Today I think I made the best mental-health-in-the-Internet-age decision since deciding to de-install the Facebook app from my phone.
I decided to permanently close the comments section on my blog.
The decision was inspired by something that happened this morning. I realized I hadn't moderated my comments in a while, and I figured that I could tick something off the list for the day. So I got into the comment moderation section of my blog and saw dozens of comments on one post I had written on deciding to block this dude on Facebook because of a bad, unresolved feeling I had about our friendship a long time ago. Blocking people, last time I checked, is totally my (or anyone else's) prerogative. It is almost always harmless, and leads to the avoidance of unnecessary stress. And I'd guess that often the other person doesn't even notice that it's happened. Despite this relatively pacifist move, I managed to enrage about 3 dozen members of Reddit, where my blog had been re-posted, who invested in commenting through my comments interface (yes, they personally felt they had to come and e-lambast me when they could have just done it on Reddit).
The consistent pathologizing tone of the comments was what disturbed me the most.
More than hurling epithets (though, yes, girl epithets were hurled) or commenting on my looks, these comments sought to destabilize my notion of reality, to position me as moronic, ill-equipped to handle the "real world," and entitled. Well, ok, maybe I'll grant the entitled part, though I tend to identify as "pretentious-light."
More than anything I felt that these commentators sought to "put me in my place," arguing that I didn't have the right to block someone or have feelings about them.
In short: totes weeeird, girl. And totes draining!
The good news:
These people absolutely inspired me to take care of my mental health!
They made me realize something important: I need to invest only in the people who invest in me. People who aren't invested in me have no place in my comment section, my inbox, my thoughts, or my life.
I realized that even though often I get super lovely comments from very supportive people (thanks lovely, supportive people!) that my time moderating comments could be better spent writing, reading, painting my toenails, contemplating my fat bitch takeover apocalypse, or otherwise investing in people (and pursuits) who nourish me.
I'd looove to encourage you to invest only in the people who nourish you, the pursuits that make you feel stoked, and to have a conversation about stuff in person rather than online.
It's bye bye to comment moderation for this babe.
Last Saturday me and BFF, Jessica, went straight from breakfast burritos at The Grind to Intersection for the Arts for a Kearny Street Workshop hosted modeling and runway workshop in anticipation of their sure-to-be-bomb fashion show on May 31, Celebrate Your Body (use code "fashionforward" for limited time to get $2 off price of admission), where you will see me, duh, modeling & strutting.
Was this the first time I've experienced the harrowing challenge that is le modeling? No. But Saturday was a crash course in working the runway. Stephanie of San Francisco's 31Rax was presiding as I and about 40 others (in a dazzling array of representation across the size, gender, race, and age spectrum) werq'd it to Rihanna et al.
Here are the 3 secrets that I learned about working the runway (and life):
1. Slow down - way down. Find the beat to the song that's blasting and really feel it in your hips and your feet. My burlesque training really came in handy on this one.
2. Make every moment photograph worthy (rule to live by!).
3. Make eye contact. As you walk down the runway, as you pose.
Check out Kearny Street Workshop's upcoming show, Celebrate Your Body, on May 31 in San Francisco. Save $2 off tickets with secret code "fashionforward" now.
Keywords: fat modeling, fat fashion, fatshion, plus size fashion
Not many people know this but when I originally pitched Hot & Heavy the book was going to be all about fat girl sex... Sexuality has always felt like my political nest, the place from which I stretched my baby feminist wings. I am drawn to talking about sex openly and honestly because I experience it as a deeply political and pleasurable act. Dirty stories have brought people together for, well, a really, really long ass time. I never feel closer to people than when I'm telling them about that one time I queefed in my boyfriend's face (seriously, that was my opener when we would hang out with new couples) or they're telling me about that time they found glitter in their pussy, like, 8 days after that one orgy they went to.
Interestingly, whenever I talk to people who haven't read Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion they presume that the book is a full-on salacious read about hot times at Fat Ghurl High. I'm not sure if it's because of the cover (featuring duhliciously sexy April Flores), because I'm a pervert (or maybe they are) or because the title is a reinterpretation of a sexy turn of phrase. Just to set the record straight: as much as I love the idea of a book all about the secret sex lives of fatties, H&H isn't actually all about sex. Though, I will give you a little secret: when I originally pitched the book to Seal Press, it was. My idea was to interview a bunch of fat girls about their sex lives and share all the juicy details thus blowing the mind of all society, kick-starting an orgiastic fatty revolution. The senior editor at the time, the too-fab-for-words Brooke Warner, had a vision for a book that delved deeper into other arenas of fat girl life. It turned out that I LOVED that idea! We collaboratively came up with the idea for what is now Hot & Heavy.
I heard from Good Vibrations a few months ago and they said they were thinking about buying the book. They were one of a few local bookstores who really supported me during the sale of my first book (about boobies, in case you didn't know), and I was stoked that H&H was a fit for them. I was also excited because I immediately saw the opportunity to focus on the naughtier parts of the book in a reading... which is happening this THURSDAY at 1620 Polk Street! Yes, March 14 from 6:30-7:30 catch me and Miss Kitty Stryker reading from the book's more adult chapters. Kitty's chapter, "Fat Sex Works!", is an incredible look into her experience as a fat sex worker in the US and abroad. I will be reading choice morsels from chapters "2Fat2Fuck" by Rachel Kacenjar, "Journeying Into a Fat, Fleshy Vulva" by Shawna Peters and "The Fat Queen of Speed Dating" by Golda Poretsky. And there might be a little peak into my chapter, "Pecan Pie, Sex & Other Revolutionary Things." There will be truffles, there will be naughtiness, there will be cleavage (personal guarantee on mine at least; feel free to bring yours). Hope to see local folks there there! And if you're not around enjoy a couple chapters and raise a glass. We'll be there with you in perv spirit.
In today's New York Times post, "Plus-Size Bloggers Are Role Models," Bethany Rutter of Arched Eyebrow, spoke about how fatshion can lead to people “...examining their relationship with their body for the first time, questioning why they feel they should lose weight or why they feel they don’t deserve to enjoy fashion.” Bethany's words made me think about my history with fashion and the ways that fatshion has become such an integral part of the body liberation movement - and why.
I come from a long line of fatshionistas. My grandmother, Esperanza, was a master seamstress - having learned all her skills from her mother, Manuela - until she got Parkinson's. Her sewing subverted the patriarchy of my grandfather, who was threatened by her skills and her secrets; they subverted the post-production capitalism we had inherited, which said we could abdicate those skills in favor of mass-produced looks palatable to Western aesthetics; they subverted the thin-centric clothing manufacturers who said there was no room for her body or mine. My mother, Maria, liked to use glittery puffy paint to enhance denim skirts she'd turned into minis. She'd draw entire scenes from The Little Mermaid on the pockets of the skirts, and she'd turn discarded, seemingly hopeless things into elaborate and beautiful gifts for me. She made me leopard-print jumpers and fashioned my hair into gloriously high side pony tails. She helped me practice fierce quippy one-line retorts to defend my body against the rapid onslaught of attacks it constantly buffeted. I didn't have the skill to understand their labors of love. I hated that I couldn't find clothes in my size. I didn't want to be special or seen.
Clothing has always made me interact with my body in a very real way. As a little fat girl, it was clothing that became symbols of my body's failure to conform, and as a grown & ferosh fat lady, it is clothing that has become a claim to visibility and a challenge to conquer, alter and radicalize. I have to understand the dimensions of my body - how wide my upper arms are, how big my bust is, how my hips are shaped, how many inches I need to account for when I sit down (and my belly pops more!) - when I'm buying or altering clothes.
I feel like my wardrobe - the hair birds, the sequins, the tiny veiled hats, the endless nautical-themed outfits - is part of my healing process. It's the intentional flouting of feminine convention. It's the conscious refusal to make others feel comfortable by putting my lumps away. It's laying to rest my old, little girl ambitions of invisibility. And it's laying claim to a new politic of customized disobedience.
Alicia and Kori at the September 1 Picnic & Swap at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Outfits styled from clothing brought to the swap.
Fatty clothing swaps are revolutionary. They are revolutionary because they subvert the expectation that we not gather - because when fat-bodied people gather we are more visible. They are revolutionary because they challenge capitalism. They are places where we pool the resources we have and share them. And then we celebrate that sharing. They are revolutionary because they undermine traditional gendered ways of relating. The culture of clothing swaps encourages the exchange of "girl, you werked that!" and "that looks so good on you!" They are revolutionary because they refuse to accept that we, as fatties, ought to wear only muted colors in conservative cuts. Fatty clothing swaps take the frownies upside downies and take fashions' lemons and turn them into lemonade spritzers with a cran twist. That's why I love fatty clothing swaps. That's why if you've been thinking of hosting one you really ought to!
Last weekend Kori Bias of Buxom Vintage and I decided to coordinate and create a plus-size clothing swap + picnic at the very tail-end of summer at Dolores Park in San Francisco. I would say I'm a bit of a veteran of the swap, having been to a little under ten of them myself. There's often food (hummus, wine, and cupcakes seem to be swap favs). There's always chisme. And there's plenty of love. But I had never really organized one. So, when Kori messaged me about Sep 1, I was all over it. I thought I'd make a quick how-to guide for the newbies who are considering doing it, but aren't sure about the ins'n'outs.
1. Your Vision Now, the vision portion is where most people begin and end (when it comes to swaps, careers, relationships, adventurous outfit choices). They get scared (what if no one comes?!). They get overwhelmed (what if 80 people show up?). They get mired in unnecessarily high expectations (I need boys in gold lame hot pants passing around smoked salmon mousse and capers on mini-toast or I'll diiiiiiiie! Trust me: I've so been there). That's what I'm here for: to remind you that you can make this swap happen!
When you imagine the swap you want to have, is it mostly friends or mostly people you don't know well yet? Is it at your house or at a park? Is there food? Once you figure out what your swap looks like, figure out what you need: mirrors? somewhere people can change outfits (some people will be more likely to want to change in private than others; so a place like a bathroom can be great, but the most recent swap I did was at a park, obviously, and people didn't mind trying on clothes over their outfits or their leggings/chemises)? ice? food? If the list starts getting long, ask yourself if you can live with doing a little less. The answer is almost always: Yes! Do not abort the mission!
Virgie's Vision Swap Rule: 99% of what you need for the swap you must already own or have access to.
The most low-maintenance/novice-friendly swap might involve your/a friend's place, some empty floor space, and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I highly recommend for the first-time swap organizer, that you commit to a low-maintenance swap, plan to offer 1 or 2 simple snacks, with an expected turnout of 5-10 people.
2. The Date & The Time Figure out when you want to do it and set the date and time. Whether you feel you need 6 months or 6 days, figure out what works for you (the organizer/s) and those who may be attending. If most of the people you're inviting are long-term planners, you may need to give them a 1-2 months heads-up. If they're last-minute people, you may need only a couple weeks. Weekends are often the best, but people who want to show up will show up on a weekday evening. I don't recommend early mornings, but any time between 11am and 9pm are prime swapping times.
Virgie's Date Rule: I don't recommend giving less than two weeks or more than 2 months notice for a swap.
Virgie's Time Rule: Always expect that most people will show up an hour late.
3. The Venue My #1 choice for a novice swapper is your place or a friend's place. Choose a venue that works for you, your vision and that's as easy as possible. You can hold a swap outdoors in a park, for example, if you live in a place with clement weather, but make sure to advise guests (in the invite) to wear things like leggings and tank tops under their clothes so they can easily try things on while getting close to a true-fit and not having to get nekkid in public.
Virgie's Venue Rule: Steer clear of venues you have to pay for or that require strict reservation times.
4. Invites The invite is where you share the details from steps 1-3. Excellent things to include are: (1) time (start time and end time), (2) location, (3) whether there's going to be food and how much of it/what kind you want your guests to bring, (4) how private or public the venue is (back to Step #3), (5) if you definitely do NOT want certain items (like shoes, which are heavy and don't move as easily or quickly as clothing, but that can be amazing if you or your guests love shoes), (6) what the accessibility sitch at your venue is (could your venue accommodate someone with a disability or an 80 pound bag of clothes? If you live in a 5th floor walk-up/have any stairs, for example, this is important info for your guests and you can figure out how to make things work before the day of). Make a Facebook page for the event, send out emails, write a blog or a tumblr post and feel free to ask friends to promote it mindfully (you don't want Mike from the bar showing up... unless you do want Mike from the bar showing up) on their page/feed if you want to meet new friends.
Virgie's Invites Rule: If you're inviting a lot of people who aren't close friends, however many people RSVP, divide that by 2 and then multiply that number by 0.7 and you'll roughly have your number of attendees. Do not panic if the number is low!
The Day Of
5. Keep it Simple Do not under any circumstances panic! If you said you were providing snacks, then prep them. If you have extra mirrors to bring out do that. Most of the fatties I know aren't into sitting on the floor (I know I'm not), so if you have some extra seating or pillows to sit on those are great. Make sure you have some garbage bags or grocery bags for the leftovers post-swap. Put out your swap offering if you want. Turn on some music. Get a glass of wine.
6. So everyone is an hour late. Girl, don't stress. We already knew this was going to happen and it is absolutely no reflection on you, how much people love you, or how they feel about the swap. I have been to swaps where a bunch of serious swappers (such as: me) show up as early as possible to get first dibs. At our swap, Kori didn't want any actual swapping to happen until 1 (the event started at 11) so that folks could get a chance to settle in, talk and we could accommodate late-comers. Though I'd never seen it done before, I liked the outcome! You get to decide how that plays out.
7. Swap! As the hostess you get to decide how the swapping works, but mostly I've found that people organically gravitate to pieces that suit their style and there's enough to go around. If people don't take what you brought, then don't fret! If your guests are shy, get into that pile and start pulling pieces that might work for individual guests. Encourage people to try stuff on and give encouraging feedback. It's tres infectious.
8. Clean-up The etiquette around the leftovers seems to be that the host/ess and/or people who have a car take all or half the leftovers - once they're bagged up - to the local thrift store.
9. Bask in your Fabulosity You have officially joined the annals of hostess history.
It occurred to me today that I walked blindly into fierceness, not knowing if I could pull it off, hoping it would all work out, aware that I had nothing to lose but “my precious chains.” I pieced together the bits of life’s lusciousness which I’d learned to hang onto: first for survival and then something far beyond that. I’ve been a fat girl for as long as I can remember. The fierceness came much later.
Back to “my precious chains.”
The allure of normativity – the chains - in all its forms – heterosexuality, monogamy, thinness – is incredibly potent and alluring. The promise is simple: you do this and you get that. But the payoff remains ever illusive. That’s because the payoff actualizes for very few and even those who are the seeming beneficiaries also suffer from the weight of its suffocating, merciless and incessant demands. To imagine that in a time when my greatest worry could be whether I want cilantro on my tacos, I look around me and see people living lives of prescriptiveness and not liberation. And I realize that it’s because, as Native scholar Andrea Smith once said, systems of oppression must seem like the only way; they must seem natural and inevitable or people would never participate in their own subjugation.
I remember a time when I was very resistant to fat positivity. I didn’t understand it. Even though I was undeniably, by-every-western-measure fat, it felt like something that didn’t apply to me, something I wasn’t interested in. It made me feel unsure and belligerent and sometimes it made me blush. Even when I was organizing as a feminist, I was still sold on the bill of goods, my heart was still set on the prize of passing. I wanted so, so badly to pass! I didn’t have words for the longing that had grown inside of me. I wanted to pretend that this body wasn’t this body, and in disavowing this fat body I inadvertently sought to erase it and the other outlaw bodies that were like it.
And then came fierceness.
Me and fierceness went way back. Back to pre-school when I knew I was hot shit, when my belly was a fascinating orb and not the seat of my greatest shame. But I lost it. It was taken from me, forced out, presumed dead. But me and fierceness kept bumping into each other, and one day the glittery seed of fabulousness settled in again, began to lay down some roots, brought me back to life.
Fierceness is fundamentally about resistance, about liberation, about protecting the strut, the light, the too-tight pencil skirt from all the people and ads and social forces that seek to force it out of you. Fierceness is queer. It is brown. It is revolutionary. My fat saved my life. This body, which at one time felt like it had betrayed and imprisoned me, was in fact the source of my greatest liberation. My fat reminds me that I was destined for things greater than passing. It took me through grad school, through feminism, relationships, love, through political and intellectual territory I could have only dreamed of. And, girl, I’m just getting started.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.