Reclaiming “Fat” on Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday is here.

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Photo by hitesh choudhary on Pexels.com

It think it’s time to reclaim the word “fat” this Fat Tuesday.  The “fat” of Fat Tuesday is happy.  It’s a last hurrah before a long fast.  It’s the celebration of bounty.  It’s excess and indulgence.  It’s happy.  In the case of “Fat Tuesday”  we are supposed to be happy.

I’m not defending obesity.  I’m not minimizing the diseases that obesity exacerbates.  I just want to complicate “fat” a bit.  Instead of saying “She (or) he is fat,” as if it’s an existential state, inherent to the person, like character or temperament, can we be more compassionate AND clinical?  “She (or) he is experiencing obesity.”

Indeed, obesity and the struggle with it is an experience.  If you’ve ever combed through a Ross rack at midnight trying to find a decent plus size dress, you’ve had the obesity experience.  If you’ve ever watched  plus-size loved ones yo-yo diet and cycle through success and failure, you’ve had the obesity experience.  If you’ve ever been starved for something in your life (love, attention, respect) and found a short-term substitute at the bottom of a pint of ice cream in the middle of the night, you’ve had part of the obesity experience.

I’ve been every size from a 6 to a 20W, and even when I was thin, I wasn’t happy.  I was panicked about regaining the weight.  It made shopping easier, sure, and I felt noticed.  However, keeping the weight off was my entire life.  It was a full-time job on top of the job I already had.  Thinness is not happiness.  Happiness is happiness.  We all struggle with happiness, thin or fat.

The word “fat” has bedeviled me my whole life.  “Pretty for a fat girl,” “too fat”, “too fat for the role,”–just a few of the many things I’ve heard.  Behind that “f” word “fat” is another “f” word, that often follows close by and is implied, “failure”.  Being “fat”, or more compassionately, experiencing “fatness” does not mean you are a failure.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or lack will power. We ALL experience failure.  The pitfall is making experiences into identities.

Many of those who have been conditioned to be ashamed of their fatness have also been conditioned to hide.  How many of us retreat to the back row of a group photo because we don’t care to be seen from the neck down?  Too many.

Fat tropes have been around for centuries.  I think of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, that repulsive, yet humorous fat Flemish drunkard (who’m I’ve actually auditioned to play).  How many times have I auditioned for characters destined to be the butt of a joke, just because I wear plus size clothes?  So many.  Too many.

It’s time to get past the fat tropes and complicate “fat”.  It’s not a state of being, a character defect or a joke.  It’s a medical condition that needs attention and also compassion.  My takeaway from all of this is that “fatness” doesn’t preclude happiness.  You have a right to be happy, fat or thin.  However, we each have to claim and create space for our happiness.  Part of happiness is treating ourselves well, no matter how others speak about us.  The word “fat” needs complicating and compassion at the same time.

I wish you a fun, happy Fat Tuesday–fat with joy, fat with happiness, fat with hope that the best is yet to come.   Celebrate you, who are you are now, today.

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Born Naked, Annihilated by Fashion…til now

Note:  These Botero-inspired, body positive fashion images are NSFW. They are also not safe for preserving outmoded paradigms of what a woman’s body should be.

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Kristin West in Global Intuition scarf & sneakers.  Photo courtesy of Yi Zhou Studio.

We are born naked and when we die, our bodies are stripped, examined and prepared for burial. Between birth and death, we are contextualized and classified by fashion. It is our nakedness that is universal and transcendent. It is fashion that gives us a sense of time, space and place. Fashion changes. That’s its nature. Our nakedness does not change.

So much of fashion for women revolves around hiding, camouflaging, binding, masking and correcting flaws. Many of those flaws even become fashionable after a time. What’s considered beautiful to one generation is horrifying to another. Binding of the feet, whalebone corsets, and obligatory shape wear are all examples of how we try to minimize women even in the space that they take up in their physical, tangible life. We do this in the name of beauty and glamour, but the tacit message is that a woman is not allowed to take up too much space and must expect to suffer as part of daily life as a matter, of course, to be acceptable to those around her. Wallis Simpson’s famous quip, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” has stayed with women long after her death.

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Relaxing poolside in Global Intuition sneakers.  Photo courtesy of Yi Zhou Studio.

Idealized images of the female form have been around since humans began the endeavor of making art but over time, our ideas of what a woman should be and could be have grown smaller and smaller. Would the Venus of Willendorf be considered gorgeous today if we saw her living, nude, in the flesh?

Siegfried Kracauer famously said, “The photograph annihilates the person.” Indeed, we live in an age of hyper-inundation of images. The average American sees 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, many of aspirational models portraying fictionalized situations rather than actual people living actual lives. Kracauer also said,”…what appears in the photograph is not the person but the sum of what can be subtracted from him or her.” People are reduced to objects, things, ideas, sales pitches, and talking points instead of subjectivities. The average woman has been annihilated in this unrelenting tide of over-processed, idealized imagery of unobtainable standards.

Is body positivity just having a moment? Is it fashionable? Or is body comfort, body positivity, and body acceptance something that we can reclaim as women? Is fashion having a fat fetish moment or can we truly embrace women of all sizes? Can we truly and whole-heartedly say all sizes and shapes are deserving of being clothed well?

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Striking a pose in a couture gown by Aida Novosel & Global Intuition sneakers.  Photo courtesy of Yi Zhou Studio.

These photographs are deeply informed by Fernando Botero’s oeuvre. Botero often imagined bodies as round and full, comic even at times, as opposed to clean lines and hard, harsh angles. Can we too have a full circle moment? Is it possible to enjoy looking at many different types of body types in photography and allow for their subjectivity?

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Feeling beautiful and authentic poolside in Global Intuition sneakers.  Photo courtesy of Yi Zhou Studio.

 

We privilege chiseled perfectly toned, perfectly controlled bodies. This is what we hold up as the ideal. This is what advertisers sell to us. This is what so many women suffer for— trying to prove that they are in control of their lives by being in control of their bodies. It’s about proving to the world if you are indeed control of your own life. The sad history is, that even today, with remarkable freedoms for women, not all women have equal access to those freedoms. We are not always in control of our bodies at all times, all over the world.

Nakedness is also vulnerability. You’re not hiding, you’re not distracting, and you’re not camouflaged. You’re there with all your rolls, pooches, all your stretch marks, all your cellulite, freckles, and moles. Forty percent of American women are obese. That’s a large minority. Instead of pressuring these women to be more in control, to work harder, to do better, perhaps we should unbind our thinking. Perhaps we should drop our whalebone thought corsets and make fashion compassionate. Let’s be seen, heard and accepted as we are.

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Feeling comfortable in my body and in my Global Intuition sneakers.  Photo by Yi Zhou Studio.

According to the American Psychological Association, women are twice as likely to report that they’re stressed and then men. Instead of gouging women’s pain points as a means to sell them things, it would be far more effective to extend the everyday woman the compassion she deserves, whether she’s a size 6 or size 16 or a size 26.

Instead of belaboring whether a woman is visually attractive or sexy, it’s far more important to help every woman find what’s within her that’s attractive, vibrant, sexy and alive. That’s why body positivity is so important–not to make the range of what we find sexy and sexual bigger, literally, but to help people feel better about themselves in the world that often undermines our mental and emotional health and our well-being in the name of profit.

 

Bubbling Over with Body Positive Joy!

When Yi asked me to climb on her conference room table, I didn’t hesitate.

This past week, Yi Zhou, founder of Global Intuition, a fast-rising international fashion brand, invited me to her headquarters in Beverly Hills for a body positive photo shoot.

Yi is a Chinese multimedia artist who has lived in Rome from the age of eight and studied between London and Paris with degrees in Political Science and Economics.  Her innovative work has been shown at Shanghai Biennale, Venice Biennal, Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival.  Global in reach, she founded her creative strategy digital production company, Yi Zhou Studio, in Shanghai and Hong Kong.  In late 2017, she brought her creative vision to LA  as a strategic partner of Cinemoi Network, Royal Yacht. She is currently developing her first feature film as writer and director.

I had the privilege of meeting Yi through What Women Want Show about a year ago as she was preparing her Fred Segal show.  I was extremely impressed by Yi’s drive, ambition and poise.  Yi’s brand is called Global Intuition and I can see why.  Working with Yi, she has a global outlook and also a strong sense of what makes others look and feel good.  My shoot with Yi was fun, collaborative and inspiring.

Here’s your first look–Body Positive and Bubbles!

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Body Positive and Bubbles.  Photo by Yi Zhou of Global Intuition.

Yi and I discussed what intuition is and why it’s important for women, and really everyone, to trust their intuition .  Intuition seems to power much of what she does and how she works.

Video Courtesy of Yi Zhou, Global Intuition

My biggest take away from spending time with Yi this week was that joy and intuition  make everything we do better!  If you bring a joyful heart to whatever you are doing, and trust your hunches, you can accomplish so much.  Trust your intution and let your joy bubble over!

 

Your Opinion of Me is None of My Business

Your opinion of me is none of my business.

That was one of my biggest lessons and pains in the last two years.  What other people think of me doesn’t matter.  It’s hard to get people to change their opinions or what they think they “know”.  At the end of the day, what you think of you matters, because that’s the springboard of change.  Only you can change you.  No one’s opinion is going to change you.

copy of copy of copy of copy of copy of copy of copy of body positivityToo often, we’re weighed down emotionally by other’s opinions.  And most people’s opinions are only partially informed at best, and too often, projections of their own insecurity at worst.

Most of of my life has been an act of translation.  I’m left handed, so I learned early how to adapt.  I know what to use my left hand for and what to use my right hand for.  Even in my adulthood though, I’m flexible enough to experiment.  Last week I learned that eating with my right hand slows me down and that helps me to take more time to enjoy what I’m eating.

People’s opinions still matter to me, but they matter less.  What used to mortify me now just annoys me.  People’s attempts to shame stick less.  Opinions are like assholes–everyone has one.  That doesn’t mean you have to show it to everyone.  After a lot of opinions from a lot of assholes, you realize that no one has a unique opinion.  Opinions and biases are shared, for better and worse.

It’s a long road to get out of the approval trap, to seek fulfillment in lieu of validation.  You may not always do everything “right”.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Everything may not be the “way it’s supposed to be” or ideal.  Ideals aren’t real.  The reality of you is so much important that the ideas you want others to have of you.

Try to be kind to yourself and be flexible.  Adapt to your needs, not someone else’s projection of what you could or should be.

Fears Separate Us from Our Prosperity

It’s amazing to me how much we buy based on our insecurity.  We buy creams to “correct” wrinkles.  We buy makeup to hide “flaws”.  We spend money on all sorts of costly cosmetic treatments to beat aging.  We buy into diet program after diet program to keep weight off, instead of dealing with the “why” of the weight.

Copy of body positivity (2)I think all of this buying into what we “should” look like or how we appear is more than vanity.  It belied a great amount of fear and insecurity–fears of over not being seen, fear of being out-of-control, fear of being judged and disrespected.

A few days ago, I was hanging out in a very tony area of Los Angeles, catching lunch between meetings at a casual lunch spot.  Every fear I mentioned above got triggered.  I noticed right when my plus size self walked in, it was like I was immediately out of place.  It was like no one saw me.  This area is high traffic for tourists, but there was no line after the lunch rush.  I sat for at least 10 min before a waiter approached me and then another 15 min just to get the glass of water I had asked for.  No one bothered to refill it.  Meanwhile, the lithe couple that was seated next to me five minutes after I arrived were served with much more attentiveness.  Newsflash:  the svelte woman ordered the same food I did–veggie quiche and a lightly dressed side salad.

It’s hard not to feel out of place sometimes.  I felt completely unseen at this lunch spot.  Normally, this would be the stuff of Yelp reviews, but instead of dumping my anger on Yelp, I wanted to see where that anger was coming from. So here it is:

I fear being unseen as a plus size woman in the world.  I fear having assumptions made about my self-care.  I fear having assumptions made about my personal finances due to my size.  I fear being made to feel out-of-place.  I fear being judged for how I appear to the world.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Though I was angry at how I was treated, I am grateful because I took a moment to understand where that anger was coming from instead of just being another unhappy, indignant customer.

And…that’s why it’s so easy to sell diet culture to the masses.  Most women are plus sized and they’re told they’re “less than”.  We fear being left out so we buy into the useless pills, the cosmetic offerings of the moment, all to push back against that fear of not mattering.  Just for today, take a moment before you whip out your credit card and ask yourself if you’re making a fear-based purchase, especially if it’s in regards to your appearance.  What made your feel that way and why?

Separating women from their hard-earned money (pay gap and all) is a means of controlling women.  Don’t let someone profit from your fear and insecurity.  Walk through world, proud, no matter what…even when tony tourist spots treat you like shit.

That One Special Picture

You know that person that uses the same picture from ten years ago on all their social media profiles?  That picture than shows them 15 pounds lighter, not as wrinkled, and probably at a wedding or some other special occasion where they are made up or dressed to the nines?  That person may have a body image issue or at least a problem living in the NOW.  That person may or may not be you, but many people have this issue.

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It’s heartbreaking to me that many people choose a photo from their more distant past as their profile photos.  It’s like they can’t accept or acknowledge fully where they are today.  Our whole personhood is not dictated by one image.  There’s no perfect image of us.  We change each day.  Too many of us privilege that “one special photo” of us and can’t stop to appreciate the beauty of our maturation, the beauty of our experience.  Some are even ashamed to put up a more current photo because of how they think others will react to their picture.

The next time you’re tempted to put up a photo from your not-too-recent-past as a profile photo, question your motives.  Are you trying to escape what you perceive to be your shortcomings in the present?  Do you feel the pressures of ageism?  Do you feel like the past was somehow better? Our social profiles are now the face we show to the world.  Less and less, we interact in person.  Computing has diminished the need to go to coffee with someone.  We can chat through a small window.  We don’t have to give someone our full attention if we don’t care to.  That small chat window also tricks us into believing that we somehow “save face”.  We can project that idealized version of ourselves from 10 or 15 years ago without much consequence.

It’s time to embrace who we are today, with our wrinkles and cellulite, with all the “flaws”.  We are more than one image, frozen in time.  We are living, breathing, maturing, evolving persons and we should all celebrate who we are NOW, today.

Measuring Up

Scales and tape measurers have never been my faves.  Anytime I’ve had to deal with either, it’s always with a small sense of dread.  Am I measuring up?

So often, I believe, that the impulse to measure up is rooted in an unacknowledged inadequacy.  Being “too big”, “too hippy”, “too busty”, not busty enough, et al masks a certain perpetual dissatisfaction. Instead of focusing on how we’re not the perfect measurements in the perfect ratios, it might be time to heal the much deeper issue of the ways we feel inadequate.

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Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

I can’t tell you how many times, even at my thinnest, I heard, “You’d be perfect if you lost another 15 lbs,” or “You’re pretty, but you’d be gorgeous if you’d lose a size or two.”  What’s most disheartening is this criticism never came from men.  It came from women, women I considered friends, well-meaning perhaps, but nonetheless, hurtful.

Dealing with chronic feelings of inadequacy is a terrible thing.  It’s like there’s a hole in your heart.  Sometimes you don’t want to even try because you’re best is never good enough, even when you’re giving a 150% to a diet or a votaress of the latest exercise craze.  There’s a fixation on personal responsibility and I’m all for personal responsibility, but there comes a point when you have to also acknowledge what you’re NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR, including other people’s toxicity, other people’s baggage, other people’s harmful behavior.

Today, I am having the courage to admit that for most of my life, I’ve been over-responsible.  Make me in charge of something and it will get done, even if it nearly kills me.  I’ve taken on a lot of shitty situations mostly because I believed that I was the only person who would or could do them, not because they were what I really wanted. Copy of Copy of body positivityMy own growth challenge is that I’m learning to pursue what I really want instead of trying to measure up for someone else, real or imagined.

It’s time to tell yourself that you are enough, just as you are right now.  It’s time to stop trying to measure up.  You are not you’re measurements; you’re more than numbers on a scale or a few extra inches.  It’s amazing what opens up when you open your heart and your mind to who you are now, instead of who others want you to be.