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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Shopping While Plus-Sized

Shopping while plus-sized?  Feel frustrated in a fitting room?  I feel ya.  Limited choices often limit plus-size women from wearing clothing they really love.  With my busy life, it’s not unusual for me to attend several events in a week, in addition to meetings.  I am constantly shopping and trying on clothes.  As a plus size woman, this can be immensely frustrating.  Here’s some shopping tips I’ve come to live by:

Wear what you love.

75642445_543120503189762_2245747947067146240_nI can’t repeat this enough.  If an outfit does not put a megawatt smile on your face, if you feel insecure in any way, don’t buy it.  I only wear what I love.  I don’t wear colors I don’t like.  Shape wear may make you look better in a frock, but if you feel insecure in any way, I strongly suggest that you don’t spend the money.  Wear what makes you feel bold and beautiful and ready to be seen.  If you find your outfit hides “flaws” more than it makes you feel bodacious and beautiful, nix it.

If something works well, and it comes in colors you love, duplicate!

Shoe shopping drives me batty.  I wear an 11 W, so finding cute, comfortable footwear is always an adventure.  I always buy duplicates of shoes that I find comfortable, in several colors.  I do this with dresses and blazers too.  If it ain’t broke, I don’t fix it and I also don’t have to search as much for that elusive 11W.

Merge trendy and classic.

Let’s face it.  Most trends are showcased to the world in fashion mags on lithe bodies–bodies that don’t look plus-sized.  I look great in classic wear, but I want to be on trend as much as makes sense for me.  I never invest fully in the color of the year from head to toe or other fashion phenomenons.  I integrate what’s trendy that I like with what I know works for me.  Once again, if I don’t feel FABULOUS in it, I don’t wear it.

You CAN wear patterns.

polka dot blue and vermillionSo many plus-sized women lament the horrible patterns in shapeless designs that line clothing racks.  Because there’s so much bad available, we sometimes don’t  look for the good.  I love patterns when they are right for me:  polka dots, some paisley,  leopard print.  Sometimes I can do zebra print and snake print.  You will rarely see me wear horizontal stripes, because I am a broad broad!  Open your mind to some patterns, but it may take some hunting.

Don’t agonize.  Accessorize.

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I have a few simple black dresses that are mainstays of my wardrobe.  They could be seen as blah–but I offset the blah with some bling.  I love a great scarf too.  Accessorizing the tried-and-true is a fun way to revamp a classic wardrobe.

 

 

 

These are just a few of my fave tips for shopping.  Share yours in the comments!

 

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!

 

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.

Weighty Self-Worth Issues

This week, I had a lesson in how valuable I am.  From time to time, we say to ourselves, “I’m valuable.  I’m important.  I have something to offer,” etc.  It’s easy to pay lip service to those affirmations, but it’s a whole different matter when we actually have to calculate our worth in real terms.  Yesterday night, I was crunching a bunch of numbers regarding some of my business ventures and I realized that I had a good sense of my worth.  I wasn’t asking “Who would want to pay for that?”  Instead, I was asking, “Who wouldn’t?”

Not everyone has had the epiphany I’ve had though.  It’s been well documented that skinnier women get paid more than heavier women and all women are touched by the gender pay gap in some way as well.

Freek Vermeulen explains:

Various studies have shown that overweight people are seen as less conscientious, less agreeable, less emotionally stable, less productive, lazy, lacking in self-discipline, and even dishonest, sloppy, ugly, socially unattractive, and sexually unskilled; the list goes on and on.* The stereotypes run so deep that even obese people hold these same discriminatory beliefs about other obese people.

It’s hard to stand up for what you’re worth as a plus size woman in the world.  It’s hard to fight years of stereotypes, especially the ones we’ve internalized and had used against us.  The saddest thing to me is that people with weight challenges do often hold these beliefs about others with weight issues.  I know I too struggle with this and I have to check myself.

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of body positivity.pngToday’s the day to really ponder what you think you’re worth.  Are you short-selling yourself because you’ve told your body makes you “less than”?  You’re important and valuable whether you’re a size 0 or a size 5X.

Also, don’t forget to measure value in more abstract terms too.  Real dollars and cents make sense, but are you treated well at your work?  Do you feel valued and important?  Your paycheck may be adequate but the emotional cost of your work environment may be too much.  There are some things money can’t buy, and one of those things is a happy heart and an ebullient spirit.

I think one of the most freeing things that can happen for anyone struggling with body image issues is to get to that head space where you have “zero f**ks given”.  You’re just doing you.  That’s the zero you ultimately want to achieve.  Zero is not a size to achieve but an attitude to aspire to, where you know what makes you happy and you’re not allowing others to dictate to you what you should think and feel about yourself and others.  So that’s the zero that I wish all people get to–not a teensy weensy size but a big, bold attitude of self empowerment and self worth.

 

 

Body Positivity: My Spirit Needs Space!


I used to hate tale of Cinderella.  First, Cinderella was cheerful about doing housework.  Second, she has tiny, delicate feet.  I wear an 11W.  My shoe options are limited, compared to other women.  My feet need space.  My whole self needs space.

Copy of Copy of Copy of body positivity (1) It seems like plus sized women are not allowed to take up space. .  I recently went to a Sears and the plus size section was dwarfed by the petite section.  I went to Bloomingdale’s.  They don’t even have plus size attire in the store anymore–“online only” I was told, by the employees, many of whom were plus sized.  Macy’s has one third of one sales floor dedicated to plus size clothing, compared to two and two-thirds floors of miss and junior sized apparel.

It’s hard not to get frustrated when whole world seems to be telling you, “You don’t belong here.”  Yet, so many women around you are similar to you.  How can retailers and the culture as a whole invalidate the lives and bodies of so many women?

Take your space, especially in a world where we’re told we’re too big, too “this” or “that”.  Find space for you just to be you–online, at home, on the beach, wherever makes you happy.  Your body is the vessel of your spirit and my spirit is big–so it needs a bigger vessel.  So many of us have pain and shame over weight and image issues, but out of that pain can come a deep compassion for others who haven’t been allowed their “spaces” either, so use that and heal the world with that big heart and big spirit today.