Fat Ladies in Spaaaaaace–interview with artist Nicole Lorenz

From Di: I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole briefly at the Minneapolis Indie Expo last month. When I saw Fat Ladies in Spaaaace I just couldn’t breeze on by – I had to stop, and ask for an interview. Nicole quite graciously agreed.

Author and artist Nicole Lorenz

 

Tell me about your coloring book, Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace.

Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace is a body-positive coloring book with 18 pages of kick-ass fat women embodying sci-fi character roles, trekking across time and space, having grand adventures, and saving the day. The book is aimed at grown-ups who like crayons (or markers, colored pencils, nail polish – whatever floats your boat), but there’s nothing in it over a PG rating.

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link takes you to coloring book

 

 

Why Fat Women? Why in space? What inspired you to make a coloring book?

When the idea for Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace first came up, I was just starting to get into fat acceptance but hadn’t yet found the guts to speak up about it. I was at a panel on depictions of fat bodies in sci-fi at WisCon (a fabulous feminist sci-fi convention in Madison, WI), and one of the panelists asked, “Where are all the fat butches in space?” That question caught me off-guard. Where were the fat queer women in space? Why were depictions of characters in science fiction so limited?

I had my sketchbook with me, so I drew Sincerity, the butch astronaut who appears on the first page of the book and on the cover. When I showed her to the panelist who’d asked the question that inspired her, she said, “Oh my god, you need to do more of these.” The next person who saw the drawing said, “I need a coloring book of those.” I’d done a couple of small, DIY coloring books for fun before, and it seemed like a natural next step.

Why aren’t there more fat characters in the media we love? That’s an important conversation to have. Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace is my way of adding something to that conversation while encouraging people to have fun with it. (A friend called the aim of the book “joyful subversion.” I like that.)

What would you like to see happen with your coloring book?

The reactions I’ve already gotten to this book have made me want to do so much more with this idea. I’ve gotten some amazing emails and reviews from women who shared feelings of inclusion and empowerment at seeing depictions of awesome female characters with bodies like theirs. One woman told me she started crying over the coloring book in Starbucks because she’d never seen people who looked like her depicted positively before. That slayed me. There’s a need for images like this.

I have plans to do at least one more Fat Ladies coloring book (probably two – there is, after all, still the entire fantasy genre to play with). I’d love to see the book get more exposure. I don’t have any high aspirations of being a trend setter, but I’d love to see other artists run pick up the idea of fat characters in traditionally Hollywood skinny roles and run with that.

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If there is a single message you were sending to your readers, what would it be?

It’s right there on the back cover: There’s a whole universe of body types out there, and they all deserve to be represented. 

Who would you consider your personal “fat lady” heroes?

1. Marianne Kirby (therotund.com), who asked that question at WisCon and who is an amazing blogger and a fabulous peer-pressuring friend.

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direct resemblance to the Rotund blogger and author Marianne Kirby

2. Lesley Kinzel (twowholecakes.com), who inspires me to talk louder about fat acceptance and take pride in my in-betweeny body.

[Note from Di: Lesley also has recently published a book via Feminist Press. Through weirdly circuitous life, I have her book on deck for review because I know someone at the book’s distributor.)

3. Camryn Manheim’s Snow White from The 10th Kingdom, because as a chunky sixteen-year-old growing up in a household with literally dozens of diet books stacked in the dining room cabinet, the idea of a fat woman being “the fairest of them all” was totally revolutionary. It was the first time I remember thinking, “Maybe someone like me could be called pretty, too.”

Camryn Mannheim as Snow WhiteWhat sources do you find inspirational? (comics, blogs, magazines, public spaces, etc.)

Aside from Marianne and Lesley’s blogs, I’m an avid follower of Definatalie (definatalie.com), and I’ve been loving a lot of the content on XOJane (xojane.com). As an artist, I take a lot of my inspiration from comics – I’m an illustrator and comic artist at heart. In terms of body image, Girls with Slingshots (girlswithslingshots.com) includes relatively diverse body types in a positive light, and Godseeker (godseekercomic.com) has a badass belly pooch-havin’ fertility goddess among its strong female leads. Just like in sci-fi movies, you don’t see a lot of fat female characters in comics – especially in mainstream print comics – but I’m starting to see more positive body image stuff creeping into webcomics, and that’s encouraging.

You can find out more about Nicole at  www.nicolelorenz.com and you can follow her on twitter at  @nicolelorenz.

Derby Girl Green Eggs and Wham

Derby girl in action

Note from Di: I’ve known about derby girls for a long while, since I have multiple friends that participate in roller derby. Thanks to my friend from Me and My Red Stapler Against the World! I’ve been connected to a group of fabulous plus-size roller derby women who have graciously consented to interviews.

Meet Green Eggs and Wham

How did you get involved in roller derby? What position do you play?
I discovered roller derby about 4 years ago.  I have been an ongoing fan of NY illustrator Molly Crabapple. At that time her Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art Schools were taking off.  These are environments where “interesting” people pose for artists. Some of the people she brought in to pose were roller derby girls. I did some research and discovered roller derby.  Even then I didn’t think it was for me, I didn’t know how to roller skate.  It wasn’t until November 2008 that I saw my first DC Rollergirls bout, and purchased my first pair of skates.

Please talk about the hazards you face as part of engaging in sport.
The contact involved in roller derby is very similar to the contact involved in other sports such as rugby or football. There is chance of injury from falling and from giving and receiving blocks. However, we spend a lot of time conditioning and practicing to help minimize the physical hazards.

Can you describe training? What do you do during practice? How many hours a week?
During a standard week I will have at least 3 on skates practices.  These practices usually last 2 hours and can include an additional skills practice practice that would be one hour in advance. We have three types of on skates practices skills, endurance and scrimmage. During a skills practice we break a part smaller parts of the game and enhance specific skills.  Endurance involves lots of skating, and falling, basically anything to make you tired and push you beyond your limits.  Scrimmage is what it sounds like.  In addition to on skates practices we also have off skates training.  I do crossfit, ride my bike, plyometrics and yoga to help strengthen my core and to work other muscle groups.  So I guess in total I shoot for 10 hours a week dedicated to practicing or training.

What is the most physically challenging part of this sport for you?
The most “physically” challenging part is getting through mental boundaries.  Its having your back, or knee or hip, or a blister or anything hurt and having to push through it. To go 5 steps faster. To push myself further.

Whip It: true to form, or highly exaggerated?
The rules are accurate-ish. The diversity among the skaters is sort of true to form. The punching and crap is highly exaggerated.  That behavior and strategy would not be tolerated.

Do you put together your own costuming/uniform for your derby matches? What considerations do you have to make?
Our home teams purchase matching uniforms that we use for bouts.  The only thing we really have to have on the back of our uniforms is our number and it has to be specific height.  The rest is just a matter of taste and comfort.  For example, I always skate with leggings, I like a good barrier between my legs and the floor, but other skaters like to skate bare legged.

How does your body type affect your play?
I am not a little girl. I am heavy set and muscular.  My weight and mass can make for better blocks.  It can also help me become more stable.  But your ability to execute a block or to be a good skater has less to do with body type and more to do with speed, agility and control.  There are women of all sizes who play this game with much success.

On a scale of 1 – 10 for physical challenge/exertion, 1 being low and 10 being high, how do you rate roller derby?
Between a 5 and a 9 depending on how your playing, who you are playing and the specific strategy being executed.

What do you think the world should know about your sport? 
It is not just a sport, it becomes a life style. Roller derby is run by the skaters, so in addition to training many of us spend countless hours making sure the business side of roller derby is successful.  Then there are meetings and fun events among the league and the teams.  These women become an extended part of your family.  And your ‘real’ family becomes integrated into it as well. It just becomes an all encompassing part of your life.

Meet Derby Girl Chaotic Daze

Meet Chaotic Daze, a roller derby blocker that goes by the name “Daze.” She plays for TX-RG Rec and Roller Derby, and has participated in the sport for a year. This Austin, Texas roller derby girl has taken some serious hits in her sport, but she keeps rolling!

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How did you discover roller derby? What were your first thoughts when you saw a match the first time?
I first discovered roller derby from the show Rollergirls. It only aired for a session, but that was enough to peak my interest. Funny thing about that is my favorite skater from that show, Smarty Pants, is now one of my skater trainers. When I moved to Austin, where derby is just huge, I decided to go to a game. It was life changing. It’s hard to describe my feelings the first time I saw roller derby. The first bout I went to it was a mixture of awe, excitement, wonder and pride. This was women playing a full contact sport! Being strong, beautiful and physical! There were women of every size playing. There were girls my size and bigger being cheered for and kicking ass! Let’s face it, this was the first time I had ever seen a sport where the “big girls” we’re some of the best on the team. This was something I HAD to do!

Also, what’s your age?
I am thirty, that’s right, thirty. One of the amazing thing about roller derby is you can do it at any age. With our “Brat’s” (junior) and “Rec-N-Rollerderby” leagues we range roughly from 8 years old to 58 years old.

What is a typical derby season – how many matches, how much travel, is there a final goal/cup to play for?
I have been playing for year. I current am in our rec league and our sessions go all year. We have two to three practices per week (or more) depending on what you sign up for. There are different levels you assess to in order to play harder and faster. We scrimmage once a month. The game planning is just as fun as the scrimmages themselves! This may be rec league but we go all out from announcers and themes to intros and a crowd of family and friends….. we do it all. We do not have a playoff or cup in rec league that we play toward. We play for the love of the game.

What position do you play? How does your body factor into how you play roller derby?
My main position is blocker. I can use my size to throw solid hits or contain the other teams jammer to prevent them from scoring. I also play jammer but not because I’m small or fast, just because I play hard and use my size to my advantage. My size is a definite advantage in derby. In one of my very first practices, I’ll never forget it, a girl I was practicing a blocking drill with said “wow, you’re fast and have a big bootie, your so lucky!” And that was the beginning of my loving and appreciating what my body can do.

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Are you involved in other sports or performances?
I am not involved in any other sports. Derby is plenty for me!

What is the most severe injury you’ve gotten during derby?
Injuries happen. Not to everyone, there are plenty that have never gotten hurt. I however have. Not badly but I have fractured my wrist, deslocated my elbow and the rest has been limited to bruises, soreness and one black eye.

Considerations, I have to make that is unique to me is because I am bigger than other players I have to watch how hard I hit. The refs have pulled me aside once or twice for hitting too hard. Just because I can hit the tiny girls accross the track doesn’t mean I always should (or so they say).

Other than working when I’m not on skates I am reading, hanging out with my girlfriend Bruis’er (who recent started derby) or just hanging out and having fun .

What would you like the world to know about yourself, or about roller derby?
It is life changing. You get out what you want from it, you push as hard as you want to push yourself (as my trainer Kat A Killzem is so fond of saying). Anyone can to this, from the mom that can only practice one day a week to the ones that practice everyday in hopes to making it on a premier pro team. For me, it has brought me this amazing group of supportive women. Women I am lucky enough to call friends. It has given me an outlet. When I’m sad, stressed, happy or anything else derby and my derby girls are there. What else can I say? Roller derby saved my soul!

Plus Awesome: Meet Burlesque Performer Lola L’amore

Lola L’Amore of Wichita Burlesque – photo by Jennifer Le

How did you get involved with burlesque?
My friend, Betty  Wannabang aka Tiffany Payton, had decided that she wanted to start a burlesque troupe. I knew her from roller derby. She had a vision to revive an art in the process of learning to embrace her feminine side. The arts scene where we live is not very receptive to new things, so she knew that success was going to be hard won, if it was won at all. She was very determined to do it, though. She is incredible in terms of her ability to make things happen. When I went to the first meeting, there were only two other girls there that were there that were on the plus size side. This little voice in my head said, “You can do this! Someone has to stop putting big girls in the corner all unnoticed. Here is your chance to do something amazing! Be courageous and go for it!” So I did.

Lola onstage – photo by Doug Hahn

What was your first memory of encountering burlesque?
My first memory of burlesque was from childhood. My great-grandmother used to watch documentaries a lot, and I remember watching one with her about burlesque. I always thought the women were so glamorous and beautiful with their feathers, pretty jewelry, and grand costumes. To me, that was the epitome of gorgeous women. I just always had that attraction to it. The human body is amazing, why not look at it the way it should be viewed in all its splendor?

Why do you do it now?
When I first started doing burlesque, I was around 300lbs. I went out, bought pretty clothes, and took them to a costumer. She said she could work with costuming bigger girls. Her sister-in-law, who she worked with, was a bigger girl. I met her. She was probably close to 400lbs. We were sitting there talking, and she looked at me and genuinely said, “Oh my God! You are my hero! I can’t believe that you are going to get out there and do this. I wish I could.” That was all it took. I have had lots of bigger girls who come to me after they see my pictures or a show, and they tell me how much I inspire them. They always say to me they wish they could do what I do, and I always tell them, “You can!” I will always do this to represent the big girls and show people, “Big women are sexy, beautiful, and amazing!  Look at what they can do!” 

The other reason is once I performed once, I was hooked! I got the bug. There is nothing like being onstage and having the ability to make people laugh, stand in awe, or cheer. It makes me feel like I have the power to sway the masses with my mass.  It also allows me to embrace this ultra-feminine, gorgeous side of me that I never knew existed. Burlesque allows me to play dress up in the best of ways. Where else am I going to be able and allowed to pick my own sexy name, do wild things to my hair, wear different make-up, red lipstick, huge amounts of rhinestone jewelry, crazy accessories, the highest of heels, sparkly, fancy dresses, naughty lingerie, and not get picked on? Other than being a drag queen, which I don’t qualify for, this was my only option. Also, the creative freedom I am allowed in terms of doing costuming, set and stage designs, choreography, and critique. I love getting to work with all the people in my troupe to help their visions and performances come to life. It is like getting to build a dream. That is really one of my most favorite parts.

Is this how you make your living?
Unfortunately, I am currently unemployed. When I started doing burlesque, I was a Senior Corporate Guest Relations Specialist for a cruise line. I was able to make meetings and things, but once I lost my job, I was really able to focus on burlesque. That is how I learned so much about it, and how I started choreographing, costuming, critiquing, and doing all these crazy other things. I have learned so many skills from doing this. It allowed me a lot of freedom to do a lot of things and get close to the women in my burlesque troupe. I love it for all that, but I am ready to go back to work.

Tell me about training. What are rehearsals like? On a scale of 1 – 10, how physically challenging do you find dancing burlesque?
To train to do burlesque, you basically have to learn what burlesque is. It is “the art of the tease.” You have to watch videos and routines to figure out what classic burlesque moves are like taking off gloves, working with boas, and the better ways to take off clothing. I cannot tell you how many hours of burlesque routines I have watched. That is what helped me develop a passion for it. You have to practice movement and flexibility, those are two key things. Rehearsals are basically practicing dancing. What looks good or flattering and what doesn’t. What is the best or most creative way to do something. We practice concepts and ideas for routines. On a scale of 1 – 10, it all depends on how physical you want to make your routine. You have to learn to work within the bounds or at least test the bounds of your own physicality. I am very flexible and agile for someone my size, where as some girls half my size are not. It is all body manipulation, and how hard you want to push yourself. I try to keep myself physically challenged at a level 7. That is how I know I am giving a lot of effort.  For larger women, working on the legs is an important part. Making sure you can move and support your body weight as well as keep your balance is important. We have more to hold up and being able to make it look elegant, saucy, sexy, sassy, and graceful is an art in itself. Beginner’s tip: Do not worry about dancing in heels! Yes, they are pretty and sexy looking, but if while wearing them you remind people of a moose on roller skates, take them off! People will forgive you for dancing barefoot and thank you for not breaking something or killing yourself onstage. Promise!

Please talk about the thought process that goes into putting together a dance costume. What do you have to consider?
Coming up with a good costume takes a number of things. The first is that you want it to fit with whatever you are performing. Be it sexy, funny, sassy, dark, etc. You also want to make sure that it can be seen. What I mean by this is that if you have enough color, beads, rhinestones, sequins, glitter, or blingy anything to be seen from space, you are probably on the right track. Lol! Burlesque performers have to be flashy. That is part of the draw. Also, you have to consider what you put on, you have to take off. If you can’t get it off easily, you probably shouldn’t wear it. Mostly as a plus size performer, the more important things that you think about is “What am I going to use to hide things that may be considered unsightly?” There are tons of things to use. People where are live can be pretty body critical. So here, I will not go out on stage without an underbust corset! I’ll admit, my mid-section is a little scary. To keep that sexiness, mystique, and allure to my body for the crowd, I wear the underbust. The mid-section is my main concern for me.

Any wardrobe malfunction stories you’d like to share?
If I don’t get my underbust corset cinched up the right way, sometimes, I will get a roll peeking out. That doesn’t look good in pictures. It is my body, though, and I love it anyway. I have had things not come untied properly, and I have had to rip them. I once lost an outer shell to a costume, and I had to perform onstage in street clothes. I also had one show where once my performance was over, I was walking off stage, and I noticed half a pastie hanging off my nipple.  I just put my hand over it, and held on. One of the most common tricks that burlesque performers use to avoid certain malfunctions is wearing 2-3 pairs of panties onstage. You definitely do want to run the risk of having “that” showing. Wardrobe malfunctions happen. Do what you can to prevent them. Deal with them as gracefully as you can. The show must go on!

photo by Jennifer Le

What has been the most challenging part of dancing burlesque for you?
Learning to be graceful and move around in high heels! I am actually a little bit of a klutz. I am big and awkward. Learning to look sexy and elegant has been a challenge for me. Also learning to accept and embrace becoming a quasi “sex symbol”. Until I started doing burlesque, very few men looked at me as an object of desire or told me I was beautiful. The things I hear from men now are completely different! It makes me feel like a super sized centerfold from Playboy. Lol! I don’t think I will ever get used to that part. As a person, I am really kinda shy. It is also nice that when I am Lola, everyone knows me, but when I am just plain old me, I hardly ever get recognized as the person who plays her. Being able to still maintain that kind of anonymity is so peaceful.

Have you ever had to handle hecklers, etc?
No, thankfully! If I did have a heckler, I would probably tell them “If you think you can do any better, and you’ve got the guts, get up here and start taking it off! The stage is all yours!” Ha! Ha! There were some “concerns” supposedly about bigger girls in the group performing. I guess someone had said to one of the girls in our troupe that he did know if “Seeing fat girls take their clothes off was going to make him queezy or not.” When I heard about this, I decided I was going to push the envelope at the next show we did. I ended up wearing a thong onstage. Lol! When I took off my dress and the audience saw the bigger majority of my large, and I’ll say lovely, derriere, they went NUTS!!! Ha! Ha! I just kept thinking, “If Mr. Queezy is in the crowd, I hope that either did him in or changed his mind.” I walked off stage a proud and happy woman that night, and I got many compliments for being so bold.

What do you tell other plus size women that want to pursue burlesque?
Go for it! Burlesque is one of the few places, in my opinion, that plus size women are accepted and adored. I would honestly say that the plus size burlesque performers in our troupe get more attention than the smaller girls do. Why? Men don’t ever get to see bigger women in a sexy light. We are unique and different. We give them something to consider. I think a lot of men are attracted to bigger women, but it is kind of a social taboo. Burlesque allows them to view us without the stigma. They want to look! Trust me! Don’t be misled or believe everything that you hear. I have a ton of admirers that I am kind of their dirty, little secret. Don’t be afraid, just do it! One day, if you do, you will be glad that you did. I have convinced a lot of plus size women to give burlesque a look. Even if they haven’t decided to do it, most of them developed a sort of love for it.

How has dancing burlesque changed you/affected your life?
If someone had told me a year and 6 months ago that I would ever have been a burlesque performer, I would have laughed in their face and told them that they were ridiculous! It was not something that I ever imagined myself doing. However, now, I will tell you it is the greatest and most amazing thing I have ever done that I never knew I was good at. I always wanted to be onstage. Singing, dancing, acting, whatever! I had the talent, but with society’s current standards, not a chance to do the things I loved and dreamed. People now a days are more concerned about what you look like than what you can do. Burlesque gave me a door to my dreams. I just had to have the courage to walk through it. I did, and I don’t regret it. It has transformed my life. Sometimes, I still can’t believe all the wonderful things that have come from it. It really actually seems to have opened a hallway full of doors for me now. When I am a little old lady sitting in a rocking chair, I will now be able to look back on the friends I made, the things we did, and the time we shared and say, “That was the best time of my life, and I am so grateful that I was allowed the opportunity to do it!” I have become a bright, beautiful, lovely, happy person, I have so much more faith in myself and my abilities now. The experience has been phenomenal!

What do you think the rest of the world should know about you, burlesque, or what you do?
I wasn’t born a burlesque performer. It took time and effort to get to where I am. I am always learning and getting better at what I do. I created Lola as someone to hide behind. Lola is her own person. She is part of me, but I am not her. I her to be an inspiration to people. Since I started doing burlesque, many people have told me I have, and I am. Lola is about having the courage to love and embrace yourself for who you are. Stop hating yourself for what you are not. She is bold. She allows me to portray my ideas to the world, and she is pretty popular and convincing person. When I am her, I have the power to make people believe anything is possible. She is like my own personal Wonder Woman costume.

I am not some perfect beauty. I have stretch marks, saggy skin, cellulite, fat rolls, and all sorts of other imperfections, but it is all part of who I am.

Learn to love yourself, and others will follow. My whole life I was made to feel that because I was overweight, I was insignificant, and I did not matter. For a long time, I bought into that, until I started to rebel against the idea, stopped being afraid of my body, and of myself. Now, I consider myself just as lovely as any other woman. I am not competing for a prize, but if I were, I would give the little girls a run for their money.

I always remind myself beauty is not a contest, no one can compare to you, because they are not you. Love and appreciate them for who they are, and love and appreciate yourself for who you are.

My favorite quote is from director, Baz Luhrmann, “Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own…”

There were never truer words spoken in my opinion. If you are looking for beautiful, large, and lovely women to inspire you, look to burlesque. Dirty Martini is amazing! The woman is a modern day, thick Marilyn Monroe. She is much more popular in the burlesque world than Dita Von Teese, and she is at least twice her size. They call her “Miss 44″ with a whole lot more.” She has got it all! Looks and talent to boot! I marvel at her. She is honestly my burlesque heroine.  Alotta Boutte is another of the big beauties. She is very curvacious and unafraid!

Rubenesque Burlesque is an eye opening experience. Those girls let it all hang out, and people love them for it! That is just to name a few. There are many more!
Most of the women and men in my burlesque troupe do burlesque as a form of therapy. We are not stripper or exhibitionists. A lot of us are shy, modest, or reserved, but that little eccentric part of all of us is what sticks out. That yearning to do something different that will make us happy. We are the motley group of people, but you will never find a group of people who love and care more about each other than we do. They are all like my second family, and I would trust them with my life. They are supportive and encouraging in ways I didn’t even know people could be. I am so proud to know all of them. They are all so gifted and talented. The most astounding collection of people I have ever known.
I am here to convince people to dare to do what they dream, to make people laugh, and to try and put a little bit of Lola in everyone. She has taught me SO much! She has been an amazing friend, and I don’t know what I would ever do without her.

Plus Awesome: Meet Mia, Burlesque Performer

Wichita burlesqie
Wichita burlesque dancer Mia - photo by Jennifer Le

How did you get involved with burlesque? What was your first memory of encountering burlesque?
I did some research online and found that the Wichita Burlesque was on Facebook. Then after some time a friend told me that Lola was coming over to her house to talk to her about the troupe and if anyone was interested in joining since they were looking for women of all shapes and sizes and preferably women in plus sizes. After listening to her I was hooked.

Why do you do it now?

I never felt sexy. Always have been told I was sexy but never believed it, never felt it. I have had a battle of self confidence with my weight since I was 10.

I have struggled with my weight all my life I have been to my highest of 270/size 24 down to my lowest 150/size 8. Now I’m kind of in the middle being around a size 14-18 pending on what I’m wearing. I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) at the age of 22 when I and my husband were trying to conceive and I just couldn’t get pregnant. Most of the doctors would tell me if I would just drop 75-100 pounds then I could become pregnant. It was so frustrating and depressing and the more depressed I became the more I ate. Then I found a doctor that could ease some of the symptoms, and then some weight started to drop off. I’ve had such a poor self image my entire life. Finally burlesque is showing me the true beauty and sexiness inside me that each woman possesses no matter what size you are. Now that I’m in the troupe I have a new self confidence and I feel so much sexier than I have ever felt before. To hear and watch the crowd cheer as I perform my routine is an absolute rush.

photo by Jennifer Le

Is this how you make your living? (What’s your day job, etc. – and life/balance stuff you do is also good to share.)
No, unfortunately I do not make my living doing burlesque. Darn!! Because that would be a fun way to earn a living. I have worked in education for the last 15 years and currently I am an elementary school secretary. I balance my time fairly well I work full time and still have time to do burlesque, family and friend stuff.

Tell me about training. What are rehearsals like? On a scale of 1 – 10, how physically challenging do you find dancing burlesque?
We have weekly practices and they are great you can practice in front of peers, get the advice and encouragement you need, plus have some girl time. On a scale I would say the number falls about a 3. I do not find burlesque to be physically challenging but when practicing and doing your routine over, and over you do get quite the workout.

Please talk about the thought process that goes into putting together a dance costume. What do you have to consider?
I think about the style of the outfit especially if I am working to fit a theme. I think of the color choice of the outfit due to how well I will show up under the stage lighting. The accessibility to remove it, and the coverage I want and need. It’s got to be sexy but tasteful.

Any wardrobe malfunction stories you’d like to share?
I have had one so far while doing my very first performance at the Looney Bin. I was wearing a corset that was didn’t cover my trouble spot…my tummy. Oh how I hate my tummy, hate that I have a flap of fat just hanging there. Anyway I was doing my routine and I noticed during the last half that my corset had slid up over my tummy and there it was my tummy was hanging out for all of the audience to see. Oh I was embarrassed! Although that didn’t stop my routine I just went along and finished. The crowd cheered and they didn’t even seem to notice my tummy and my unsightly wardrobe malfunction. All they noticed my enthusiasm and smile oh..and not to mention my larger than life boobs…ha-ha :). With burlesque everyone is going to have an issue with their costume and it’s ok. Sometimes the audience just assumes it’s part of the act.

What has been the most challenging part of dancing burlesque for you?
I have been having the most trouble in the being creative and being crafty. Good thing I have the other girls to get advice and a husband that has been in theater.

Have you ever had to handle hecklers, etc?
I haven’t came across any as of yet.

What do you tell other plus size women that want to pursue burlesque?
Do it! It’s Awesome! They will love it! Don’t be afraid to show your curves. The audience isn’t a one size fits all crowd. They like watching a voluptuous curvy woman perform.

Mia performing - photo by Doug Hahn

How has dancing burlesque affected your life?
I have became more self confident. I have a hobby and one that makes me feel awesome about myself!

What do you think the rest of the world should know about you, burlesque, or what you do?
That burlesque is an amazing art of a woman’s body and the art of teasing. If someone doesn’t what burlesque is or if they have a perception that burlesque is something gross, dirty or improper they are terribly wrong. They need to come to show and see how much fun and how flattering burlesque is.

Plus Awesome: Paul Taylor, Artist behind web comic Wapsi Square

Note from Di: for those unfamiliar, Wapsi Square is a web comic series set in Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. The cast consists of female leads in a magical realism action/adventure slice of life type hybrid, and addresses creatively physical and emotional challenges common to these women. The most obvious is the size of main character Monica’s breasts, which has been remarked upon widely by web comic fans and critics. The very nature of this criticism demonstrates exactly what Mr. Taylor speaks of when he reflects upon the treatment women receive based upon their bodies. In addition, Taylor also runs the Wapsi Girl  Project, that highlights female fans of his comic that has included actresses, yoga instructors and writers, among many others.

Shelley (left) and Monica (right) from Wapsi Square

Please give a quick synopsis of Wapsi Square for my readers. Also, talk about Monica, her background, and how she came to be (as much as any creative can explain such things.) Can you elucidate the core message of the comic, especially any message intended for female readers?
Wapsi Square is best summed up as a slice of supernatural life. All the things you would expect in your day but with a healthy dose of paranormal thrown in and a balance of cute and macabre. Monica, Wapsi’s protagonist, came about when I was thinking about a friend of mine, who although was naturally thin and very busty, was not what society would label her. Most wrote her off as sexually promiscuous, not smart, had fake boobs, they were seriously wrong on all counts. Anyway, it got me thinking that society doesn’t really have any positive characters that addressed those issues, and having that personal relationship with Monica’s inspiration, I felt that I could render her realistically without falling into trite stereotypes. As my comic goes Monica had run-ins with the paranormal at an early age, only to find out that what she perceived as normal, was anything but. This leads to her having a very skeptical view of the world and shields herself from anything challenging by hiding behind books and science. As the story progresses, she gets tossed back into a world of the paranormal and also has to deal with her own anthropomorphic personal demons. I feel the main messages of my comic are redemption, overcoming personal demons, and to never be afraid to be yourself.

When you created Monica, why the breasts? While many comic artists gleefully create women with large breasts, you are among the first (and possibly only) to actually explore the maintenance and even tactical issues involved. What led you to take this into consideration? Will this be a continuing theme throughout the comic? How much has your wife contributed to research on this topic?
Growing up, I was very much a nerd and it didn’t take long for other kids to determine this and begin picking on me. By the time I was in junior high school1 some of the early developing girls became targets for the mental troglodytes that feel pointing out the obvious in rude ways makes them clever. Anyway, having already been the subject of being picked on myself, I wasn’t one to rudely tease anyone else and ended up befriending many of the girls in junior high that had more boobs than they considered their share. I got to know them and saw the was they were treated and it just made me sick. Sadly, the rudeness of others towards girls for their body shape seemed to continued on into high school and college. Hell, that behavior seems to be socially acceptable in our society. My wife, also a busty gal, had a very similar experience growing up and has also had to deal with sexual innuendo and rudeness. Taking my own experiences, those of my gal friends, and combining those with the way women are treated in the media, I felt that Monica’s presence was more than needed.

You have mentioned before attending web comic conventions where women will walk up to your table and start discussing their breasts. Would you like to share any anecdotes?
Crazy enough, this is quite common for me and it’s quite flattering. I mean, they’re talking about something pretty private, and technically, I’m a stranger. But they know me though my comic, through my characters. That’s very flattering and very humbling. One convention, a tall, very thin, and very busty gal came up to tell me that not only did my comic help her feel better about herself, not feeling like she was such an oddity, but also taught her how to shop for better fitting bras. She imparted part of her confidence in the bra helping her posture, standing up tall and proud, and also the great support her quality bra had. She commented that even running and going up and down stairs was no longer a problem, then began enthusiastically jogging in place. Then she gave me a big hug after buying a book.

Corrected: Katherine is just a highly phobic human being. There are demons in the comics, though, although as housebroken as those sorts get.

One of the running themes throughout the comic is inner demons, which speaks to a lot of human experience, especially for those that struggle with body positivity. What led you to take this narrative tack? How do you feel it’s working?
I love human psychology and interaction with others as well as our own inner dialog. Toss that together with my love of mythology and it only seems logical to have our own issues and problems actually facing us down in a game of mental chess. From reader feedback, this style of story telling seems to be taken quite positively. I think this is because it can be looked at as a paranormal story, but then layers can be peeled back and now you have a psychological story, and then the whole thing can be looked at as metaphor. Each time you read the story, you can get something different from it.

What is the Wapsi Girl Project? Who are you looking for to contribute to this project?
The Wapsi Girl Project was inspired by positive emails from female fans of my comic. The project gives the female fans a venue to talk about how they relate to the stories or the characters and how they may have been inspired by the comic. This is also a chance for the female fans to tell their own stories of overcoming adversity or going against the grain. In turn, hopefully inspiring others.

Why are you trying to reach Felicia Day?
Felicia is the queen of the nerds and I feel that she would be awesome to help spread the word about the Wapsi Girl Project to as many gals as possible.

If you had to pick three web comic artists to recommend Fat Chic readers explore, who would you pick and why?
Definitely Danielle Corsetto who does Girls With Slingshots , Aaron Alexovich’s Serenity Rose , and anything done by Faith Erin Hicks of Friends with Boys.

What other projects are you working on right now? You have mentioned attempting to shop Wapsi Square to studios, and studios not quite getting the actual message of the comic.
I’m in the process now of having a manager shopping my comic around, and while it mostly gets positive feedback, most studios aren’t sure how to interpret the story into something they can work with. As you mentioned, there are other producers have said that they fear that women would be insulted by Monica and her chest size. Honestly, I don’t think that they look at my work any further than Monica’s breasts, myself, and this may very well speak of just how mainstream consumers would totally focus on Monica’s boobs and miss everything else. Lately, I’ve been looking for a more indie web series venue.

What is the next big thing you’d like to see happen with Wapsi Square?
I would love to see a web series, live action or animated, based on Wapsi Square that could grow along beside the daily comic and possibly evolve in its own way. My idea was to maybe have a series based on Tina. I don’t want to mention more about her so not to ruin any surprises for potentially new readers.

Felicia Day as Codex.
  1. For non US readers, junior high is between the ages of 12 and 15, depending on the school system and town. []

Plus Awesome: Meet Katie, a Highland Gameswoman

Katie is a  participant in the Highland games, a very physical endeavor indeed. She does everything an athlete does – and in a kilt! 004

What are the Highland games? How did you get involved with them? Is this something where you have to be Scottish to participate?

Highland games are a celebration of Scottish culture and heritage, and they are most popular in countries/regions that were populated by immigrants of Scottish decent: the US (and in particular some southern states), Canada, Australia, etc. Competition or demonstration of Highland Athletics (aka Heavy Events) are a major part, but other activities are usually incorporated into a fair or festival atmosphere. Music, traditional food, and clan tents to learn about Scottish ancestry are most commonly involved. Depending on the location they may also include piping and dancing competitions, exhibition of Highland cattle, sheep dog demonstrations or competitions, vendors selling Scottish merchandise, SCA events, whiskey tastings, and anything else people think to squeeze in!

I attended a local highland games with my family in high school and college, I always thought the athletics looked like a ton of fun and wanted to try them. In 2009 I was living in Utah and feeling pretty adrift in an unfamiliar culture and looking for an active hobby, so I bought a kilt, emailed an Athletic Director, and showed up with no idea what I was doing.

I am mostly of Scottish decent but to participate in the games you just need to be willing to wear a kilt and to like to throw heavy things! The festivals are about celebrating a Scottish heritage so anyone is welcome to attend as long as they think Scottish stuff is cool.

To participate in the games you just need to be willing to wear a kilt and to like to throw heavy things!

What events do you participate in?

Heavy Events are similar to many track and field events, but deliberately anachronistic. There are nine events total: Braemar stone (like a shot put, but standing and with a rock), Open Stone (like shot put with a slightly smaller rock, but you can move your feet), Weight for Distance (a weight on a chain with a handle is thrown at two weights – for ladies, they are 14 and 28 lbs) Weight over Bar (a 28 lb weight is thrown over a bar that is moved up in height as the event progresses) Sheaf (a pitch for is used to throw a 12-16 lb burlap sack filled with hay or twine over the same bar) hammer (similar to Olympic hammer, a standing throw for distance at two weights – 12 and 16 lbs) and the iconic Caber, where a pole made of a felled tree is thrown for accuracy. You get three attempts at each event, and for height events you throw until you miss three attempts at the same height.

An Athletic Director can contest all or a subset of the events depending on space, equipment, etc. Six events are required for the games to count in the national ranking board (www.nasgaweb.com) and you’re expected to compete in all the events that are contested.

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How do you train for the games?

Ideally I’d have the equipment and a place to throw and practice the events a minimum of 1-2x a week. Some people throw up to 4x a week. But I’m an apartment dweller so I stick to pick up games and meeting up with others when possible. Otherwise its about being fit and strong: I run a little for basic endurance, I follow a powerlifting type training program for strength, and mix in ballistic or power building moves. Most of the power in throwing any track and field type event comes from the legs, so there are lots of deadlifts and squats, sometimes kettlebell work.

 

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being highest, how physically demanding do you find training and participating in the games?

You dedicate as much time to training as you want. I’d probably be better if I spent more time training but this is just a hobby for me. I usually train 2-4 days a week, but I my workouts are pretty intense in themselves so I’d say that gets me about a 7. Competitions are exhausting because you throw on and off all day long, in whatever weather condition you get: rain, hot temps, sun, humidity, whatever. A comp where all 9 events are contested is certainly a 10, one where the more strenuous events are skipped and the weather is cooler, maybe a 7 or 8.

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What is your favorite event?

I do like the caber because it’s so iconic and I like to tell people that I throw trees, but I think my favorite is the hammer because it’s fun to wind up just as hard as you can and then let it all go.

Is this an annual event, or something you do multiple times in a year? What is a season like?

Scottish associations or towns generally hold only one event per year, around the same time of year. My hometown games in Scotland CT are always held the Sunday of Columbus day weekend, for example. But games are held around the country pretty much year round. States like Arizona and Florida often stick to cooler months (Jan-Mar). Where I live now in New England the “season” runs mostly June-October. I do as many as I can depending on schedule and travel costs. My last year in Utah I did 8 (they’re a big deal in UT!). There are fewer games in New England but I aim to do one a month from April or May through October. I like to travel to other areas too, this year I am going to stay with friends and do the Savannah, GA games.

 

Events are not just about brute force.

 

How does your body affect your participation in these sports?

Well, being fat doesn’t affect it. Men actually have a lightweight division for anyone weighing less than 190 lbs. Most of the guys who do it are very large and many are also into powerlifting or strongman stuff. There’s a wide variety of body diversity among the women, I’ve thrown with women who are 125 lbs and I’ve thrown with women who top 300 lbs. They’ve all kicked my ass! It’s a VERY technique heavy sport , and it requires endurance and some flexibility, but obviously being fat doesn’t preclude those things. It helps that I’ve always been strong, but the events are not just about brute force. There is an advantage in all throwing sports that comes with being taller – longer levers produce more force. It’s a physics thing. So I wish I was taller sometimes.

Is there a well-known athlete or figure you see as a role model?

Not really. This is a very esoteric sport so there aren’t really any famous people in it. I have really appreciated how welcoming the other athletes are to newbies in general. I’ve thrown with several women who are ranked in the top 20 in North America and they’ve all been super supportive. It’s a very friendly competition and we all give each other feedback as we throw on what’s going wrong, little adjustments that need to be made, training tips, etc. I’ve learned everything I know about the sport by watching and throwing with others and attending a clinic where we were instructed by volunteers.

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What would you like the world to know about yourself, about the Highland Games, and about being competitive?

I was a complete couch potato for the first 24 years of my life. I got into HG when I was 27. Most people who get into it did some sort of track and field event in high school or college, but not me. I had no idea what I was doing. My first year I did three games and I was so bad at it, I thought about quitting. But I ended up enjoying so many things about the sport: the kilt, listening to bag pipes outside on a sunny day, competing against myself and striving for improvement. It’s also very satisfying to go out and try to throw something heavy as far as possible. It can be really difficult to try new things, but very rewarding as well. I think that strength sports in general can be very intimidating to women. I sometimes do things just because they are intimidating, weird and different, and I would encourage others to do the same.

Highland Games isn’t an easy sport to pick up if you’re unfamiliar with throwing things. But it’s so much fun! Telling people you throw trees is also very fun.

Highland Games isn’t an easy sport to pick up if you’re unfamiliar with throwing things. But it’s so much fun! Telling people you throw trees is also very fun. If you want to give it a try, find an Athletic Director near you. They can tell you about practice events, if their event is newbie friendly, and what you need to do to register. Even if you aren’t interested in trying your hand at it, think about coming out to an event. These are generally very family friendly events with lots of things to do and see, plus guys in kilts! I love having a crowd to cheer me on. The festivals rely on public attendance. Athletic Directors are all volunteers, and the festivals depend on a committee of volunteers from local Scottish or Town Associations. If they aren’t well attended, people stop organizing them. So come check one out! There isn’t an entirely comprehensive list out there, but most of them are listed on the mentioned website, and all the big festivals have informational websites you can Google up.

Plus Awesome: Meet Natalie of Definatalie

It took awhile, and a chance meeting with a fabulous woman from Turkey who happened to be visiting a small holiday party I was at (hi Melissa! Thank you!!!!) but I at long last got the ever awesome Natalie of Definatalie to do an interview with me. For those unfamiliar, she is a fabulously creative person who run a plus-size fashion blog, produces body positive art and is just one of the smartest, most talented people EVER. Seriously, I tend to be affectionate towards everybody until they give me a reason not to be, so it means something extra when I say that this woman is my ultimate blog crush. I am so thrilled you get to meet her!

 

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Please give an outline of your endeavors – your artwork, your blog, your fashion.

I’m an artist and activist and blogger (definatalie.com). Basically my life is consumed with thinking about my embodiment as a fat, disabled, ciswoman and my relationship with my culture. I illustrate as a way of processing my feelings and experiences, and I blog to connect with my community (fat activists, feminists, womanists, and other activists.) Part of this is fashion, or fatshion, because as I have grown older I’ve learnt that fashion is so political and powerful. It’s a way to exclude people from popular culture, economic stability, representation and visibility and I blog about my fat body wearing clothes because I want to smash that.

Tell me about your favorite project of the moment; what is it, and what are you hoping it will bring into the world?

I’m thinking about beauty a lot at the moment and how it’s a pretty one dimensional and inaccessible thing for most people. At first I thought it would be interesting to explore ugliness, and reclaim it, but I’ve had some really awesome and nuanced discussions about this; while the word itself resonates with me and is powerful and emotive, it’s really horrifying for many other people because of their experiences with it. For trans folk and people of colour it’s a word that is way too hurtful to reclaim and I as a white ciswoman can’t ever understand that. I’ve been doing a lot of drawings throughout this exploration and I don’t know if it will bring anything to the wider world, but it has certainly been a way to open up discussion. I have learnt a lot!

What’s going on with Fancy Lady Industries? Also, what’s going on at your Etsy shop?

I was initially going to open Fancy Lady Industries on Etsy but then decided against it and decided to open it on its own site! FLI is where I sell things I make, and sometimes clothes I no longer need/ fit into. The stock is small at the moment because I’m building up slowly! I am currently selling custom digital illustrations, the infamous fat necklace, no diet talk brooches, postcards of my illustrations, and the newest necklace is magenta and says “vain”! (I’m quite proud of it!)
Down the road I want to sell more accessories, especially rings and bangles that fit bigger hands. It’s incredibly hard to find them! I also want to sell prints of my artwork, and perhaps originals but I find them hard to part with.

Please talk about how you became involved in the body positivity community and fat acceptance. Your blog documents where it has led you. Can you also talk about what you consider your connect between body/self-acceptance and fashion is?

I was introduced to fat acceptance through an ex-boyfriend when I was about 20 years old (12 years ago!) I’d never come across FA before but had always felt quite pissed off when people said negative things about my fat body. My mother had tried to put me on Weight Watchers but I quit after it made me feel like my eating was reduced to mere numbers.  I started talking to activists in the US on message boards and Livejournal and for a long time I felt like I might be the only fat activist in Australia! It was very difficult to find anyone locally who felt as passionately about fat activism as me, usually anyone I’d talk to on the topic would immediately default to the “but don’t you know being fat will kill you?” argument. I eventually connected with a cluster of local friends after we bonded over similar reactions of rage to such arguments. In recent years it’s been so amazing to see so many Australian fat activist and fatshion bloggers, and it’s been a lot easier to connect with Twitter.  I’ve always expressed myself through the clothes I wear, not particularly caring for what’s “fashionable”. I mean, it’s nice to feel fashionable but for me it’s not been something that’s very accessible because I am way too fat for trendy clothes. I taught myself how to sew as a teenager and have made clothes for myself since then, but in years since it’s become easier (financially and logistically) to purchase clothing online from overseas retailers.  When I feel like I’m too fat to wear nice clothes it makes me feel terrible, but it has impacted on other areas of my life than simply body image. I’ve not been able to find employment because I wasn’t dressed appropriately in interviews, and I’ve also been warned by employers too!

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Have you sensed/ perceived any difference between the plus-size experience in Australia and in the US or the UK?
In my observation, the main difference between the US, UK and Australia is community. I look upon the conferences and meet-ups that take place in the US and UK with envy, it’s just too hard to get everyone across Australia together in one place. That being sad, a lot of us did come together and meet at the first Fat Studies Conference in 2010!

What are your favorite resources for inspiration/positivity?

Mostly tumblr these days! Allow me to list just a few of my favourite fat tumblr babes:
http://buttahlove.tumblr.com/
http://hipoh.tumblr.com/
http://chubbycartwheels.tumblr.com/
http://everythinginthrees.tumblr.com/
http://nudiemuse.tumblr.com/
http://femmesandfamily.tumblr.com/
http://mmmajestic.tumblr.com/
This list is by no means conclusive!

You regularly appear in Fat Chic flickr group. Do you consider yourself a fatshionista or a fashionista? Beyond body type, is there any difference?

I always identify as a fatshionista. I want to be very clear that my fat is part of my fashion, it affects the way I dress and what I am able to wear. My body and my clothes are political and I identify as a fatshionista so people are made just that little bit uncomfortable when they realise I am acknowledging and centralising my fatness. I think that every person gets to choose how they identify, and that’s the difference between a fashionista and a fatshionista. Neither is hierarchically “better” than the other either!

What are your favorite clothing resources and designers these days?

I don’t have favourite designers. Truthfully, I barely pay attention to fashion as it plays out on catwalks and in magazines because it doesn’t include me. There are plus size designers, of course, but I can’t afford to wear their clothes so I don’t really pay attention!
I buy most of my clothes, accessories and (wide fitting) shoes from the UK – Evans, Asos Curve and New Look. Typically in the sales section :P

 

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Is there any way you see to incorporate love of beauty (fashion, art, nature) into self-care? (Elaborate if you wish.)

Like I said up above, my relationship with “beauty” is strained. I do think self care is super important however, and incorporate a few traditional “beauty” routines into my own self care. I have had cystic acne since I was about 12 and for a long time would use lots of products and have facials and whatnot because I thought that was what I was meant to do in order to become beautiful. I’m 31 now and still have acne, and I’ve struggled with beating myself up or torturing my skin (oh jeez the chemicals I have applied to it!) for a long time. So in that respect, beauty and self care has been difficult for me. In another respect, like doing my nails with all kinds of odd designs, it has been fantastic and centering for me!
Stepping away from body image and beauty, I think finding contentment and quiet in a busy, bright, noisy world is really useful when practicing self care. I love walking in rainforests, going to art galleries, riding my bike, or sitting in a shady spot and just staring in to space. Sometimes I need to be pulled out of my brain because I am quite introverted, and it’s refreshing to look outward to find a new idea or perspective.
Self care is so different for every person. We need different things and should honour ourselves by granting those things. It could be a dress, it could be a walk, it could be practicing elaborate make up and taking photos of yourself, it could be a lie down in bed listening to music or it could be coffee with a close friend.

What do you think Fat Chic readers should know that only you can tell them?

You’re so fance, yes you are! :P

You can find definatalie at the following places:
definatalie.com
fancyladyindustries.com
definatalie.tumblr.com
twitter.com/definatalie

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Plus Awesome: Meet Laura Porter, a Competitive Power Lifter

Laura Porter is one of the fantastic women who answered my call for plus size women athletes, artists and creatives. She is a competitive power lifter whose strength is her ultimate advantage.

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What got you interested in lifting?

I’ve never been sporty – not even in school. I’ve also always been on the larger side – never less than a size 14 (UK size) growing up. When I was 30/31 (and a size 16/18) I noticed that running for the bus & walking up the stairs at the train station left me breathless, and that got me worried. So I decided to start getting some exercise for my health.

At the time I was working for a company which had an in-house gym with discounted personal training sessions. As I had no idea how to exercise, I signed up for a few sessions to get myself started. The sessions – mostly cardio with some lights weights – were punishing, but I quickly saw an improvement in my breathing/stamina, and got hooked.

The thing I most enjoyed about the sessions was the weights, but there was no serious weightlifting equipment at my work gym. So with the encouragement of my physical therapist I looked for a gym or classes where weightlifting would be the main focus. I ended up joining a class based at an adult-education centre in east London. I didn’t realise at the time, but this gym – Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club – is quite a historic one (founded in 1927) which has produced many champions in both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting over the years. At my first session, the coach asked me what I was looking to do, I said I didn’t really know – I just wanted to be strong! He got me started on powerlifting, as I’d just happened to sign up for classes on the night when he taught powerlifting. And so, completely by accident, I ended up lifting at quite a well-known gym under a respected powerlifting coach.

How has lifting and strength building changed your day to day life?

I used to hate sport, and now it’s a major focus of my life. I lift at Bethnal Green 3 times a week, which is a big commitment (not least because the gym is an hour away from my house via public transport!). The atmosphere at my gym is more like a family than a business – I see the same people at each session, so I’ve made a new friends.

Physically, I’m still the same weight as I was before, but my health has improved – I no longer get breathless, my blood pressure is normal, and I have a resting heart rate of about 55bpm. And obviously I’m stronger – carrying groceries home isn’t a chore, I can flex my biceps, I can lift up my boyfriend….

One thing that’s not changed is my weight – I’m still within the same weight range as I was before (plus or minus 2kg). However I’m physically smaller – a size 14/16 now.

 

I used to hate sport, and now it’s a major focus of my life.

Do you encounter challenges in lifting that a smaller-sized person might not? What would those challenges be?

Not really. In powerlifting, many of the best competitors are also large people (see Andy Bolton for an example). There is no impetus to be slim in powerlifting; the only time weight is mentioned is for working out how much you can lift compared to your body size (the heavier you are, the more you are expected to be able to lift). When competing, the competitors are divided up into weight classes, and while competing I’ve had to shed a bit of mass in order to “make weight”, but it’s only ever a temporary thing (and I put it on again straight away!)

The only real physical challenges I’ve ever had have been in relation to my boobs – they get in the way for some exercises (e.g. an upright barbell row!). But they’re also a boon for others – in the bench press, a full rep is only counted if you touch your chest at the bottom of the rep. Because my boobs stick out a long way, I don’t have to move the bar as far as others might!

 

Could you describe your lifting routine? How do you decide what to work?

I tend to do what my coach tells me! Mostly we follow a modified version of something called the Wendler 5-3-1 program. In a typical week I’ll lift 3 times, for 70-90 minutes each time (depends how busy the gym is), and I’ll spend an equal amount of time on lower- and upper-body exercises. For example, I’ll do some squats (lower-body) and bench pressing (upper-body) as my main exercises, and then four different assistance exercises, two each for the lower- and upper-body.

I also do a boxing circuit class once a week, and have another 40-50 minute cardio session once a week, both at my workplace’s gym.

 

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The only real physical challenges I’ve ever had have been in relation to my boobs – they get in the way for some exercises (e.g. an upright barbell row!). But they’re also a boon for others – in the bench press, a full rep is only counted if you touch your chest at the bottom of the rep. Because my boobs stick out a long way, I don’t have to move the bar as far as others might!

When you’re in a lifting competition, what is the objective? To lift the most weights? To show the most muscle definition? How does that all work?

The only objective in powerlifting is to move the most weight! There are three moves, and you get three attempts at each one – the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. There are certain criteria that each lift must meet; for example: in the bench press, the bar much touch your chest at the bottom of the rep, and your arms must be locked out at the top; in the squat, your legs above the knee must go below parallel. There will be three referees watching your lift, and they will either fail or pass your lift depending on whether you meet the criteria.

Competitors are divided up by age & weight – I lift in the seniors (ages 23-40), and in the 72kg weight category. For “raw” powerlifting competitions – which is what I take part in – you are not allowed to wear any compression clothing, gloves or wraps. The standard uniform is a single-ply leotard, t-shirt, long socks and flat sneakers.

I’ll be honest and say I’ve never won a competition, and I probably never will – there are women out there who lift weights that blow my mind. But that doesn’t stop me competing – despite pretty much always coming last (someone has to!) I love the atmosphere of competition, and I like trying to set new personal records in a disciplined environment.

What do you have to do to prepare for a competition?

Train train train! I will train really hard up until a week before the competition, then take a week off to rest completely. I usually have to lose a small amount of weight in order to make competition weight (my normal weight is about 74kg, but my class is 72kg) so I’ll quit drinking alcohol for about 6 weeks before and stop eating quite so much chocolate (which makes me sad!). The only other things I have to do is make sure my oh-so-flattering (not!) leotard is clean, and I’m good to go.

I see scattered hearsay about supplements, nutrition, and steroids when there’s talk of weight lifting. What is your experience with this?

If I was more serious about  lifting, and really wanted to win, I’d pay more attention to my nutrition. As it is, I eat a pretty regular diet – I drink alcohol, I eat ice-cream if I want it, I don’t weigh out protein or eat a whole chicken for breakfast or anything like that. I’m still a foodie at heart! The only regime I’d say I follow is intuitive eating – I eat what I like, when my body wants it, just not too much.

I’ve never seen steroids being used at my gym, and the federation I’m a member of (the Great Britain Powerlifting Federation) does random drug-testing anyhow.

Is competitive weight lifting still uncommon for women?

It is for powerlifting. I’ve taken part in 3 competitions, and I’ve only encountered 3 other women competitors in those. There are definitely more women in Olympic weightlifting, probably because it’s a more widely-known sport than powerlifting and is often televised (Olympic weightlifting involves taking the bar above your head). Powerlifting tends to be more related to “World’s Strongest Man”-type sports, which possibly puts many women off.

What do you like about weight lifting? What would you change about it?

105kg_deadlift

I like being strong, and I love that it’s a sport where you can legitimately be heavy and no-one cares. As long as you can move some weight, who cares how you look? I have a big belly and wobbly thighs, but those are completely unrelated to my performance.

As for what I’d change – well, I’d make it a more widely-known sport! The IOC is currently reviewing powerlifting as an Olympic sport (it’s already a Paralympic sport) and that would bring it to a wider audience.

As for weightlifting in general: I’d love to see more women using weights. There is a stubborn myth that if you lift heavy weights you’ll bulk up “like a man”, but that’s not true. It is VERY hard to bulk up – even for men – and there’s no way it’s going to happen accidentally. Lifting weights is not going to make you any less feminine.

It would be great if, when a person decides to get active, they knew that lifting is an option along with Couch to 5k or Zumba (not that those aren’t great things to do!). You don’t need to be an already-active person to start lifting.

What do you think people should know about you, about weight lifting, and about being competitive?

  • That you don’t need to be slim or sporty to start lifting. Anyone can do it. In fact, I’d say larger ladies have a natural advantage at lower-body exercises like the squat and deadlift, because their legs are already naturally strong. But I say that as a layperson, not an expert!
  • That the weights room at the gym isn’t scary. Those big muscly guys in there won’t even notice you coming in, not if they’re concentrating on their own workout. And they won’t roll their eyes at you if you ask for a tip or to be spotted – if they’re enthusiasts, they won’t hold back on the advice!

In competitions I’m only ever really competing against myself. But it’s good to push myself, nonetheless. The feeling when I hit a new personal best is amazing. I’m always terrified before a competition, but as soon as I’m finished I want to start all over again!

Mostly I just want people to know about weight & powerlifting as a sport, that’s it’s brilliantly rewarding, and that it really is for everyone.

55kg_squat

Plus Awesome: Meet Spike, the Artist behind the Templar, AZ comic

Spike, the webcomic artist behind Templar, Arizona has some fans among Fat Chic readers. When I mentioned I was going to Minneapolis Indie Expo to stalk Randy Milholland of Something Positive, several friends immediately mentioned Spike’s comic, and her character Reagan. Slight fictionalization: “You’d love Reagan! She’s like you – she’s fat and she totally gets out and gets laid!” …”the comic sounds great. You know I’m in a monogamous marriage, right?” ..”er…” Templar Arizona comic is pretty awesome, and one of those treats best read from the beginning. So now you have your Smartphone or tablet beach reading – or for those in that other hemisphere I keep hearing about, your curl up and read while giggling hysterically and ignoring the snow material.

Please tell me about your comic, Templar, Arizona. What prompted you to create it?

“Templar, Arizona” is a long-format, alt-history comic about a fictional city full of Commies, anarchists, addicts, whores, and everyday people. The personal drama of the main cast is a puzzle piece in the overarching havoc that passes for everyday life, there. Think “The Wire” meets “Transmetropolitan.” (Haha yes, I am just that impressed with myself!)

Tell us ALL about your character Reagan, from style to substance to substantial. Also, why did you bring in a fat lady? (Clearly, Fat Chic is in favor of this.)

Reagan is part of the main cast! She was strongly inspired by Divine, John Waters’ favorite drag queen. (I saw “Pink Flamingos” when I was younger, and loved it more than was probably healthy.) Her size is really a reflection of her personality; she’s six feet tall in flat feet and (probably) about 300 or so pounds, and dresses pretty wild. Calf- length hair, weird frames on her glasses. Everything about her is imposing and attention-grabbing. She’s also about sensuality, in the broadest definition of the term. She’s passionate, she’s impulsive, she acts first and ponders the consequences afterward. And if you asked her why she was fat, she’d tell you it was because she loves food, getting sloshed and generally indulging. She makes no apologies. Her being fat just makes sense.

Story-wise, Ray is the cast id. She discourages restraint in everyone around her. Unfortunately, that usually means she’s the first to get in a fight, or say something regrettable. Bur hey, characters are no fun without flaws.

 

You mentioned at Minneapolis Indie Xpo a project that included “more naked fat ladies.” Can you share some details about this project? Are you seeking fat ladies to be naked for you? (half j/k – there are some legitimate figure models that follow Fat Chic.)

I was talking about my porn anthology project, Smut Peddler! It’s a collection of comic erotica that features predominantly women creators. [Spike has a Kickstarter campaign going for the project now.]

My SP contribution,along with a numbers of others, feature larger bodies, not as a fetish, bur a normal variant of the human form… which I’m really happy about. (I’m not one to come down on people about their fetishes, but what makes me happy with the SP contributions is the interest in the subjects as people. Feelings, emotions, stuff like that.)

 

Are your familiar with the body positivity movement or HAES? If yes to either, what are your feelings about it? (HAES is Health at Every Size, which is an actual doctor-directed movement happening right now.)

I am, actually! I’m pretty annoyed with our culture being convinced thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy. Especially since it inspires busybody nonsense Luke someone commenting uninvited on your shape, and legitimize it by feigning concern for your health.

What, seriously? No one skinny has ever had diabetes? Or a heart attack? Mind your own business, guys. You literally have no idea what kind of shape I’m in, or how healthy I am.

 

Can you talk about your personal aesthetic? What do you like to draw/have the most fun creating?

I love drawing human bodies. All kinds. My comic’s cast is varied to hold my interest; it’s all totally selfish. Emaciated, hourglass, gym rat, beach ball, pear-shaped, short, tall.  I love it all. And I love body language: that how a person stands or walks can radiation confidence and authority, or apprehension and fear.

 

What would you like to see more of among web comic artists?

This is a selfish desire, too: More slice of life stories. I began reading comics during the black and white boom, there was lots of that. Love and Rockets was a favorite.

Some people seem convinced slice of life is boring, but that’s only if you’re a bad storyteller. Stories about elves and vampires and spaceships can be boring too, guys.

 

Please tell a little bit about yourself – what is your “work uniform?” I ask because the dirty secret of all fashion bloggers is that we generally write while wearing pajamas. Really ratty, OLD pajamas.

Oh gawd I am easily the least fashionable person on the planet. I don’t have a work uniform, I have a LIFE uniform. Tank top, zip-front hoodie, jeans. Then, Chucks in the summer and Docs in the winter. That’s basically it. I don’t even like a lot of color; I don’t wear patterns, and everything own is navy blue, olive drab, black, heather grey, or dark red. The fanciest I get is twisting my dreads after a wash, so they come out wavy. Oddly enough, though, I watch a ton of Project Runway.

 

Are there any wardrobe hazards that come with web comic creation? (unfortunate ink marks, etc.)

I have a pair of pajama pants I wear if I’m not going out that day; the right thigh is covered in ink marks. That’s because I discovered the material the pants were made of were IDEAL for wiping brushes on. Untidy, I know! But they really are perfect.

 

Please add anything you’d like the world to know about your career, your comic, or your life.

- Okay, hmmmm. Well… Read my comics! They’re good stuff. Promise.