Proud2Bme | Celebrating the Skin You’re In: An Interview with Activist Stacy Bias

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Celebrating the Skin You’re In: An Interview with Activist Stacy Bias

By Angela Hui and Kira Rakova--The morning after Nicole Arbour’s despised “Dear Fat People” video launched on YouTube, Stacy Bias had an idea. Much like Arbour, Bias’ crusade got her a lot of attention. Unlike Arbour, that attention was largely positive. Through her “Rad Fatty Merit Badge” campaign Bias raised nearly $5,000 from 206 people in just under a month, using the funds to launch a sticker and pin collection with cheeky phrases like “Took up space” and “Broke chair don’t care.” We chatted with Bias about her activism, concern trolling and loving yourself at any size.

How did you come up with the idea for the Rad Fatty merit badges?

SB: The badges were a case of art-as-therapy for me. There was a terrible fat-shaming video going around the Internet and I woke up one morning thinking about it and all of the people who might have been hurt by it and I felt angry. I thought to myself that I deserved a merit badge for not flying to Canada to sit on its maker and that made me laugh. So I went to my laptop and I drew it up along with a few others and I posted them to my Facebook wall, thinking they might make a few others laugh as well. And apparently they did!  

Did you ever expect to receive such an outpouring of support for your badges?

SB: Not at all. But that's the way of it, isn't it? When I talked about expression as activism, the power in there is in its resonance. What resonates with you and moves you to action is likely to resonate with others. Creating an expression also creates an opportunity for communication, connection, and exchange. Where there's silence, there's no possibility for any of that. It takes some bravery, I think, to express one's self in a form that's open enough to create that possibility for connection—we risk rejection, or criticism, or attempts to silence us—but it's in that vulnerability that we give one another strength. Granted, the badges fall into the realm of the light-hearted and it might seem a less 'vulnerable' thing to share. But given the response, both positive and negative, the issues they address in a light-hearted manner run deep. And the connections have been powerful.

Who or what first inspired or compelled you to become an activist?

Stacy Bias: I guess the truth is that I've never NOT been one. If you ask my Mother, she'll tell you all kinds of 'activist toddler' stories. I'm not sure how to say this without sounding ridiculous but when something feels wrong to me, it is a literal feeling in my body. It's uncomfortable—like restlessness or building pressure. The only thing that releases that tension for me is taking action. That's just always how it's been for me. When I was young and religious, I was picketing and proselytizing with the grown-ups. When I came out of the closet, I turned my energy towards LGBTQI rights and community-building. When I finally understood stigma (fat and otherwise) and the impact it has had on my life and the lives of those I love, I turned towards social justice. 

I've never been able to sit still while the world feels wrong—it's only my focus that's shifted over time. Well, that, and hopefully I've become gentler and more compassionate along the way. Sometimes having an activist spirit can subject one to black and white thinking. A strong sense of right and wrong is good but we live in a very complicated world and sometimes the things we need to do to survive the world we're in while we're building the one we want don't align themselves perfectly. So we do the best we can with what we've got and we move forward, learning from one another along the way.

In what ways do art and activism intersect?

SB: I think everything can be activism, including art. Simply doing something you love in a body that people assume can't or shouldn't do it is activism. But since you asked about art specifically—art is a medium of expression. It can be activism merely by allowing an individual to speak, in whatever form they choose, whether or not anyone else ever sees or hears it. Speaking is powerful, even if you are the only one who hears it. And if others hear it, too, then it's activist in both its communication and its expression. Art can bypass a viewer's reflexive judgments and stereotypes and allow them to see through another's eyes or feel with another's pain. It can invite empathy, incite anger, make bold statements or leave subtle cues. So it's therapeutic for the artist and, if shared, creates a possibility for greater understanding in another. Win/win!

Have you faced fat-shaming or size discrimination? How have you dealt with these situations?

SB: Fat shaming and size discrimination are a daily experience for me. That's what it means to have a stigmatized identity. Stigma means having a visible characteristic which society feels makes you lesser-than or "other" to what is deemed acceptable. Fat people's bodies are stigmatized. The dominant belief in society is that Fat = Bad-- physically and morally. There are a LOT of people out there doing work to change this perception but it shows up all over the place. It shows up when I go to the doctor to discuss seasonal allergies and I come away with an order to go for a diabetes test (for the second time that year). It shows up when I'm walking across a street and a man interrupts the phone call he's on to spit at me and yell for me to 'get some “#@(*& exercise”—even though that's A) wildly entitled and shockingly cruel B) none of his concern and C) literally the thing that I am doing in that moment.  It shows up when I have to be twice as skilled, twice as experienced and twice as well-dressed as a thin candidate in order to be considered for a job. Stigma is a pervasive experience. And I am relatively privileged being white, cisgendered, and relatively able-bodied. If you consider all of the possible identities a person might have that would intersect with racism, ableism, sexism, sizeism, classism, ageism, homophobia and transphobia, it's easy to see how overwhelming the world can be and how much work many folks have to do to feel 'well' in society.

What are some tips you have for loving yourself no matter what size you are?

SB: First, I want to say that loving yourself is a journey and not an end goal. The pressures we face in society are daily. That means that while we're trying to recover from a belief system that tells all of us (independent of our size) that we are not good enough, that belief system is constantly being reinforced by the world around us. That sucks and it's difficult, but as we get stronger, we get more and more able to filter out that 'noise' and to listen to our own voices and the voices of the people around us that we trust. So it's OK to not love your body every day. That's a perfectly rational response to the world around us. Eventually you'll have fewer days where you feel that way, and fewer still as you grow. Loving yourself is a practice and the last thing I want is for having shame to be another thing we're ashamed of.  

The best tips I have for how to move towards feeling good in your body is to dig in where you can and do the work, with a therapist or with trusted friends, to heal from past struggles. Also, try to cultivate a loving internal dialogue. The voices inside us that are cruel and judgmental are often, in their own dysfunctional ways, trying to keep us safe. They just happen to be pretty misguided about the ways they're trying to do that. We can't make them go away overnight, so all we can do is treat them like what they are—parts of ourselves that are hurting and that need kindness. And lastly, try to immerse yourself in diverse representations of real people's bodies. Find the beauty in other people's bodies. Look at them with love. See them as whole beings and not just bodies. These are skills we can practice and they are skills we can apply to our own bodies. We judge ourselves as we judge others, and lightening the burden of both is powerful work.

Many fat-shamers use the so-called "war on obesity" as an excuse to express their distaste for fat people. How do you respond to these people? What do you wish they could understand?

SB: I think we need to break fat bodies (all bodies, really) free of their symbolism. The fat body has become representative, synonymous—with moral failing, greed, ominous clouds of fiscal doom, even environmental destruction.  The thing is, once you make something symbolic, you flatten out its representation--and when you make *bodies* symbolic, the people inside of them get robbed of their complex humanity. An idea is easily railed against, a symbol is easily destroyed. When you apply that perspective to human beings—when you view them like ideas, when you see them as symbols—you are not seeing with compassion. You are likely not affording them the respect and compassion you would afford someone you viewed as wholly human. As a society we are easily distanced from our own empathy and compassion and when we lose track of those very important things, we often do harm. I would ask that everyone seek to make a practice of empathy.

Your Rad Fatty badges have been noted to resemble those that Girl Scouts typically receive. Is your idea of the Rad Fatty badges in any way connected to or in response to Girl Scouts badges?

SB: I'm not sure where the idea of merit badges originated but I think the concept has entered the general social vernacular. It's not a direct riff on the Girl Scouts but it's definitely a play on the idea of merit badges in general—the idea that we are all constantly building skills to help us survive and thrive and that we should celebrate our successes with as great or greater frequency as we lament our failures.  There's too little focus on the endurance, creativity, and resilience of people who experience stigma. There are tons of full-stops, tons of question marks, and quite a few ellipses in life—I'm happy for this project to be an exclamation point.

What can we expect next from you?

SB: I'm never quite sure, to be honest! But I'm working on several projects—academic writing on the experience of Flying While Fat, a few new animations, and soon, I'll launch the website that will accompany these badges, where I hope folks will come to continue sharing the stories of how they 'earned their badges'. You can keep track of me here or on Twitter

About the bloggers: Angela Hui is a senior at San Francisco University High School. She previously attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she enjoys helping others recover from their eating disorders and promoting positive body image as a moderator at EDRecoveryProbs.com

Kira is a senior studying at Macaulay Honors College at the City College of New York, majoring in international studies and media communication art, with a minor in anthropology. Her research interests include: gender justice, mental health justice, and community organizing. Apart from school work, Kira is also a part of various community-based advocacy organizations at City College of New York, including the Gender Resource Center Campaign and the Student Mental Health Initiative. In the future, Kira hopes to pursue a graduate degree in anthropology. In particular, she hopes to explore how development organizations include and exclude mental health, in a culturally sensitive and intersectional manner.

For more interviews, check out:

Writing for Recovery: An Interview with Author Neesha Arter

Style Has No Size: An Interview with zacheser of Chubby Guy Swag

Embrace Being Different: An Interview with Olympian + Author Jessica Smith

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