Hi crush monsters, this is the fourth installment of Straddler On The Street, a new feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet where we can all ohhh and ahhh about how perfect you are! Every Monday I’ll introduce you to a new Autostraddler that you can totally crush on. So get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: Julia, 24
I’m always honest with you guys, so I’m gonna let you know upfront that I’ve known Julia for 10+ years. We went to high school together, and before that we took theater classes together in a nice South African lady’s basement. We weren’t best friends and we didn’t stay in touch, but thanks to Facebook I’ve watched her evolve since we both left our suburban New England town and I’ve been totally blown away.
Julia now lives in Austin, Texas and is a member of The Lipschtick Collective, which describes itself as “a queer, feminist art collective with a distinctly Jewish flavor.” She is one half of Gluten Free Bitches, a satirical web show, and she’s also working on a solo project which she elaborates on in the interview below. Julia is hilarious and smart (hilariously smart? smartly hilarious?) and she reminds me of home.
Hi Julia. Who are you?
I’m a performance and video artist and part of an art collective called The Lipschtick Collective. I’m also a fat activist. I identify as fat, and I like de-stigmatizing that word and making the body really political in my art and in my day to day interactions with people.
How do you make the body political?
Being a fat person in the world, you realize that the world hates you because you’re fat. Sometimes I just like to say the word “fat” and it makes people uncomfortable. If I say, “I’m fat,” there’s this moment of “Oh, she said that word, that word was used.” It’s really important to me because it’s something that’s taken me my whole life to come to terms with.
Can you talk your most recent art projects?
My solo project right now is a female drag character named Jess Wilson, who is perpetually in the moments before she gets weight loss surgery.
How did you come up with the character of Jess?
I’m really interested in weight loss surgery, the medicalization of obesity, and even the term obesity as an illness. I’m specifically interested in lap band surgeries, because I was living in LA and they were being advertised on hundreds of billboards. A lot of people were dying from the surgeries, and still are. I want to be clear that it’s a really good thing for some people, but many people have horrible health complications and they die, or they lose their medical insurance. It’s a really complicated thing and it’s being peddled as this cure-all to end obesity and it’s not.
That’s a pretty intense character, those are really serious issues. Yet I feel like all of your performances are inherently playful or fun or funny.
I’m always interested in being funny, because I think that’s how you end up telling the truth. Oscar Wilde said, “If you tell the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” So I keep that in my head.
Woah, talk about pressure. I’m impressed that you love your body because I haven’t learned to love mine. Can you talk about the journey you took to learn to love your body?
Well it’s been really hard for me, finding a way to live in my body and love myself and be happy, while simultaneously trying to acknowledge I have a really complicated relationship with food. Not every fat person does, but I do. I’ve struggled with overeating disorders and binge eating disorders. So for me it’s about negotiating and trying to put it all in the same conversation. How do I address my relationship with food without shaming my body and without making it fatphobic? It’s really complicated. If anyone knows any great nutritionists who don’t fat shame, I’d love to speak to them.
What work do you do, or have you done, to love your body?
This sounds so corny, but I will stand naked in front of a mirror and do daily affirmations. In the beginning I took lots of naked pictures of myself, I filmed myself masturbating…these were things I was doing to assert that I would find myself attractive. I wanted to be able to watch myself, to sexualize myself and to be comfortable being sexual.
What’s hard is you can do all that work internally, but you are still going to be dealt a waterfall of bullshit from other people and all you can change is how you react to it. I’m still skeptical when people find me attractive or flirt with me. So I still work to assert myself. I ask people out and I work on doing things that at one time seemed literally impossible. Romance and sex and love…it wasn’t even like it was scary, it was like, “Those things are not available to people like you.”
Earlier you said it has taken your whole life to come to terms with being fat. Did you have an “aha!” moment?
I had this moment in college when I was 19. I read The Cult of Thinness and I was like, Oh my gosh, when the world makes me feel like I’m less than human, that’s not okay? You mean I don’t have to receive that? I had been living with the idea that if I wanted to, I could lose weight and become a thin person, so I thought that by staying fat and by not losing the weight, I was making a choice and it was my fault that I was treated a certain way.
Ugh, let us take a moment to acknowledge that the world sucks. But okay, so the “aha” moment came in college. You were also in college when you decided to do burlesque, right?
Well, I’ve been seeing burlesque since I was in high school. As soon as I turned 18 I went to go see The Sex Workers Art Show and I saw Dirty Martini, who’s a very famous burlesque performer and a big woman, and I remember thinking to myself, She’s allowed to do that? I hated my body and I hated myself and I’m sitting there in all these oversized clothes, hiding myself, and I’m like, “Holy shit, you’re allowed to do that!” And I remember thinking to myself, Julia, I hope you are eventually able to do that.
Wow, so burlesque was a big deal in your journey to self-acceptance from the very beginning?
Performance for me has always been my lifeline. It’s how I process. I kept seeing burlesque shows where there were all these different types of bodies, big bodies, and it felt like they were saying, “I’m sexual, look at me, you can’t not look at me, I’m naked, I’m stripping for you and this is hot,” and I was like, “Oh my god.”
How did you get from those moments of seeing burlesque shows and wanting to be a part of one to the place where you were physically on stage stripping?
It was when we were starting to form Lipschtick Collective. I went abroad and saw the International Burlesque Festival in Amsterdam and and it was like the most mind blowing experience, and I came back and said, we should do this thing. Becky, one of the members of the collective, is the most fearless person I’ve ever met, and she said, “Okay, we’re putting on a queer burlesque show. I don’t care if we don’t how to do it, we can do this!” We wanted to present something that was accessible to anyone. We wanted to create a different world where everyone is beautiful and everyone gets to choose how they want to be. It was about self-love and group-love.
Can you tell me about your act in that first burlesque you put on?
I decided I was gonna have to take my clothes off in front of a room full of people. My brother introduced me to “My Body Is A Cage” by Arcade Fire and oh, that song was everything. I came on stage in a black silk bathrobe and took it off and sang that song. That was it. It wasn’t about sex at all, it was just about me going to bed at night in my body thinking, I love myself and I’m okay. I think of my life as, before that moment, and after that moment.
What was that moment like?
It was the most affirming and the most terrifying moment of my life. From that moment on, something switched in me. That thing in my solar plexus that used to say, “You’re a repulsive awful human being because you’re fat,” went away. It was like, I’m okay.
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Photos must be high-quality vertical shots that are taken outdoors or in very amazing indoor lighting — low-light selfies, while sexy in their own right, will never ever ever be considered. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa works on responding to all of you.
I love this.
YAY JULIA! radical body self-acceptance on-stage –> off-stage FTW!
I love seeing the topic of fat acceptance on Autostraddle. I think it’s an issue a lot of queer women struggle with, but I rarely see it discussed in that specific mindset outside of niche Tumblrs. I wish more people were aware that binge eating/overeating disorders are a real problem and a legitimate form of eating disorder. I’ve been overweight my whole life and I didn’t figure out that it was a problem I could have until just recently. I got help and things have been better, but it’s something we should be shouting off rooftops: Sometimes being fat is a result of an eating disorder. This is a great interview, though, and Julia’s acceptance of herself is something I try to strive towards every day, even though I’ve found a lot of internalized fat hate within myself that’s hard to work through.
Julia: So cool that this is here, given that our class actually had a student thinking about Autostraddle last year. There’s a student this year working on Thinspiration Tumblrs, and Queer Body Acceptance Tumblrs, so I’ll pass this on for sure. So glad you’re continuing your work, and say hi to Jess for me!
Like Julia was saying, burlesque has a lot to offer for everyone (performers or not) for accepting, loving and celebrating their bodies of all shapes and sizes. Getting on stage and getting naked in front of a wildly cheering audience is beyond liberating. Or, sometimes, depending on what you are doing, you may have a silent audience, but that’s ok too, often when you are delving deep into body politics through display and ownership of your own body, it can be an intense experience for everyone. But still really good.
There’s a lot of really incredible fat positive (fat celebration!) burlesque performers, I’m really happy to see even more like Julia who are critically examining the body via burlesque using many different lenses and techniques and aren’t afraid to tell you that. By getting naked, of course.
And she does a mean booby spin. Can we get video of that?
“a mean booby spin”
i mean holy shit please point me to a video of that, obviously
if it exists we should all have it, i think
What a great interview. Thank you for sharing.
I’m just gonna say that the first two episodes of “Gluten Free Bitches” have left me sitting here giggling. More like sad giggles. I hope they delve into the “you accidentally ate something with gluten in it and now you are about to poop yourself” area.
Allergies are sad and yet still funny, and I get to share so many good stories about bizarre ailments.
For fat accepting nutritionist: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/ Also on Facebook under “The Fat Nutritionist” She has links to some good scientific articles too. Basically stating that diet does *not* work for most people and can actually cause weight gain in the long term. I like her website a lot.
Also – even using terms like “overweight” can be offensive (not used in the article, used by a commenter) because it implies there is a “correct weight.”
Glad there is a fat positive article on here – it seems like so many photos posted are of the same approximate weight/adiposity of women.
Sorry if you find “overweight” to be offensive. I never even thought about it and have never been called out on it, nor does it bother me, as a fat person, to use it. I think it sounds nicer than “fat,” maybe because it’s more scientific, because I’ve never had “overweight” spat at me by frat boys in bars, but I certainly have been called “fat” in a mean way, so it’s just personal preference. I mean, I totally get the reclamation thing re: “fat,” but it’s not my preferred term.
This is an article that’s given me a lot to think about.
I think we would do well to try to dissociate BMI and the associated terminology (underweight, normal range, overweight, obese) with attractiveness. It’s meant to be a measure of health, the easiest decent estimation of body fat. It’s unhealthy to be overweight, but there are so many beautiful girls that come under the overweight and obese categories.
I do think it’s ridiculous, how disproportionately people worry about anorectic eating disorders (which are obviously horrid), compared to overeating/bingeing/food addiction, which are also horrid, and, I would guess, a more widespread problem currently. I imagine a huge percentage of people have spent and wasted so much time in binge/addictive-type eating, have gotten no pleasure from it, that it has been a huge cause of distress, but we really really don’t talk about it.
Yes – I really agree with the idea of disassociating BMI and over/under weight terminology from beauty. I love curvy girls, and have a great appreciation for the sexiness of some girls who would be considered overweight or obese.
However I think there are some cold hard medical truths. There is a healthy weight range that is different from person to person, determined by a number of factors, and best determined for an individual with the help of a doctor. If you fall above this you are overweight. if you fall under it, you are underweight. It is not an opinion or a slur one can take offence to, its a fact.
Being above a medically healthy weight increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and a large variety of health problems… Its just as much as a health risk as smoking.
Hi, yeah, pretty much all of your second paragraph is wrong. The idea that a certain body type is “as much a health risk as smoking” is both factually wrong and offensive. Smoking is a behaviour. Fatness is existing in a fat body. It isn’t a behaviour, and it isn’t a cancer risk. So dial down the concern trolling.
Being at a higher weight is correlated with increased risk of some conditions. a) Correlation is NOT the same as causation — for example, being a higher weight does not cause diabetes, but is likely to be another symptom of the metabolic syndrome that can lead to type II diabetes and b) Many of these illnesses are also higher risk in people who have a history of extreme weight loss and life-long increased stress. Gee, that couldn’t possibly be true of fat people who are shamed their whole life by nonsense like yours, and encouraged to engage in unhealthy dieting behaviours in the name of ‘medically healthy weight’, could it?
While that is true, I question how useful it is to tell people that they are fat – I’m sure they’ve noticed, you know? I feel like it’s probably more useful to encourage people to be active and eat well outside of the question of how much one weighs – get your diet, exercise and sleep in a good place and any unhealthy weight is likely to go away, barring other medical conditions. And if it doesn’t, there are still benefits to good diet and regular exercise, including mood improvement and better metabolic health.
Then there’s the recent study around people who are metabolically healthy but clinically obese… I don’t know enough about the science to evaluate those claims, but I find it really interesting. For example: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1262363607701568
(I should note that my philosophy of separating weight from health has served my skinny ass well – it helps me remember that just because I couldn’t put on weight if I ate a pound of butter a day, I still need to exercise and eat well to make my body as healthy as it can be!)
Also, the idea that your doctor is best placed to determine what weight you ‘should’ be is not just wrong but actively dangerous. For many horrible stories about people who’ve come to harm because of it see First, Do No Harm: http://fathealth.wordpress.com/
So who should one go to for health advice?
Internet communities that tell you what you want to hear?
I read that blog, and yes, there are some really terrible stories of misdiagnosis that has come out of medical professionals with fat prejudice. But that is the exception rather than the rule. Generally, chatting to your doctor about your lifestyle and BMI can be really helpful in determining healthy habits and getting to a good place.
and I don’t support ‘unhealthy dieting behaviours’ – healthy weight is a long term lifestyle not a ‘diet’. Like Dina says, start with getting what you eat, your fitness and your sleep patterns in a good place long term, and if that doesn’t put your body in a medically healthy place, then you probably need to be tested for underlying conditions.
The problem is that society and the media etc has created a climate where its not possible to separate weight in the context of health and wellbeing, and weight in the context of beauty, female worth and sexual desirability.
Weight should not be a factor in determining beauty, worth or sexual desirability… I agree with challenging those ideas.
But western nations are in an obesity epidemic. We need to encourage people to think about their health..
Yes, definitely, we need to encourage people to be concerned about their health. And I’m sure you know this, but we need to keep in mind that people can appear to be a “healthy” weight and still be unhealthy – high cholesterol can happen in anyone, for example, as can heart disease and artery blockage and whatnot. According to the BMI index, I’m overweight, but I can exercise and keep up with the thinnest of my friends, I eat a fairly healthy diet (much better than a lot of my skinnier friends eat) and I’m very aware of how to eat a balanced diet. So it offends me that I get told I’m “unhealthy” all the time, whereas my skinny friends who eat pizza for every meal don’t ever get told that. It’s bullshit. I’ll stay concerned about my health. I just wish other people would back off and stop telling me they’re concerned about my health in a nasty way, and basically using that concern as a veil for their disgust with my appearance. I see through that shit.
i have a lot to say in response to this and i’ve been mulling over how to say it or if this is even the best place to say it, but one thing i’ve got to comment on is that i find it really troubling that anyone in the queer community would assume that a medical professional always knows what is best for us or even always has our best interests at heart.
the medical community has long had a very fractious and harmful relationship with queers, whether we’re talking complete refusal to acknowledge AIDS or making it incredibly difficult for trans* people to receive the care they need without jumping through inane hoops to shaming us at gyno appointments or calling homosexuality a mental illness etc etc etc…i personally am lucky to have had positive experiences with doctors, for the most part, but i think it’s really damaging to imply that a medical professional somehow knows what is best for all of us better than we do, especially when as a whole the medical community has proven time and time again to not really give a shit about what’s ACTUALLY best for us queers when it comes to our health & well-being, ya know?
the idea that a doctor should be automatically trusted by a queer person (or really any person, if you want to delve into questioning western modern medicine) just doesn’t seem sound to me.
I don’t live in America, I live in a country where most healthcare is free (or heavily subsidized) and while its not perfect, and not all doctors are super informed on all queer issues, there is not a reason to be inherently distrustful of the entire medical system for being queer. It is illegal for doctors to discriminate against someone for being gay or trans.
In my country if you’re not comfortable with one provider, you can get free healthcare at a womens health centre, or for gyno-related issues go to a free sexual health centre, and many of these places are queer friendly.
I think part of the disconnect in the value you and I place on advice from medical health care could be related to experiences of different countries health care systems?
I partially regretted my original comment, as perhaps this isn’t the right place for the direction of debate that my comment pointed things. Sorry for that.
I think curvy girls are awesome and sexy and deliciously fuckable. Larger women should be proud of themselves and be able to feel sexy and beautiful. Julia’s performance art sounds amazing and hot, and I didn’t mean for my comments to detract from that
I reacted not to the profile or Julia, but to some of the ideas in the comments that in my view swing the pendulum too far the other way from the media obsession with thin-ness. Putting words like ‘overweight’ out of bounds seems dangerous in western countries where obesity is such a genuine health threat to so many people.
I’m sure we can all agree that we want queers to live long healthy lives, and reach their maximum potential of awesomeness… I guess there are just some different ideas here of how that can or should be encouraged.
Just because I think my comments may have been a bit misconstrued – I don’t think a “medically healthy place” has to be determined by a number on a scale, calipers or a measuring tape. If you’re active, eat well, sleep enough etc. and feel shitty, that’s something that should be investigated by your doctor. If you’re active, eat well, sleep enough, feel fine and weigh more than you “should”, I’m not really convinced that’s a problem.
Just about to recommend the Fat Nutritionist. Her stuff is great.
We really need to separate the words “fat” and “health.” The Fat Nutritionist, as I mentioned earlier, links to articles that say dieting does not work. Period. Fullstop. It can get you to the lower end of your setpoint, but will not allow you to keep weight off for 5+ years unless you are an anomaly.
We need to encourage healthy *behavior* and keep weight out of the talk. Obesity is actually correlated with favorable health outcomes with respect to certain disorders (see TFN links). Encourage people to exercise – yes – encourage healthy foods – yes – encourage a certain weight – not helpful.
Also, stress is correlated with a lot of diseases and issues that obesity is correlated with. Coincidence? I doubt it.
would do a lot of things to see julia’s burlesque act
i like this a lot
i’m 99 percent sure julia owns my boots, i am so into that
what a cutie tbh
When I couldn’t find one online, I sort of made up a theatre program citation format so that I could cite the program from one of Julia’s burlesque shows in a paper I did my first semester at college. And yes, I cited her under her burlesque name of the moment. One of the college experiences I treasure the most.
Julia is great. I will talk about fat acceptance approximately forever given half a chance.
Start with Kate Harding’s “The Fantasy of Being Thin”: http://kateharding.net/2007/11/27/the-fantasy-of-being-thin/
Julia is so rad and how awesome to see a discussion about body positivism and fat acceptance!
This article made my day.
This is great – what an awesome interview, and Julia, you sound like a rad person!
It would be great to see more stuff about fat acceptance and body positivism on this site.
we are working on it! i for one would really love if more people submitted to this very column — i want to interview ALL THE QUEERS, which includes humans of all shapes and sizes and races and age groups etc etc etc — but in order for me to do that you all need to send in submissions! so please do that. seriously, specifically if you’d like to do an interview about body positivity, or any other subject you wish we’d cover, please submit to straddler on the street. you can do so by emailing me at vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com.
also i’m really glad you liked the interview. julia is, indeed, completely rad.
Really loved this article! As a woman who has struggled with weight and body image I can totally relate to that journey toward self acceptance and self love. It is inspiring to see and read stories like this that really speak to so many.
I would love to see your show Julia! Work it woman :)
WOW Julia new crush alert
This was a wonderful interview. Thank you for you!
Get it, Julia. You’re an inspiration, for real.
This is really really great. I can relate to so many things Julia says, while at the same time feel like she is so much further than I am. I LOVE making people feel uncomfortable when I say “Yeah I know I’m fat.” It’s basically my favourite thing about being fat. I’ve already taken the journey to where I am 99.99% comfortable with the way I look, but it’s so awesome that Julia actually gets up on a stage, takes of her clothes and basically says “Here I am, I am hot and you know it!” ‘Cause she is totally hot and beautiful and DAMN.
Very inspiring. I already found myself falling for every straddler on the street so far, but this interview is going to be one of my favourite autostraddle articles from now until forever.
I hope I don’t sound like a creeper but I wish there was video linkage or something for the “My Body is a Cage” burlesque performance. That sounds so poignant, and inventive, and ugh just kinda perfect.