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Why I worked on an incredible new campaign to shut down body-shamers.

It's time for plus-sized women to be seen in the fashion mainstream. This campaign gets that.

Why I worked on an incredible new campaign to shut down body-shamers.

Plus-size women have been asking for more clothing options since the beginning of time (an exaggeration, but only sort of).

As singer/songwriter Mary Lambert said:

“I don't know how many times I've walked into a store and quickly walked out, promptly reminded that 'I'm not allowed in here.' What does it say when a store refuses to even acknowledge that I exist?”


Singer/songwriter Mary Lambert. All images used with permission from Jes Baker.

Many of the first “fatshion” blogs started eons ago. They were adored for taking the very little that was available and turning it into something creative and stylish. These individuals were inspiring “fatshion” pioneers, and we owe them for the radical space that has been carved out for all the plus fashionistas today.

Now our options are increasing (thank you Ashley Nell Tipton for bringing us sequins in size 34 this fall!). And even though we still live in an overwhelmingly straight-sized clothing world ... I’m diggin’ the forward motion.

Fashion designer Ashley Nell Tipton.

If you told me when I first started blogging that my plus-size body would eventually be represented in a mainstream clothing campaign, I would have jumped for joy ... and then stopped to give you a long, skeptical stare.

After all, four years ago I was creating my own faux ads featuring my shape and size while asking, “Where is the positive representation of fat bodies in the media? Don’t you know that we’re worthy of visibility too?”

Yet, a few months ago, I was asked to work on JCPenney’s "Here I Am" campaign, which was created to put plus-size bodies and their stories front and center in a straight-sized world, and it turned out to be a media game-changer.

Jes Baker is here to stay.

This campaign — and the response to it — is a prime example of how America has started to shift our marketing strategies. While exclusivity has been the most successful business approach for decades, keeping plus-size clothing — and people — in separate sections or separate stores, it looks like we might be moving toward inclusivity instead. What a wild concept! And when it comes to clothing ads, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Working on JCPenney’s #HereIAm campaign was an indescribable joy for a lot of reasons. Really.

To shoot the video, "Project Runway" winner Ashley Nell Tipton, singer/songwriter Mary Lambert, fashion blogger Gabi Fresh, yogi Valerie Sagun, and I all met in Dallas a month ago. We spent our time basking in the empowering energy that only comes when bad-ass fat women’s stories are finally viewed as crucial to the mainstream body image conversation.

I’ll be real: Dallas in the summer is a nightmare for someone used to dry Arizona heat, but the lamentable humidity was easily overshadowed by the fact that as we moved from location to location (sometimes singing karaoke and sometimes drinking way too much coffee), the crew would follow us. They celebrated both our existence and our opinions. We had a cheering fan club on set every time.

Stylist and blogger Gabi Fresh.

What. A. World.

Additionally (and perhaps most importantly), we were explicitly asked to speak our truth without compromise. For me, this is a both a non-negotiable part of representation and an exciting opportunity.

It’s always a gamble when a large company asks you to collaborate with them.

All too often, your story is requested when the narrative has already been written and there is no chance of deviation; the bottom dollar has already been decided.

There’s always the possibility that your story will be warped into something that portrays fat bodies in a defeatist, defensive, or dispirited light. I’ve watched this happen too many times, simply because our world currently feels most comfortable with stories that have a defeatist, fat-shaming frame, even though it’s not representative of real life.

This is a chance you take every time you are filmed and the footage leaves your hands and enters an editor’s office.

Yogi Valerie Sagun.

So I held my breath for a month, hoping that JCPenney meant it when they said they wanted to celebrate us our way in their new ad campaign. And PRAISE THE BODY-LOVIN’ GODS, because they totally did. After watching the newly released video, I smiled ... and started breathing again.

I’m hyper-aware that as a culture, we still have a long way to go when it comes to actual inclusivity, visibility, and body equitability. I’m overjoyed to have been part of JCP’s campaign, but we still have so much work to do.

When we start to add different kinds of bodies into online feeds in a positive way, my hope is that we will start to see all bodies (and I mean all) portrayed in the media in a beneficial way.

If you can add just a few body-diverse Facebook pages to your feed today, you'll be helping in a small way. Because representation can turn into respect, which will ideally lead to more opportunities. And eventually, I believe that these three things will create a world that prioritizes equality. This is where we need to be headed!

#HereIAm is one bold and lovely step in that direction, and I am fortunate to have been a part of it.

You can watch the empowering video here:

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."