Jill Andrew: Body Image Activist

 

It feels good when I am able to recognize the remarkable things that people do, but it’s even more gratifying for me when I‘m able to recognize friends who are doing remarkable things.  One of my friends doing amazing things is Jill Andrew.

 

Jill and I met way back in 2005 when she interviewed my best friend and I for her column in the Metro newspaper.  She wanted to share with her readers, how we – two girls driven with a passion to write, started our very own (now defunct) general interest e-zine. We leapt at the chance to be interviewed by well-known columnist Jill Andrew, and to be featured in a real news magazine. 

 

So grateful that we agreed to be interviewed as I was lucky enough to forge a friendship with Jill.  To be fair, we didn’t exactly talk all the time or send emails on the regular; but we made a point to check up on one another from time to time.

 

Nearly a decade had passed since I last saw Jill.  After interviewing her partner Aisha Fairclough for their blog Fat in the City (a “fatshion” plus-size fashion blog), I was invited to A Toast To Curves – an  event they hosted celebrating size in film, fashion and television. The inaugural Body Confidence Canada Awards were given out that night as well. As soon as I walked in to the venue and made eye contact with Jill, she waltzed over and gave me the warmest hug ever! After giggling and reminiscing about the first time we met, Jill quickly got me up to speed on all the work she is involved in.

 

Seriously, there is a loooong list of organizations and causes she’s a part of.  She is the founder/director of BITE ME! Toronto International Body Image Film & Arts Festival (on hiatus), Curvy Catwalk Fashion Fundraiser, and she is presently gearing up for the second annual Body Confidence Canada Awards which will take place on September 9, 2014.  

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And to top it all off, she is a currently pursuing her PhD; a decision she made after completing her Masters in Women and Gender studies at the University of Toronto. I seriously have no idea where she gets the time and energy!

 

It may have taken a few months to connect, but it was well worth the wait.  Talking about body image is something that hits pretty close to home. Being a vulnerable, overweight kid, contributed to several years of insecurity for me.  It took many, many, many years for me to gain self-confidence and embrace my curvaceous bod.

 

Chatting with Jill and watching her TedxTalk on fat shaming gave me some insight on how much work needs to be done to change how people perceive “bigger bodies.” 

 

Here’s a snippet of our chat.

 

Hometown: Scarborough, Ontario

Astrological Sign: Taurus

Fun Fact: Jill was Dove’s Woman of the month in April 2014

 

I loved your column in the Metro.  Why did you leave the paper?

Well first off, I didn’t leave Metro. I was canned! [laughs] We received an email saying thanks for our services. When these things happen I’ve learned that you cannot take them all together too personally. In any media outlet today you can be thriving in one moment, winning national awards as I had, and unemployed tomorrow.

 

My mother has always reminded me of this little fact: “If I do not downright OWN something…If I’m not the publisher, director, the CEO, or the executive producer, stability is never guaranteed.”

 

What sparked your interest in female body image issues?

My complicated relationship with my own body.  Having survived child sexual abuse, being bullied at school – I was either seen as too fat (which looking back I was probably ½ of what I am now), too dark skinned or my hair wasn’t flowing in the wind (aka- ‘snow and blow!’).

 

And growing up in a family where I was told by some members “Don’t eat that extra piece of chicken, don’t eat that extra piece of cake.”  Being laughed at for having the extra piece of cake and having some relatives buy me clothing that was three times my size. It wasn’t on purpose….it’s how they saw me.

 

How did you develop your self-confidence?

Reading bell hooks’ work- Ain’t I A Woman, Race and Representation and Black Looks. I cried because suddenly I was no longer bamboozled. hooks woke me up! Introduced to those works in my undergrad in Sociology at York University in the late 90s and I never looked back again! And if I reflect back even further…I met some really amazing folks at Humber College (1995-1998) when I did Child & Youth Work. Those years changed my life and opened me up to trusting that fellow students could be ‘kind’ and that relational violence wasn’t just a “part of life.”

 

I enjoyed your Tedx Talk on fat shaming. How damaging is fat shaming?

Fat shaming provides yet another vehicle for us to police and second-guess our bodies. We cannot ignore the power of words.  We can’t ignore the meanings we’ve attached to words.  Words like “fat” need to be rescued from the tyranny of hate.

 

What was the response after the talk?

Due to the way society tends to view “fat” in general, I received many race-based and size-based “hate” comments via YouTube.  I also received some great comments of support too. The good thing about this is that the comments – especially the negative ones – have provided great material for so many speaking gigs I’ve had since then! It really is quite fascinating to see just how angry, disgusted, and uncomfortable someone else’s weight and their choice to feel proud of their aesthetic can make people feel.

 

Love the message of your blog Fat in the City Blog.  What is your goal for the blog?

Fat In The City is a reminder that good things also come in different perfect packages all of our own.

 

What is next for you?

Co-produce Body Confidence Canada Awards this year. Get hitched and raise kids with my partner Finish a book project I’m finally getting a third chance to complete with a new publisher and an amazing co-editor! Continue to build on my financial investments, speaking gigs, travel etc.  Continued activism programming, philanthropy and volunteering for and with girls and women. My interests will likely always revolve around fat activism, race and representation, politics of clothing, symbolic interactionism, critical feminisms, oh and yes CATS my all-time biggest obsession!

 

Wow!  This is why I felt compelled to interview Ms. Andrew. I admire that she’s making it her life’s work to help change the way people view “fat” people and otherwise so-called “different” bodies.  

 

To find out more about Jill, you can reach her:

 

Twitter: @Jillslastword and @BCCAwards

Blog: www.fatinthecity.com

Jill’s TedxTalk: click here

 

 

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