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

2014-10-27

Why I Posed Nude for Diva Magazine

This past July I received an email from Sophy Holland asking me if I would be interested in posing nude for Diva Magazine’s Body Issue. I know Diva—it’s an international lesbian magazine based in the UK. I loved their Body Issue last year. I immediately checked out Sophy’s website and found an incredible portfolio of sumptuous photos for many world-class publications. It was kind of scary to say yes to something like this. Sophy was very enthusiastic of my work with body liberation and I trusted my intuition, which gave Sophy a thumbs-up.

15447725338_31a39d7308_zOn set with Omyra. All backstage photos by Madison Shields.

I know first-hand the power of seeing real women’s nude bodies and transforming people’s perceptions of themselves… it’s one of the most significant ways I was able to begin to unlearn my own body self-hatred. (I talk more about this in my interview that went along with the photo shoot.) I wanted to take this step politically, and personally I needed to make an amends to myself.

Five years ago I had just turned 30 and my friend Molly was launching her boudoir photography business Fat Bottom Photography. She offered to shoot me and several other folks during a day-long marathon of lingerie and nude photos. I learned a lot about posing nude from that experience, both in front of the camera and Molly’s detailed pre-shoot instructions. The most memorable advice was to hydrate, get plenty of sleep and not wear a bra before you get shot nude because it’ll leave marks on your skin.

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When the proofs came in Molly sent me the gallery and I looked at it a couple of times. But I never got around to telling her which photos I wanted to have retouched and I just let it sit in my gmail drafts for years. An embarrassing amount of years, until I just accepted that I didn’t have it in me to select nude photos of myself and deleted the draft.

I can’t really explain why I never went for those photos. They were gorgeous! Molly is an incredible photographer and I have many treasured portraits she’s taken on other occasions, but there was something about the vulnerability of seeing my naked body like that. I can stare in the mirror and like what I see, I can wear lingerie on stage and post those photos on my blog. But naked? Too tender.

15013670633_b3de0f127b_zMake-up artist Shirley for W3ll People doing her magic on Sam, a super talented celebrity cake decorator.

With the Diva Magazine shoot, I knew it would be different. Saying yes and showing up meant Sophy got to do what she wanted (subject to my personal comfort with what type of nudity I consented to). It meant I couldn’t stall the release of the photos. It meant distribution. And in some ways that felt scarier than having private boudoir photos of myself, but it also meant making a choice to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Going into it I was a bit nervous. Usually I can bring a buddy along for shoots but not this time. Since it was nude, it was a closed set. And, with twelve on-camera subjects, make-up, hair, photo assistants, catering and a few other folks it was already full. Sophy made sure to tell me I would know one of the other on-camera subjects, Robin.

The Diva shoot was way more glamorous than I imagined it would be. I’ve modeled a handful of times and it’s usually kind of uncomfortable and a bit ad hoc. I love being in front of the camera, though, so I’m totally up for discomfort for the sake of art.

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This was modeling in style! My call time was 8:30AM at Pier 59 studios, a professional photography studio with a gorgeous row of make-up mirrors and chairs, a gorgeous zen garden and a juice and coffee bar. I was among the first to arrive and had so much fun digging into the delicious catering brunch while Keiko began the three and a half hour project of making my hair “Priscilla Presley meets Dolly Parton.” And Shirley (Shirley Pinkson for her amazing make-up brand W3ll People) doing my make-up was so soothing. (Sometimes I think of getting my make-up done as a form of body work because I find it so relaxing.)

Sophy was incredible. She showed me photos of inspiration for my individual shoot and hair. She checked in with me about what I was going to wear and checked in about how I was feeling leading up to the big moment in front of the camera. She worked to make me feel super comfortable, supported and valuable. I know this was in the context of a very professional photo shoot, but in a more bedroom context, these are also characteristics of a good top. I’m just saying.

15447928677_7b9d36dcb9_zThe only behind the scenes photo Sophy sent us of herself, here she is overlooking Carly’s look. Sophy is the stunner standing with the perfect long blow-out. Carly has all the bombshell red lipstick.

They played music over the sound system for each individual shoot and Sophy was the first to play All About That Bass for me. I didn’t realize it was a size positive pop anthem until after the shoot and it has been forever endeared for the association with a special day.

15013094284_31de553106_zMy finished hair and make-up selfie in progress with Shirley and Keiko.

My individual shoot took almost no time to complete—given all that hair and make-up it was less than two songs and a few “Move your foot a little to the right” and then we were done. Most of the rest of the time waiting for the big group shot I hung out and got to know the other models. A DJ, a triathelete, dancers, my pal Ashley Kolodner of Gay Face 1st Class, one of the stars of VH1’s R&B Divas, and more. Each of us has an interview in the feature article with their nude photo.

The group shot was really fun to do, and I tried to make my facial features as interesting as possible. It was kind of awkward, since we were all half naked hanging around in poses, but we were cracking jokes and getting to know each other.

15447868227_d79ef1d462_bI actually think my hair has never looked better than it did after all this hard work by Keiko!

The final results are gorgeous, I am absolutely in love with the shot that Sophy chose for my feature. I was interested to note it features prominently my stomach rolls and my stomach is an area of my body that is still complex for me. But it’s a testament to the power of a good photographer to be able to help you see a part of your body in a new way.*

The article that goes along with the cover story (teaser here) is each person in the shoot talking about their body and how they became at home in it. Though most of the bodies are normatively shaped, almost everyone has a story about how it was a struggle to love it. I also really appreciate Rosebud’s story of coming home in their trans* body from a place of wishing it was masculine or anything other than what it was.

15447783748_eb3b00286f_zYou should check out Monifah’s album, it’s wonderful.

I still feel a little bummed I never got those photos of myself from that Fat Bottom Boudoir shoot— all bodies change and I’ll literally never have the same body I had when I was 30. I’m so thrilled with what Sophy did and am really proud of myself for making that personal amends, being afraid and doing the photo shoot anyway. Now I have a gorgeous record of where I was in my body and about my body at 35. And I know it’s never too late to keep moving forward in the journey to loving and being comfortable with your body.

The Diva Magazine is available for digital download for $5.99, on newstands now (check your international newsstand since it’s a UK-based international magazine), and you can order a print copy to be delivered to your door. The stories in the feature article are incredibly inspirational and empowering—I hope you’ll get a copy!

15447360949_494e5d44f9_zHere’s a teaser screencap of my picture but you’ll have to get the magazine to see the whole thing!

*My photographer friend Sophie Spinelle does this with her Shameless Photography Pin-up clients. I really want to get together with Sophie Spinelle and Sophy Holland sometime.

2011-08-31

Fatting Around The Premier Party for TLC’s “Big Sexy”

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My dear friend Leslie is on a new show on TLC called Big Sexy*. It follows the lives of five New York City women aged 24-30something who are all plus size and work in the thin-centric fashion industry. Big Sexy premiered last night and has two more episodes that air on Tuesday nights at 10PM. I’m sure the first episode will re-run a few times this week.

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Me and Big Sexy star Audrey.

Leslie and her fellow cast mates organized a viewing party for their friends and family at a big sports bar in Times Square.

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It was studded with the NYC plus size fashion glitterati. From my perch on the third floor I spied Monif C. (whose fashions were all over the fashion show and Nikki’s photos on the show), GabiFresh

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Wilbur of SK Wilbur Designs. (and his mom!)

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Plus size stylist Steffany Bready Edwards.

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Local celebrity Glenn Marla kept screaming “Curvy girls rock! Big is beautiful!” In the spirit of the evening. Glenn didn’t think the show was “overwhelmingly offensive.”

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Mackenzi, who shares a name with a lot of the stars of Toddlers and Tiaras.

It was also very Times Square realness, which is a different experience from typical Manhattan nightlife for those of us who live in NYC and rarely go near tourist-packed Times Square. This German tourist told me that she wouldn’t know I was a lesbian if she just looked at me. Mackenzi told her “She even goes to Michfest!” Femme invisibility strikes again!

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This other tourist wanted me and Audrey to pose in a photo with him so I asked Audrey to act like a tourist with me, thumbs-up style.

The cast worked hard to make the party happen, getting various sponsors including this vodka. We had $5 drinks all night (I enjoyed the Big Sexy Tini) and while outside on a smoke break with Mac I noticed that the vodka was low calorie via this giant billboard. Not that you could tell in the beverages, or that it really mattered since each drink was made with sugary mixers.

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It supposedly has electrolytes.

I brought my girlfriend Cougar, and it was really fun to point out all of the outfits the girls on the show were wearing that they bought from Re/Dress. Three of the five cast members got their New York Fashion Week outfits from our store.

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After being single for so long it’s fun to have a plus one who really likes going out.

I was excited to finally see the show, having heard about the concept since Summer 2010. I was impressed at how it turned out. I was especially happy to see all of the fat positivity that managed to seep through the editing for TV/entertainment process. They made the cast seem very relatable.

Big Sexy Premiere

Things I loved about the show:

Seeing Re/Dress (the store Leslie and I work at)–it looked great, fun and huge, which is hard to convey to folks when they haven’t been to our warehouse-sized store in real life.

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Tiffany asked her ex-boyfriend whether he dumped her because she was fat and he said “No, it was because you’re crazy.”

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Tiffany.

Tiffany dressing down a boy who said he only did it to fat girls when he’s drunk.

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Heather making fun of self-identified wizards who want to date fat girls.

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Leslie delivering clever lines like “Double chin win.”

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Leslie and Audrey shopping at Pat Fields and discussing using dresses made for thin women as accessories.

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Nikki and her BF.

Audrey admitting to being a 24 year old virgin, which I thought was a brave choice, especially contrasted to many other reality shows that make it seem like everyone is having sex by high school in our society. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 21 and had graduated from college and I think being a late bloomer was a good choice for me, but something I had a lot of shame about when I was living it.

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I wasn’t thrilled with the show’s depiction of the BBW party the cast attended. I thought they portrayed the women who attended as dowdy and desperate, which I didn’t think was fair. I also thought they were policing the sexuality of the women participating in the thunder thighs contest–sure it’s not the classiest portrayal of sexuality but I think policing bodies of any kind is disempowering to everyone involved. Body shaming is certainly more degrading than participating in something sexual and fun that might be bringing a lot of empowerment to the women who are involved.

In that same vein, I think all bodies should be celebrated and my body liberation politics cringe when I hear the show’s tag line “Once you go big you never go twig.” Everyone deserves love and dignity, no matter their size.

Of course since this is a queer blog I have to comment on the lack of queer content in the show so far. I did offer to be Leslie’s gay bestie on the show, but so far the production company hasn’t taken me up on the offer. I imagine myself to be like NeNe’s friend Dwight, but stealth queer in appearance, at least to German tourists.

And you have to talk about commercials. As someone who has considered a couple of different reality show projects, one of the concerns that is always brought up is “Will all of the commercials be weight loss commercials juxtaposing our fat positive message with interests capitalizing on insecurity?” I noted in the first commercial break a long commercial for Weight Watchers.

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But then the next break had a commercial (that elicited cheers from the crowd) for Lane Bryant/Cacique.

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And later on there was a pizza rolls commercial. So I think it really spanned the weight-related commercial spectrum.

Overall, though, I love the show and I can’t wait to see the next two episodes. I hope it continues to talk about the real frustrations and triumphs of living big and sexy in New York City!

*The name stumped me for awhile until I was told that Big Sexy is something that fat girls get cat-called with. Here’s hoping we can reclaim that from cat calls by saying Hey Big Sexy to each other.

2010-06-28

Help Me Get a Talk Show! Also, Rebel Cupcake!

I am involved in a really exciting contest! Sometimes my friends call me the Queer Oprah, because within five minutes of meeting someone I’ll get their life story. And my career goal to have a talk show. Well, Oprah herself is having a contest to pick the next talk show star for her new network, OWN.

It took a lot of work, but I submitted my entry and am on a mission to get 100,000 votes by Saturday, when the voting ends.

VOTE HERE! CLICKIE!

Here’s the description of my talk show. There’s also a video of me (bonus to you if you can figure out what my hair bling is) on the voting page.

Bevin Branlandingham is a warrior for self-acceptance and wants to create a show built around the lifelong journey to self love. Her show includes four major components: Health at Every Size (physical and emotional/mental health), Style at Every Size, Sharing Stories, and a Variety Show Aspect including the network of artists Bevin works with that celebrate the radical act of self love. Bevin has an open-minded and soothing spirit that will inspire viewers of all backgrounds to get to loving themselves.

Thanks in advance for your voting (I have no idea if there’s a limit on how many times you can vote), telling your friends and whoever else you think would be into supporting my dream to have a talk show about self love!

****

Life never ceases to be anything but a roller coaster. I had some incredibly great news and some incredibly sad news, within hours of one another. My California tour was really fun and amazing, I met some inspirational people, filmed a section for the Fierce Fat Femmes documentary with the insanely gorgeous Kelli Jean Drinkwater, performed, produced and then took some time off in Southern California. I came back to Brooklyn in the heat of Femme Pride Week, followed immediately by LGBTQ Pride Week. Now things are set to wind down for a moment.

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Happy Pride! Photo by Nogga Schwartz from the last Rebel Cupcake: Queer Root. More photos here.

I’m super excited for the next Rebel Cupcake, July 8th. One of my besties, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is in town from Oakland. Along with her is Kit Yan (reigning Mr. Transman and brilliant slam poet), BUTCHLESQUE by Grrls Who Run with Foxes (who promise no sawdust and glitter in the audience) and Burlesque by Bambi Galore.

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If you’re a plan in advance person, the August Rebel Cupcake is on August 26. The theme is Steel Magnolias!

And remember to vote for my talk show! Voting ends Saturday!

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