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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Fat Bottomed Girls – Ignite Chicago

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1. I’m Leah Jones. I’m the director of customer experience at SpotOn – a start-up that you haven’t heard much about yet. When I joined in July, my boss said that I had to keep quiet about it until April or May. I said, “what am I going to talk about if I can’t talk about work?”

2. So I started riding my bike to work and telling people that they could talk to me about riding my bike. People love to talk about riding bikes, so that was cool. I also started diving into the world of fat acceptance. People love to talk about food and dieting, but people don’t love to talk about being okay with your weight or body size.

3. To answer a few of your questions. My bike was a 1967 Schwinn Varsity. My commute was 9 miles that was part on the bike path and part on city streets. I posted this to my blog about 6 weeks into my bike commuting experiment.

4. I rewrote this speech 5 times… do I really want to get onstage and call myself fat if it isn’t a punchline? Yes. Yes, I do. Not because I want you to tell me I’m not really fat, but because I want you to start to change how you think about bodies.

5. We all start getting messages about our bodies when we’re kids. We get messages about everything. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue, drugs are bad, college is good. As I wrote this, I started to dig deep into where my feelings about my body come from and I opened up a scrapbook from my mom.

6. My twin sister and I getting our first bikes when we turned 10. Growing up in a poor family, a bike was a huge surprise. It meant freedom and a step towards being a teenager. Look at the joy on our faces. This is why I ride a bike

7. I also found this. The first time a girl in school looked at a photograph of me and pointed out my flaws was the professional photo from swim team my freshman year. This is me that year, but not the photo in question. A girl looked at the photo and told me I needed to lose weight. Seriously. We’re mean to each other.

8. We don’t just come up with this sort of mean treatment, this shaming, on our own and it doesn’t end with high school graduation. We live in a world surrounded 24/7 by media. Magazines, television shows, movies, music that tell us that our bodies aren’t good enough.

9. Hell, last week, Marie Claire – the “good” women’s magazine published this on their site. A brutal post from a recovering anorexic about fat actors having leading roles on TV. As someone who has shopped exlusively in the plus size section since 1997, this sort of thing is killer.

10. It isn’t limited to traditional media. I’ve also found that I don’t match the body type celebrated in the world of cycling. So it’s been hard to embrace cycling and fat acceptance at the same time. I don’t cycle to lose weight, I repeat. I don’t cycle to lose weight.

11. Question. Would you ever expect a pug to exercise and become an Italian greyhound? This idea comes from Kate Harding of Shapely Prose – the idea that maybe we actually have different body types and maybe we should do what is best for the body we have.

12. I ride a bike, because a bike is fun. Remember how I looked getting my first bike? Pure joy. That is why I ride. When I ride, I feel like this woman. Confident. Joyful. And having the time of my life. This photo is why I wanted to do this talk.

13. And then…. CRASH! Everyone’s worries and fear came true. At Chicago and Halsted, I had my first crash as a bike commuter. The EMT told the ER nurse “we’ve got a cyclist vs vehicle.” Totaled bike, broken ankle, trashed helmet.

14. I’ve barely ridden since I got medical clearance to ride again. New bike, new helmet and a newfound sense of fear. Every day I wake up wanting to ride and every day I take a cab or the train, because I’m scared. I’ve got some training rides coming up, to relearn how to ride with cars… but man do I miss my bike.

15. I’m supposed to share a couple ideas with you today. On the side of riding bikes, I hope you’ll consider wearing a helmet when you ride. How many of you don’t own cars? Did you know that there’s a type of insurance that would protect you in this sort of situation? Get it.

16. On the side of fat acceptance, size acceptance, body acceptance…. People should not be shamed for the bodies they live in. Not if the body is bigger or smaller or differently colored or differently abled or differently gendered than yours. Please don’t tell your friend she needs to lose weight to be loved or employed.

17. In addition to a helmet and lights, I want you to read these books. The Art of Urban Cycling will help you mentally prepare for cycling in Chicago and Health at Every Size will help you mentally prepare to accept your body and the bodies of others.

18. I also wanted to tell you about a great resource from the Active Transportation Alliance – the Crash Hotline is for cyclists and pedestrians who have had a crash. It isn’t on scene help – make sure you call 911 first. But give this number out to your friends who ride. Eventually we all need some crash advice.

19. Back in my world of cycling – this is my new bike on the day I brought her home. I do have a helmet, it just isn’t in the photo. I’m trying to find the joy and confidence that I found riding this summer. Trying to replace the fear with a sense of adventure and continuing to grow my urban cycling skills.

20. I’m also looking for this joy. I want to get that part of me back who had never been told she was too fat. Not as a 14 year old swimming and not as a 33 year old single woman. Sounds cheesy, but can we try practicing a bit of radical kindness.

Or can we go ride bikes?

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