21 December 2017

Marilyn Misandry On Dysphoria, Beauty, & Frightening Femininity

Marilyn Misandry is standing shirtless on the front lawn of a house that looks like it belongs more in the stuffiest sector of Newport Beach than industrial Northern England. It's the kind of house that inspires one to fast, lest anything be spilled on rugs that probably cost more than four years of university education.

Her blue eyeshadow, red lipstick, and pearls catch the sunlight as her entire presence captures the attention of wandering suburbanites. This is not a neighborhood that feels especially welcoming of drag queens or nonbinary, transfeminine individuals.

Even so, Misandry — a Manchester drag queen and high femme — doesn't miss a beat. The moment the camera appears, she is ready to perform. She poses dramatically, vogueing, contorting, and smizing for every frame. The lady of the house and a friend sip Prosecco from a room inside, their eyebrows raising through the window when they don't seem to think anyone is looking.

Gently faded stretch marks adorning Misandry's belly add a certain something to the scene. They rest on a tummy that takes up space — on a queen who seems to own the space she consumes with both grace and a sense of righteous confrontation. Yet they also lie on Misandry's core: The area of her body that has been cause for the most discomfort and gender dysphoria for the 24-year-old. 
"I always think the things that identify me as being masculine — that make people go, 'That’s a man, Maury!' — are a big, protruding beer belly without the hips to match," she tells me later. "That’s what I call my dysphoria — 'That’s a man, Maury!' — because if I can fit in a really obscure pop culture reference into it, it makes me feel slightly better about the fact that there are parts of my body that make me slightly nauseous and angry."

"In terms of my chest, it’s never kind of filled out the way that I would like it to," she adds. "It's typically moobish, to be essentialist about it. Like you wouldn’t look at my chest and think like, 'Oh, she’s got nice, real tits.'”

Misandry would describe her present figure as a "Coke can" rather than an arguably curvier "Coke bottle." If she had to pick an "ideal" body type, she'd love to have a voluptuous, traditionally bombshell-esque figure, like that of the late Anna Nicole Smith.
While she may have dreams of an "ideal" body type, however, Misandry is still happy to challenge what it means to be femme, or to have a feminine body. "Part of my relationship with my body — and part of the reason I did this shoot — was because I’m quite a big believer in the idea that a lot of what we construct as dysphoria is very political and very socially motivated," she says. "I really like how in all of my outfits, and all of my looks — which are completely tied to performance for me, because everything I do is very performative — I’m very much into this idea that I’m going to call myself very feminine, and you’re going to accept that I’m very feminine, despite what I show you."

"A lot of the stuff I was doing [when I started drag], like corsetting or wearing stuff that was cinching me in, I kind of started to feel like, oh actually it’s fine to be a femme in a large body with mannish tits."
Looking back on her earliest memories of body image, Misandry confesses, "My relationship to my body has always been very linked to what other people have said about it."

"When I was a lot younger, I was quite carefree about my body image," she adds. "I didn’t give that much of a shit about my body until people started telling me to. It was in secondary school where it kind of went from 'you’re fine' to 'hey you’re fat.' And then it was like, 'Shit, I’m fat.'"

Being plus size was but one way in which her body didn't seem to fit into other people's ideas of acceptability. Dyspraxia — a condition Misandry describes as "a hand-eye coordination thing where I basically have no hand-eye coordination" — also made her feel like an "awkward fat-bodied person."

Later, around 15 or 16, came the dysphoria. "When I first started wanting to be desirable, that’s when I first started to become dysphoric," she adds. "Because it was about finding ways that I could be desirable in a context that I enjoyed within this body I had. When that kind of started, it felt a bit like, 'Oh actually, there are things about my body that are making me uncomfortable. There are things I don’t like. There are things that make me feel undesirable.'"
As an adult, Misandry notes that "drag and then being really, really femme" were the two greatest outlets she found for combatting dysphoria and feeling more at home in her body. "Especially with drag, it was that feeling of like, it doesn’t matter if you still look really weird and grotesque because that’s kind of the point. I think that was around the same time that I started identifying with high femme and presenting as high femme. And that was the first time I found a properly concrete gender identity that genuinely worked for me."

These days, Misandry feels one can be a nonbinary transfeminine person, a drag queen, a high femme, or a trans woman without meeting a predisposed standard for body types. What she does need in order to feel comfortable, however, is a hyper-feminine presentation. "I just prefer the way I look when I’m hyper-feminine," she says. "I like piling on the stuff. I like looking tacky. I like bright pink lipstick, blue eyeshadow, and wearing too much highlighter. I like how it makes me look and I like how it makes me feel."

"But I also don’t really see it as an achievement to not need it, if that makes sense," she adds. "I think often — especially with trans bodies, femininity, and transfemininity — we can talk about this idea that it’s somehow a success to not feel the need to present in a way that makes you feel completely comfortable. And I always think that’s something worth challenging. For me, it’s almost saying that the ways we present to make us feel comfortable are a coping mechanism. Whereas for me, it’s kind of the end result of understanding myself and understanding my body."
Understanding her body after 24 years of varying internal conflicts is quite a source of comfort, in and of itself. Even though her aesthetic — one inspired by Pee-wee Herman, Peg Bundy from Married With Children, Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, Divine, and Liberace — and her overall identity are still cause for daily heckling and harassment, Misandry has largely learned to tune it out.

"I would love there to be a world where cis people don’t act like fucking assholes," she says. "But I think when it happens to me, if I’m harassed on public transport for example, I have a lot of ways of dealing with it. If I’m not with people, I’ll always have music on. And I have like massive 'fuck off' headphones. They’re almost part of my aesthetic now."

She feels there’s also a sense of pleasure to be gained from scaring people. "Because I do present in such a strong way, I think a lot of the time, I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but I think I scare people," she laughs. "Which I like. A lot of the femmes who have inspired me scared people, too [...] anyway, I’m just kind of used to bullshit. Unless someone comes at me swinging, I’m not really fussed."
For now, though, it's Misandry who'll be doing the swinging. Her dream goal, at present, is "to become the first fat, trans social media influencer," and she's definitely ready. Misandry is beautifully, boldly, shaking up the shit — one drag show, one photoshoot, one pristinely-mowed, suburban neighborhood, at a time.

Photos by Paddy McClave. 

Styling, hair, and makeup by Marilyn herself.

Special thanks to Amanda Richards and Kara McGrath.

And most of all, to Marilyn for being not only an inspiration — an icon — but one of the most patient and understanding human beings I've ever encountered.

25 May 2017

How I Got My Incredible Post Baby Body

Almost six months ago, I had a baby. A little girl called Luna. Her embryonic existence went undetected throughout the first five months of pregnancy, largely because I'd been hearing all about my sterility for over a decade beforehand. My Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome was deemed so severe (in terms of the amount of cysts) from the age of 14 and onwards that no medical professional believed I'd ever have a kid. I'm also fat — something I was told wasn't especially conducive to getting knocked up.

More than the supposed fertility issues, I just didn't have any signs or symptoms of pregnancy throughout those 20 weeks. Not getting a period is my baseline of normality. I didn't experience morning sickness or unparalleled exhaustion, and I wasn't having any bizarre culinary cravings. As for my body, it just didn't change much: No weight gain, no new stretch marks, no extra plump bosom. 

The latter four months of pregnancy were an entirely different story, though. It's almost like my body was holding off on exhibiting outward changes until my mind caught up to everything going on inside it. Shortly after finding out, the weight started accumulating quickly. And with it, dozens of new stretch marks decorating my stomach, sides, thighs, arms, and breasts. More cellulite appeared on my backside and even the infamous linea negra popped up, too.
By the time my daughter was born, I'd gained at least 50 pounds. My tummy has since softened and is jigglier than ever before, while simultaneously appearing more rounded — not entirely unlike my father's beer belly. My love handles protrude further out than they once did — and five months into new motherhood, my stretch marks remain bright red and fresh. My ass is wider, and my spacial awareness hasn't quite caught up to its breadth. My belly button is deep; expanded. My thighs are like heaps of mini marshmallows squashed together.  

I've often looked at my body these last 24 weeks or so in utmost awareness of how much I'm supposed to hate it. And I won't lie... sometimes I've struggled to access self-love as profoundly as I did before having a kid but after finding the magical universe of fat liberationists and their work. I've wondered if I'd be happier in a body less marked in tiger stripes. I've ever-so-briefly questioned whether I should brainstorm some kind of fitness goals centered around "toning." That's what I'm supposed to do, right?
Despite what some folks may believe, I don't buy the idea that the alleged "body positivity revolution" has been fully realized yet. There are plenty of bodies still made to feel invisible or worthless in all manner of harmful ways (from the lack of inclusivity in magazines to the denial of healthcare based on BMI alone). Among the bodies we don't see represented often are post-baby bodies: Relatable ones that haven't "miraculously" shed all the weight, or zapped away their stretchies, or gotten boob lifts, or walked out of the hospital after days of labor looking exactly as they did months before they were even pregnant.

Unsurprisingly, it's even more rare to see relatable post-baby bodies that are also fat in the mainstream. 

So for these reasons and more, I've asked myself whether the incredible post-baby body I should be seeking is the pre-pregnancy body. A body entirely unmarked by the immense changes it's gone through — a body that would never imply one has grown a whole other human being inside it.

These moments never last long, though. It only takes looking at my daughter — a pretty worthwhile reason for accumulating some stretch marks and heightened wobbliness — to remember that I already have an incredible post-baby body. This body is incredible because it grew a human who is now my best friend inside it — despite the fatphobic misdiagnoses assigned to it. It endured over 50 hours of labor and the kind of agony you don't want to be totally honest about for fear that no one else will ever have children again. This body is incredible because it's mine. It allows me to live and try endlessly at finding some kind of balance between "mom" and "person" and "woman" and "26-year-old." There is no fat post-baby body that is not brilliant, worthy, powerful, or incredible, because there is no body (period) that is not brilliant, worthy, powerful, or incredible.
My body changed, just like it was always supposed to. You can't carry a tiny creature inside yourself for that long without expecting change. You can't get said creature out of your bod without expecting even more change. Any shaming surrounding the physical shifts that occur when one goes through labor and pregnancy is no different to any other breed of body shaming. It's rooted in arbitrary standards of beauty. It's subsequently rooted in nothing.

So here you see me. The new me. The just-as-fire-me. I'm wearing a lingerie set that I designed on Impish Lee, a brand specializing in customizable intimates. Kali — who founded the company with her sister — reached out to me many, many months ago to see if I wanted to try my hand at the process and I was all for it. But it's taken me a little time to take and post photos — because it's taken me a little time to feel as solid in myself as I used to.

I chose to design pieces featuring blue velvet to feel luxurious, gold spandex to feel like an unapologetic queen, and floral mesh to channel my love of vintage aesthetics. An unwired bralette was my top of choice because comfort is of utmost priority to me these days. In addition, there's no truth to any BS "rules" that suggest you cannot wear bralettes if you're also big-boobed. You can wear what makes you happy (end of sentence). I also opted for lower-waist briefs in hopes of spending more time getting to know my new stomach. 

In the aid of full disclosure, Kali & Impish Lee were kind enough to gift me this set. The company's current range goes up to a U.S. 24 in bottoms and a 40J in cup size. I normally wear a 44 or 46 cup so the bralette was definitely a squeeze, but still comfy due to stretch. The undies were a size 24, and fit my 55-inch hips very well. I hope to see the size range expand in the future for accessibility to all plus size bodies. The design process was definitely cathartic in a time when I needed that. 

Again, I'd be fibbing if I said that posing in intimates wasn't challenging at first. Not because I'm any more exposed than I have been in the past via swimsuits or knicker/bra sets, but because there is simply more of me. There is more of me that is supposedly "imperfect." More of me that's been touched by growth, change, and tiredness. Things far too often connoted with negativity when, really, they're just part of living.
But then I thought that maybe that's why sharing them felt like something I should do. As so many of us know, there isn't nearly enough representation of visibly fat post-baby bodies out there. As with any marginalized, neglected group, however, this says nothing about the bodies themselves and everything about the toxic cultures we live in. Sometimes those things can get muddled up in our brains, though. We blame ourselves for the problems that culture and media and faulty education create. 

The simple truth is that your fat post-baby body is a goddamn treasure. All the stretch marks — whether bright red or faded or somewhere in between — all the flabby skin, or the skin tags, or the drier hair texture, or the immense love handles, are goddamn treasures. Try to treat them as such.

08 September 2016

Ready To Stare x Migg Mag: The Importance Of Fat Friendship

My first best friend was fat. We met in the fourth grade, and I still wonder whether we would've clicked as much had our body types not given us something to relate to one another with straight off the bat.

Two young women who'd later become some of my closest friends, and whom I met the year after, were living in similar, round-bellied bodies. In our small, conservative town — where "ideal beauty" was akin to the standard thinness and whiteness typical of Western dogma at large, but with the addition of fake tans and surfer brands — we all stood out. But none of us felt particularly good about that fact. So if we couldn't physically shrink, we could do our best to do so in speech, in personality, in voice, in presence.
These women were all incredible people: They remain some of the kindest, strongest, most brilliant individuals one can hope to meet. But I often wonder how our formative years would've played out if we'd come across some confident, like-bodied women a lot sooner: Fat women who didn't believe that it was inherently wrong to be fat; fat women who wore the clothes they wanted to wear; who knew that they were no less desirable because of their VBOs; who realized that the problem lies not with fat people themselves, simply for existing, but with the folks and institutions that insist on shaming them, simply for existing.
These days, much of my time is spent online: Soaking up imagery of fat, empowered humans who wear the bright colors, who laugh and live loudly, who take up space with no apology, who fight sizeism in both their day-to-day lives and in grander politics. Alysse Dalessandro of Ready To Stare is one of the fat women whose online presence has deeply touched my life.
We first came into contact with each other through Bustle, after she joined my team and produced some of the most fearless, thought-provoking stories I had the pleasure of editing. Although our relationship began under the umbrella of professionalism, I had the utmost pleasure of meeting her IRL earlier this summer when she visited New York for The Curvy Con. Her work had long inspired me — her writing and her designs alike — and we literally ran into each other's arms at first glance.

That afternoon was spent taking photos with my partner, Patrick, walking through Midtown, and eating some pretty scrumptious tater-tots. But most importantly, it was spent talking. The online fat acceptance community is immeasurably important. But having encounters with fat positive people, in the flesh, is of utmost value as well: To spend time with someone in a body similar to your own, who realizes so acutely that fat bodies are subject to deeply ingrained intolerance, and who makes a conscious decision each day to fight that intolerance, is beyond empowering.

When you spend so much of your life being told that living in your body type makes you inferior, meeting someone who so boldly reminds you that nothing could be further from the truth is motivation to keep striving for better. Not just for yourself, but for all those people who still haven't realized that they've been lied to.
Being fat still comes with its fair share of socially-constructed issues. We are frequently denied health care based on BMI alone. We remain the punchline of many a film or TV show. We are told that love does not exist at our size: That sex is not for us. That clothes are not for us. That we cannot start living until ~the thin person within~ is revealed after rigorous, even life-threatening lifestyle changes.

As we await, and fight, for this social narrative to change, re-framing our own narratives through fat positive friendships — both in person and on the Web — can do wonders. Taking pictures that show off your double chin, with someone who has one, too, can do wonders. Eating unapologetically with someone who knows that your meal plan does not equate to your moral compass or "goodness" versus "badness" can do much the same. And putting on those clothes — those bright, flowery, tight, or quirky clothes — can help, too.

And when much of the world insists on proclaiming otherwise, your fat positive friends can hopefully put things back into perspective.
What We're Wearing
Alysse: Plus Size Tropical Floral Plunge Dress, Deb Shops
Marie: Denim Overalls, ELOQUII

For more fat pos friendship, you can read Alysse's post here <3
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