What’s the big fat deal?

We’ve all been there. You and your girlfriends are out together and the self deprecation Olympics commence.

“Oh my god, I hate my thighs!”

“Your thighs? Oh my god, you don’t even know! I hate my, arms.”

When a friend of yours expresses insecurity, you want to reassure them they are not alone. And in the words of the great Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.” The out self-loathing each other becomes a form of female bonding.

Do you ever stop to think that maybe that is not the right conversation to be having? Sure you do. But do you ever seek a way out? And if you do, do you turn to a been-there, done-that body image blogger revered the web over named Mo Pie?

Monique “Mo Pie” van den Berg founded one of the first size acceptance blogs, Big Fat Deal, and has become an internet celebrity and spokeswoman for the health-not-size movement. But back in 2002 when she started BFD, she never saw it coming.

“I’ve met and spoken with people from all over the world who read my various online projects,” she said. “I guess I was used to the idea that if I wrote something, people might be interested in reading it—sort of ‘if you blog it, they will come.’ I naively didn’t think my message was all that controversial or arguable. But of course, it turns out, it is—which makes it all the more important.”

Mo Pie has been shifting women’s thoughts of “There’s something wrong with me” to “There’s something wrong with me feeling that way” by sharing her own experiences with body image.

“I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘today I’ll go to the gym, go out shopping, have dinner with friends, reclaim the word fat, and then take a bubble bath,’” Monique said. “I used to be hurt by the word fat—it could make me cry, and did, on multiple occasions—but somehow, over time, it became much less painful and much more of a direct descriptor, even a friendly word. A friend and I started referring to ourselves and each other as ‘fat chicks,’ and it felt empowering and defiant. Then I started seeing it online more and more and thinking—well, I am fat, inasmuch as I’m not thin. And if I keep using this word and diffusing its power to wound me, maybe I’ll never have to cry about it again. And I never have.”

Setting out to reclaim toxic words and daring the public to reevaluate its current value system is a risky and courageous move—especially when you live in a culture replete and overwrought with prejudice against the very thing you are fighting for.

Monique’s willingness to channel her 14-year-old self and publicly embrace it has inspired others to reach out and do the same. One of the most talked about topics on BFD came after she received an email from a teenage girl who was asking for advice on how she could stop hating herself.

“The fact that she was even self-aware enough to write the email and find the blog is awesome and pretty inspiring,” Monique said. “Then people just came out of the woodwork with letters to this 14-year-old girl and what they wished they would have known when they were 14. It was amazing, and it made me think it was worth it to have kept the blog all of these years, just for that one 14 year old girl. To come and to have people tell her that she was beautiful and that she didn’t need to look at herself that way and give her great advice… hopefully just the fact that she is self aware enough to come and ask the question in the first place means good things for her.”

That self-loathing starts at such a young age is something we as adult women need to evaluate – both for our 14-year-old selves and for the girls in our lives. Who is benefiting from this vicious circle of self-criticism and self-doubt? And who or what is perpetuating it? And why?

“The more each of us can break free from the spiral of self-doubt, the more powerful we, as women, become,” Monique said.

Since it’s easier said than done, Monique has some tips for building self esteem in women, those just being introduced to self doubt and those who’ve lived with it for way too long.

1. Don’t tie your ideas of self worth to your body size.

2. Understand that you are not the only person who is insecure. Everybody’s insecure.

3. Learn to think critically about the messages that you’re getting from the society around you.

4. Go out, use your body, and make it a friend. You can do anything no matter what your size is.

5. Don’t let yourself be self conscious to the point that it stops you from being brave and having fun.

“People always want to be the best at something and feel like, ‘oh I’m fat’ or ‘I’m too slow’ or ‘I can’t run around the bases as fast as everyone else,’” Monique said. “So what if you’re the slowest person on your lacrosse team? Go, have fun, play lacrosse!”

Monique’s blog Big Fat Deal has been featured on The Mike and Juliet Show and CBS News Healthwatch, as well as in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, ABC.com, BUST Magazine, Women’s Health magazine, and Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The blog was also an editor’s pick on BUST’s “Girl Wide Web” and listed as one of Oxygen Network’s “Sites We Love.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS


How do I love myself?

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The F Word
An eating disorders awareness and education site that also discusses related issues of weight-based discrimination and body size acceptance.

Dearest Mabel
A very inspiring and witty group of lady bloggers (one of which is Monique).

Becoming friends with my mother

Roberta is the first to admit that she wasn’t the easiest kid to raise. She and her parents butt heads practically daily, but even through the friction, Roberta said they still managed to get their message across.

“The best advice they gave me growing up was never be a liar, a cheat, or a thief, because then you have nothing to fall back on,” she said. “I try to live my life according to that. I try to be as honest as possible, I try not to cheat people, and I’ve never stolen anything – except once.”

To this day, Roberta remembers the scenario surrounding her petty crime. After a birthday party, she went into Ferrell’s ice cream shop with a friend’s mom and stole some chewing gum. In all her 4-year-old wisdom, she pulled it out as soon as she got in the car and was caught red-handed.

“I still remember that feeling of, I just got caught, and I haven’t stolen anything since,” she said. “Being horribly embarrassed in front of my friend at the age of four or five made me realize that stealing wasn’t the way to go.”

The adult perspective that makes her hold tight to that life lesson also revolutionized the relationship she has with her mom. Throughout her teens, she really put her mom through the parenting trap. Her mom stayed at home to take care of the kids, and while Roberta resented it while she lived there, now she says, “I didn’t appreciate it nearly enough at the time, but now it is an inspiration to me. I hope one day that I can be at home with my kids.”

Roberta said she realized that her mom had been right all along the day she moved out.

“Our relationship turned completely around,” she said. “I realized my mom is cool. I am glad that I am not 14 anymore because I did not like her then, but now she is one of my best friends. She did a good job raising me, and I love her very much.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS


The Power of Female Bonds

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It’s All Relative
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Know Thyself
Need an explanation for why you are turning into your mother or why you just can’t understand why your son won’t change the toilet paper roll? Explore The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine for answers hidden in your cells.

Escape to the Blogosphere
Canadian mom Michelle escapes from her life full of teenagers in this online journal.

Changing the world, one girl at a time

As much as we’d like to believe that we are given what we have earned, the truth is that we don’t live in a meritocracy. And we certainly don’t live in a world where everyone is given equal chances in the educational system. There are jaw-dropping, stomach turning differences between which schools get certain programs, funding, and teachers. Some of this has to do with money, some with location, but some of it can be attributed to good old fashion social roles and stereotypes.

Recalling the tree houses of childhood, the grown-up exclusive clubs are ever as menacing, but much more subtle. Take the world of math and science, for instance, written in the eyes of professors, teachers, and fellow students is that familiar knell, “No Girls Allowed.”

“When I was growing up, I got the message that girls were bad at math.” Dreaming of becoming a veterinarian was nice and cute when Rachel was a child. But as she came of age it was time face the facts: without the right math or the science classes, she couldn’t become a doctor. So that was that, Rachel moved on.

It was not until she graduated college and started volunteering with middle school girls that the problem became apparent for Rachel, 10 years later nothing had changed. Something had to be done. So Rachel founded a non-profit organization for elementary and middle school-aged girls called GirlStart to empower girls in math, science and technology.

“We take the trends that appeal to girls, and we show them the math and science and technology behind those trends,” says Rachel. GirlStart shows girls how to do everything from taking apart a computer, building a website, making music videos, to ooey-gooey sticky science.

That’s right, Rachel started her own company without a trust fund, a master’s degree, or an engineering degree! No one her family had started a company, it was created “on a shoes string” of passion, $500 in the bank, and a credit card.

And so, GirlStart began in the living room of Rachel’s apartment. She had spent almost a whole year living on rice and beans, struggling to make ends meet when she finally got the grant. The day had come, “I went to the post office. I opened my box, and I couldn’t believe it. I hopped in my car and turned on ABBA really loud. It felt like the biggest euphoric rush I had ever experienced.”

But the truth is, part of being an entrepreneur are these dark days just like those years Rachel was scraping by, and trying to find strength to sell her idea. “There are bombs and ups-and-downs along the way,” Rachel says, “but the payoff is so worth the challenges. The opportunity to see these girls and the difference this program is making in their lives is worth every hardship. And even the hardships are really opportunities in disguise. When you really, truly believe that you will be successful, you will be able to handle all the bumps in your path.”

As long as there are little girls in the world who are afraid of math class and who think that technology is for boys, there’s always a reason for GirlStart.

Turns out girls aren’t so bad at math, “We have girls who walk into GirlStart and do not know the difference between a computer chip and a potato chip. But they come into GirlStart, and they get into it. We have girls that have gone on to start their own companies. We have one girl who was only in eighth grade and she has her own Web design firm. We have girls who did not have a relationship with their dad because their dad’s a techie. Then they went to GirlStart and learned how to build a Web page. Now they can talk to their dad. We have girls who came to GirlStart and did not speak a word of English. And they learn how to speak English through GirlStart, because math is the universal language. We have girls who have gone on to be engineering majors and came back to mentor other girls.”

Even though girls live in a stressful bubble inundated with advertisements practically commanding them to be self conscious and isolated because that’s “just what it’s like to be a teenager,” there are places like GirlStart where they’re being themselves. They’re taking risks. They’re doing things they’ve never done before—just like Rachel.

If Rachel could tell you just one thing it would be:

  • Think about who you really want to be

and

  • Start working toward that goal today

That is all it takes. After all, starting small is starting somewhere; if you take one step a day you are still moving forward.

“We throw out so many obstacles for ourselves, but they’re really only perceived limitations. I see it with the girls that we serve at GirlStart every day, and there’s nothing that women can’t do. We need more women out there doing great things.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

GirlStart
Now that you’ve heard all about GirlStart, go check it out!

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Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls
A non-profit, builds girls self-esteem through music creation and performance. Providing workshops and technical training, we create leadership opportunities, cultivate a supportive community of peers and mentors, and encourage social change and the development of life skills.