The raccoon is you. The cotton candy is 2015, and the puddle of water is the Happy New Year, which came too soon, as usual. I don’t know about you, but I’m mourning the passing of 2015. 2016 has enormous shoes to fill. It was a good year for personal reasons, but also a pivotal point, and dare I say a year of triumph, for a heap of outgroups who in prior years have been deprived the visibility and recognition they deserve. Vogue declared 2015 “The Year of Trans Visibility.” The Daily Dot dubbed it “A Good Year for Body Positivity,” and Bustle identifies 2015 as “The Year the Movement Went Mainstream.” Similarly, 2015 was the first year a movement of women dared to publicly speak up about their abortions.
Reflecting back on last year, 2015 was a year of victory and courage. Those who were outcast to the margins in the past are finally shining in the spotlight. Last year, (some of) the disempowered were empowered. They were seen and heard louder, further and wider than ever. New and more diverse idols have pervaded entertainment. The spike in media appearances of these “other” categories starts the conversation. Social media spreads it.
Friends share stories. Spread ideas. Challenge norms. People who used to be primarily excluded from the conversation are now being exposed to bodies that resemble their own, people who suffer the same abuse, discrimination, exclusion, shame, and pain as they do. People are relating. We’re finally learning to see other people as people. Accepting them. Supporting them.
Not all of us, obviously, but a lot of us. Enough of us to change the context. The same large bodies that were formerly confined to before pictures are suddenly strutting down the runways, landing headlines and magazine covers. Succeeding. Transgender individuals, the former “freaks,” are now being cast as leading roles. Succeeding. The “others” now have an audience who love them.
And although the fight for equal acceptance continues and may never truly end, more and more battles for beauty are being won. More and more people are accepting, opening up and tuning in. These movements are gaining momentum with no sign of slowing down. Who knows how far 2016 might take us. We have the hashtag to thank for this.
The list goes on. Millions of individuals, united under one hashtag. Social media, as much as it distances us, also connects us. It shows us what we have in common. Just look at the progress it’s empowered, and how rapidly it’s spreading. We the people demand more diversity in our media feed, and we got it. Slowly but surely, it’s being supplied. Conventional beauties are making room on the stage for real bodies. Body-positive movements have spiked awareness, inspired acceptance and driven an undeniable societal shift, the very societal shift body-positive-activist Jes Baker predicted.
To me, this progress is validating, because it means my words might actually have some impact on the handful of people that actually read them. People have the power to change, and to be changed, and we have the body positive cause to prove it. So phasing out of body-love’s best year so far, at full speed, and with no sign of slowing down, all I can say is: Bring it, 2016. And make it beautiful.
What better way to launch E.Y.’s Talk-Beauty-to-Me Tuesday series than to cannonball into a sea of radical self-love and body-acceptance, with none other than Jes Baker—blogger, speaker, writer, fat-freedom-fighter. And what better day to do it than the release of her first book (of hopefully many more to come),Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls.
If you are local to my neck of the hoods, join me tonight at The Booksmith in San Francisco to meet the famous Miss Baker in the flesh. If you are not from the San Francisco bay area, fret not. Jes might just be touring somewhere close to you in the near future (tour dates / locations listed below). And even if you’re from the middle of ass-fuck nowhere, you’re in luck. Want to meet Jes Baker? Look no further. Just scroll down to the video, click play, sit back, and soak in some of Jes’s wisdom, virtually.
As a blogger myself, and the owner of a body, Jes has been such an inspiration to me, and if this is the first you’re hearing of her, may she be as much of an inspiration to you. I first discovered Miss Baker a couple years back when she ever-so-gracefully put Mike Jeffries (CEO of Abercrombie) in his place for only offering women’s sizes fit for women who are slim. Ironically, his exclusionary attitude toward beauty was the same flame that sparked Jes Baker’s fame and success, when her “Attractive & Fat” campaign went viral. I’ve been stalking her closely ever since. You should too, but be prepared to put some miles in because, as you can see below, she’s quite the moving target.
Transcribed verbatim, minus some ums, likes and you-knows.
ESPRESS YOURSELF: Dakota Snow from EspressYourself.coffee here with Jes Baker. Jes, my first question for you is what is body love? For those of us who’ve never used those two words together in the same sentence, what the fuck is body love?
JES BAKER: Body love. Body love is actually kind of controversial because it kind of seems like the opposite of what we learn to do, and also it’s a huge step, right? It’s a hundred and eighty degrees. A lot of people talk about body acceptance, body neutrality. I think those are really important. They’re the kind of in between steps. Body love is when you really learn to literally love your body, instead of loathe it, and it’s really important. For some people it’s a lifelong journey. Actually, for me to love my body a hundred percent will probably be a lifelong journey.
Body love is the ultimate destination, I suppose. There’s an article by Melissa Fabello that talks about body neutrality on ravishly.com, and I would really encourage you to look it up. I think it’s really important.
Body love is really extreme. It’s something that I think it’s great to aim for. It’s not something that comes naturally, because we’ve been conditioned to hate ourselves. But I like to talk about body love because what a wonderful thing to have, right?
E.Y. Jes, I knew I wanted to be a writer for a while, but it took me multiple blogs and several years to narrow down the things I want to write about. So my question for you is, which came first for you, the blog or body love? Did you know you wanted to blog about body love when you first started blogging?
J.B. I never knew I wanted to blog. I started to blog because I was in a horrible relationship, to be honest with you, and really needed an outlet. So I started this blog and it was really unimpressive. It was called “The Kitschen.” K-i-t-s-c-h-e-n, right? Kitschy, kitschen? It was about vintage baking—I was a baker at the time—and it was really insignificant. But it introduced me to blogging in general, and lifestyle blogging. And I read this really amazing article called “Better Homes and Bloggers” in Bitch Magazine, and it talks about how we think that blogs are going to be a little more honest than magazines, but really they are also glossed over and Photoshopped and all of that. You know, we take the most amazing pictures, and then we brighten them and make them look amazing, we talk about the really great things in our life—and how different is that from Photoshopped magazines?
And so I thought about that for a while, and I was like well, fuck, I’m going to make something real and honest. So I started blogging about, you know, my dirty dishes and my shampoo mohawk in the shower, and it felt really amazing to be transparent in a very glossed over world. And I came across a blog by Rachele, called “The Nearsighted Owl,” which doesn’t exist anymore, but she blogs under “Rad Fat Vegan,” and she was everything in lifestyle blogs that I loved—she had purple hair, she loved cats, she loved thrifting, and she was really super fat. And I was kind of, morbidly curious about this because I’d never seen such a thing before. And I was really in denial about my body at the same time, as well. I didn’t know that it was possible to like yourself. But after going back to her blog over and over and over again, I had this realization. And it’s sad that I had this realization, but it really was a moment where I thought, ohmygod… I don’t have to hate myself for the rest of my life. Ohmygod, I don’t have to hate myself for the rest of my life! Wow! And you know, once you kind of, sort of experience and know something, you can’t unknow it.
And so that continued to grow and blossom. I started to read books. I started to find more body positive blogs. It really was like the starting point for me, and the more I read and researched, the more obsessed I became with this concept, that self-loathing was an advertising hoax, and that you really could love yourself the way you were. And then, of course, because blogging is personal, the more I became invested in body love, the more it took over my blog. So when I really wanted to try and do body love and honesty, I changed it over to “The Militant Baker,” and it took off. And I’m incredibly fortunate that it did. I never expected this to become a life career in any sort of way, but it just happened that way.
And for me to be able to be honest and open with the world, to portray vulnerability, which is incredible and very important (something Brené Brown talks about that I really agree with) has been a dream come true. Because we all need to know that no one’s perfect, that we all struggle, and so it’s a gift to be able to talk about that.
E.Y. Writing, in my experience, has been a slow and mostly unrewarding process of drafting, editing, finally publishing and ultimately wondering if it was even worth it for a couple views and likes. But maybe, eventually, your views pick up until you have a following, and then one day you wake up and realize you’re famous and the Huffington Post is reporting on your Tedx Talk. I don’t know about you, but I consider you a pretty big deal. So at what point, or what milestone, did you realize you made that shift from just-a-blogger to a pretty-big-deal?
J.B. Really the thing that catapulted me into being visible on the internet was the “Attractive & Fat” campaign. And that was kind of also supported by this blog post I wrote a long time ago called “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls So I Will.” That started to gain some popularity on accident, right. It was just revelations I had and I wanted to put it out into the world, and it started to be shared a lot, and so I gained some followers, and then when I shared “Attractive & Fat,” that went viral. It just happened to be good timing, it just happened to be well done, and that ended me up on… woo! Oh my goodness, English. *I then ended up on the Today Show, and it’s never been the same since then. So I would say it’s a combination of experience and talent and mostly luck, and I feel really grateful to have that.
At a certain point it becomes normal, which is really interesting. And I’ve really come to appreciate that because every time I’m covered by anything, whether it’s small or large, it puts me out into the world again, and I feel really grateful that my message is shared that way.
E.Y. Let’s talk about Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. Your book hits the shelves October 27, I believe, and if I understand correctly, you cranked out your first draft of this book in just three weeks. For you to power through that much work that fast, with that much determination and that level of commitment, something must have driven you to do it. So what prompted you to write this book?
J.B. I did crank out my first draft in three weeks. Terrible idea. I do not recommend it to anyone. But the reason I did, and I can’t remember who said this, but my partner had shared that he was listening to NPR and there was some sort of screenwriter where he was talking about this voice, the voice that tells you you’re not good enough—“Everything you write is shit, why are you even bothering”—and he said the only voice that trumps that voice, is the voice that says, “Ohmygod this is due tomorrow.” And so that’s really what happened for me. I was like, “Oh-god, I’m not capable of writing this book, this is so difficult, what am I going to write, is it gonna be good enough?” But it eventually came down to a deadline, and I was like, “Well shit, here we go—I’m gonna write this whether I like it or not.” And so I did spend twelve hours a day on my bed with this plank that carried my computer, Netflix in the background, and I just typed my heart out. And it was really amazing—it was really clarifying. I really had to decide how I felt about a lot of political items, and I wasn’t allowed to beat around the bush. I had to talk about it.
So, it was really incredible… Still don’t recommend it. Some people spend three years writing a book, and I wonder what that’s like. Three weeks? Not recommended, but it worked. If people write a book in three weeks, I would recommend planning the next nine months and knowing that you’re going to be editing the shit out of it.
E.Y. As a writer it’s always nice to get lots of likes and supportive comments, but I won’t consider my website successful until I raise some kind of hell in the comment section. If you’re not writing something that pisses people off, you’re not making your readers think and you’re not challenging the norm. All my heros earned their place because they had to rise above the opposition to stand up for what they believe in, and so do you. You have a lot of opposition, and I say that as a compliment, but I do want to address their leading argument: that you promote obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. So what do you think? Does your campaign for body love promote obesity?
J.B. Oh, the obesity-promotion question. I think that—you know, I had to do a lot of research for Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls—and what I came to realize is really that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter—your health status. It doesn’t. We could talk all day about medical politics and how much money they make by treating weight first, which is something that they encouraged in 2015. We could talk all day about it, there’s chapters written about it—it’s in my book.
Ultimately what I have come to realize is that “obesity” doesn’t fucking matter. Your health doesn’t determine your worth. Your medical charts do not determine your value as a human. And so do I promote obesity? I promote happiness. I don’t give a shit what your health is like. You are a valuable person, you are worthy of love and affection and visibility no matter what. And that’s very controversial to say. A lot of people—as The Beauty Myth today, for those who are familiar with Naomi Wolf’s work—the beauty myth today revolves around health. We determine a person’s worth by health, and I just believe that it’s just as much bullshit as having a thigh gap. It doesn’t really determine who you are as a person. And that’s all I have to say about that.
E.Y. So, looking back at your accomplishments so far—your blog, The Militant Baker, your Attractive & Fat campaign, your career as a speaker, and now your book—you’ve done a lot of work you should be proud of already, but what’s next for Jes Baker? Any new goals on the horizon? A talk show, perhaps? A clothing line… a vacation?
J.B. You know, as far as what’s in the future, I think I’m gonna be riding this book wave for a little bit? I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future, and I never do. I kind of have the six-month plan in my life as somebody who does freelancing. You can call me an activist, you can call me a speaker, you can call me a writer, you can call me a blogger… Whatever it is that I do. I really don’t know what I’m going to be doing six months from now, and it’s terrifying and exciting because I never know what’s going to end up in my inbox.
And so, I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that this fall I’m going to be promoting my book, and we will see what happens. It’s going to be very controversial. I wrote it to be a basic introduction to fat liberation, to body positivity, to acceptance in general, and so it’s going to reach a lot of people that either agree with it or very much disagree with it. And I anticipate a lot of controversy just because of the world we live in. So we’ll see how that plays out. Maybe people will ignore it, maybe people will love it, maybe they’ll hate it, maybe it’ll end up on a really big television show. I don’t know, but we’re gonna see how that plays out, and I’m really excited.
E.Y. Alright Jes, last question. If you were not a blogger, writer, speaker, slash body love activist, what would you be instead?
J.B. If I wasn’t a blogger or body love activist, I would still be in mental health, and I actually miss it, a lot. I’ve been contemplating going back just because I miss it. I really love working with people who have serious mental illness—the people who are invisible to the rest of our society, people who are so strong just by getting out of bed every single day. Mental health is something that’s overlooked, it’s underfunded, and there’s a lot of stigma around it, so I really have a lot of respect and admiration for those people. I love being able to sit down with them, help them self-advocate, help them work through life barriers. It’s so fulfilling to me, and so I know for sure that if I wasn’t doing this full-time—if it didn’t take up all of my time—I would definitely be working one-on-one with the individuals that have a serious mental illness. They’re incredible people, and I love them so much.