative. My parents and relatives were also fatphobic and ashamed of their bodies and it was easy to internalize that the fat body I had all my life was wrong, with a hearty reiteration from Oprah.

We’re all human, though, and I recognize everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. My mom is now super supportive of my work with body liberation and Oprah is definitely much more body accepting in the twenty teens than she was in the nineties.

I don’t understand why our culture is so opposed to fat people’s arms. What is it about the arms specifically that makes us need to cover them up most of all? No fat person’s arm has caused more harm than a thin person’s.

I was on the phone with a body liberation coaching client and told her the story of how I got through my own shame about sleeveless shirts, and I wanted to share that with my readers. This is the same time of year I began that journey, so I thought it would be great to encourage others who are ready to take these steps to begin now for next summer.

I’m outlining here a process of self-acceptance and learning to be comfortable in the body you have right now. All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are AND they deserve to be comfortable.

14558700107_5d7497a1ae_oThese are my stickers! Aren’t they cute? If anyone wants some, make a donation via paypal of any amount to queerfatfemme at gmail and include your address.

1. Get ready to do things differently

I was 19 when I embarked on the journey to start wearing sleeveless shirts. I was at an interesting turning point in my life. After a many years long, often suicidal depression, I had decided to stop hating myself. I didn’t know what that meant and I had no identifiable role models for fat people who didn’t hate themselves, but I knew I needed to do something different. That summer, I met someone who basically made me promise to stop putting myself down and work on loving myself. Grant was a lifeguard at the Girl Scout camp I worked at and he wrote me the sweetest note in my camp yearbook. It meant so much to me. It was the first time I was ever able to hear that I was worthy of not hating myself.

I knew instinctively that I was wrong for hiding my arms. It was uncomfortable and annoying and I wanted to feel the freedom of my skinny counterparts. I had a couple of tank tops as layering pieces and I started to open myself up to the idea of wearing them, and set a goal to be wearing them outside by the next year. I wasn’t sure exactly how, but I was going to do it.

If you want to do things differently, you need only set your mind to it. If you’ve been spending your summers all bottled up under hoodies or wearing pants even though you would be way more comfortable in shorts, you can move past your fear and shame and start being more confident.

You just need to want it. It’s also okay to not want it and spend the next year or however long getting to a point to want to go sleeveless or wear shorts. That’s okay, too!

2. Go shopping

If you already have tank tops or shorts you want to wear, great, skip this step. If you’ve avoided them forever, this is a great time of year to get low stakes clothing that you’re not that attached to.

Now that I’m comfortable with my body I don’t have a problem investing in pieces that are armless and short legged (herstorically I’ve spent a pretty penny on vintage lingerie pieces). But if I wasn’t comfortable in a short sleeved shirt, I wouldn’t want to spend a bunch of cash on them just to see if I could learn to love myself in spite of all the lies people tell me about my body.

Right now Target has summer clearance hanging around—I got two really great sleeveless dresses for $12 recently. And a quick search online yields promising results (like this long tank top, I love a long tank top). I also totally adore Target’s Liz Lange maternity clothes–this sleeveless V neck cami marketed for “sleep” but totally not just for sleep is a great plus size sleeveless first step shirt.

Layering pieces are super helpful for this process, too, if you need some guidance for what to buy. The tank tops I started trying out when I was 19 were meant to go under overshirts. One of my favorite looks when I was in college in the late nineties were men’s dress shirts worn open over a frilly tank top. When I was ready to wear tank tops out of the house it helped to have the layers ready to go whenever I felt shy.

If you’re wanting to try shorts out, there’s a little less layering wiggle room, but it’s a great time of year to get clearance shorts, too.

15498653845_ffa838faff_zThis is a layering look I adored in 2011, a sleeveless dress with a cardigan on top.

3. Identify confidence anchors on your body

I didn’t do this when I transitioned to tank tops, but when I came out as Femme I used this a whole bunch. I found the part of my body I felt the most confident about (my cleavage) and I dressed around it. I could try pretty much anything if my cleavage was bangin’. The Lane Bryant Plunge bra was great for this. If your anchor is your cleavage, make sure you have a great bra for stepping your way into wearing tank tops next summer.

For some tips on bra shopping check out this article I wrote about getting a custom bra fitting.

So maybe your favorite part of your body is your calves or your forearms or something. Find a way to highlight it and use it as an anchor.

647924376_8cb8653c4f_o2002, at the IDKE showcase. Corsets were really good to me in the focus on the cleavage not the arms department.

4. Practice at home

Once you have the will to try something new and the new garments you want to try, start practicing at home. At 19 I was a Resident Advisor in the dorms, so this was an experiment just in my room at Thoreau Hall at UC Davis. I would just use tank tops as my around the house wear. Previous to this I was so ashamed of my arms that I wasn’t even wearing tank tops in the privacy of my own home, not even as loungewear.

What made the tank tops different than loungewear was that I would be all dressed for outside, but in a tank top. This is where layering pieces helped—I was able to just throw on an overshirt and go about my day. But in the house, I was wearing the tank top that I wished I had the confidence to wear outside.

If you’re trying on shorts, wear them around the house and get used to what your body looks like in shorts. I know a lot of folks who are super insecure about hairy legs, cellulite, weird skin stuff and leg size or shape.

5. Identify your body positive allies

This is a really great exercise whether or not you are already a sleeveless shirt and shorts wearer. Who in your life is a body positive ally? Your best friend? A certain group of friends? I sure hope you have some folks in your life who affirm the body that you’re in right now and don’t think you need to change.

If not, start making a list of the attributes of friends who will be body positive allies to you, and open yourself up to finding those friends.

9304102569_cdb266b898_oThis was the first time I ever wore a bikini, with my friend Jacqueline.

6. Identifiy your “safer” spaces

Once you’ve identified body positive allies, come up with a list of safe(r) spaces to try out wearing new clothes. This is a great technique for any kind of fashion risk. Places I like to try things out:

*Casual hang out with your allies.
*A body positive ally comes over and you just don’t cover up your arms.
*Brunch—this is my favorite petri dish for new fashion. Low stakes and early in the day.
*Going out in public with a body positive ally who can compliment you when you’re feeling nervous.
*Going out in public with a layering piece so you can quickly cover up if you need to. Challenge yourself to go without the layer longer and longer each time.

2504463608_9827babbb3_zA little chicken satay and body positivity with Rachael, one of my oldest friends, in 2008.

7. Fake it till you make it and act “as if” you’re already comfortable in sleeveless shirts

When I was trying out tank tops I remember the first time someone came over by surprise and I just didn’t cover up my arms. It was my not-yet first girlfriend and I remember feeling embarrassed about my arms showing but also really wanted to try to be okay with it. I was so crushed out on her that it was easy to forget to be insecure because my mind was absolutely full, and that’s exactly why I forgot to put on an overshirt in the first place!

What I did was I just faked it. I pretended to be okay with my arms showing. The more it happened with folks coming over the more I realized it wasn’t a big deal. No one was going to think differently of me with my arms showing.

3683063609_4ce737edc2_zPride parade 2009 with the Femme Family NYC.

8. Instagram or tumblr body positive images

I really like to reinforce positive body image for all bodies. I love Instagram and Tumblr for this. To consistently surround myself with people who believe all bodies are good bodies and who exude self-confidence is a really great antidote for our fat shaming society. Get used to seeing bodies like yours in sleeveless tops or shorts!

By the way—never read the comments. People are gross on the internet.

Remember throughout this process—so many of us have been there. The people you see in Instagram and Tumblr feeds are people who have survived the same body policing and fat hating society. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Just because someone seems confident doesn’t mean they are not vulnerable, human and insecure just like you.

9. Do what you need to do about beauty rituals to feel comfortable in sleeveless shirts

Again, this is a process of self-acceptance and learning to be comfortable in the body you have right now. However, if you need to do things to feel good in them that are achievable, maybe you try that. Maybe it’s a spray tan. Maybe it’s an arm tattoo. Maybe it’s shaving your legs every single day to wear shorts until you can get comfortable enough to go hairy legged one summer. Maybe it’s addressing a skin thing keeping you from showing your arms. I’m not saying modification of your body is necessary to body acceptance, but sometimes it’s helpful to baby step your way.

1393354441_e2bef3304b_zFound this photo of my friend Zoe’s leg tattoo–a great reason to wear shorts!

Dolly Parton’s character Truvy in Steel Magnolias says there’s no such thing as natural beauty, and I do believe that everyone should get to do exactly as much “work” as they want to on their appearance. For me, when I’m feeling nervous about something, I throw on a full face of make-up including fake eyelashes and big hair and it definitely ups my confidence.

When I was about 9 years old I started developing bumps on my arms. It looked kind of like chicken skin after feathers were plucked from them. I was super insecure about it, and my paternal Grammy told me it was genetic. Eventually I learned that this is a really typical skin condition and I could just exfoliate three times a week and it would go away. I don’t know if I would have felt comfortable trying tank tops if I hadn’t already addressed this skin issue I was having, but I’d like to think I would have still tried. (Right now I use Lush’s sandstone soap to exfoliate, and also a scrubby washcloth.)

Oh, and once I started exposing my skin to the sun more often, the bumps were way less prevalent.

Being self confident is a baby stepping process. I was 19 when I started trying to wear tank tops and it took me until I was 22 to start to embrace my fat body and fat as an identity. You can get there. Every single day is a great day to start.

7310063030_3093c1724a_zRebel Cupcake second anniversary party, 2012.

2011-12-13

Lesbian Jack Kerouac Gay American Road Trip Part 3: Cleveland, Chicago

Dubbed the Lesbian Jack Kerouac by my BFF Brian for my propensity for long distance romance, “A girl in every port and on the road with a broken heart,” he describes me, I set out on a life-changing adventure in November of 2011. This is my tale of deep heart exfoliation via asphalt. Check out all the tales in this series at the Gay American Road Trip 2011 tag.

My friend Rachel Cupcake (designer of Sweetooth Couture and Cupcake and Cuddlebunny) lives in Cleveland. Since she was in town for the final blow-out weekend at Re/Dress, we negotiated a fatty friendly way of passing off the key and I was able to feed her cats for her.

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This is from Rachel’s recent collection, I think of it fondly as a labia coat, but she calls it Candy Ribbons.

To Cleveland from Brooklyn via Interstate 80–through NYC, NJ, PA, and OH

I spent way longer packing than I intended and had breakfast with my friend and revelator Taylor Black. I didn’t get on the road until 5:30 and I met much Holland Tunnel traffic on the way out of town. It was 7 hours to Cleveland once I got through the tunnel, much of which was the desolate wilderness of Pennsylvania along Interstate 80. I love to stop at the Panera bread near Dover, NJ and used that as my first stop, stashing half of my sandwich for later in the journey.

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I took this photo of the Alexis Bittar store while in traffic at the Holland Tunnel. Have you seen the Chloe video on Accessories?

I took turns surfing for pop stations looking for the new Rihanna song and listening to Just Kids by Patti Smith
on audio book.

I experimented with gas station rooibus tea (sub par), making a mental note to pick up a box of something good, and had a glorious moment during a dreary wet stretch of 80 around 11 PM.

A flashing road sign told me to tune to an AM station for road warnings and when I did it was playing a staticky version of Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” the song I had been spending the first part of my trip surfing pop stations to locate. Suddenly there was a glow from the other side of the mountains―probably from a tiny town’s streetlights, but in the darkened wet road and at the beginning of this epic journey I took it as a sign of hope and joy ahead.


We found love in a hopeless place.

*SAFETY TIP* I needed to pee around 1 AM in Youngstown, Ohio. Everyone keeps telling me to “be safe” and one of those ways is not being on the road that late, but this was an exception. I rely on my instincts for safety and pulled off in what looked like a populated area. I found a new, brightly lit 24 hour dunkin donuts not far off the freeway where I knew I could pee safely. There was a woman working behind the counter and a man using their free wifi super late at night. I bought a decaf coffee and continued on. If I hadn’t found something close to the freeway and well-lit I would have continued until I did.

My directions had me take several small Ohio highways to Cleveland, I drove through a bunch of farmland and woods and popped on the brights scanning for deer. (I hit a deer once in New Jersey on the road home from work and am now super paranoid about it.)

I arrived around 3AM and met Rachel and Michele’s cats. Snacks the Kitten was a highlight, since he is pretty much an internet celebrity. Macy was very Snacks curious, but they didn’t really interact much.


To Chicago from Cleveland via Interstate 80–through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois

Because of my late night I decided to have a mellow morning. I also needed to revamp my ipod and download that Rihanna song from itunes. Rachel and Michele have a gorgeous house with incredible details. I loved that there is a xylophone in the dining room, a sewing machine and a copy of a bell hooks book on the table in the kitchen. I enjoyed a cup of coffee with truvia and almond milk (luxuries not found on the road).

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I hit the road and got on the Ohio Turnpike. As a woman who does a lot of road tripping, I have a favorite rest stop system and Ohio’s is the best. They are like airport terminals, huge, clean bathrooms, well-lit all night long, and they usually have a sandwich shop. I got Einstein’s for lunch (turkey sandwich) and they all have good pet areas.

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It costs $10 to cross Ohio and the bathroom facilities alone are fairly worth it.

I was delighted by Indiana–their rest stop had a huge selection of fresh fruit in to-go containers and I got some red grapes. Sometimes being on the road for long stretches your highlights involve pre-school snack options.

My Prius turned into a time machine and I turned back the clock an hour. I was heading to the Western side of Chicago to stay with my friends Suzanne and Jen.

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Genuine Chicago traffic and that’s the tower formerly known as the Sears tower in the distance.

They live in a beautiful house with hardwood floors and the entire second floor is their bedroom and private living area. It was super cozy and full of great photos of them from their youth. I know Suzanne and Jen from Michfest and I really enjoy the opportunity to see my worker pals outside of the woods. I think we get a better chance to connect than we do during the Festival when we’re constantly on the path heading someplace else.

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Me and Suzanne at Festival.

We went to dinner at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe. It was beyond delicious. We chatted about a lot of things, especially their upcoming trip to Tanzania. They are going over winter break to visit friends who are doing volunteer teaching work. (They’re bringing supplies and collecting donations for supplies if you have the ability to give $5 or $10.)

I was really touched by Jen’s story about how her parents reacted to her coming out. Jen’s folks don’t welcome Suzanne in their lives and their religious fundamentalism sees lesbianism as a choice. It was really sad to hear about that, harsh words from her parents’ pastor, and reminded me very clearly the need for the families we create. There is so much love we have for each other in our communities and it is so important that we hold each other in our hearts and homes. It is really a wonderful feeling to find family in our identities and our communities.

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On the steps of the El train. It was mostly like I didn’t visit “Chicago” and just visited Suzanne and Jen–too hard to fit in anything else in a 10 hour stop. I learned that quickly on the pace I needed this road trip to take, that I had to make choices about where I actually lingered.

I have had to work to be queer and visible but it didn’t cause problems in my family or cause employment discrimination, but these are things that happen to queer folks every day. My family situation isn’t particularly easy, and I am actively doing work to heal it, but I am at least accepted for being my whole authentic self and haven’t encountered much homophobia from my extended family.

During the holiday season it can feel especially isolating to be excluded from our families of origin for lots of reasons–geography, family trauma, and belief systems that excommunicate queer kids.

Getting to visit Suzanne and Jen, experience their hospitality and love in their home, was so heartwarming. Not just as a wonderful love oasis on a solo road trip, but also as a reminder of how important family of choice is for queers.

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Their house, before dawn.

Macy loved the visit and meeting Sylly, their old black and white cat who was very curious about Macy’s dog food. Rocket, the other cat, wanted nothing to do with Macy.

The next installment on the road trip is Longmont, CO! Stay tuned!

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I’ve welcomed a new blog benefactor! Elisha Lim’s Sissy Calendar is available NOW and can still ship to you in time for the New Year. It’s really gorgeous and celebratory of femininity. It is also universal, so usable year after year. If you spend $30 in Elisha’s Etsy store (that’s a calendar and a couple of greeting cards, or two calendars) and mention “Bevin” in the notes section you get a free greeting card with your order!

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