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

2016-09-15

REALITY Storytellers: International Travel and Sheepherding

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

Once I got to the airport I did all the things I needed to do to feel okay about a first 6 hour flight and then a 9 hour flight. It starts with iced tea, a to go sandwich and it moves to an impulse buy of Bible Charts, Maps and Timelines which I thought might be helpful to read on the flight as my Bible knowledge is very small compared to those who were raised with Christian or Jewish religious schooling. I had no idea about how great our tour guide would be and how he beyond obviated a need for supplemental education.

You guys I was really nervous. I was going on a trip with no one I knew and I didn’t know what to expect. Rick, the facilitator meeting us at the gate, gave us a time to meet and told us to look for the Schusterman folder. I reminded myself I was doing this in the spirit of life begins at the end of your comfort zone and how I do all the brave things I do to keep on growing and I walked up to a group of strangers and introduced myself.

abhrahamstent2I don’t have any pictures from the airport but here’s the first meet and greet in a replica of Abraham’s tent at Neot Kedumim Park, a Biblical Nature preserve.

And then I got to forget the scared feelings and just focus on remembering names, a great task when you’re having a social freak out, give yourself something to focus on and get good at it. There were two Ricks, a Natalie, a Sophia, a Liz, H. Alan and more. I think I created a pneumonic chant and throughout the whole first 24 hours of the trip I was pretty great at remembering names because I was channelling nervous energy into name recognition.

I sat next to Sophia and Liz on our flight from LAX to EWR and learned that Sophia is a Christian journalist for a Christian magazine. There were a lot more Christian origin folks on the trip than I thought there would be. Sophia also gave me an amazing list of Korean restaurants to try and I’m excited to go do that with her! She fell asleep in the middle seat pretty quickly after take off and I watched movies instead of reading my book. United apparently has all sorts of free on demand new releases now and I enjoyed a bunch of them. Also I enjoyed what I call “God TV” when we flew past a ton of thunder storms at dusk along the East Coast.

mesophiabillMe, Sophia and Bill at a rest stop in Israel.

I felt a lot of weird feelings flying into the New York City metro area for the first time since I moved away in late December. It felt like I was getting home but I don’t live there anymore. Our layover was a total opportunity to hang with folks from the trip but I couldn’t find anyone so I just roamed the terminal alone and texted friends. We couldn’t go to our gate because they have another extra security check point that doesn’t open until the flight is near boarding. I found out later everyone was in the bar but I don’t drink so it didn’t occur to me to check!

I met Megan in line for the next security check point and bonded over really really not wanting a middle seat. She runs a youth media and filmmaking education program and asked me what I do and somehow I started talking about all of my jobs and overwhelmed even myself. Sometimes I remember that I could nail my audio logo in thirty seconds and could figure out how to translate the what do you do question into talking about the business I’m working on but I’m still kind of clumsy at that and just talk about what comes to mind. Whatever, working for a sex worker’s rights non-profit and a body positive activist and all the other gigs makes for really interesting conversation.

After waiting in line for the second security check they had us put our bags on a table and then did some kind of sensor thing and told me they were looking for narcotics. I said a silent thank you prayer that I had so diligently sorted through everything I packed so I didn’t accidentally bring some “California meds” with me in my purse or carry on.

Megan and I tried so hard to get window seats but the gate agent had nothing for us. It was a good bonding experience for us to try to fight that battle together. I feel grateful that I have this really baller Cabeau memory foam neck pillow that cinches and holds my head upright which saves me from accidentally sleeping on the person next to me and I was really hoping to sleep a lot on the 9 hour flight.

joedanhalansheepherdingDan, Joe and H. Alan surveying the Biblical landscape and watching other people herd sheep and goats. It’s so weird that I’m friends with them now but this photo was just as we were meeting!

Unlike our flight from CA I sat next to no one from our trip, and I could hear everyone excitedly chattering near me but the men sharing my row weren’t so effervescent as nervous excited REALITY Storytellers. The lucky guy with the window seat next to me fell asleep immediately and stayed asleep the entire flight, never once going to the bathroom so I kind of felt grateful to have easier access to walking around.

My friend Michael passed away after getting blood clots from a long flight to Hawaii. Fat people and women are socialized to prioritize other people’s needs over our own and walking around on a long flight is actually super important to preventing blood clots. So even if I feel like I want to not bother people while experiencing all the triggers of being fat on a plane, I use Michael to inspire me to prioritize my health, rise above the shame, stigma and discomfort in asking someone to move out of their aisle seat so I can go use the restroom. I also found a tiny place behind a row of seats to do some yoga while most of the flight was still asleep.

What was surprising about the flight was the meal service, we got dinner and breakfast. I haven’t experienced meal service on a flight in years. Also particular for Israeli travel was that forty-five minutes until we landed we weren’t allowed to walk around on the plane.

I was way in the back of this huge plane so when we finally landed it took me a long time to deplane, and I really only recognized about six people from our trip, all of whom were already on their way to baggage claim presumably. I was nervous about losing the group in a foreign country where I had no cell service but I also really needed to use the restroom and freshen up a bit. On the packing list they had suggested packing an extra outfit in your carry on and I assumed we would have another opportunity to change and put on make-up. This was the only opportunity folks, and I missed it.

I realized quickly as I hustled to baggage claim and through the passport check point that since sun hats were on our packing list almost all the Storytellers had on hats! I started following people in hats. And luckily, this and many times to come, I found Rick Sorkin and Bill in line because they are like 6’5” and easy to spot in a crowd.

bevinsheepherdingI just look at all of my selfies with the herd and wish I was wearing more muppety make-up but it’s fine my gender presentation doesn’t have to be perfect for me to have an amazing time.

I almost blew it in the passport line. Since I had surrendered all trip obsessiveness, I didn’t have any idea what hotels we were staying in and other than a few highlights didn’t know much about where we were going. The passport woman was giving me so much side eye and I was trying to explain “I’m on this leadership development high energy journey through Israel, I’m with all these other…” but none of the Storytellers were left and it was just me.

Eventually I found something saved on my phone that seemed to satisfy her and I got my sticker for entry but it was a freaky moment. I also know I have a lot of privilege as a White person from the US and it might not have been so easy for me if I wasn’t. I also know now to study my itinerary and know it well when I go through a passport check point. I have a lot of feelings about borders in general that have come up for me on this trip I’ll discuss in a later post.

I got to baggage claim and luckily my bag was waiting for me but sadly for three of my fellow travelers they were chasing after United for days. So disheartening. I learned from Sarah Hurowitz on this trip that in her extensive business travel knowledge that if “it isn’t in your possession you might as well never see it again.”

I kept trying to figure out who was on our trip and meeting people and being good with names. We proceeded in a few clumps towards the exit and our waiting tour bus. It must have been so hard for the staff on the trip to figure out who everyone was and that we actually had everyone. As a participant on this trip in many parts you are completely shielded from logistics and in some ways it was an amazing break from real life so we could focus on the experience.

As soon as we got on the tour bus we had our first lecture from our tour guide Michael Bauer (as of this point we had no idea how good we were getting it) about the differences we might find about Israeli culture from American culture and the size and scope of Israel. Then we were off to our first adventure, a sheepherding experience at a Biblical nature preserve. I’m obsessed with animals and feel a strong connection to them, so this was an ideal activity for me. It was not an ideal activity for the strappy sandals I wore on the plane and was struggling with through rocky “Biblical” terrain.

biblicalnaturepreserve

Our group of fifty was split in two. We spent a few minutes learning about what our task was, moving the mixed herd of sheep and goats through several points in a giant pen. While the first half of our sub group was taking a turn at sheepherding our group spent time strategizing, identifying a leader in our subgroup who had experience sheepherding and I pumped the facilitator for more information about sheep and goats that might help us. First of all, in a mixed herd, the natural leader in the herd is a female goat. Second of all, in our herd there was only one breed of animal that may have existed in Biblical times and that was the Syrian goat, who was the leader of our herd.

It was pretty bananas trying to herd animals with a bunch of people you only just met. Our strategy was to create a semi-circle and move the herd that way. It kind of worked, we were ultimately successful. I only got hit by a ram in my leg a couple of times and only got scratched up by Biblical thorny plants a little bit, but I barely noticed because it was so thrilling to get to hang out with animals.

sheepandgoats

The debrief had a lot of good nuggets about leadership. Learning from the group you’re trying to lead about the best way to lead them. Leading from behind so that they take their own initiative. Sometimes groups need a gentle but firm push in the rump to get moving.

After the sunset and sheepherding we moved our group to a replica of Abraham’s tent for snacks, our nametags, swag bags with the printed program in them and the first group go around. I was legit disappointed that with a replica of Abraham’s tent there was no replica of a Red Tent (you’ll remember it if you read the awesome novel by the same name)! It’s my favorite woman-centered activity from Biblical times, a special tent for the women of the tribe to bleed during the Full moon because that’s when people were more moon-focused and bled together.

It was nearing 9PM and even though there were snacks out we were still going to get dinner in Tel Aviv. I had no idea how many hours it had been since I left home. It was only the first indicator of the fast pace of this trip.

storytellerssheepherdingIf you could hear sound in this photo you’d hear some guns going off in the military training ground off to the right.

2016-09-08

REALITY Storytellers: Flying While Fat and Preparing for My First International Trip

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

I’m a Capricorn. In short, that means I like to be in charge. As anyone who has traveled in a group with me can attest, I love an itinerary and I love to be prepared. Before my trip to the Florida Keys I was obsessively watching tourist videos about the area and crowd-sourcing my Facebook so that I could curate the coolest and best trip possible. 

bevinbikinitoastFatkini and Toast. Photo by Dara.

Faced with a trip to a country I’d never been, and not speaking more than a couple of words of Hebrew or Arabic, I would have normally spent six months preparing. Because the trip is planned and curated entirely by the Foundation, I did the opposite of my inclination and entirely surrendered to it, which was not super hard because life has gotten so hustle bustle. It’s been a practice for me to learn let go and let things happen.

I read the suggested preview articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (here, here and here), but I didn’t read any of the books. (My reading list is LONG, I’m a slow reader, I select books judiciously.) Based on what the other REALITY Storytellers have reported about the suggested books, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is now in my to-read list. 

We got a draft of the trip itinerary but that was also long and said DRAFT all over it and maybe I just have DRAFT training to barely pay attention until I have a final version. I was kind of worried I would get attached to outcomes and if things were canceled or moved around it would discombobulate me so in my mind I was going to wait until we got the final itinerary and look at it on the plane. (We ended up getting it when we had already done one of the leadership development exercises in Israel.)

I regret not reading that draft. I would have understood a lot more what we were up to and it turned out our draft itinerary only changed slightly. Once I realized that the itinerary not only had timelines but writing and articles about each adventure I would try to cram them before each stop but there was never enough time. The itinerary for the trip is the size of a novella.

The size of that final printed itinerary is the first of a series of realizations that “there’s obviously a lot of work, passion and thought that goes into curating the REALITY trips.”

Dara is so go with the flow about her travel that she is a great counterpoint to my overpreparedness. She did a lot of eye rolling during my obsessive research about the Keys. When she went on REALITY Global last summer she totally surrendered to the trip and I don’t think she read her itinerary the whole time. She just let the bus take her wherever and experienced it. I think that different ways of being in the world are totally valid.

REALITY sent a suggested packing list and I remember last year going through it with Dara and regendering it for her because masculine presenting women, feminine presenting men or genderfluid people don’t fit neatly in “For men you should pack two pairs of slacks” kind of lists. Since we didn’t know exactly what she was doing we guessed at what she wears that could work for the packing list and hoped for the best.

img_20160903_180448956-animationPhoto of me and Ryan, half of the duo that created the photo booth at Dollypalooza NYC by Shoog McDaniel. Check out the photo booth in real life at Dollypalooza LA October 29th at Los Globos.

I don’t fit neatly into suggested packing lists either. My gender is flamboyant not binary. My only shorts are these tiny denim things with big ol’ fringe on the side and I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant by shorts for hiking.  I just wear dresses all the time, even when hiking. I know how to dress “modestly” when asked  (for two stops on our trip we were asked to prepare for modesty). I think I did a pretty okay job packing. I have a couple of “In hindsight I would have worn this other thing” moments I’ll describe when I get to those parts of the trip story but I felt comfortable subbing “dress” for pretty much everything they mentioned in the packing list.

My friend Jenn came over to hang out the day before I left and it was great to have her company as I meticulously went through everything before I packed it. I travel so much that I have a lot of systems in place to make it easy for me. I have a “go pack” of toiletries that has an easy in and out pouch if I don’t anticipate washing my hair or taking a real shower. I have a second set of make-up for travel. That kind of stuff.

I wanted to make extra sure I was packing as light as possible knowing that we were going to go from hotel to hotel often. I harbored the idea I could pack as light as my friend Vera did when she went to Vietnam earlier this year for two weeks with only a daypack. She said her secret was travel cubes and not caring how her hair looked. I got cute travel cubes and aspired to getting it all in a carry on size suitcase but changed my mind last minute because it was going to be way easier for me to pack quickly each morning with a bigger suitcase. That was a kind choice I made for myself. This was the first time I ever had checked luggage weigh in at less than 32 pounds! So my meticulousness was worth it in the end, it made life easier to not have a ton of extra stuff and I wore everything at least once. 

I was nervous, which is why I spent so much time working on packing. I had never been out of North America, never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I had never used my passport. In fact, I let my passport expire in 2013 and didn’t renew it because forking out $100 for an aspirational passport renewal hadn’t been in my budget so being accepted on the trip required me to do it. Since Israel doesn’t stamp passports I still don’t have any stamps. (By the way, they just redesigned the US Passport. If you don’t count Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, there are only two people represented in it, both White men, one a farmer and one a cowboy. The graphic design is beautiful but the representation of actual US diversity is wildly lacking.)

During the Desiree Alliance conference I co-facilitated the fat caucus with the fabulous Joëlle Ruby-Ryan. During it one of the participants talked about asking for priority boarding as an accommodation and it empowered me to think about what accommodations I might need while flying to Israel. It’s a long flight, six hours on the first leg and nine on the second. (Longer still on the way home.)

joellebevinMe and Joëlle at the Fat Caucus.

Being fat on an airplane is a nightmare. There are plenty of places fat people go that remind us that the world is built for people who are small, even though in the US the average size is 14 and considered “fat.” Those tiny airplane seats with the arm rests are awful. The leg room doesn’t allow for tall people and the seat belts are not at all consistently sized. I can be on the same airline with two legs to a flight and one flight the seatbelt will fit me fine and on another I’ll need an extender. Same exact body, inconsistent seat belts.

If you’re a person with thin privilege feeling annoyed that a fat person is next to you on a flight, please know that the fat person is likely feeling 1,000 times worse. A whole myriad of feelings are possibly coming up. They are probably doing everything in their power to make themselves small, scrunch over to the side and get out of your way. They are possibly having a ton of shame triggers because a fatphobic society reminding you that you don’t fit in the world is just a current corporeal reality opening a pandora’s box of a lifetime of fat harassment and societal ridicule. They are maybe even totally checked out of their bodies because disembodiment is a response to trauma and it is traumatic to hold the level of oppression fat people have endured. If shame actually worked to cause weight loss there wouldn’t be a billion dollar diet industry because believe me, fat folks are conditioned to feel shame and beat themselves up way worse than the outside world does.

My fat experience on a plane is fairly average because I’m not super fat (a chosen self descriptor for a larger fat experience than mine) and I’m not an inbetweenie (a term to mean those folks between plus size and straight size). I prefer a window seat because in them I feel I’m the most out of the way, I can lean into the window away from the middle seat person and I don’t have my arm bumped every five minutes by flight attendant carts (my arms are fat, too). Some fat folks I know like to travel with a thin friend who can be in the seat next to them and therefore a buffer to other airline passengers. Plus you get to raise that arm rest that isn’t giving anyone any actual personal space. Folks will also travel with another fat friend and then split the cost of a third ticket so they get extra space with the empty middle seat. If you’re a fat person and interested in learning more about coping mechanisms for flying while fat, there’s a great Facebook group.

I had to actively check out from worrying about what my experience flying for so long would be like. As soon as the worry would pop up I would use tools I know to redirect my thoughts. Like repeating a mantra, or solving for the worst case scenario.

A lesson I’m working on learning is that I am valuable enough to ask for what I need. So I decided to ask for the accommodation I needed and I emailed the Schusterman Foundation (the folks sponsoring the trip) and said that as a person of size it would make my trip easier if I had a window seat. They were very nice about it and got in touch with the travel agent right away. I got a window seat for both cross country legs of the trip but unfortunately the travel agent couldn’t make it happen for the longer legs from Newark to Israel. I was stressed but decided to just do my best to make it work and ask at the ticket counter as she suggested.

bonvoyagebevinMy bon voyage photo at the airport where Macy would not cooperate. Photo by Dara.

With that, I was all packed up and had a friendly email and text message chain from the trip facilitator who would meet us at the gate to our LAX leg of the flight. It felt a lot like the first day of summer camp, not knowing anyone from the trip and being nervous about whether or not I was going to make friends.

After Dara dropped me off I had to do International travel things on my own. Checking in for an International flight is kind of the same but they tell you to be there 3 hours early, except if you have a domestic leg the first time then you just come the normal 2 hours early. Security was bananas but I think it was due to construction on the United terminal.

My first stop outside of security was Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for iced tea and I saw this really cute hip dude in a cool hat and jean jacket with lots of enamel pins including a Golden Girls and several Hillary pins. When I saw him again in front of me waiting for the water fountain I hoped that he would be on my trip.

halanbevin

It was the first time I ever saw H. Alan Scott, writer, comedian and co-host of Out on the Lanai, the Golden Girls podcast and he, in fact, was on my trip. When he showed me his Golden Girls tattoo during the layover that’s when I really knew it was going to be an amazing adventure.

More on my experience flying all that way and how the adventure immediately began on the ground in my next post!

halantattooH. Alan plans to add the banana leaf pattern from Blanche’s bedroom wallpaper to complete the sleeve and I can’t wait to see it!

2016-08-29

Why All Bodies are Good Bodies: Body Liberation Activism in Five Minutes

On that trip of a lifetime earlier this month, (I’ve been home a week/can’t believe it’s already been a week!) the first group go around we said our name and something people could talk with us about. I have been in a lot of facilitated groups; this was the simplest and most effective go around for sparking individual conversations! Some people picked silly stuff and some people went more serious. I chose strategically because I knew the folks with whom I would engage with were global influencers, it was a rad opportunity to get to talk to them about body liberation activism!

bevinallbodies

What I did not expect was how sharp and quick my 2-5 minute spiel about body liberation activism would get when I delivered it 20 times! Sometimes it was one-on-one sitting next to each other on the bus, sometimes it was at dinner to a few folks, and then that time Jenna asked me about it I gave a full five minute workshop about it with a tiny cluster of curious Storytellers. Jenna and I continued a lengthy conversation about it for almost a whole day.

jennafloppyhatGlamour from a place of a floppy hat, featuring Jenna, a totally brilliant, inquisitive babe/ardent feminist.

To me Body Liberation Activism stems from a place where all bodies are valued equally. Think about our culture’s obsession with Body Currency, a concept coined by Jes Baker.

In a system of Body Currency, bodies are each assigned a specific value based on a metric of privileges and oppressions. Body size is one, so is age (and we’re literally all aging), ability (we’re literally all only temporarily able-bodied), race, class, religion, gender, binary gender conformity, flamboyance, expressions of sexuality, and how else we might be visibly or invisibly othered.

In a fatphobic society, all bodies are targeted and made to feel insecure. A fear of fat develops that results in epic amount of eating disorders and body shame. It creates a culture of conformity which benefits billion dollar cosmetics, diet and other industries that capitalize on our feelings of shame and unworthiness.

I focus on the semantics of “Body Liberation Activism” rather than just “Fat Activism” because I acknowledge that everyone is affected by this. Thin folks can use their privilege to act as an ally to fat folks, but when we dismantle systems of Body Currency we all win.

heelsonwheelslareadingI talked about how coming out as queer was affected by my experience with fat oppression in my piece in the Lambda Literary Award Winning anthology, Glitter and Grit. Here’s me and other brilliant contributors at the LA launch earlier this summer. Azure D. Osborne-Lee, Heather Ács, Anna Joy Springer and Meliza Bañales.

To walk in alignment with Body Liberation is to disinvest from a system of Body Currency. Some places to start:

1. Cleanse the judgment palate.

When you find yourself judging someone else’s body or looks, stop yourself. Notice that you are doing it. Come up with a “thought palate cleansing” mantra, such as, “All bodies are good bodies.” “All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.” If you want to take to to the woo tip, “I see the light in that human. We are equal,” and actually imagine their golden light of humanity shining out of them.

2. Take your own inventory.

How are you loving your body? How are you talking to yourself about your body? Are you putting off living life or doing anything until you hit a goal weight? Are you talking shit about parts of your body? Commit to yourself to do the work to come into loving alignment with your body and your life will get exponentially happier, your activism will get more effective and folks in your life will absorb your values.

Body love doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a series of brainwashing to unlearn the lies our culture tells us about our bodies. I started this work at 22 years old, after 15 years I’m still doing the work, but now loving myself is a reflex.

bevinbobtammyWorld Famous *BOB* and Tammy Cannons are performing with me this Saturday at Dollypalooza NYC!

3. Speak up for other folks.

I love to gently remind people how they can use their privilege. (I prefer gentle consciousness raising to “calling out,” I find it wildly more effective.) My bestie Rachael told me once that she feels like a thin secret agent among other thin people when she hears body shaming going down. That is a great place to consciousness raise.

If you hear your thin friends talking shit about other bodies or talking shit about their own bodies, that is a great time to step in and say something like, “I believe that all bodies are good bodies.” Or drop knowledge bombs like describing the system of Body Currency and how it hurts everyone.

You can also talk about your friend Bevin’s work to help people love their bodies no matter their size. I know a lot of folks who amplify my work as a way of being an ally and I think it really helps to not have to take a full “stand” or argue, but simply to talk about different ideas.

backofthebusrealityJust some of the back of the bus crew. I have about 2400% more straight male friends than I did before this trip. We had great convos!

4. Don’t comment on other people’s bodies.

Well intentioned people act in fatphobic ways all the time! I take it as a total nonpliment when people tell me I look so good when I’ve lost weight! Gross! I was hot before, still hot now. Being body neutral means not commenting on people’s bodies even when that is so ingrained in our culture and it’s haaaard. Try just complimenting them on their hair or their outfit if you are trying for a fast save. (Read all about it in my post How to Be a Good Ally to Fat People Who Appear to Have Lost Weight.)

This is also true for how you interact with young people. Girls are told they are pretty and boys are told they are brave. We condition kids to perpetuate these ideas that a girl’s value is in their looks and a boy’s value is in their ability to hide their feelings and be “tough.” Kids are also sponges, refraining from talking about other people’s bodies in front of them, especially your own is a big deal! I learned a lot of body self-loathing from well intentioned and loving adults in my life. Being conscientious about body talk around kids is like waving a magic wand for their current and future self esteem.

rebelcupcakebevinbymorganI had to do so much work around my body to be okay with Visible Belly Outline. But now it’s a THING OF REVOLUTION and there are whole articles about it! Photo by Morgan Hart, Rebel Cupcake 2012.

5. Remember your ally tools.

People see fat folks, queers, people of color, women, non binary gendered people, older folks, disabled folks, etc… as less than. They often love to speak FOR them. Do that when you’re alone (see #3 above) but when in a group with folks whose bodies are differently valued than yours, help to amplify those voices.

If you’re a man and you want to talk about amplifying women’s voices, make sure you aren’t interrupting or talking over women.  Learn about mansplaining and don’t do it. If a woman has asked a question in a crowd and it’s getting ignored (I witnessed that on my trip), use your privilege and ask the speakers to address the question. If a fat person is around and talking about fat oppression, if a person of color is talking about an experience of oppression, etc… your job as an ally is to listen and amplify.

It’s also not your job to “save” self loathing fat folks! Sometimes thin people are the BEST allies because the notion that someone with body privilege is valuing your body is really thrilling, but for some fat folks talking about bodies is really triggering and they’re not ready for it. It’s okay to gently say you believe all bodies are good bodies when a fat person talks shit about their body to you, but if they are fighting back, let them have their own process around it. In that vein…

6. Body autonomy is important.

Listen, not all fat people are fat and happy. Thanks to a fatphobic society we’re taught to hate our bodies. We’re also a culture that prioritizes a diet of starchy bullshit that does unkind things to bodies that involves inflammation, persistent chronic health disorders and sometimes weight gain. (Remember a thin person can be less healthy than a fat person, a lot of fat experience is due to genetic lottery.)

Everyone is going to have their own goals about their body and maybe that includes weight loss goals. I am totally in support of people’s body autonomy and goals. But think about who you are talking to about your body goals and your issues with your body.

Fat people (especially Fat women and Fat Femmes) are often targeted for uncompensated emotional labor around bodies. How shitty would it feel for a fat friend of yours to hear about how much you don’t like your fat. As someone who has worked hard to step away from body policing and negative body talk, I am astounded at how many fat people I know who hear it from friends in their own body policing.

Get consent BEFORE you talk about your body with anyone, and especially fat folks and then pay attention to non verbal cues about someone actually not being comfortable talking about it. You never know when you’re potentially triggering someone out about an eating disorder or body trauma.

And dear Goddess, if you are a thin or thinner person dating a fat person, don’t talk shit about your body to them! Get your emotional support for your body weight fluctuations from outside of your relationship. It is so hard to be vulnerable with your body sexually; an empowered person is a lion in the sack, but a disempowered person cannot roar. (More on this in  Seven Ways to Be an Ally to Your Fat Lover.)

hardfrenchwinterball

Ready for more? Here are some great resources:

My boo Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s TED talk, “The Fear of Fat, the Real Elephant in the Room.” (I have a draft of one, too, if anyone knows of a TED event I should apply to let me know!)

The Body Is Not an Apology, founded by Sonya Renee Taylor, fosters global, radical, unapologetic self love which translates to radical human love and action in service toward a more just, equitable and compassionate world.

The Fat Activism Conference in September is going to be amazing! It’s virtual so you can do it from anywhere.

Jes Baker‘s book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls.

Other hits people have liked from my blog that amplify body liberation:

Nine Steps to Be Able to Wear Sleeveless Shirts by Next Summer

I Lost a Bunch of Weight and Feel Really Complicated About It

Five Steps to Learn to Love Your Body Now

Six Strategies to Not Care When People Stare at You

 

 

 

2016-08-24

I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times: General Life Update from Bevin’s HQ

Friends! I just got back from one of the most inspirational and fulfilling weeks of my life. Intentional community, dream trip, deep emotions, deep caring, connections, luxury bathtubs. It was such a surprise to me that the experience was so deep and so much of what I needed.

I was blogging through the process of my transition to LA from Brooklyn, but things got pretty derailed for me as I have been affected both by the de-stability of the transition and the effects of the mental illness and substance abuse of a close friend. Shit has been rough.

How blessed I feel to have had this experience. Intentional community is incredibly healing for me. Summer camp did that for me as a kid and a teen. The Femme Conference did that for me for awhile, so did performing with my drag king troupe in the early 2000s. Now I have this new experience to reflect on. I’m excited to dive in and tell you all about what I saw, heard, learned, felt and experienced. But first, I think I need to paint a picture of what’s been going on in my life for context.

Exciting Stuff for my Body Positive Art and Activism
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I’m presenting at the Fat Activism Conference in September! It’s an online conference happening September 23-25, 2016 that you can listen to by phone or computer from wherever you are, you’ll also receive recordings and transcripts of each talk so you can listen/read at your convenience. It is super financially and time accessible as far as conferences go. I recorded my speech Disinvesting from Body Currency and Building Activist Resilience in July and I can’t wait to hear what all these other influencers and thought leaders have to say. Big love to the Fat Activism Conference organizers for all their hard work putting it together! <3<3

I was featured in a Buzzfeed article about non-traditional beach wear. Lots of hot and stylish people give their ideas. Many lustworthy instagrams to follow are aggregated. Your girl represented for the fat, flamboyant, vintage collecting femmes.

My friend Jes Baker reposted an article of mine on her incredibly influential body positive blog The Militant Baker. She’s been doing some amazing writing herself and amplifying other body positive thought leaders you’ll be interested in. My post she reposted is 5 Simple Things You Can Do to Start Feeling Okay About Your Body Today.

I also must take this opportunity to plug Dollypalooza in NYC Sept 3rd and LA on October 29th! Come out and party for a cause!

Self Care

I believe self care stretches time (thanks to Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s therapist for that nugget) and in times of rough stuff I have been centering my life around that. In terms of time management I try to pick one modality and wrap my schedule around that per week. I just kind of assess what my greatest needs are and go from there.

4684915640_cddd098660_zDear Goddess: Please give unto me a trip to Sydney to visit my soul sister Kelli Jean. Love, Bevin. Photo from NOLOSE in 2010.

I have mentioned for years that I’m in a 12 step program for family and friends of alcoholics and it has been one of the best choices I have ever made for my well-being. Since shit has been going down with my friend, I’ve been going to meetings about 3 days a week. It’s kind of easy to center life around meetings because they are scheduled. Unlike working out at the gym or “whenever” self care, you make a commitment to get to that 10AM Tuesday morning meeting.

I have had a hard time working out because of my heat sickness and the 100 degree hot like the surface of the sun weather in LA (like that time I passed out at the Getty after doing aqua jog) so instead lately I’m doing light stretching, dancing, and taking sunset walks with my partner Dara and our magical dog Macy.

I believe food is foundational and for awhile I was doing a lot of emotional eating. Eating from a place of “I know I gotta eat and it will gladden my taste buds to have this food that doesn’t serve my chronic digestive disorder so I’m going to do it anyway.” I jumped in on another whole foods summer reset cleanse with my body positive health coach Heartbeets Holistic Health. It’s a keep you hella full and take you by the hand and teach you how to prepare and eat anti-inflammatory foods program. Very veggie focused with access to meat if it’s your thing. Tons of recipes. Tons of self care modalities like dry brushing and detox baths.

Once you do Vic’s cleanse one time subsequent cleanses are gratis. I find when I’m doing a lot of traveling it is soooo helpful for me to focus on whole foods anti-inflammatory eating at home. It’s centering and also keeps the travel food from totally fucking up my life while I’m out of town and don’t have as much control over my food. So during the cleanse I was centering my life around cooking, grocery shopping and nourishing me and Dara.

I was shocked at how much better my capacity for dealing with life’s shit storms got when I was doing this cleansing. My moods stabilized and I was better able to be present with Big Feelings. Like, literally improved my relationship because when I’m in a better space emotionally so is Dara (#Empath4Empath is a tightrope sometimes). By Day 5 I could feel that initial impulse to freak out about something but I didn’t actually freak out. I was like seeing my Big Feelings from a calm and centered space and didn’t need to let it melt me down. What a gift I gave myself by focusing on healing my gut.

10176302283_70a9713433_oThank you forever Vic. I love you. (Vic’s in the center, we’re surrounded by Randee and Leo.)

Spirituality

I moved to LA to deepen my spiritual gifts and have continued to open myself up to new thoughts and ideas and create new spiritual practices. Given all of the tremendous devastation going on in the world at large right now, listening to NPR makes it hard to resist bawling your eyes out or settle into a default mode of rage. I know rage doesn’t serve me. So I like to employ prayer, gratitude and meditation to help elevate the world. At least it’s a thing I can do. I believe in good vibes. I believe do gooders in the world make the world a better place just by believing in hope. I’ll revisit that idea in a later post.

But let’s just say right now faith is kind of all I have in a lot of arenas of my life. I find it strengthens me when I can lean into it. It’s kind of like when you work out and build your core muscles your back pain gets better? Working out my faith really helps me stand tall in the face of an oppressive world that doesn’t value all human lives equally.

$$$ Hustle $$$

Capitalism is real and your girl has to pay those student loans and health insurance premiums, rent and vet bills. Moving to LA we knew that we had a finite amount of savings to live off of, we knew that I was working to retire from the practice of law and that we’re both building up small businesses. (Dara has a consulting business focusing on educational leadership.)

I believe being transparent about money is a form of classist resilience. They don’t want us to talk about money because keeping us in shame about how we are surviving because shame keeps us complacent. Right now I have about $1,500 in my bank account. Dara just got a check so we know how we pay October’s rent. But last week we didn’t know.

Seven months into our move to LA the hustle is real. I’ve lived before not knowing when next month’s rent is going to come and having to have faith it will—it never feels great. Here’s a list of how I’m gathering my acorns:

Desiree Alliance: I am so fortunate to work with an incredibly bad ass activist, Cris Sardina, who runs Desiree Alliance, a sex worker’s rights non-profit. Things got really busy before our biannual conference in July in New Orleans. We bring together activists working for decriminalization, direct service providers, professionals, academics, current and former sex workers and allies for five days of programming. We had some extraordinary keynote speakers, like Miss Major who is one of our surviving elders from Stonewall. She’s a trans woman of color dedicated to supporting trans women of color in the prison system through her non-profit TGI Justice (trans women of color are disproportionately incarcerated due to transmysoginy, racism and classism). Miss Major is a source of strength and resilience inspiration and just such a sweetheart. There is a movie about her that is winning awards all over the documentary circuit called Major! and you should prioritize seeing it. Her story is important and so inspirational.

I don’t make a ton of money as the finance officer of Desiree Alliance but it is meaningful work I feel honored to do. I’m looking forward to writing more grants with Cris to set up a sex worker activist mentoring program.

crisbevindararueMe, Cris, Dara and her baby granddaughter Rue, named for Rue McClanahan from Golden Girls.

Social Media Party Monitor for The Militant Baker: My friend Jes Baker is what I would call a “more famous body positive activist than me” and has hundreds of thousands of followers. That’s a lot of folks who comment and interact with her on social media and since her work challenges the concept of body currency the trolls who have nothing better to do than hate on awesome fat women uplifting people come out from under their bridges to say shitty things. I feel like a guardian who gets to make it easier for Jes to do her great work in the world. Read her book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls (I’m quoted in it!!!). 

Dara wondered how I do it without having it affect me since I do the same kind of activism. I don’t know, it’s just easier for me partially because I get paid and partially because it is not directed at me and I know it makes Jes’ capacity greater. One of my life dharmas is to support activist resilience and somehow the purpose makes it easier for me read and delightfully block shit. And one day I’ll be influential enough to hire my own body positive activist friend to do that work for me! It’s great to have a job that is literally in line with your activism, however small it is.

jesbakerbevinchangetheworldHelping Jes change the world is an honor.

Law: I’m still maintaining an office in NYC so that I can practice real estate closings and estate planning for returning clients and friends in NYC. Most of my work is remote anyway and I have a great closing attorney who works with me when I can’t get to NYC for a closing. I just binge watched a ton of Continuing Legal Education classes in June and it was kind of fun learning about cannabis law, a very fascinating area I have no desire to practice in (still working on retiring from practice not starting something new) but as a media maker it’s helpful to have a fuller understanding of the evolving legal climate around cannabis.

The class about substance abuse for lawyers was fascinating, it taught me about how the qualities that makes one an effective attorney lends itself to suicide (the third leading cause of death among lawyers) and really highlighted for me why I am retiring.

Bevin’s Tea: I am still working on my Marie Forleo’s B-School course work and developing my business. I went to the World Tea Expo and cannot wait to have capacity to video blog about all the great teas I learned about. It’s both fun to be working towards a business I am extremely passionate about and frustrating about how long it takes to start something with no capital.

I have been learning so much both in practice and in B-School about creating a product-based business. Supporting artists and activists who maybe don’t have time or money to go get energy healing to take the fifteen minutes to prepare and consume a cup of reiki-infused tea is definitely part of my dharma. Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered tea, it really helps a lot to learn the business by doing and I love the feedback. Can’t wait for you to see the product packaging I’m developing with my graphic designer!

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I also had no idea how much work it takes to start a new business and am taking each failure, mistake and triumph as necessary stepping stones to becoming the wildly successful energy healing mogul I know I can be. Also I want a line of clothing on QVC someday. As Dolly Parton says, Dream More!

Blog: My blog is a source of trickling income. I get gift cards for Amazon.com. When readers click links and buy literally anything on the site I get a commission. That helps me buy stuff for the house.

I get cash money from Bandelettes, the single sexiest form of chub rub prevention on the market (I used to spend all my commission on fatkinis but lately it’s gotta pay the bills).

The blog leads to the occasional speaking gig or sponsored blog post. If you want to reach a bunch of awesome people about your product or service, hit me up queerfatfemme at gmail.com. A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has pre-ordered tea through my blog or used the Amazon referral link. Seriously helping right now.

everybodyeverybootyMe in my EveryBody tank and Dara in her Everybooty tee-shirt. East Coast West Coast queer lifestyles. Gym vs pride party.

OMG how many people have told me I “should just get a job” when I have a lot of them and am working towards being a full time body positive artist/activist/healer. But… I am getting a job, in addition to all the other jobs I have. I had to write my first resume focused on body positive activism! There’s a new body positive gym opening up 6 minutes from my house in Northeast LA. EveryBody is revolutionary, I’m honored to be part of the team.

It’s my deep pleasure to announce that I got a job as a fitness instructor doing body positive, accessible movement classes. I don’t think I would have ever thought in my whole life I would move to LA and become a fat femme Richard Simmons without the diet talk, but I’m really cute at it. I had done two different drag acts where we did fitness routines and those were for revolution not movement motivation but I’m stoked to get to be doing it for cash. I’ll give you more info when I have it.

Friends who visit LA–keep me updated because part of the class will involve interviews with artists and activists. Imagine a drag queen special guest star in a fitness class? I can’t wait to blow your mind. It’s like the next step to my body positive dance parties is to facilitate a dance party as part of moving and loving our bodies and healing collectively.

TRAVEL

I love to travel and have had some great opportunities this summer. I went to New Orleans for the Desiree Alliance conference and my friend Dana just happened to be staying at the same hotel after a bachelorette party. There’s nothing better than being at work at a conference dealing with the complaints of the AV guy and have a hot butch friend wearing a Dolly Parton tee shirt interrupt to hand you the best fried chicken in the world. I ate that fried chicken later on naked in my hotel room and it was the best moment.

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I went to Columbus a couple of weeks ago to visit my close friends Christie and Becky and their daughters/my nieces Etta and Joey. Our friends Erica and Amy joined us from Philly with their kids August and Ani. Yes, I have lesbian friends whose baby’s nickname is Ani and I think that’s a #lesbianlevelup. It’s such a gift to be close to children and get to be part of their growing up. My heart swelled with pride when Etta and Joey were on a meditation pillow showing me how they find “Inner peeeeessss.” I love those kids so much.

Next week I head to NYC for Dollypalooza for my first time back since we left in late December. My heart is happy and also breaks a little because I know I won’t get to see nearly everyone I want to while I’m in town.

Last week I was overseas and I have an epic series of blog posts about that a comin’.

auntbevinettaandjoeyMy goal is to always have it be THE MOST FUN EVER when Aunt Bevin comes to town. I taught them how to hop train cars using this long cart at Target.

BEVIN <3 DARA

Dara and I never formally lived together before we moved to LA. Shit has been rough for us externally but we continue to find one another as a source of strength. Every time we hit a rough patch, we get through it and things get even stronger between us. We’ve talked about marriage obviously (and the legal protection offered would be really cool) but we’re waiting until we have the cash to have the blow out epic wedding of our dreams to pursue the level up. Queers have been finding creative ways of honoring our love connections for years outside of marriage and I am having a great time creating family culture and ritual with her based around our super woo spirituality and her Jewish cultural heritage.

bevindarathemedressI don’t support colonial imperialism but I do love red white and blue. How lucky that Dara loves theme dress as much as me?

Our house is cute as fuck and I’m learning how to let go of my perfectionism about it. House projects are constantly mounting and my Mariah Carey closet is still not finished. I was making myself suffer mentally and emotionally because I had this idea that everything “should” be done by now. I know now I had expectations that weren’t aligned with reality and given lack of cash, time and capacity we can’t have everything done yet. Houses are a lot of work, it’s like having another pet but way more demanding. I’m relying now on the power of six months and sitting in gratitude for what is done. We have a fridge (that wasn’t always true). I have my dream kitchen faucet we paid for through a rent reduction when the last one burst.

Now I just let it go, trust the universe and sing that song I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times

My goodness it feels good to be back to real talk on the blog. More soon. Sending love out to all who need it.

2015-06-25

Be a Great Ally to Fat Folks by Getting Neutral about Food

Nothing bums me out faster when I’m about to eat some food than someone commenting about food. Like this, “Oh I’m being SO BAD! I NEVER eat cupcakes!” Or “I really SHOULDN’T EAT THIS!” Or “I wish I could eat THAT but it would make me SO FAT!” Or “You’re lucky you can eat whatever you WANT I will blow up like a BALOON!!!”

If you want to watch a hilarious send up of this phenomenon check out this Amy Schumer skit. Where everything they eat is the bad thing, not killing a gerbil for fun.

551535_10153123306043749_7782605515862982091_nFood can be so confusing! Who knows what is a “good” food or a “bad” food–the media is always changing their mind!

Listen, I get it. We live in a fatphobic society where all bodies are vilified. Either you’re fat or you COULD get fat. Living in fear of being fat in a fatphobic society brings out the worst in people. Food is super threatening and triggering of all of those perpetuated fears. We have this contradictory culture in America where we hate on fat bodies yet have all this food that is normalized in the American diet that actually can cause weight gain. Where commercials on TV cycle between McDonalds and Coca-Cola and Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. What a mind fuck.

Words are SO powerful. When you speak something again and again to yourself or out loud, you are creating truth. I learned early on in my journey to love myself that language was one of the first things to change in order to shift your consciousness. When people shit talk food and bodies, it erodes self-confidence, body love and food enjoyment.

I think the best thing we can do, as fat folks and folks working in solidarity with us, is to refuse to participate in the system of body currency perpetuated by society. A system of body currency, where certain bodies are privileged over other bodies, creates competition, body hatred, feelings of never being enough, endless fear about body change. Body currency doesn’t just affect fat folks, it affects folks with any non-normative body–people of color, older people (we are literally all aging), disabled folks (we are literally all only temporarily able bodied), trans* folks, etc… I learned about body currency from the brilliant Jes Baker of The Militant Baker. Her analysis of why people hate Tess (Munster) Holliday and other fat happy people is totally spot on.

551438_10153458325913223_472698898048493744_nCelebrating a wedding with fancy friends with all different genders and bodies! Photo by Emily Huber of Seeing Through the Hands massage, a favorite body positive massage therapist here in Brooklyn.

Checking out of a system of body currency means assigning no hierarchical value to your body and no hierarchical value to other bodies. It means you love your body AND you leave lots of space for loving all the other kinds of bodies out there.

So you’re sitting around the lunch room at work, out to dinner with friends, at a BBQ at your parents’ house and suddenly everyone is talking about their food being SO BAD, or “I was SO GOOD, I only had three pieces of turkey bacon.” I mean. How alienating. All these people are doing is making food the enemy and turning the top soil of body hatred.

Body hatred for the fat people around them who just sit silently and assume everyone in the room is judging their bodies. Body hatred for the little kids around them are absorbing all of that food shame and body hatred like SPONGES. Body hatred for the people around them who are just trying to enjoy their burgers and don’t want to think about anything but their food enjoyment.

So what do you do when you’re surrounded by the I’M SO BADs of the world?

10277472_10153405563288749_6914403281423525504_nMe and one of my favorite fat folks with whom to enjoy food, Devon Devine of the SF party Hard French.

When I’m in situations like that with people judging food I have a variety of responses. I’m secure in my body and have a deep analysis of the fatphobia in our culture so I’m fairly resilient to the commentary. I’m also a fat person whose reputation and activism often precedes her so I feel confident piping up with something educational in the moment.

Here are some scripts that I employ:

“Hey, I try to be neutral about food because I think all bodies are good bodies.”

“Hey I’m worried about commenting about the value of food and body insecurity in front of these little ears nearby. I’d love to help them love bodies of all sizes so they don’t end up with food or body issues.”

“Cultivating a culture of food enjoyment is really important to me. I would love to enjoy this delicious food instead of assigning value to it!”

1798876_10153291498942464_5151942065411462089_nJack Dawson wearing a gorgeous outfit. I freaking love the pop of color on the sunglasses and the tie pattern over the shirt and the pocket square. Killing it.

My friend Jack Dawson sent a dispatch from their fatphobic corporate office life that I LOVE. “My female coworkers regularly express their appreciation for me because ‘Jack is SO nice, Jack never judges what I eat, even when I’m sooo unhealthy!’ Pretty much every day at lunch time I find myself saying some version of ‘I actually think that everyone is the boss of their own body and I support people in making whatever choices they want with their bodies, so it’s great that you’re eating what feels good for you today!’ In response to some kind of ‘Don’t judge me!’ or ‘I’m so bad!’ comment from coworkers.”

Being an ally to fat folks is especially important when you are a person of thin privilege. People get especially fatphobic around folks who they don’t perceive as marginalized in that way. My bestie Rachael calls it being a secret agent on behalf of fat folks, so when people hear you speaking truth to the all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are party line, they are taken by surprise and also sinks in a little better.

10421425_10102336927006350_7030431944225492207_nThis photo was of the time I introduced my friend Leo to Jack Dawson, who we started calling “New Leo” because they both resemble a young Leonardo DiCaprio and also Leo moved away. Photo by my health coach Vic.

If you want to go a little deeper than these scripts, try to create a lifestyle where you are actually neutral about food! I find this a wonderful daily challenge as a person who is fat and proud, who knows what kinds of food I am sensitive to and the effect they have on my body. (I have a chronic digestive disease that is wildly affected by the food I eat.) In my internal monologue, I could say, “I’m being so bad I’m eating this gluteny piece of wedding cake!” But instead I just think to myself, “I am making a choice about participating in the food-centered nature of this celebration and I accept the physical consequences that will surely develop tomorrow. I’ll take a probiotic about it and I will make different choices tomorrow.” Sometimes replacing an internal monologue with something very long that actually explains your feelings and what is happening in a neutral way is really effective in changing the way you think.

I work with my partner on this all the time, too. She is on a super low sugar anti-cancer diet after her experience with breast cancer. (We intend her to be “one and done” with cancer, so we’re employing lots of holistic ways in which we can keep her cancer free.) I cook 90% of her food so I work hard to make sure she eats in alignment with her body and her spiritual guidance around her body.

Dara is an external processor so listening to her process externally about her food choices gives me the opportunity to support her with reframing her language to be food neutral. It’s also helpful, too, that as a Body Liberation coach I can coach her into how she talks about food so it isn’t loaded with shame when she wants to have some sugar or whatever. Life is for living and life is for pleasure–everything in balance.

It’s important to me, as a fat person who is dating a person with thin privilege, that she knows her privilege and works with me 100% of the time on team Stepping out of Body Currency. (Which she does, Dara is amazing.) I’ve dated fat and thin people who were not 100% body positive and it was really shitty. It’s not about her eating sugar or not, I don’t care if she does, it’s just about how you use language to express your feelings about food and whether that language is perpetuating body currency.

10996651_10153116129793749_5950987657574205891_nI love Dara a lot, she is super supportive and open to new ways of speaking and being in the world. I feel so grateful to have such a wonderful partner in adventure.

In the words of Nicki Minaj “Life is a journey, I just want to enjoy the ride.” I can’t enjoy my food around folks who are shit talking food. So I do my best to create environments where food enjoyment is valued and food is value-neutral. I invite you to join me, life is much more fun this way!!

2015-05-20

On Activism, Capacity and Seeing Yourself as “Enough”

I’ve been thinking a lot about capacity, self care and activism lately.

This morning I got one of my daily spiritual emails* that talked about directing our energies without regard to the need to be successful in an outward way. It told a story about Mother Teresa, who was asked why she devoted herself to such a massive problem as alleviating the suffering of the poor, when obviously she wasn’t going to solve poverty. Where did she get her dedication, “knowing that all the poverty and sickness would still be there long after she had died? Didn’t she realize she couldn’t win?”

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“Her explanation was simple: Of course she knew the task was immense, but “finishing” wasn’t her purpose.” Since Mother Teresa was a person of faith, she was willing to do what she believed was the right action for her, regardless of the outcome. She was focused on the task itself, not the completion of it.

This resonated with me today, as I’ve been focusing on learning my capacity for work, developing systems of self care, and thinking about activist burn out. I think the tendency as one is socialized in systems of oppression, is to give and give of oneself until there is nothing left. This is a value often taught to women, the idea that you have to put everyone else’s needs before your own.

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Activist movements, as in almost all things, can suck you dry—there is always more to be done, more people to reach out to, more actions to plan, more art to make, more reaching out. But at a certain point you have to be able to say, this is my limit. But we’re not socialized in a way to know what our limits are, to think thoughtfully about our capacity, and how to use self care in order to build our capacity. We’re not socialized to be able to say, “Enough, I can’t do this any longer.” I’ve seen it wear down on people until disease forces them to make big life changes.

I had to learn how to start saying no to things, how to learn how to ask folks for time to respond to them (I usually take at least 24 hours to say yes or no to volunteer work), and how to assess whether I wanted to continue working on things that were pulling a lot of my energy. I have flares of my chronic digestive disorder whenever I start getting really stressed out emotionally or with work.

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Today I went for a walk on Venice Beach. My partner is in LA for a work conference and I got to stay with her at the conference hotel. I’m so grateful for a super flexible day job where I can work remotely from a hotel! I took an hour and a half off for lunch and a drive to the beach. I was very charmed by the beach but so troubled by the amount of trash that was washing ashore. I grew up as a Girl Scout in Northern California and we were always doing eco events, picking up trash in wetlands and things like that. It’s a great way to have intimacy with nature and be of service.

Whenever I’m in nature I can’t help it, I just start picking up trash. I get so troubled by seeing it, imagining plastic wrappers wrapping around the necks of birds and things like that. I am 36 years old, I’ve been hearing about environmental conservationism my entire life. It feels so sad that beach clean-up and litter in the ocean is still an ongoing issue. And don’t get me started about the Pacific Trash Vortex. I can’t even.

17721574790_ee6a1b7bc8_zSome kind of corporate stress ball that looked like it could have been a jellyfish from afar. The weirdest trash I found today was an empty bottle of Patron Silver.

My brain is wired in this way where I just start to go there, I think about how big the problem is, how futile it feels for me to walk on the beach and pick up trash without a trash bag. Just gathering things in a found Starbucks cup or precariously clutching them in my paws. I had to think about what I was doing with my time. Was I going to spend my entire walk on the beach picking up litter? Or would I take the relaxing walk I had originally intended?

I decided to asses my capacity and go from there. So I focused with the intensity of a Capricorn for two ten minute bursts, and spend the rest of my thirty or so minutes on the beach in contemplation of birds in the surf and walking along. It felt like a great way to put into practice just doing something I felt called or compelled to do, without regards to the fact that my twenty minutes of litter removal was not even a drop in the bucket compared to trash island. I needed to see it as good enough and let go of the outcome.

17906139372_6e7f32ce97_zI’m obsessed with this bird. Did it ever find the fish it was looking for today? It didn’t the whole time I watched it but I hope it found something delicious later on.

I want to be the kind of person in the world who is of service, and also a person who enjoys life. I think that enjoying life and being person who is receptive to good in the world makes me better able to dismantle systems of oppression that say that fat people, queer people, and women, folks raised working class should not be free to enjoy their bodies. That by being a living example of a fat, embodied, sexually liberated person enjoying life is a form of activism. And that enjoying life is a way of increasing my capacity to do good.

I also know that I can use my privilege as a White person, a person with higher education, a cisgender person, temporarily able bodied, some level of “pretty privilege**,” and a person who has access to media privilege to help causes that are important to me. I never believed that by posting a blog post about Lyme Disease that I was going to somehow cure it. But I did know that by raising awareness of it, encouraging even one of my followers to watch that documentary about Lyme might make someone more sensitive to it and make the experience of Lyme for someone they know easier because someone “gets it.” That’s something. Or maybe just one of my readers has $50 to throw at my friend Jessica’s Lyme fund.

17288704433_242a2f15b2_zWhen I’m a rich lesbian I will have lots of money to give to all sorts of great organizations doing good in the world, and will create a foundation dedicated to funding projects that mainstream funders avoid–like fat stuff, radical queer stuff, sex worker organizing–and building capacity in those movements to make them more effective and support their self care matrixes. Also I will have a baller house on the beach and all those windows will have a giant mural that says “All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.”

It can feel so daunting to be an activist and want to work to make the world better. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you don’t feel effective. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you’re depressed, anxious, need to focus on making money or just survival and feeling so helpless. Getting used to seeing what you are doing as enough, learning that because you are human you are worthy of love and it’s not about what you “do” that matters it’s more about who you are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the matrix of success lately, as I struggle through yet another round of letting go of my need to “accomplish” and “prove my worth.” I spent an entire session in therapy trying to talk about how I can get more done and my therapist arguing with me about how I am way too hard on myself. I have had to go through this so many times in my life and it usually ends up the same. I learn to let go of how much I accomplish, learn to feel worthy in spite of my ideas of success, and release blocks that enable me to find deep bursts of energy, creativity and the ability to work more effectively.

That airplane idea about putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others? I want to help create movements with folks where that is the norm and we help each other learn what our oxygen is.

17722918699_c035db8ea3_zLearning about my self care and what is effective self care has been really important for my journey to building my capacity and refilling my tank. Being at the beach really helps me. Such cleansing energy, with the wind (air), earth (sand), water (obvs) all that is missing is fire for a full four element cleanse.

*The one I am referring to is Today’s Gift from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which supports my work in a twelve step program for families and friends of alcoholics. I also get a daily email Note from the Universe which is super cute and whimsical.

**It feels really weird to say that you have pretty privilege when you are talking about yourself. I have so much to talk about in a subsequent post about that, but there’s definitely an element of being someone who has some level of conventional attractiveness that affects your privilege in the world, even as a fatty.

2015-01-28

Why Plus Model Tess Holliday’s Media Blitz is an Important Moment for Fat People Everywhere

So the other day I got a phone call from a reporter friend of mine at the New York Daily News (one of the big dailies in NYC) doing an article about plus size model Tess Holliday (formerly known as Tess Munster) being signed to a modeling agency. Tess is unusual because she’s only 5’4″ and a size 22–much different proportions than the standard for plus size models. By the way, even though plus size models are modeling clothing worn by women of lots of different shapes and sizes, the “industry standard” is under size 14 and 5’8″ or taller.

tessCNNTess Holliday on TV! Source: Tess Holliday Facebook.

I did the interview with the New York Daily News and my quote is good and meaty. Here it is.

“It’s astounding the reach she has and how many people respond to her,” said QueerFatFemme blogger Bevin Branlandingham. “She created a movement around being a plus-size model.

“It’s radical to have an agency willing to stand behind someone and push the envelope about what way models have to look. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. A good model has more to do with how she works in front of a camera then what her height and weight proportions are.”

Since that article came out on Saturday the media has been blowing up about Tess getting signed! I got an excited text from the reporter, Pearl Gabel, that it was the third most popular article on the Daily News’ website! Since the Daily News article came out I’ve seen Tess in People Magazine, Buzzfeed, CNN and just learned she was on Inside Edition!

During my brief interview with the Daily News I had a lot more to say than what my quote could fit, so here are my thoughts on why it’s important that Tess was signed by an agency and the resulting media storm.

tesscuteShe’s so cute! Source: Tess Holliday facebook page.

Fat comes in lots of shapes, and my fat looks really different than someone else who may be the same size as me. And it definitely looks different than a standard plus size model. It’s really refreshing to hear of a modeling agency willing to take a chance on a model who doesn’t fit into the industry standard.

So why does the modeling industry matter in all of this? Shouldn’t we be moving away from more superficial representations of bodies?

I was steeped in this issue when I was working at Re/Dress in its Brooklyn incarnation, 2008-2011. Then-owner Deb partnered with Plus Model Magazine to do a model search for a size 18+ model. I resisted at first, not feeling great about modeling as an industry and Re/Dress as an indie store helping supporting it. I remember a long conversation with Deb while we were sorting clothing on the racks talking about this. (Plus size processing was one of the best things about being a Shop Girl at Re/Dress.)

I came around 180 degrees watching the model contest unfold. There was of course an essay contest in addition to the photos for the entries. As folks who love people who love their bodies we really looked for people who had body positivity as part of their ethic. Seeing how excited people get about modeling and models, I thought it was a great way to use that excitement to feed in messages of body positivity. Additionally, it’s really fun to dress up and look pretty, especially if you’re in a non-normative body that is historically marginalized.

We ended up selecting a regular customer of ours who was so glamorous and gorgeous and, like Tess Holiday, gives amazing face in front of the camera. Audrey Lea Curry, who later went on to co-star in the erstwhile awesome show Big Sexy with my friend and fellow Re/Dress shop girl Leslie Medlik, was the model and won cash and prizes, including a spread in Plus Model Magazine featuring Re/Dress clothing and shot by amazing plus size model and photographer Velvet D’Amour.

audreyplusmodelmagA page from the Plus Model Magazine spread. Photos by Velvet D’Amour.

The plus model industry and size positive movement has been pushing the issue of representation in the fashion industry for a long time and it’s really heartwarming to see a shift happening in this moment. I remember ten years ago mainstream plus brands were barely starting to use standard size plus size models in their advertising. And today mostly you get the really pretty, “curvy” models. I love brands, like Domino Dollhouse, that have been using bigger plus size models all along and work to support them.

I first heard about Tess Holliday when she was modeling for Domino Dollhouse. I got to meet the designer, Tracy Broxterman, at an indie trunk show at the closing of the Re/Dress Brooklyn incarnation. (Re/Dress has since retained an online store and has a storefront in Cleveland, and is now owned by the fabulous indie designer Rachel Kacenjar of Cupcake and Cuddlebunny fame.*)

tess-holliday-anthonyevansPhoto by Anthony Evans.

What I love most about Tess’s media blitz is that not only is there a non-standard plus model in the industry making huge waves, she’s also tattooed and pierced! Tess has been staying on message about believing in herself in spite of what people told her. This quote from the People Magazine online article is really inspirational:

“I’ve just kept doing this stuff recently, thinking, ‘Thank God I didn’t give up,’ ” says the Los Angeles-based Holliday, who had to overcome many detractors to get where she is today.

“I found out about plus-size modeling when I was 15, and I went to an audition in Atlanta. They told me that I was too short and I was too big, and I would never model. But I’m very hardheaded!”

I can definitely relate to being bullied and using that spitfire to rise above the lies people told me about my body and loving myself anyway. Tess didn’t just stick to plus modeling in spite of being told no at that audition, she also began a movement called Eff Your Beauty Standards in order to empower other fat folks. I think it’s amazing when plus models, who could just stay a pretty face in front of the camera, get political with size activism and empower others.

The modeling agency (MiLk Model Management) said that they were driven to sign Tess because of her social media following. I think it was Tess’s inspirational movement that has been a big part of her prolific social media presence that helped get her that deal.

Tess Holliday’s Instagram is a very satisfying feed to follow. Lots of gorgeous Tess shots, of course, but also glamorous behind the scenes of a modeling career and regular every day stuff like hanging out with her babetown Australian fiance and her son. And it’s always a good moment for me when Tess is in her underwear. Swoon!!

tesshollidayforpowdermagazineHeidi CalvertI adore Tess’s vintage aesthetic and her fatshions. Photo by Heidi Calvert for Powder Magazine.

Our society’s ridiculous notions of beauty are being thwarted a bit right now, because of this event and the media avalanche. This is a big story. People who read it who haven’t heard about size activism might have their minds stretched. The modeling industry is seeing that people respond well to non-normative body shapes.

The more people who share about Tess and talk about how great it is to have actual plus size diversity in modeling the more we can catalyze a bigger societal shift towards body acceptance. So share this blog post, or a media piece you appreciate about it. (I’m especially fond of the Buzzfeed article because it shows lots of Tess’s followers using the #effyourbeautystandards hashtag being empowered!)

Fat allies, this is your time, too, tell your people about Tess and let them know that it matters to you that this is representing change in an industry that oppresses bodies. Remember my mantra, All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are!

And be sure to write your favorite plus size manufacturers to ask them to use models of all plus sizes so we can be sure that MiLK model management and other agencies that follow suit have jobs to send these models on! And support the indie designers that have been using plus models of all sizes all along!

I would love to see this change mean more gateways for other non-normative bodies, ages, ethnicities, genders, body hair status, etc…

20150117_182554-MOTIONI also want to give a shout out to my bestie Mackenzi’s new women’s clothing boutique in Astoria, Queens, Lockwood Style, carrying sizes 0-24! The inventory is really diverse and there’s a lot of turnover in styles. It just opened as the sister store to her Lockwood home and gift store next door. It’s worth a trip to Astoria if you find yourself in NYC shopping while fat! The dress I was trying on was from Cabiria Style, an indie local plus size designer carried at Lockwood.

*If you’re suffering from cold this winter I highly recommend fleece lined leggings, and Re/Dress online is having a Winter layers sale right now. I just bought some in pink and black. Use code LAYERUP for $5 off each piece. I secretly wanted to buy this $98 vintage nightie but for now just practical layers, I will when I am a rich lesbian.

**PS. Be sure to check out Domino Dollhouse’s Valentine’s lingerie line featuring Tess Holliday!

***PPS. Read this article from Huffington Post last week about my friend Sophie Spinelle’s body positive feminist pin-up photography business. I love the title of the article so much! These Pin-Up Photos From ‘Shameless Photography’ Show That Every Body Is Gorgeous. Congratulations Sophie!

o-SHAMELESS-PHOTOGRAPHY-900Bra burning pin-ups is the way to go!

2015-01-09

Five Ways I Shake Off Body Oppressive Rhetoric During the New Year’s Resolution Bandwagon

Having spent the last three weeks traveling, between a road trip for a meeting at Dollywood and a family trip to Seattle, I’ve been really off my game. I find it so challenging to travel and meet my self-care needs.

I manage a chronic digestive disorder (Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the Western diagnosis, but I know it’s more complicated than that) with food restrictions and I can feel when my digestion isn’t working. I can get away with not eating in alignment with my body for a little while but eventually it adds up and I’ll pay a price with intense flares and body pain. It’s hard to not want to eat all the amazing food you’re exposed to when traveling. Moderation works for me until it doesn’t.

I also manage my mental and emotional health with exercise. I am still not sure what alchemy I need to carve out time for more than walking the dog when I travel, but more often than not if I pack my gym clothes and shoes I won’t use them. I’ll end up cranky and spiraling by the end of a trip from not getting my angst out on the elliptical. I know that setting better boundaries and time management when I travel is a growth area for me.

15889385960_a7632fe2fa_zWe already had the Seattle trip booked when we got a meeting with the Dollywood Foundation to partner with them for silent auction prizes for Dollypalooza in September… We decided to just go for it and took a road trip, and fulfilled my bucket list dream to see Dollywood at Christmastime. It did not disappoint.

As I was preparing to leave Seattle I found myself really excited to go to the gym and drink green juice, smoothies and detox from sugar. And as I heard the same kind of “drink all the green juice!!!” and “get a new gym membership!!!” trumpets from the anti-fat mainstream media and billion dollar weight loss industry in conjunction with the new year’s resolution influx of people working to lose weight for the umpteenth time, I felt gross about it. Like, here I was wanting to participate in something that is also being used as weapons against bodies like mine.

I thought a lot about what was going on in my head about this stuff and how it was that I have herstorically dealt with the new year’s uptick in relentless weight loss commercials, before and after I began eating in alignment with my body and going to the gym. I came up with some ways that I’ve used to make sense of the complex and seemingly contradictory relationship I have with loving my fat body, hating the sizeist media and making choices that help my body feel its best. I share them below.

1. Run your own race

I like to remember that everyone has their own life and their own life challenges. It’s really difficult to live in a society that literally has a war on body types like yours. In my case, the war on obesity hits home, but other bodies are under attack–people of color, disabled folks, transfolks, aging people. It’s also true that oppression of any body affects all, so the fear of becoming fat, or old, or disabled affects the narrative and creates a society where no body is safe.

So that said, people who need to focus on diet and exercise to lose weight, I just let them do their own stuff. That’s their life path, not mine. I am very self aware and know that my choice to go to the gym doesn’t mean I think my fat body is bad. I also don’t expect some kind of wild body transformation. I do expect that as I keep going back I’m going to feel calmer and more at peace with my surroundings and the onset of Winter and the Winter Blah Blah Blahs (aka Seasonal Depression). (P.S. I’m writing this blog post while sitting under my NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy LampUV Happy Light.)

16085137075_a651db95c4_zSpeaking of lights, that’s a hologram of Dolly Parton playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Dollywood production of A Christmas Carol.

2. You are worthy of love exactly as you are.

All of the “NEW YEAR NEW YOU” rhetoric (actual graphic I saw on the itunes store app center thingy this morning) is basically shorthand for you’re not good enough. Remember there are multiple billion dollar industries that require you to feel insecure in order to sell you products. It is not in their best interest that you feel good about yourself.

But here’s the thing. Today, right now, you sitting right there. You are actually good enough because you are human and you are worthy. That’s something you can choose to believe.

There’s a myth that losing weight and modifying yourself is going to make you feel worthy, but self-acceptance is actually the surest way to make yourself feel that way. I know a lot of people who have lost weight in a myriad of ways, and the thing that seems the most common among them is that people who started out hating their bodies had a lot of self hate left once the weight was gone. Wild insecurities pop up when you lose weight and haven’t lost the hate for your body.

It’s not like we don’t all have ways we want to grow and change, change is the only constant in life. I’m a lifelong learner and self-developer. But I know even as I have “areas for growth” (I’m always working on improving my language to be more gentle with myself) I’m worthy right now. It’s just choosing to shift your perspective to believe that you’re worthy and accept yourself as you are. Maybe that’s a change you can work on for the NEW YEAR NEW YOU.

15897718658_474ccf4ff1_zThis kettle corn that I watched get made in front of me was very inflammatory and very delicious. Moderation in all things, including moderation, said Maya Angelou.

2. Be critical of the media you consume

When I was first getting involved in size acceptance I went on a complete media diet. I focused only on size positive or size neutral things. I obsessively collected pictures of cute fat people and put them around my house so I could see them. I trained myself to see fat as positive.

Now I’m able to employ lots of techniques for consuming mass media (that’s probably a whole other blog post). I work to be very critical of what I consume.

I was in the airport and saw the new Self magazine with a big headline of “Love Your Body.” I didn’t have the chance to read it because I was too busy being paranoid because I was accidentally high, but I went onto the website to find out if they were really joining the bandwagon of loving your body as it is. And I saw that the Love Your Body headline right where every other month has weight loss tips, and I looked through their website and saw all of their weight loss articles, so I realized they were just co-opting language to sell weight loss! Real classy Self magazine!

This time of year especially, I work my hardest to remind myself that mass media is not the boss of me and try not to get defensive or mad every time I see something that advertises quick weight loss or uses headless fatties to scare folks about fat. Getting defensive or mad is totally a valid response, though, and my rage does flow through, but rolling my eyes is better for my stress level. I remind myself that lots of fat people are really healthy. Health at Every Size is all about people at all sizes having access to activities that are good for your health. And that is an inconvenient truth for magazines that rely on fear of weight gain in order to sell copies.

I know that choosing to go to the gym is all about me loving my body and not about me losing weight in order to love my body, a complexity that seems contradictory but is actually not at all to me. I worked really hard to make peace with that.

I also know that people who are fat and don’t choose to go to the gym or restrict their eating are totally worthy of love, too! There is no “good” or “bad” way to have a body, it’s just a body!

16076930595_5d2229e69f_zMe and my fat friend Santa just hanging out on a porch in front of the Christmas buffet. I actually found the buffet meals to be full of food options for lots of dietary restrictions. In addition to a mac and cheese station.

4. Replace should with could

This is a wonderful strategy for treating yourself with kindness. I used to be the kind of person whose resting thoughts were always on the ways in which I needed to improve myself. “I should learn Spanish. I should eat better. I should be working on my book. I should get back into working on neurolinguistic programming.” That’s an actual transcript of my inner self abuser that I just tapped into. I can go DEEP into self-shaming with shoulds.

Because I’m still a work in progress and I believe language is so powerful, I have been working for about a year on replacing my shoulds with coulds. “I could learn Spanish. I could be working on my book…” It’s so much gentler. This constant New Year’s chatter of all the ways you should change keeps reminding me of the ways I want to change. But instead of hearing “You should go to the gym” I am hearing, “I could go to the gym.” I am hearing, “I could organize my room.”

5. Every BODY is different

Dr. Phil is full of complexities and I don’t love all of his messages, but he said one thing that really hit home for me when I was early in my fat activist days. I was in a place of “I’ll eat a cupcake whenever I want” as a way to express fat rage. (That’s still a totally valid place to be, of course, but I like to be strategic about my fuck yous and eating a cupcake more than once in awhile will cause me a lot of pain so I don’t.)

Dr. Phil said something on his show specifically about sweet tea that I haven’t ever forgotten. It’s that, basically, all bodies are different and he drinks a glass of sweet tea and gains weight and lots of folks drink a glass of sweet tea and stay thin.

His point was that he had no control over the type of body he has and he had to accept it. And that’s just kind of how things are. Like, it feels really shitty that I got this amazing huge gift basket from a professional colleague for the holidays and pretty much everything in it, wine, crackers, pretzels, caramel corn, hot cocoa, is all food that will make me sick. That fucking sucks. But I’m at a place where I am choosing to accept and love myself for who I am and that means cherishing the complex body I was given.

And I would love to eat a fuck you mass media cupcake, and I probably will eventually. But in the meantime I’m going to accept my body and do the work it needs to do to feel good, so that I can do the work I want to be doing in the world to change it. To create media that helps people feel good in the bodies they have and become the people they want to become by cheering them on instead of shaming them.

15890219499_633f4fb47f_zHow about a fuck you 25 pound apple pie from Dollywood?

Do you have additional ways you choose to shake off the body oppressive media this time of year and/or manage to strike a balance with your own personal wellness goals?

2015-01-02

Queer and Body Positive Calendars for 2015

I cannot believe it’s already 2015. Where does the time go? I’ve been lost in a holiday/birthday/travel time vortex and I’m scratching my head about being 36 already and have so much I want to get done this year!

What better way to set goals and mark time than with a calendar that acknowledges queer bodies and lots of different bodies! I think it is incredibly powerful self-love to surround yourself with images of hot queer and fat folks who have diverse bodies. Sensitizing yourself to queer and fat bodies that look like yours and the people you love is an important part of loving yourself and/or being a good fat/queer ally.

Like my 2014 Queer Fat Femme gift guide, I am not being compensated for these listings, I just want to get folks connected to great artists and support queer and body positive projects!

Q-were Calendar
I’m really excited about the Q-were project. I met Patience, the photographer, this summer and got to look through the 2013 and 2014 calendars and I was like daaaaang these are basically hot queer stroke books. I loved it. And I was doubly, maybe even triply, thrilled to find out my queer fat femme pal Rahjah is the centerfold for 2015!! Buy the calendar for $25 and support queer body positive diverse art!
10842257_307008812756812_389196243892657169_o

qwere2015
Q-were Instagram
Q-were Website
Link to buy the 2015 Calendar on Etsy

Queer Porn Star Calendar
Another hot queer, sex positive, body positive calendar is the Queer Porn Star Calendar. Included in the spread are April Flores, Courtney Trouble and Chelsea Poe, three of my favorite queer porn stars and really awesome people. (I had brunch with April Flores recently and she’s so wonderful.) I absolutely love what Courtney is doing with their queer porn femmepire at Trouble Films and the amplification of authentic and fun queer sex. If I had been able to see queer porn like what Trouble Films puts out when I was a baby queer it would have changed my life.

queerporncalendarAprilFlores

chelsea-poe-1bTake a minute to sign Chelsea’s petition to ask mainstream porn sites to cease using the term shemale.

Link to buy the 2015 Queer Porn Star Calendar
The Trouble Films Porn Empire

Adipositivity Calendar
The Adipositivity project is a fat acceptance project that goes back several years. “Part fat, part feminism, part fuck you.” Substantia Jones is still clicking away, preserving bigger and better images of fat bodies. The calendar is $19.99 and supports this great art collection of fat bodies.
The Adipositivity Project: The 2015 Adipositivity Calendar is here! &emdash;
Link to the Adipositivity project
Buy the 2015 calendar

Pudge PDX Calendar
I did a little googling to make sure I wasn’t missing any body positive calendars and found the Pudge PDX plus size pin-up calendar! Queer heartthrob Melody Awesomazing is seen in the below photo (far left) as a lumberjack! “Pudge PDX’s body positive calendar includes 13 months with lunar cycles and wacky holidays. Fawn over these fancy folks while staying up to speed with your schedule!”

pudgepdx

1456796_776525155717315_406874663783998912_n

Buy the calendar for $25!
Link to Pudge PDX

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.

2014-01-24

Five Ways to Begin to Love Your Body Right Now

In my interview with Amy McDonald at the Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit, she asked me for five tips people can employ to love their body more right now. I wanted to write these up and share them with readers who didn’t get a chance to hear the interview and for new readers who want to remember them from the interview. (If you missed the interview and want to listen to it–along with several other incredible talks with lesbian and queer folks talking about money, love, bodies, nutrition, travel, it’s available as a download. Click here to view more details.)

You don’t have to wait to have a good relationship with your body. Not after you lose weight or start going back to the gym or get a lover. Whatever space you’re in with it, you can start making peace right now.

1. Remember that you are not alone.

Everyone has a hard time with their body at some point or another. My friend Glenn Marla says, “There’s no wrong way to have a body.” And everyone can do better at loving their bodies right where they are at.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity–it serves the billion dollar beauty and diet industries if we hate ourselves so we buy all of their stuff. If you could really solve your own body hatred by buying something it would totally work but it doesn’t.

Even the most ardent body positive activist has “bad fat days,” and the struggle with our very human bodies is part of being human.

2. Be honest about your yucky feelings.

I am a big believer in naming our hard feelings and getting them out of ourselves. It helps expell shame. So if you feel complicated about a body part, be honest about it.

An exercise I’m a big fan of for a body part you feel complicated about is to talk to it. First, touch it, softly. If this were my stomach I’d rest my hands on it. Then I would talk to it. “Hey stomach, I’m feeling really complicated about you. X, Y and Z are making me feel really hard today.” Then, after you name the hard feelings, start thanking it for what it does do for you. “I know I feel complicated about you today, but I want to tell you thank you for being a soft place for my dog to rest, filling out my dresses, being a great canvass for a tattoo, etc…”

rp_7611841844_73be89d6d6.jpgFrom a Rebel Cupcake a couple of years ago. I felt sooooo complicated about that outfit.

3. Take excellent care of yourself.

When you don’t feel good about your body it is really hard to have the motivation to take care of it. Self care is really important for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual help, though, and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle, negatively and positively. The more you don’t take care of your body the more you start hating it and the reverse is true, too.

Once you start taking care of your body by doing things like getting enough sleep or learning intuitive eating, it starts helping you feel more comfortable in your body.

It’s taken me years to learn how to take care of myself and I’m still learning. I just said to Jacqueline the other day, “I’m 35 years old and I just realized that I absolutely need to eat lunch within a couple hours of breakfast. As soon as I leave the house I end up in this spiraling vortex of not being able to get the food I need and I get hangry and want to kill someone.” It is so weird because my logic brain is just like, “I shouldn’t be hungry yet,” except that I actually usually get hungry and should just pay attention to my body.

Is there something for your body you could do to take good care of it today? Like an extra hour of sleep? A long bath or shower? Self care stretches time, according to Kelli Jean Drinkwater, and it really goes a long way.

rp_6051297793_7ca8fb97d1.jpgEveryone has a body! With the Miracle Whips.

4. Get value-neutral about your body.

I heard a spiritual thought leader say that the body was just a vessel for the soul. I have found that idea very helpful in coming to terms with my body changing when I don’t ask it to. It’s similar to the sentiment I expressed about How to be a Good Ally to Fat People Who Appear to Have Lost Weight. It’s just a body, in a different form.

Sometimes our bodies are doing things that frustrate us, as in a period of lessened mobility, or sometimes our bodies may feel absolutely great. Being really attached to one kind of outcome or another is a vicious cycle of not enough or worry about things changing. Weight naturally fluctuates a little bit, skin gets saggy when it gets older. It just changes, but it doesn’t have to change how much unconditional love you have for your body.

Part of learning to be body positive for me was learning my body was not my worth. The acceptance of your body without judgment is really powerful. It takes baby steps but repeating mantras of, “It’s just my body.”

5. Stop negative talk about other people’s bodies.

I absolutely love the expression, “When you point your finger you have three pointing back at yourself.” I have had to do a lot of work to stop judging other people’s bodies. When I hear myself begin to judge I stop and I change it to noticing. It’s a subtle difference but it does actually work. “I’m noticing that that person has amazing boobs. I’m noticing that that other person is very thin.”

We are conditioned in our diet/scarcity/commodified insecurity culture to judge other people’s bodies but that is actually not our job. So if I work to stop buying into that in my own head, and externally with my friends and family, I’m doing the work to change the culture I see as so damaging. I believe that change begins with me and I want to do my work to make the world more loving of all bodies.

I also think that we are our own worst critics. Whenever someone spends the time to say something really hateful I wonder what they are saying to themselves, alone, when no one is around. People who are terrible critics of other bodies are saying nastier things to themselves.

And the good news is as you get more value-neutral, compassionate and understanding about other people’s bodies it really helps to become compassionate about yours.

2013-10-04

How to be a Good Ally to Fat People Who Appear to Have Lost Weight

Our culture normalizes talking about bodies all the time. There is especially a lot of value placed on weight gain or loss. Turn on a television and just listen to diet chatter. It’s pervasive, obnoxious and well-meaning individuals perpetuate it in our personal lives all the time.

I like to create an environment in my life that is about substance over small talk, where compliments are genuine and weight is value-neutral.

“Oh, but Bevin,” you may be saying. “I really mean it as a compliment when I notice you’ve lost weight!”

But, well-intentioned friend, just because you’re well-intentioned doesn’t mean what you say doesn’t have a harmful impact. Weight loss doesn’t mean I look good. I believe I look good at all of my weights–all bodies are good bodies. And I know your perception of me might have changed because you are socialized to believe smaller is better, but I would like to gently invite you to do something different with your nonpliments of “You look so good!” when someone has lost weight.

It’s also important to remember that the well-intentioned friends come in all shapes and sizes, fat, thin and in between.

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Photo by Amos Mac.

1. How about don’t talk about it?

I strongly subscribe to the philosophy that my body is nobody’s business but my own. If I want to talk about it with someone, I will and I do.

I completely understand the inclination to ask questions about an obvious change. I am a naturally inquisitive person. My friends call me the Queer Oprah because of my tendency to really like to get into the meat of people’s stories. As I’ve learned how to become a more sensitive and compassionate person I have had to learn that sometimes you just don’t ask and you stay in the dark. It feels kind of impossible to not be nosy about it but I do it anyway because it’s not my business.

Also, what if you’re wrong? A friend of mine just said she gets asked all the time if she lost weight when she puts her hair down!

Being nosy and being inquisitive are natural things that I am still working on curtailing. But I think it’s worth it to do the work to be sensitive because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I want my friends to feel like they can be their most vibrant and awesome selves around me.

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Super cute picture of me and Sarah Jenny from the Yes Ma’am archives.

2. Wait for the person to bring it up.

Have you ever noticed that lots of straight people will out themselves to you within about ten minutes of conversation? Sometimes as short as two. Straight people in a heteropatriarchy are reaffirmed all the time about how great, normal and important their straightness is. Therefore, they have likely not had the experience of having to hide or code their sexuality to people. They don’t really play the “pronoun” game and affirm their heterosexuality without thinking about it.

The same is true for lots of people who have lost weight. In a diet-obsessed culture, it is super normalized that weight loss is a good thing. People who are excited about their weight-loss will probably bring it up because it is normalized to talk about people’s bodies whether that is right or wrong. So let it happen if it will organically.

People don’t stop to think about whether or not weight loss might be a sign of someone’s increased health or not. I know many people who have had cancer that lost a lot of weight rapidly. Candye Kane (an amazing blues singer) said on stage once, “I don’t recommend the cancer diet.”

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Candye Kane by XRaySPX. Buy Candye’s cds! They’re great!

Maybe just ask them what’s going on in their life and talk to them organically. The core questions you have about them may just come to light. But, again, their body is none of your business unless they bring it up.

If they do bring up their weight loss in a positive manner, you can do the work of someone working in solidarity with fat people by saying, “I think you look great at any weight, but I’m really glad you feel good in your body right now.”

3. Mention a general compliment that is more neutral.

If you really want to compliment someone because you genuinely think they look good, there are lots of things about someone’s appearance you can go for. Instead of mentioning weight loss thing, if you want to compliment someone you can go for something else. “Your hair looks great!” “I love this outfit!” There are a bunch of different ways to express positivity to someone that don’t take into account weight loss and reinforce that weight loss is the only way to look good.

I can see friends who come at me when I’ve lost weight sort of looking for a way to talk about my appearance without going down the wrong road because they know I loved myself X number of pounds ago and they don’t want to bury themselves in the wrong kind of compliment.

4. “You seem particularly present tonight. I don’t know what it is, but you just seem extra YOU today. I love it!”

If you must say something to the person, I suggest the foregoing. Kris Ford gave me this quote.

Kris Ford
Kris!
I think it’s really great! What a remarkable way to get to the essence of what your weight loss compliment is really about. When we stop to think about what we really mean when we’re talking to people we might be able to clearly communicate without hurting them.

5. Absolutely don’t ask someone what they’re doing.

Omigod, my family is so into this discussion. I zone out when I start to hear diet talk, Weight Watchers, walking the track, whatever new thing they’re doing. I truly believe in health at every size and will totally pipe into discussions of fitness, feeling good in your body and other things from an all bodies are good bodies perspective. But I have heard “What are you doing??” question so many times and I just absolutely hate it.

Again, often folks will offer it if they want to. But in general the “what you’re doing” question is such a standard thing people think is okay to ask but it’s actually really personal! I have a super close friend I asked this question of because I genuinely had no idea how she had lost weight and wondered. But I’m close enough to her that when she dropped that it was an eating disorder it was a safe(r) space to talk about it. I also learned from that moment to tread even a little more lightly with that stuff, to open those kinds of conversations with gentle warnings or open slowly. Because people who are just hanging out or going about their life maybe don’t want to just talk about their traumas out of the blue because you want to comment on their bodies.

Kris fatkini
Another picture of Kris because I couldn’t choose. Hot fatkini!!

I struggle with what to say to people when they comment about changes to my weight. True fact about me–I tend to be an emotional non-eater. If I am going through a rough time I will likely lose some weight. I lost sixty pounds when my fiance left me and every time someone commented on my weight I would say, “Bad break-up.” I would kind of grumpily respond to a nonpliment with snark.

I don’t always want to do that, but I really leave it up to how I am feeling in that moment. Sometimes I go with, “I think I look great at any size.” Often, especially if it is a friend or loved one, I go with a very long explanation of what lead to my recent weight loss so that they understand what I’m going through, that it’s been a real struggle and that the weight loss is a byproduct of a larger initiative to resolve a chronic condition I have.

Sometimes, I just respond to weight loss nonpliments graciously because it’s not worth the fight. I learned to respond to compliments I didn’t agree with back when I was still self-hating. I would do things like respond to compliments with, “Oh, I don’t look good I still have x,y,z wrong with me.” And I replaced that with a simple, “Thank you,” until I was ready to really hear and absorb good things about myself.

A friend told me once, “Hi skinny,” in response to weight loss. My response was, “Um, I don’t identify as skinny.” Because anytime I’ve ever lost weight in my life (as someone who has a lifetime of fat experience) I have always been fat.

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Miss Mary Wanna dressed as a pizza. Photo by Gizelle Peters.

And, in the case of my beloved Grandmother, I accept her compliments graciously and deeply appreciate when my mom pipes in with, “But we love you at any size.” Because sometimes it’s not worth the fight. But it is amazing to have my mom acting in solidarity with my politics and values around all bodies being good bodies at any size. This was not always the case, but working with her in love, respect and compassion through the last twelve years of my participation in body liberation activism, has actually been really rewarding.

I’ve also blogged about being a good ally to your fat lover as part of my Fat Sex Week series.

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