Bevin's Blog I'm blogging the relentless pursuit of my joy

2011-07-19

My Body Paint Photo Shoot with Camrose Artes Infinitae

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There are a lot of things you can do to work on getting in touch with your body. Learning what it means for me to have self-care and physical pampering has been really helpful. So has getting into having bodywork done.

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As someone who grew up both fat and poor, I had a lot of hurdles to get through to feel like I was worthy of someone touching my body to pamper it as well as pay for that to happen. I was 26 and working full-time at a well-paying job until I actually got a massage for the first time.

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Bodywork is an umbrella term that means a lot of different types of therapeutic activities using the body–both through touch and not. Massage is probably the most well-known type of bodywork but there are a lot of bodywork things you can get done including reiki and other energy healing, acupuncture, chiropractic services. I think it’s just amazing to learn how to be touched and how to be pampered.

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In late April I had a bodywork session that was a new form of being in touch with my body that was quite wonderful, brought to me by my friend Cam of Camrose Artes Infinitae.

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I had been massaged by Cam before, both at Michfest where we met (she is on the massage staff) and when she does massage tours through New York City (she’s based in Colorado). She was in town in late April and as the cherry blossoms were in full bloom she was inspired to paint from my existing shoulder piece. I decided to go for the bodypainting bodywork this time.

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I sat down with her at a friend’s apartment in a third floor kitchen overlooking backyards in my neighborhood. The window was open and storms were rolling in and out. We didn’t put on any music, I just listened to the birds and the weather, occasionally chatting with Cam when we were face to face and she could read my lips. But even eyes closed it was a really wonderful experience. Feeling the brush against my body, the breeze on the paint, hours and hours of attention on my whole body with lots of different brushes and sensations. It was unlike anything else I’ve ever done.

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She laid out a huge palate of colors and glitter and proposed color schemes and ideas to me, but I really trusted her instincts. She has such a wonderful eye for different colors, if you page through her portfolio online you’ll see what I mean, every body she works on is totally different.

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She used rose water to mix her paints so all I breathed in for hours was the scent of roses. It was heavenly. She can also do it without rose water if you are scent sensitive but I highly recommend you go for the roses.

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Part of the brilliance of the experience of getting your whole body painted is being able to document it. Cam is a very talented photographer and she has a strong artistic vision. She’s the kind of photographer that prefers to shoot a lot of frames to get the one that is just right.

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She gives really great direction, too. She sees a lot of possibility in architecture and structure, backgrounds and how they blend with a subject.

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Nudity was optional and I have only been shot nude by one photographer before (who is a good friend) so I thought for this since we were planning to try to shoot out amongst the cherry blossoms I would create a special outfit for it. I took an old pink bra and fashioned a sort of faerie floof to it and created a skirt out of shiny gold fabric from my craft stash. I also brought with me a muumuu to wear over it when I needed more modesty.

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I also prepped for the session by getting a manicure in a coordinating color and I decided to just let my hair be wild and fluffy.

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It got too late in the day to go to the Botanic Gardens but we had a lot of fun just wandering through Clinton Hill back to my place. It was like a two woman parade, me popping in and out of doorways and Cam trailing behind me, all smiles and taking photos.

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At the end of the day I felt incredibly peaceful, beautiful and not of this world. I was supposed to go to this legal networking class I had paid for but I decided to skip it and instead visit my friend in the hospital and go to the homecoming show for Heels on Wheels in full body paint. That was way more fun and way more in the spirit of living my life as a full-time artist.

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Cam retains copyright to her images but will give you lots of hi res versions to have for your own collection or to use for your queer performance art purposes (or whatever) with credit back to her. I cannot recommend her body painting services highly enough as a way to treat yourself. She’s also a really great masseuse! She’s gorgeous and has amazing energy! She travels a lot (maybe to your town?) and she’s so wonderful.

Thanks again, Cam!!

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2010-07-08

A Self-Love Moment

At the Femme Family meeting on Tuesday, in the middle of a terrible heat wave hitting NYC, our go-around topic was “Describe your inner body temperature.” Mine was the rage of a Disney villain. A fat one. (In the words of Dave End*, “Never fuck with a witch who puts on lipstick with a shrimp.”) I get heat sick pretty easily and almost fainted during yoga on Monday, so by day 3 of the heat storm I was so grumpy. So grumpy that I barely put on clothes. I picked out the thing that felt the least like wearing clothes that I could.

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This is an old photo from an old queeraoke night, but this is what I wore. It’s a stretchy H&M large cotton tank dress (I want more but never seem to find them), which is slutty fat girl size. I was singing “Everything She Wants” by Wham!

How can a meeting with such empowering Femmes not raise my spirits? On my way home I realized how grateful I was to have done so much work over the last 11 years to unlearn the body shame that would have, otherwise, kept me hot and miserable and covered up in layers upon layers of clothes trying to hide my body. Feeling good about my body and sexuality is so much more comfortable, both literally and figuratively.

So this goes out to all of the amazing people in my life, who taught me early on the joy and value of loving yourself and moving in your body in ways that make you feel good.

Further, I’m still getting comments and emails about my post In Solidarity With Those Who Have Been Called Too Much. “Too much” to one person is another person’s “SO much”. Remember that and keep the faith.

To that end, happy birthday to Rachel Schiff, a protege of mine. She is a beautiful ray of light in this world and I am so happy she is in my life! At 22 years old she’s already a kick starter and a rabble-rouser for social justice and good times. San Francisco is lucky to have her.

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I lifted this quote from her Facebook page from one of my favorite books by Dorothy Allison. Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. Perfect quote in the vein of “too much” and self love.

She kissed me gentle, kissed me slow, kissed me like Grace Kelly, a porcelain princess, a lace curtain lesbian. I told her, Don’t touch me that way. Don’t come at me with that sour-cream smile. Come at me as if I were worth your life—the life we make together. Take me like a turtle whose shell must be cracked, whose heart is ice, who needs your heat. Love me like a warrior, sweat up to your earlobes and all your hope between your teeth. Love me so I know I am at least as important as anything you have ever wanted.

I am the woman who… has to love herself or die. if you are not as strong as I am, what will we make together? I am all muscle and wounded desire, and I need to know how strong we both can be.

Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is how long it takes to learn to love yourself, how long it took me, how much love I need now.

— Dorothy Allison

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Remember that time Dorothy Allison complimented my cleavage on my podcast?

*The long-anticipated debut of FABULOUS ARTISTIC GUYS GET OVERTLY TRAUMATIZED SOMETIMES: THE MUSICAL (FAGGOTS: The Musical) is July 16 in NYC.

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!

2010-02-14

Validation Day Thoughts

I was pondering the last couple of single Valentine’s Days I’ve spent. Both were pretty miserable, but I realize in hindsight it was because I had some sweetheart that was dicking me around.* It’s amazing how much peace you can get in your life when you recognize bullshit when it comes your way and give it a sweet, polite “No thank you.”

That attitude certainly doesn’t eradicate bullshit or drama but it helps give you permission to trust your instincts around it and walk away when you notice it.

This year is different. Sure, I’m noticing how couple-oriented the mainstream is (Thanks you tube! Thanks significant other week on FaceBooK!) but at the same time, I don’t really care. I’m also noticing a lot of magical self-love celebratory moments.

The Adipositivity Project capped off their couple stream with a photo celebrating self-love. My friend Lissa (a pastor) is preaching today about self-love. I’m seeing a lot of love in the world.

I feel really happy about the life I’m leading. I get the sweetest notes from people who have significant to my writing, performance, podcast, videocast and blog posts. Taking some really fun and gorgeous photos. Having a lot of fun with my friends. Making time to make a lot more art. Carving out a business that will make it possible to see my goal of having an art career and talk show. Working at a store that is aligned with my core values and lets me play as much Dolly Parton and Pointer Sisters as I can stand. And the stuff I don’t like about my life I am working hard to change.

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This is how the shop girls (Taueret, Erin and myself) and Jesse celebrated Validation Day this morning.

It is a radical act to love yourself in a society that says you shouldn’t because of any number of your inalienable characteristics. It is a radical act to create a career that is different than the typical 9 to 5. It is a radical act to send your friends cards with compliments on them (which is what I did for Validation Day, but now I think the blizzard from last week delayed their arrival).

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So if you’re having trouble escaping the cult of couplehood this Validation Day, stop and figure out how you can put a little more love in the world. Instead of dwelling on your couch, take a cruise through your phone and send people compliments via text message. As FemmeCast Sexpert and my BFF Rachael says about flirting, it is never a bad time to make someone feel good.**

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Photo by Shameless Photography–I did a pin-up photo shoot and had so much fun composing this photo with Sophie for my Validation cards.

Happy Validation Day everyone!!

*Jay-Z said it best when he said “I got 99 problems…”
**Whitney Houston said it best when she said “Ain’t it shocking what love can do?”

2010-01-25

I Try To Love Myself As Much As She Loved Me

I met Liz when I was 11 years old, when she decided to marry my absentee father.

Dad and Liz got engaged 9 days after they met as adults. They both grew up in the same mid-size city in California’s Central Valley and were high school classmates. An accident at the factory Dad worked at brought him to the emergency room where Liz was an intake clerk.

Once they were engaged, Dad called me to tell me about it. I remember speaking to Liz on the phone, she was so excited to finally “have a daughter”. She said it over and over again, that she’d always wanted a daughter.

Liz had two sons, 19 year old Richard Luke was living in Germany with the army. (I could never wrap my head around why that kid had two first names.) The youngest, Shawn, was almost 14 still lived at home. My Dad moved in with them right away.

At this point in my life my dad was intermittently in the picture. My parents separated by the time I was 15 months old and my mom worked really hard to make sure he had a presence in my upbringing, even though we lived two hours away in the Bay Area. My mom ran out of steam covering for my dad’s lazy parenting by the time I was 6 or so, and I hadn’t really seen him more than a couple times a year. The logistics of getting a kid for a weekend when you live two hours away is a little complicated for someone who doesn’t make a lot of money and barely pays his child support as it is.

By the time I was 11 I was horribly shy. I was always a fat kid and being a fat kid turns from cute to, well, graceless around the Tween years. Of course they didn’t have that cutesy word “Tween” in the 80s, back then it was just fat and awkward.

I was well-aware of my fat by then, everyone in my life teachers, peers, relatives and my beloved television wanted to remind me of the fact that I was fat. I was a total bookworm. In books I didn’t have to see the differences so starkly between me and the main characters. I could easily blend into the Baby Sitters Club. I always identified with cosmopolitan native New Yorker Stacy. She had fluffy blond hair and good fashion sense.

In real life I had fluffy golden brown hair with streaks I got in the summertime at camp. I longed to be normal and thin.

Liz was fat, too. Not just sort of in between fat, either, like my mom and other female relatives were at the time (though now, of course, most of them are around my size). She was short and round, with a round face, black curly hair and a mouth that was always smiling. She was half Italian half Mexican and very girly.

The first time we met, Liz was ready to be a huge part of my life. I was mistrustful and didn’t understand why she loved me so much already. I was used to adults liking me, since as an only child I learned to socialize well with grown-ups and I was very bright. But the way she just immediately loved me, in that I-loved-you-before-I-knew-you way that parents talk about felt so weird. As I continued into adolescence and hated myself more and more, the more suspicious I was of her unconditional love.

My mom wasn’t what I would call emotionally nurturing. She was a stressed out single mom putting herself through undergrad. There was always a contingency and a reward to meet. Usually it was “get good grades and you’ll get this” and “lose weight and you’ll get that”. I was exceptionally good at the former. The fact that Liz was so proud of me regardless of my latest accomplishment felt bizarre. My weight was never an issue.

She had lived in the same town almost all of her 40 years. Everywhere we went when I visited she either already knew someone or got to know someone new. She would always introduce me as her daughter. I would blush when she said this because I thought it wasn’t true and it never made sense to me. I also felt a little weird because she was so open and friendly with strangers. She had a huge heart and was extremely welcoming to strangers. She was proud of being friends with all sort of people, including a big biker crowd from her younger days. I was jealous of her self-confidence.

I didn’t get to go to Dad and Liz’s wedding because of some last minute drama having to do with some friend of the family who was supposed to be my chaperone on greyhound that didn’t work out. I went for Thanksgiving a few weeks later and watched the wedding video so many times over the next few years each frame feels like my own memory.

Her family was huge. Five girls, all fat, most of them had five kids of their own. Everyone would gather at Liz’s mom’s house the day after Thanksgiving to make tamales. It was a huge ordeal, making hundreds of them, with many different stations going at once and different groups responsible for different parts of the assembly.

The house was cozy and humid, smelled sweet with a tang of chili and meat and filled with talking and laughing. I was placed in the masa station, spreading a white dough made from cornmeal dough, lard and salt on the insides of damp corn husks. Liz and one of her sisters or her mom would put meat and an olive inside each one. One of the kids would fold them into little pockets. They would then go into a steamer for awhile and then placed into freezer bags by the dozen.

I remember my step brother Shawn complaining that the other kids in the family had to be teenagers before they got to spread the masa, but somehow I was the exception. Liz ignored his complaint, and I kept assembling tamales.

They treated me like one of their own, and I came back year after year with Liz to spread the masa.

My visits to my Dad increased exponentially once Liz was there to motivate them.

Liz loved to go garage saling, where she taught me to haggle and bought me lots of stuffed animals I didn’t need but I certainly wanted. We would pile into her car with her friend Terry, who was a little fatter than Liz. I remember one time Terry pulled out a seat belt extender so that she could use the seatbelt in the car, they were both very excited that their older cars with seat belts made for very small people were just a little bit safer for them.

We spent a lot of time crafting. She would set me up with a cross stitch or a beading project and we would sit at TV trays side by side watching TV and laughing. When I let my guard down around Liz I felt very comfortable. She talked about what it would be like when I had babies and how she couldn’t wait for me to have a daughter. I was just being adolescent and contrary when I claimed I would refuse to let her put my babies in ruffle butt tights.

She loved clothes. I remember when she got approved for a Lane Bryant credit card she was ecstatic and immediately maxed it out on new things from the catalog.

She loved the color pink. She collected elephant everything. Whenever I was at a loss for what to get her for Christmas I would get her a blinged out elephant knick knack and she would love it.

Richard Luke got married in Germany. Liz was devastated that she couldn’t go to the wedding, but a transcontinental trip was entirely out of the question financially. I promised she would have a lot of fun at my wedding and was already working out in my head how I would handle the mom/step-mom dynamics.

Liz told me about her ex husband a few times. Richard Luke was born out of wedlock and later she married Shawn’s dad. He was abusive. Her struggle to leave him was epic and she had to work her way off welfare.

Liz and Dad loved each other a lot, that was clear. My dad hit my mom, which was why she left. I am unsure whether or not Dad was ever violent with Liz, though I remember a screaming fight I witnessed when I was 16 or so that drove Shawn out of the house with me in hot pursuit. From what I could tell they mostly fought about money and Dad’s drinking. They also expressed their love pretty regularly, too. She saved one dried flower from every bouquet Dad ever gave her in a jar under the TV.

While Liz was outgoing and confident, and dressed as well as she could manage with not a lot of money or access to cute plus size clothes, she did talk about losing weight. Not as regularly as my mom, but of course I didn’t live with her so I’ll never know for sure. She had a lot of chronic health problems that her doctors always blamed on weight. She was regularly dealing with asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, among other things. She also complained of aches and pains and trouble walking.

Being fat was hard for her, too. She didn’t always fit in seats. Had she ever made that transcontinental flight she would have been in a lot of pain from the armrests.

I remember one time we were in our pajamas and I saw her belly peak out from under her loungerie. It had a dimple in it, below the belly button. I thought it was so odd and was slightly horrified. I developed the same dimple myself by the time I was 20. I hadn’t been exposed to naked fat women before, I didn’t know what that kind of flesh was supposed to look like.

She dealt with being fat very differently from my mother. Mom switched us to nonfat milk really early in my childhood, I don’t remember ever having butter instead of margarine. We stocked our pantry with diet food. Things could have tasted so much better if we focused on moderation, vegetables and using real ingredients.

Liz would cook full force with fat. One time when I saw the giant bucket of lard from the tamales I was shocked. But she never really stopped, and her cooking was incredible. I think she would occasionally diet.

Around 1996 the drug Fen-Phen started making its rounds. It was a weight-loss drug made from fenfluramine and phentermine. It was heavily marketed and people were seeing pretty immediate results. I was about to graduate from high school and my mom suggested I start taking it. I blew her off, as I often did, especially about weight loss stuff.

A year or so later Liz told me over the phone that she had been taking Fen-Phen to help with her medical issues and was losing weight pretty quickly. She was excited about that.

In early 1997 valvular heart disease and pulmonary hypertension started showing up, mostly in women who took the drug. It was taken off the market in September of that year. While I was in college I saw Liz and Dad less because I was busy with school and my social life. She stopped taking Fen-Phen and I never did notice any difference in her weight.

In mid-1998, toward the end of my Sophomore year of college, I went to visit Dad and Liz for Dad’s graduation from Community College and his 50th birthday. It was really important to Liz that I be there. We did all of our regular stuff, crafting, hanging out. She told me that weekend she was trying to get in touch with the child my Dad fathered in high school but was put up for adoption, and that Dad was putting up resistance.

Just three months later I was coordinating move-in at my dorm. That morning I had been getting ready and looked outside my window at the sky and felt really peaceful and happy, which was unusual for me at the time—I was starting to come out of a several year long depression and was taking steps to stop hating myself. I got a message from my mom to call home right away. When I talked to my mom that night she told me that Liz had died.

Liz woke up, kissed Dad and went out to the living room. About and hour later he got up to join her. She was on the couch, dead from a heart attack. She was 48 years old. That week she had been complaining that her asthma was acting up. Her heart was weakened. Probably from the Fen-Phen.

I was devastated and in shock. Mom offered to come with me to the funeral but I said no. I didn’t want to add to the confusion and weirdness with the ex-wife dynamic. The weekend was bizarre and hard. I had never been to a funeral before. My dad was drinking again. He had me sleep on Liz’s side of the bed, and I didn’t know how to say no, that that was weird and bad boundaries and I didn’t want to sleep on my dead step-mom’s side of the bed.

We’re all Catholic, at least mostly. The Rosary was the night before the funeral and it was open casket. I walked up the aisle and burst into hysterics that I didn’t want to see her like that. My Dad’s mom, who had been really cruel to me as a child, was the nicest and most nurturing I’d ever known her to be that night. She brought me into the pew and told me I didn’t have to see her like that if I didn’t want to.

The mass was big and weird and there were hundreds of people there. I felt this obligation to stay with my dad, even though I probably should have just gone with my grandparents. His house became this huge party with all of this drinking and pot smoking and at 19 years old I was still pretty square and still wasn’t drinking a lot in college. I felt uncomfortable, unsafe, and scared. I didn’t know how to articulate what I needed because I didn’t know how to advocate for myself.

I went back to school. I tried not to deal with it. I did pretty well.

I am angry that I only knew Liz when I was an adolescent and didn’t appreciate her the way I wish I had. I am angry that her physical heart was affected because her doctors treated her weight and not her symptoms. I am angry that Liz never got to go to any of her children’s weddings. I am angry that Dad never joined the class action suits against the makers of Fen-Phen. They paid out over $14 billion in settlements. But at the same time I certainly didn’t want to have to think about it or interact with him that much to do the work of making it happen.

Over the years little things occur to me. The way Liz always wanted to make people feel special and at ease, the way she was welcoming. I get that from her. I loved that about her. Her huge metaphorical heart cannot be weakened by a pharmaceutical company’s greed and exploitation.

I think about the plus size resale store I work in now and how much she would have loved it. I work hard at body liberation activism because I want to make it easier for people to live in this world and I don’t want Fen-Phen to ever happen again. I think about Liz every time I see an elephant tchotchke. I can’t wait to have a daughter.

*I feel compelled to share this story now, as an initial draft, as a way of honoring Liz and bringing her into my adult life. Especially in light of the perpetual crop of weight-loss drugs on the market, the fact that I keep hearing ads for them on the radio and in side-bars on websites, and the fact that on Friday the LA Times and New York Times reported that the FDA in America chose to recommend “stronger warnings” on the sides of Meridia bottles while the European Union recommended a ban of the product. I guess posting this story is my way of turning my rage over that news into productivity.

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