Proud2Bme | Empower All Bodies: An Interview with Jes Baker

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Empower All Bodies: An Interview with Jes Baker

By Chelsea Kronengold--I recently wrote a Proud2Bme post about the pros and cons of Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign. The movement is “Designed to empower ALL women to love every part of herself,” yet Lane Bryant failed to include diverse bodies in this campaign. Body love activist, Jes Baker, found this narrow representation unsettling so she decided to do something about it.

She wrote an open letter to Linda Heasly, President and CEO of Lane Bryant, voicing her concerns about the campaign. In her letter she wrote, “#ImNoAngel only shows ONE shape while redefining the sexy plus women; that shape being the traditional hourglass: a body with a waistline considerably smaller than a larger bust and hips.” Linda Heasly wrote back agreeing that Lane Bryant “can do even more in supporting women, pushing body confidence and self-esteem.”

I had the opportunity to interview Jes about her counter campaign, #EmpowerALLBodies, as well as her thoughts on (body) diversity and inclusion in media.

Chelsea Kronengold: What is #EmpowerALLBodies about and why is it important to you? How did it come about?

Jes Baker: I watched the #ImNoAngel feedback with great interest for a long time and took several weeks to consider how I really felt about the issue. Lane Bryant had sent me an #ImNoAngel shirt to wear, but I felt uneasy as I didn't agree with several parts of the campaign. However, I didn't want to shut the entire conversation down because I realize that in the real world sometimes change happens best when you can dismantle the issues from the inside and on a team.

One night in bed with my head spinning, I finally realized that the best way to address this campaign was to do what I had done before: a counter campaign that offered the images I wanted to see..This has consistently been the best way (for me) to address a lack of representation. It's always better to contribute!

Luckily, I live in Tucson where one of my friends and favorite people is a photographer and local ladies were willing to model. Several models cancelled minutes before the shoot, but we were somehow able to get (at 9pm at night!) a group of women that were different than what we normally see in lingerie photos. Is the campaign perfect? Nope. But it's progress and needed and I'm happy it made it as far as mainstream Buzzfeed! I'd love to see more people make #EmpowerALLBodies images that include what THEY want to see in ads. We could link them all together and have a radical collection of truth!

CK: The slogan for the #EmpowerALLBodies campaign is, “Diversity: It’s more important than you think.” Can you expand on this? Do you have any suggestions for how the media can be more diverse and inclusive?

JB: I think that complete diversity is a lofty goal. The world is REALLY slow to adjust to change and so I'm sure that progress will also be slow. But diversity really is important. Representation in the media is what defines "who's worthy." Will we see an actual ad like the #EmpowerALLBodies anytime soon? Probably not. But hopefully, we'll see little steps of progress (and images from regular people!) and eventually our social awareness will reach the point where diversity is demanded more often than not.

CK: What advice would you give to someone who feels they are not represented in the media?

JB: "Culture Jamming" is when you create alternative representations of whats in mainstream media. I'm in love with it. If someone doesn't feel represented they can do several things:

1.) Write an email to an advocate that they would like to see more diversity from. I always do the best I can, but I'm not perfect. It's wonderful to get thoughtful requests if I've forgotten something critical. Something like: "Hey! It would be really cool to see xyz next time because of abc reasons!" This also works for other advocates. (Scathing emails do not, wink wink.)

2.) Create their own counter campaigns- recreating something recognizable is a great way to retrain the public brain. I love it!

3.) Take unaltered images of yourself and post them online. Selfies and full body pictures are a great way to add more representation. Post them on Facebook. Create a Tumblr. Make a Pinterest board. Flood the world with the authentic YOU. If we were to all do this, it could be a different story!

CK: I noticed that you included trans women and disabled women in your campaign. Can you speak a bit about the inclusion of marginalized people and why “deviant bodies” need to be visible in the media?

JB: Several types of body types are often excluded in our body campaigns. It's critical that we remember that all bodies deserve representation! While I can only personally write about my own lived experiences as a straight, white, cis-gender, hourglassish woman, I am trying to create more inclusionary images and host diverse guest posts. Again not perfect... but progress.

Chelsea: What would you say to people who say, “This campaign is supposed to empower ALL women and yet, only bigger bodies are represented”? I’ve seen that on Twitter in response to the campaign.

JB: #EmpowerALLBodies was a direct response to a plus-size campaign by Lane Bryant, therefore the responding models are plus-size. I pulled the first two words from Linda Heasley's quote and of course I could have made the hashtag #EmpowerALLWomen or #EmpowerALLPlusWomen but that read as exclusionary to me and others activists that I consulted. You'll (I'll, they'll) NEVER be able to represent all bodies within 6 models, but just because the original number was limited doesn't mean that the message can't apply to everyone! We DO need to empower all bodies. Plus and otherwise.

CK: What do you hope people will get out of the #EmpowerALLBodies Campaign? What’s your hope in terms of how Lane Bryant will respond?

Jes: Lane Bryant has responded and I'm appreciative of that.  Linda said "Yes, we can do even more in supporting women, pushing body confidence and self-esteem amplification as well as making inclusiveness more a part of the norm. Over the many decades that I have been active in Women’s Issues and Concerns, I have come to appreciate that Feminist issues are in fact Humanist issues.  We together can make this world better for so many." This is the whole point: not shutting down those who have the ability to reach individuals that maybe we can't, but to still be honest and ask for change.

Lane Bryant reaches many women who are still unfamiliar with the concept of body love. I'm hoping that their small (or large) changes will bring this to light for those who find me too radical or annoying;) Will we see this change? I don't know. Retail is tough, but I'm hopeful!

About this blogger: Chelsea is a body image and eating disorder scholar and activist, currently pursuing a master's degree in clinical psychology from Columbia University's Teachers College. In addition to her studies, Chelsea is a consultant and program administrator for NEDA’s implementation of The Body Project. Prior to working on The Body Project, Chelsea coordinated the inaugural and second annual Gainesville, FL NEDA walks and served as the Proud2Bme National Outreach Coordinator. Chelsea has spoken on behalf of NEDA and Proud2Bme about her personal struggles with binge eating disorder and body dissatisfaction to media platforms such as Huffington Post Live, Seventeen Magazine, WebMD and SiriusXM Doctor Radio.

Also by Chelsea:

#ImNoAngel Campaign

Are Plus Size Models Not Plus Size Enough?

BED & Doctors: From Stigma to Support

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