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.

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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There are reasonable arguments to be had on all sides of America's debates about guns.

Then there are NRA lobbyists.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer spoke to state economists last week to explain why a proposed assault weapons ban would devastate gun manufacturers in the state. The proposed amendment, which is being led by the aunt of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting, would ban the future sale of assault rifles in Florida and mandate that current owners either register their guns with the state or give them up.

The back and forth between those proposing and opposing the amendment appears to be a pretty typical gun legislation debate. Only this time, the NRA lobbyist pulled out one of the most bizarre arguments I've seen yet.

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Knowing your triggers helps you manage your emotions.

via Blessing Manifesting / Instagram

Learning your emotional triggers on your own is one thing but figuring out your triggers in a relationship adds another layer of intensity. Maybe you're afraid of being abandoned or want to feel the need to push the other person away but you don't know why.

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via PixaBay

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has brought a lot of attention to the idea of implementing a universal basic income on America. His "freedom dividend" would pay every American $1,000 a month to spend as they choose.

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Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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Capital One