I just flew all the way from Virginia to Arizona to attend the one-day Body Love Conference, brainchild of The Militant Baker and her friends. The goal of the conference is to promote body love and self-confidence. Of course I had to come out for that! If I had to list my life’s passions that would be at the top of the list. I am so grateful for Jes and her crew for putting this together. I left feeling inspired, empowered, and with a lot more moxie, sass, confidence and things to reflect on. It’s an amazing feeling to be surrounded by people who look like you, especially since I never see people like me represented in the media that we are bombarded with everyday.
The flight to Arizona was long but totally worth it. When I finally got a window seat I took lots of pictures of the beautiful landscapes of our country. I’ve never flown this far west so it was amazing to see the differences from back home. I have to admit, I had a brief “where the hell am I” moment once I saw all that dessert. LOL However, I soon discovered the charm of Tucson. Here are a few shots from my trip and the conference for your viewing pleasure (click the link below for more pictures).
We had quite a variety of awesome workshops to choose from. Next year I hope they offer them more than once because it was hard to just chose four. I tried to pick workshops I thought would give me ideas for something I could bring back to the campus where I work. I was thinking about potential speakers as well as themes that might appeal to our students. You know you always gotta be on the cutting edge to keep the attention of traditional-aged students. After Jes Baker’s super inspirational welcome we jumped right into the day.
My first workshop was “Expanding Definitions of Beauty: Redefining the Thin White Ideal”. I chose this because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the experiences of women of color with beauty standards. I know that the “ideal” beauty we always see in the media usually only includes white women or white-washed women of color. Pia Schiavo-Campo gave some great examples of this just from screenshots from her Google Images search for “Hollywood Actresses”. The women pretty much all looked like the same person. When she searched for African American, Latina and Asian Hollywood actresses you could see just how white-washed they were. Intellectually I knew this, but actually seeing it was quite disturbing. To help add diversity to the media, she encouraged us to take pictures of the diverse women around us, post them on social media and tag them with #RadicalDiversity (“Actively insisting on extreme changes in existing homogeneous views, habits, conditions, & institutions that systematically include or marginalize people who are differently-abled, fat, non-white, aging, or do not fit into the gender binary.”) She also talked about how to take a complement (say “Thank you!”) and encouraged us not to apologize for taking up space. You know that feeling you get when women around you start to police/pick apart another woman for what she’s wearing or how she looks? Well, Pia suggested three ways to handle it: say “I don’t want to be a part of this conversation” and walk away; change the topic and make it obvious; or call them out (“Hey, why are you hating on her…”). We have a voice and we should use it to stop the mean girl talk.
For my next workshop I chose “The Body is Not anApology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. I was excited to hear her speak since I had missed her when she was on my campus a couple years ago. I heard rave reviews about her so I knew I was in for a treat. She did not disappoint. Not only was she engaging, but she was also funny and empowering. She asked us to remember that “thing” that happened that made us first realize we weren’t good enough according to society’s standards. For me it was standing in line for the bathroom with my classmates in 1st or 2nd grade. My two friends in front of me were talking about how much they weighed. When I realized I weighed more than either of them and that it was a “bad” thing according to them and the rest of the world, something in me changed. My confidence took a big hit and from then on out I always worried about whether or not I was pretty enough. It’s taken me a long time to get to a point where I don’t give a shit about what other people think or whether or not I fit society’s ideas of beauty and it’s a constant struggle to keep that confidence. I mean, it’s seen as radical to love your body in a world where the messages we get bombarded by through the media are all telling us we’re not good enough and Photoshopping is standard practice. The weight loss and beauty industries spend billions of dollars a year on advertising telling us we need to fix ourselves. As Sonya says, body hate is something we learn, not something we’re born with. She showed us pictures of adorable babies loving their bodies (bellies, feet, etc…) and I see this in my son Myles who’s almost 2 years old. It’s the same with racism. We aren’t born with hate in our hearts toward ourselves or others, this is something that we are socialized to feel. Luckily, since this is taught, she says, it can be untaught. As Gloria Steinem says the hardest part is not to learn, but to unlearn. We certainly have our work cut out for us. She also touched on a point that I love to make when discussing body image and beauty ideals. The beauty industry serves to distract us from getting equity (just think of what we could accomplish with all that time, money and energy wasted on trying to fit an unrealistic beauty ideal). She called it smoke screens. We’re indoctrinated, she says, to think what things are and aren’t important which gives others power and control over us. “How you feel about your body has political, economic & social impact on a global scale.” We don’t think about this because trying to reach an unobtainable beauty standard has become habit and we’re all on automatic pilot. It’s time to wakeup and start a RUCHUS (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 US). I haven’t figured out what mine will be just yet, but believe me the wheels are turning. When I figure it out, I will be tweeting it to #tbinaa (The Body Is Not An Apology).
Tess Munster, plus size model, make-up artist, body positive activist and blogger, was our keynote speaker. She told her story of being bullied growing up and how she has survived all the obstacles that life has thrown at her. She certainly went through a lot and I think most of us had tears in our eyes hearing everything she had to deal with. She had several empowering messages for us. First, “never give up”. Sounds simple, but having heard what she experienced reminded me that my “struggles” were nothing compared to hers and if she can get through adversity and succeed, then I certainly can. Second, she reminded us “nothing is impossible”. I hear so many women say things like they’d like to be able to do things they deem a “dream” or “fantasy” because of course they couldn’t do that. It’s so disheartening to hear women talk that way. Tess is a perfect example of how you can do anything you put your mind to. Third, “we all deserve to be loved”. It doesn’t matter if we don’t fit the “ideal” standard of beauty, we’re all human, valuable, and deserve love. Fourth, “sexy is not a size”. I wanted to yell out “preach” on this one. I feel sexy sometimes but the media only shows us one example of what they think that should look like. One of my sister conference-goers went to a burlesque workshop and afterwards told me that she felt so sexy because of the experience. We’re all told we’re not good enough and it’s beautiful to be reminded that we are. It’s society that’s messed up. (I’m totally playing “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce in my head right now thinking about this.)” Fifth, “we’re much more powerful together”. I think sometimes we forget that we’re not the only ones who experience bullying and fat shaming due to our society’s unrealistic beauty standards. Seeing the 400 other women in that room that were all on the same page as me about body love was very powerful.
Pia showed us a quote from Audre Lorde in her workshop that said “Women are powerful and dangerous”. She’s so right on with that. I think these “smoke screens” (as Sonya called them) or requirements for our physical appearance serves to distract us from that power because just imagine what we could accomplish if we didn’t spend all of our time thinking about our appearance. Sixth, “our body is okay as it is”. Jes talked to us in her opener about not waiting to do what we want to do until we lose weight. We can accomplish our goals with the body that we have. Seventh, “surround yourself with positive people”. This seemed to be a theme throughout the whole day. Being around people who accept you for who you are and what you look like with no judgment is a very powerful feeling. I felt myself walk with more confidence while I was among that amazing group of women. Eight, “sex is better with the lights on”. No comment. I’m not about to talk about my sex life with y’all up here. LOL Ninth, “if you want to eat cookies and ice cream, fucking eat the cookies and ice cream”! We should be able to indulge when we want to. Our body speaks to us and if it says it wants a cookie then give it a cookie. And for goodness sake, don’t say you’ll eat salad for your next meal or something like that. Just enjoy your cookie and move on. I love her story and her message. I even bought one of her “Eff Your Beauty Standards” t-shirts even though it had pink on it. That says a lot for me because I am not a fan of pink. LOL
The next session I chose was “Reclaiming Body Trust” by the ladies from Be Nourished. They have such an amazing concept for their business. One is a counselor and the other is a registered dietitian. Their philosophy is “we don’t know what size you should be and we’re the only one with the balls to tell you that truth”. They focus on getting you out of the diet mentality. If you’re focusing on weight loss, even if you’re “not on a diet”, you’re in a diet mentality. Many women don’t realize that this applies to them and are shocked when the light bulb clicks on. Be Nourished practices from a weight-neutral perspective. They encouraged us to be present in our bodies and to stop “fixing” and “checking” (weighing, measuring, wondering what others think of us) ourselves. The dietitian pointed out that we are “prescribing for fat people the very behaviors that we diagnose as disordered eating in thin people”. How fucked up is that?! She also said it was no coincidence that the first beauty pageant was held just a few months after women won the right to vote. I never knew this but it pissed me off. Every time women make advances, whether politically, socially or economically, there is some sort of backlash pushing us two steps backward and it usually centers around beauty. I’m going to have to do more research on the historical accuracy (my husband would like that, he’s a history lover) but it wouldn’t surprise me if she were right about that. At the end they asked us to tell our neighbor that “body trust is your birth right” to encourage us to trust our bodies because they show up for us everyday. They have an e-workshop that will become available soon that I’m excited to sign up for.
My last session was “Loving Your Body Online”. Our speaker was Meghan Tonjes who is a YouTube sensation. I have to admit I had not heard of her, but I’m following her on Twitter now and will be checking out her videos as well. I feel like I have not really delved in to the feminist world on YouTube much quite yet. I’m just finally feeling making great connections and engaging in feminism on Twitter, so baby steps. I’m excited to learn that there’s a whole other group of activists to tap in to though. She started a YouTube collective called “Project Lifesize” for plus size and/or average sized women to tell their stories and experiences. It ended 4 years ago but I’m still going to going to go back and watch videos. She started from scratch on a small scale just like I have. The fates worked together for her and she ended up on the Ellen show! That would be freaking fantastic! AND she got to meet Adele! I started to think, “if Ellen ever invites me to her show, who would I want her to surprise me with”. (A girl can dream, right?!) I’ve already met Gloria Steinem (who I adore an I still have the hairspray she gave me because she couldn’t carry it on the plane), Margaret Cho (who’s hilarious and I still have the pen she used to sign an autograph for me) and Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill, who is a badass but didn’t leave me with a memento but that’s cool because just having my picture taken with her and spending time with her was awesome enough) because I have an awesome job that brought these women to me (my campus). Don’t laugh at me for keeping those two things. LOL They helped me to remember the wonderful experience of meeting them. So, if I had to decide today it would be Beyonce just so I could talk feminism with her. Maybe Myles could play with Blue since they’re the same age. Although, it would also be awesome to meet Maya Angelou (who I really enjoyed hearing tell stories when she came to Virginia last year…she’s funny!). This has inspired me to make a list of women that I’d like to meet one day! I’ll save that for another blog post. Back to the conference! The message that I got from Meghan was to “not be afraid to start something” because “people are going to say shit regardless of how you look or what you do” so you might as well do/be what you want. She encouraged us to just “be kind to ourselves and others”. I did pick up a few hashtags to check out while I was there: #effyourbeautystandards, #honoryourcurves, and #fatkini (which I might have to find one for this summer).
Me and Body Love Conference Organizer, Jes Baker (AKA The Militant Baker)
Overall the conference was badass. It was so inspiring, empowering, uplifting, and much needed. Having positive body image and not letting those negative messages seep into your psyche is a daily struggle. Even among feminists it’s easy to get sucked back in to it because we’re bombarded by these negative messages about our bodies every day. We’re told to focus on our outward appearance if we want to be accepted and valued. I tried to describe my struggles with trying not to focus on people’s appearance with the folks I brought with me to the conference. Basically I don’t tend to comment or complement women on their hair, weight, clothes, beauty, etc… just because I don’t want them to get the message that I value them for that. I value them for their character, humanity, personality, etc… I did have one instance where someone actually felt offended because I didn’t talk about beauty products and clothes because she felt she couldn’t talk about them in front of me. It’s really frustrating being misunderstood, but it’s something I’m working on. I guess I just have to tell people what I’m doing so they’ll get the point. Every now and then I will comment on something that really stands out to me like a cool pair of shoes or awesome shirt, but it’s only because I’m admiring the item and not their appearance in it. It’s rare but it does happen. I am trying to shift the world around me to stop thinking of women’s power and worth in terms of fashion, weight and beauty. Hopefully I can do so in a way that opens eyes and doesn’t offend anyone because that’s not my intent.
There was talk of having another Body Love Conference next year and I’m super hopeful that it happens. It was an amazing experience. I loved that they had a hashtag (#blc or #bodyloveconference) that I could use to connect with other conference-goers. Thank you to The Militant Baker and her crew for bringing this into our world! Here’s to body love y’all!
(Post previously featured on GrrrlWithBoys.blogspot.com on April 6, 2014)