Since creating my Curvy Girl Lingerie Facebook page in September 2012, I have been so in awe of all of the body positivity and plus-size activism that is present on Facebook. I became aware of a very successful, robust and active page called Plus Size Mommy Memoirs which was created and owned by Jen McLellan, creator of the blog www.PlusSizeBirth.com.
I got the chance to interview Jen over the weekend because I wanted to learn more about her Cardboard Courage Project. And, while I am not a Mom and don't plan to have any children, I am very aware of how the medical community often dismisses plus-size women. Jen and her mission and her blog inspire me daily and I am not a Mom!
CB: Jen, when did you start Plus Size Mommy Memoirs and what inspired you to create your blog and corresponding Facebook page?
JM: In April of 2011 I launched my blog, Plus Size Mommy Memoirs (PSMM), and created a Facebook page to promote it.
JM: Like most newly-pregnant women, I opened my computer to learn all about the new life growing within me. Only as a plus-size woman, I faced a barrage of negativity. It was disheartening and I found it difficult to find positive information about being plus-size and pregnant. After having a wonderful pregnancy and transformative birth, I felt compelled to share my experience. I started PSMM to share my story and provide uplifting information on how to have a healthy pregnancy and empowered birth as a plus size woman.
CB: Interesting. I would think that there are quite a few plus-size pregnant women since the average American woman is a size 14.
JM: 60% of women in their childbearing years are classified as overweight or obese. As I mentioned above, there are only a handful of supportive resources targeted for plus-size and pregnant. I originally started the PSMM Facebook page to promote my blog but before I knew it, it became a community of plus size women supporting one another before, during, and after pregnancy. My page is a safe space to ask questions and receive supportive feedback.
CB: When did you first come up with the idea for the cardboard pics? I love it, by the way. So beautiful and inspirational. I want to see if my Curvy Girl customers might want to participate. I want to participate!
JM: I can't take credit for starting this project. It was PSMM community members who came up with the idea of taking images of themselves with empowering messages written on cardboard. Their bravery has sparked the Cardboard Courage Project!
JM: The nearest I can tell it's from the website Stop Hating Your Body and the model's name is Natalie. I wonder if Natalie knows how inspirational she is? She has encouraged many women to stop the self-hatred and start embracing who they are!
CB: What kind of reaction did you get the first time around? How many people shared their pics?
JM: When I first started this project I didn't do a call for submissions as I'm doing now. I asked about a dozen women who posted their photos on Facebook if I could have permission to share them within a PSMM blog post. This year I wanted to open this opportunity up to anyone, regardless of their size, who wants to participate.
CB: What surprised you the most about the project the first time and this time?
JM: I was shocked by how many women were upset they weren't provided with the opportunity to participate. That's precisely why I'm doing it again.
CB: What do you hope people learn from the Cardboard Courage Project? What do you hope sticks with them?
JM: Within the original Cardboard Courage post I wrote, "I hope these photos serve as a reminder that a clothing size should never dictate beauty or self-worth. We are all glorious!" We truly are all beautiful and I hope this project helps to perpetuate that message of body love.
JM: I also hope those who chose to participate will walk away feeling empowered and those who view these photos become inspired to step out of their comfort zone. Learning to love yourself can be a lifelong journey because our bodies are always changing. Sometimes just saying, "I love me" isn't enough and you need to take risks to develop a deeper admiration for your body. A risk can be as simple as standing naked in front of the mirror or as daring as having boudoir photos taken.
CB: My big question lately is why do you think people underestimate plus size women? How have you seen that in your work?
JM: It seems like being obese is one of the last forms of socially acceptable discrimination. There's this assumption that our bodies are broken because we're fat and sadly many women believe the lies we're fed. s a childbirth educator ,I've been told some heart-wrenching stories of how care providers treat plus size women during pregnancy and birth. There's even a new "fat vagina theory" (I kid you not) that our vaginas are too fat to allow a baby to pass through. I gave birth on my knees at nearly 300 lbs. and will continue to share my story to help women know that our bodies are AMAZING!
CB: Who are your Body Positive sheroes?
JM: I have my long list of women who continually blow me away but to be completely honest my biggest sheroe is... my mom. My mom is a beautiful plus size woman who has always been confident, strong, and innovative. She started her own business in the late 1970's within a male dominated industry and never looked back. She's the reason I wanted a natural childbirth and why I'm developing my own childbirth education business. She keeps pushing me forward while always being there to catch me when I fall. She's my hero!
CB: What keeps you going even when you know there will be some serious hate coming at you with these pictures?
JM: Growing up a fat in southern California has pretty much prepared me for any amount of fat-hate you can throw at someone. At the end of the day I know I'm going to inspire so many women with this project. For that reason alone, I'll proudly stand in front of a virtual firing squad. Heck, I'll even do it naked while holding a cardboard sign!