Well, does this even need an intro? No. It does not. (Doing it anyway.) I have admired Substantia from afar for years. It was an absolute dream to chat with her. Of course, she did not disappoint. I've perused her photos innumerable times and never tire of the gorgeous images she captures. Did I say I love her? I love her.
First off, I have to ask you, obviously, what inspired you to do the Adipositivity Project?
I found that a lot of size bigotry — much of it ignorance-based — could be handily remedied with repeated exposure to positive depictions of that which frightens the sizeist. A visual education. Social engineering, Prelinger Archives style. What I didn’t realize at the time was that those with the bigger need were the fat people themselves. Those experiencing body shame. I was pretty in the dark about how commonplace poor body image was until I created the project and started hearing from people about their response to it.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself in general?
Single, hetero, music nerd. Body politics activist. Photographer. Chronic quoter of Monty Python. Unapologetic fat chick. Even more unapologetic feminist. Wearer of halter dresses and horizontal stripes. Flaming gastrosexual. Recovering Southerner living in NYC for 18 years now. Digs dogs who smile. I love love and I hate hate. My butt knocks things off tables.
Your subject matter is something so many women can relate to. Do you have a body image story of your own?
Do I ever. I was an unusually thin child. My nickname on the pajama party circuit was “Bones.” Then I developed hips and breasts early and profoundly. Having been raised with the Western fear of fat, I responded to this natural development with anguish. As a teenager I delighted when my bikini bottoms suspended from hip bone to hip bone, and I learned how to sit in such a way as to make my thighs look less shapely. I began dieting young, and while still quite thin. Once I became of legal age, I began visiting the local diet pill doctor, and over the years I gave pretty much every diet the ol’ college try. This set off a cycle of losing and gaining, each time resulting in higher and higher weights and putting my health in deeper and deeper jeopardy. My weight stabilized only when I stopped dieting.
Positive body image came slowly and solitarily. I didn’t have the size heroes we have today. I credit age, good relationships, and the physical examination which accompanies nude self-portraiture. Bombarding your eyes with a parade of images of happy naked fat people is intensely therapeutic. But that must be followed up with your own parade. Even if it’s for your eyes only, I highly recommend you make friends with your camera. And your mirror. And the clothes you think you “can’t wear.”
And when your partner tells you ya look delicious, believe them. In my experience, hot monkey love with someone who hungrily adores every inch of you will get you to a place of body love faster than a stack of “go girl!” books. Though a steady diet of good sex and good books is even better.
The work you do is so emotional — can you tell me what you’ve gained working so intimately with people from all walks of life?
I’ve gained lots of interesting friends. I’ve seen the variety of places, emotionally, from which they come. I’ve heard the stories, I’ve held the hands, I’ve laughed with them. We’ve shown each other the way. And not only the folks I’ve photographed for The Adipositivity Project, but also the people who write me daily from all over the world, telling me about their relationship with their bodies and with the project. It’s all Sisterhood of the Size 24 Pants up in my Gmail. They’re the ones who keep me at it.
If I come to NY will you take nude photos of me?
Bet your sweet ass I will.
Since we are talking about People We Love (ie YOU), who are some people you love that we should be paying attention to?
There are so many, but the short list includes young writer Marie Southard Ospina, who has so much more figured out than I did at her age. Singer Emily Braden, who owns the stage with an infectious comfort, fierce voice, and an obvious glee. Lecturer Cat Pausé, who’s showing New Zealand (and the world) how to love their bodies. Seattle-based writer Ijeoma Oluo, a social justice voice I advise folks to pay very close attention to. Professor Leah Sweet, who’s teaching students at The New School not only about body politics as relates to art and life, but also about respecting the rights of the marginalized, in the academic setting and beyond. Yogi Jessamyn Stanley, who turns experience into wisdom at an impressive ratio, calms me when I’m in her presence, and whose potential influence extends far beyond the practice of yoga. Burlesque performer Lillian Bustle, who incorporates body love into her art, and whose TED talk on acceptance should be mandatory viewing for everyone with a body. And of course writer Lindy West, who without fail approaches social justice issues with a perfect tone and a wall-battering humor. As well as several others I'll wake up in the middle of the night tonight kicking myself for neglecting to include.
Sure am glad I’m on the earth at the same time as these folks.
I think I love you. Can we get pizza?