The Dissertation: Calling All San Diego Fat Women!

Want to be part of my dissertation study? Here is all the information: Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.36.26 PM

The purpose of this study, in part, is to collaboratively explore the meaning making and developmental processes of self and system for a group of women who identify as fat. Using an action research methodology, the group—comprised of women who identify as fat including the researcher—will engage in systematic collaborative and critical self-inquiry with the goal of better understanding who we are individually and collectively. Further, by participating in the aforementioned process, we will also study the ways in which the group dynamic develops using relational cultural theory, which offers that through presence and mutual empathy we can replace shame and isolation with validation and connection. Finally, this continuous, concurrent development of self and system will then be used to understand implications for increasing the capacity for practicing leadership for women who identify as fat.

This proposal for research sets an intention to better understand the processes of how vulnerable, shame-riddled populations connect, influence and empower one another, and create change. Insight on empowering vulnerable populations has profound implications in the field of leadership, as it offers systems a way to fully engage all parts of itself versus relying on unsustainable models which privilege some groups and oppress others.

Finally, check out my YouTube video to hear me say a few words about my hope for the project. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me and forward a link to any women in the San Diego area who may be interested in joining.



F is for Fat

“Don’t call yourself fat, say you’re full-figured,” my aunt offered as a comment on a picture I’d posted on Facebook. Since I had been knee-deep in fat studies literature and the more pop-culture versions #BodyAcceptance and #BodyPositive movements, I had almost forgotten that for many, fat was still very much the F-word.

I have had a curious journey through my own fatness. It began as being the chubby kid with “baby fat” to the “solid” teenager, the “thick and curvy” young woman in college to whatever I am now. Having not been thin or even average weight since I was about four years old, fatness and I knew each other well. For many of those years it was a struggle; I did not hate my body, exactly, but I was also not terribly fond of it. Sure there were pieces of me that I liked (my eyes, my smile–which paired with my chubby cheeks always reminded me of Janet Jackson’s famous grin) but by and large, I was not a fan of my body.  I waffled between wanting to appear confident and strong, and wanting desperately to lose weight, my only real success coming around both of my graduations–college and my masters–where I lived on salads and diet pills, running and circuit training all to look good from every angle in my graduation photos. Even at the time, though, I always felt fat. And here I mean the word in an emotive sense; I felt large, unattractive, bulky and gross. My thick thighs rubbed together drawing up fitted dresses and skirts, walking around in the hot summer months in the south meant sweating and there was nothing worse I hated than sweating when, to me, all the thin people did not seem to be bothered by the heat. To me, everything that was associated with my body was negative.

For the most part I was silent about it because I did not want to hear lectures of “how to fix it” because when you’re fat, all the world is a personal trainer slash nutritionist. I also did not talk to friends about it, and when I worked out I never claimed it was about losing weight. I was so deeply uncomfortable with even discussing weight and it took me lots of soul-searching to even understand why that was. For one, it is incredibly vulnerable to open up to anyone about one of, if not the biggest insecurity you have. I also wasn’t interested in pity or claims that I was beautiful no matter what. It always felt forced and so incongruent with how I felt about myself, I was unable to receive those messages at the time. Lastly, I am an incredibly accomplished, and prideful person. Admitting to anyone else, but mainly myself, that there was something I could not master or even get a handle on, meant admitting I was weak and incapable. I had no interest being a victim, and I certainly would not ever suggest to someone (or myself) that I was not fill-in-the-blank (diligent, focused, ardent, fortuitous, smart, persistent, strong, etc) enough to lose weight. So I avoided the topic and the conversation entirely and completely.

Failed attempts to shame myself into losing weight by taking unflattering “before” pictures and keeping track of my progress on a secret blog that I would only ever publish once I was thin, happened a few times. As did a few public proclamations on this blog, my public journal, such as the time I told the world I wanted to lose 100lbs.  And while I was successful with eating and working out for a while, eventually I would fall back into my old routines and the weight loss would come to a halt. I would talk to classmates and friends who managed to lose notable amounts of weight about how they did it. Fascinated by their personal journeys of trial and triumph, I would often leave the conversation both inspired and wondering what was wrong with me that I could not seem to get to that magical turning point in my own life where “enough was enough”.

My own turning point with the f-word did not truly come until after I was sexually assaulted. That may come as a surprise to some, it was even to myself, because months prior to the rape I had made a professional decision to study fat women and their experiences with body, self, and leadership for my dissertation. Seemingly I was comfortable (enough) discussing the topic, and even my own personal relationship with being a fat woman and articulating what that meant to me, but deep down I still very much held the belief that no one truly wanted to be fat and that weight loss was always a goal, whether iterated or not.  Then something interesting happened. I was barely managing to take care of myself while trying to teach, work, write, and get through one of the hardest six months of my life when I looked up and had lost over thirty pounds.  I did not feel particularly proud of the loss because it had come accidentally, nor did I seek attention or praise for it because it had come at the helm of not eating and high anxiety.  And it wasn’t until then that I could truly begin to look at myself in the mirror and love and appreciate my body.  Not for what it had the potential to be, but for what it was. As I struggled to see myself as a survivor of sexual assault, I found that it required careful reflection and examination of who I was: who I really really truly was.

It was not helpful to only own my intangible self, traits and characteristics like charm and wit. No, I needed to also own the thighs that touched down to the knee and made jeans buying impossible, but that would snap shut and protect me from unwanted attempts at physical intimacy. I needed to own my calves which were too large to fit into boots every fall, but would manage to kick a grown man back off of me.  I needed to own my back which had four rolls of fat that made bras and bathing suits ill-fitting, but would be put into a corner after I escaped his hold, forcing him to face me, something he avidly tried not to do.  I needed to own all of me and that included my (fat) body.

Now when I look in the mirror first thing in the morning, I study myself and I feel a warmth that I never felt before in my life. It is the warmth of truly loving that woman staring back at me in the mirror. She has been through so much and yet she still rises with the sun, shining and with just as much light. More protective over my body and with whom I share it, my body, my fat body, is sacred and cherished not by men but by me.  My ears no longer strain to hear affirmations or compliments, I am able to give them to myself. And what’s more, I am able to receive them. For the first time in my life, I feel at home in my vessel.

IMG_4267So here is what I can say about being fat. It is not all of me, but it is part of who I am.  It does not hurt me to call me what I know myself to be. Fat is not a death sentence, fat is not lazy, fat is not jolly or comedic by nature. Fat is not ugly, fat is not so big a flaw that it is the only one that can exist. Fat is fat, nothing more and nothing less. To me, it is an identity through which I see and experience the world, but it is not inherently negative anymore. Fat, my fat, is beautiful…how could it not be? If I am beautiful and I am fat, and the two exist at the same time, as I am the living proof.  I no longer fear being noticed in the same way that I used to, in fact now I would offer that I am perfectly at peace with being seen. There is something truly special about seeing yourself, truly seeing yourself and acknowledging all of your beauty. You do not shrink away or feign humility when offered a compliment, because you know your truth. You are beautiful. Although the greatest part of this story is that you no longer need to hear it from anyone other than the reflection in the mirror.

This post is part of The Layers of Beauty Tour created by GG Renee of All the Many Layers.  Follow the tour through the blogs of 25 women exploring the complexities of womanhood and beauty from A to Z.  Click here to keep up with each post and enter to win a giveaway package of goodies for your mind, body and soul.   #LayersAtoZTour

Losing at Losing or Forever Fat

My weight was the only thing I was never good at. Even at my most fit, I did track I did cheerleading, I wasn’t a star athlete but I worked out enough and ate like any teenager, infrequently and horribly, yet all I had was super muscular legs, defined lats, arms I always wanted to cover up, and a stomach that would never grace the cover of a magazine.

My cheerleading skirts had to be ordered special because I couldn’t wear the ones passed down from other years. In high school I was a size 14/16 and for a girl who found herself in a group where the average was a 2 (and they still dieted) I almost always felt like a failure in that regard.

I distinctly remembering wishing I could develop some type of eating disorder. Where I over exercised and loathed food. That was not going to ever be true for me (And thank God!) but the thought did exist. I remember wondering how it was that I excelled in so many things and yet losing weight was my biggest hurdle. It was like I couldn’t figure it out.

Once my mother asked me if I loved myself. I quizzically answered yes, because why wouldn’t i? And she told me if I loved myself I wouldn’t hold on to all the weight. My mom is always on a weight loss kick so I figured maybe she was on to something. So then it became about self-work. I read articles and mastered the art of Oprah so that I could lose weight through my soul rather than the scale only the weight never came off. Again I was stuck, do I hate myself unknowingly? Am I missing it?

As I grew up and into myself I finally stopped playing the guessing game, “What’s wrong with me?” Opting for the belief that nothing was. My fatness remained an anomaly and for the time being I allowed it to remain unsolvable and unquestioned. It wasn’t until a conversation I had with myself just yesterday that changed things.

I’ve been receiving very clear and exciting (scary) messages from the universe about my next steps. In the process of trying to figure out logistics and prioritize my own professional becoming along with everything else I’m juggling right now I sat down to ask myself how I was going to manage and more importantly why? The conclusion I came to was that the things I’m meant to do are in their fundamental stages and every life experience I’ve had up until now has uniquely prepared me for this moment. Every conversation, every chance encounter, every opportunity, every blog post, every outfit, everything. Including my body. I asked myself if I could speak with any authority on fatness or fat women if I were not, in fact, a fat woman? Likely not.
I asked myself could I hold the space of the group I want to create if I did not look like my participants? Likely not.

IMG_0320Does this mean I can never lose weight for fear of abandoning my audience, no. But it does mean that even this body has a purpose and that I am not separate from it dragging it along as I carry out my calling. It is very much an IMPORTANT part of my call. This is not a cage or a prison, this is me and this is the vessel through which I will touch and change lives. It was a powerful reframe for me.

I shared with Mari and Nicki my fear of expanse. Not physically but of becoming too big. I told Nicki how when I was a kid I used to bump into things constantly. My parents thought I was clumsy or careless but it was truly as if I could not see the wall or I had no idea how much of me needed to fit through the door frame. My sense of self has always been so much bigger than my body and I don’t want to get so big that I lose my boundary. I also fear becoming too ego driven and losing my center, my spiritual side. Mariko reminded me that fear was not a good enough excuse to play small (ha!) and that it is not that all these things I’ll get into redefine or redistribute “Me” Nicki helped remind me that the output of this work isn’t me at all. This is God and I am just the conduit.

When I remembered that I am just the vessel so much of my fear subsided. Zachary told me this before last summer. Not to hold on to the power as if it were mine but to allow myself to be used in service of its distribution. Letting it pass through me and not mistaking it for pieces of me. It helps to ebb the feeling of abandonment or boundarylessness when it leaves.

In all, I’ve never been happier. I found that the place where I have continually stumbled has been the rock I build from. Daring to believe that there is reason and purpose to all things allowed me the space to grow compassion for myself and eventually to forgive and accept myself entirely.

I have already considered the counterclaim that my fatness being of use in this way is an excuse to stay fat. And rather than dismiss it as society influenced fatphobia or propaganda I’ve entertained it. I think it is likely at some point I may lose weight. In fact I am currently tracking my calories in an attempt to eat better more often. However, I do not currently feel like I am “staying fat” for anyone or anything. I simply am. I may not always be. And I imagine as with any part or piece of self, as my body changes my perspectives may. But that doesn’t mean I cannot learn from the vantage point I currently have. It does not mean that I am only valid when I am in pursuit of thinness. It means my purpose is in my right now, and I’m going to answer as my whole fat self.

The Fat Woman breaking point

I got feedback from the article I wrote about my Fat Women study. In the study’s opening I wrote the following:
The current discourse around fat bodies is a simple one: it needs to change. While body-positive and fat-positive popular culture movements are beginning to gain momentum, much of the change is focused around shifting from “thin” as a goal to “healthy” as a goal often underestimating the fact that in our society the two are commonly synonymous.” To which my professor wrote “Any citations here?” To which I thought, “Um yeah ‘America, two-thousand and always'”. I understood what she meant but it irked me none the less.

Later on in the evening I’d find myself capitalizing on a living social deal for two months of free Audible book rentals. I’d recently purchased Andy Cohen’s audiobook and loved it so I wondered what other ear candy I might find. Wondering if I could capitalize on lazy learning I searched the word “fat” to see if perhaps any books I came across might help me in my research. Of course, diet book after diet book. How to lose weight. “French women don’t get fat.” “Japanese women don’t get fat.” “But just in case you’re French or Japanese and accidentally get fat, here’s how to fix it!” Almost 200 books of bullshit propaganda on how to surely feel worse about yourself and look at your body as infected with some disease in need of curing.

Also, for the personal memoirs I encountered many mentioned this a-ha moment of knowing they had to lose weight for their health. With my tongue pressed firmly against my cheek, I roll my eyes. Not because health concerns relating to weight are mythical or to be taken lightly, but because far too often people (fat and non-fat) use health as a guise for discrimination and prejudice against the fat body. It feels much like the good Christian praying for my damned homosexual soul, if you follow. A little too, “Bless your [fat] heart.”

If I continue with the parallel between fat and non-heterosexual ((because in my American life if you’re not straight up Hetero, no cherry Chapstick fantasies then during any given week you’re likely on the chopping block)) then it feels a bit like diets are conversion therapy. As if the only way we know how to react to fat (LGBTQ) body/being is to change it to what we DO know and accept, thin (Hetero). Far too often we dangle health (straightness/cis-gendered) in front of fat (LGBT) people as if it is the key to happiness and a get out of jail free card from discrimination and pain. WRONG! I’m tired of that discourse. I’m tired of the unquestioned associations between healthy and thin and happy. As if the only way to obtain one is to have the other two.

And I’m perhaps most upset because for so long I bought into it. And I buy into it. I have to consciously undo the associations in my head daily, multiple times daily, so that I do not continue to punish myself mistreat myself or deny myself access to joy because my thighs touch. It becomes particularly troublesome when it comes to dating. I turn from a strong capable fiercely independent woman into an unsure insecure frightened girl in desperate need of validation. I’ve gotten better, but the messages that men like a certain type of woman who does NOT look like me, they are there. And here, in Southern California, they are blatant. And repeated. Over. And over. And over again.

And I try to remind myself of who I am. Who I really am, beyond just my jeans size. What I have accomplished what I am destined for and what I have to offer. I also affirm myself. I take photos of myself looking my best. I dress well. I carry myself in a way that is the woman I want to be, not always the woman I am. I’m not ashamed to say much of it is armor. But I am proudest because I can take it all off too. The mascara the gloss the filters the heels and slimming jeans. I can sit with myself naked in all the ways and still I can find light in my smile.

I just wish it wasn’t so damned hard for the world to do the same. To look at a me and see all the things I know I am without wanting to change me. Without seeing me as a problem to be fixed or an enigma to be prayed over for health and healing. Stop worrying about my damn blood pressure and just See me! Stop averting your eyes or stealing uncomfortable glances. Don’t qualify my beauty with “…for a fat girl.” I am worthy simply because I am. Do not wonder the secrets behind my laughter, and companionship as if I’ve stolen them from you. Love is not in limited supply.

My wish is that one day all the fat girls (and boys) women and men feel safe enough to show up. Make them see us. Make them see themselves. And for us to stop retelling the story of body hatred and body wrong-ness. Stop building the fortress around ourselves and believe that we are more resilient than the pain of other people’s insecurities being hurled in our direction. That we are stronger than the pain that reverberates in the cavern of our own being. I want us to know that we matter, we are not mistakes, and we deserve every happiness available in this life. Just the way we are.


Fat is the new Black

Once upon a time arguably one of the worst yet socially acceptable things I could have been called was the nword. Then of course, if I were a lesbian I would have been a dyke. That was the worst. But now that we’re an evolved, post-racial love is love America (tongue firmly in cheek), fat has become the new Black.

Jess sent me an article about the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch who said that his brand caters to the “All-American” cool and beautiful. After I read the article I was filled with a lot of emotions but mostly sadness. Sadness that this is in any way acceptable and honestly sad that someone hates themselves that much they’re emoting that much hate into the world. So after I sent him some love…I had my own epiphany. That I’m just like him.


One of my favorite quotes to re-tweet comes from my friend La. She’s such a feminist. And I never really considered myself to be, but this is one of those quotes that continually hits home. And while the A&F CEO said it very candidly, privately, I reserve “joy” and “love” and “happiness” and “beauty” to a specific demographic as well. But I don’t blame men. Or women. Or any One in particular, its shared.  After reading the article I thought about La’s quote and then I thought about fat brides. Its no secret that I have this irrational contempt for so-called fat brides. I guess in my head for the most perfect day a woman should look her most dazzling and that includes being thin.

What I was failing to realize was that I was imposing unfair, unjust, and horribly judgmental expectations on other women and on myself. This dissonance in The Bride and the overweight woman sounded like an out of tune piano or an amateur cellist. I couldn’t reconcile the two ideals because I in my mind perfect never ever could be anything other than thin. Fit. “Healthy” whatever term most appropriate to describe this woman in my head.

In my defense of all those above a size 10 standing outside the A&F target demographic I found myself also in defense of me. I can’t quite explain it…but it was like I gave myself permission to change the rules and live my own way. I thought back on enduring (very minimal) teasing in middle school about my weight, yet still managing to persevere through it. Same for high school.


So I googled ‘plus size bridal’ and came across a photo. A photo of a woman I don’t think is fat at all. In a dress that flatters her figure. And I imagine women walking down the aisle towards the women or men they love in this dress and feeling love. Not fat. I decided then that these gross thoughts of body ideals were no longer welcome and that in life I would focus my attention to experience rather than how the snapshot of it looks. And I would examine my own insecurities before I jumped to judge anyone else. Its weird that such a lover of love would get caught up in the aesthetics of a “wedding day” over the emotional and spiritual significance. But I think for me so often feeling and being (physically) manifest in tandem. My issue was that the picture I had for happy, as in the type of overflowing happiness found within the container of a wedding dress on a wedding day, was trapped in a size 6.

What a shift. Subtle, but huge in me. And I apologize. To other women, to myself…for judging. For placing limits and conditions on beauty. For restricting joy. For filling the word ‘fat’ with my own loathing and discomfort and thinking it acceptable as a label whether I said it aloud or not.

I recognize that until we as a society turn inward and begin to sort through our own shit, someone is always going to be the nigger. The fag. The fat. There will always be a target whom we will aim our self-hatred at. I, personally want to break the cycle for me. And as always the work boils down to love, and forgiveness which I think is the act of truly loving. 

A Letter to Fat Girls

Dear Fat Girls,

You are not, nor will you ever be Beyoncè. Stop torturing yourself with the unfair comparisons to her, or any other celebrity who’s body you covet. She is beautiful, but so are you.

Stop reading magazine after magazine, book after book, and blog after blog on How to Lose Weight. You know how, we all know how. But don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t made it work. Don’t think there must be something wrong with you since others can seem to lose, yet you continue to struggle. There is nothing wrong with you. Their journey is theirs and yours is yours.

There is much to be said about the industry dedicated to telling you how your wrongs can be righted. The pills that suppress hunger, the exercise machine that builds muscle, the pre-packed low fat vegan non-dairy dinners that promise a daily allotment of nutrients.  But nothing for the heart.

Fat girls, I know you. I am you. We’re not stupid. We know it takes burning more calories than we consume to lose weight. We know that truly sustainable weight-loss happens from a lifestyle dedicated to health not just bikini daydreams and special K.  We know. But we don’t know how to address the distorted relationship with food.

We don’t know how to say, food was my mother, father, best friend when I had no one else. Food never judged me. Food never scolded me. Food was never cruel, hurtful, or absent. Food never lied, broke promises, or disappointed. How do we begin to separate feelings of safety, comfort, and love–usually reserved for people–from food?


I don’t have an answer. Not a sure fire one. But I can say this, I know I am not, nor will I ever be Beyonce. I recognize that when I read book after book and blog after blog about weight loss that my story is just beginning, and there is nothing wrong with me that I look more before than after. I know that prepackaged promises are not for me, and that my journey begins with following my heart and not expecting a miracle or a quick fix. I recognize that food is food, and am working to reconcile the feelings I have about it at every single meal.

I read a lot of people’s stories. I hear people talk about a moment they had, an epiphany that woke them up and begged for change. I wanted, so desperately, for me (in those moments) to be reading the story that would illicit my own awakening. And each time that it didn’t happen I sunk deeper into a despair that maybe I would always be on the outside looking in at thin. I’ve chased it with such fervor and it has escaped me, true to form, like a thief being chased. Yet now I find myself exhausted by the entire race, I hung my “size 14 goal pants” in the back of my closet and thought gingerly of throwing them out all together.

And here in my exhaustion, I’ve found myself eating cleaner working out more regularly and being content with my reflection in the mirror. I have not looked at my thighs with disgust or disdain, and I’ve found them getting firmer. So, I say it has to be in the surrender. Fat girls, sometimes its about the fight. But othertimes its about the surrender. Giving in to the feelings we eat to escape. Giving in to being tired after running up 1 flight of stairs. Its important to know exactly where you are, I think. Because only when you sit and truly look at where you dwell can you make the decision to stay or to go.

Lastly, I have to say that it wasn’t the number on the scale. It wasn’t the rising jeans size or the new body discomforts. It wasn’t the 3rd strapless and unflattering bridesmaid dress, or the inability to fasten a seatbelt on a rollercoaster. It wasn’t the threat of diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. It wasn’t even the growing chance of being sterile. It was the little voice inside of me that reminded me of who I am and what I could do.

No, fat girls, I am not Beyonce. I am Jessica. I am overweight, and haven’t even lost enough to be considered an authority on doing it right or well. My relationship with food is fucked up. I am trying to make peace with eating well and working out. I struggle, I fail, I hate admitting how hard this is. Fat girl, you might think I’m just talking…But I know you. I am you. And I love you.

Fat kids have dough…

So, as I unload my  groceries…100 calorie snack packs, lean cuisines, organic milk and produce, vitamin water (XX.X ) and smart water I look at my receipt and notice that I really spent 86 dollars…on WHAT!? I have, essentially, snacks, cereal (Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds) and beverages…Yet I spent 90 bux?! What the chuck, steve?!

I bet if I went to the grocery and bought oreos, kool-aid, pizzas, and pop-tarts, I’d have spent like 25. Got that Kroger brand water instead of Smart Water…ugh why does it cost so much to eat better?  My mother said that I don’t bargain shop. But I like what I like? Is that my fault? I don’t buy the crazy diet foot, just lots of fruit and protien (in the form of fish)…Oh yeah I forgot to tell yall I’m doing this pescovegetarian thing. Shout out to Ash lol. I’m diging it so far, we’ll see how it works out in my life.   No but seriously…these foods loaded with trans-fats are cheap as hell, and its not wonder college students get the freshman 15…the only food they can afford is loaded with fat, preservatives, and sodium. THEN we graduate get kicked off health insurance and start having problems with high blood pressure (no lie).

I bet fat kids have all the money…I guess it balances out because the thick girl/guy store clothes cost more. But damn…can a nword get a lb of apples for less than a thing of frosted pop-tarts (which are 400 calories per serving).  Yeah man…I’ma have to just come up off the cash because putting junk into my body just doesn’t sit well with me.