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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:

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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