Amanda Levitt is a one woman force in the burgeoning activism movement in Detroit, Michigan. I first met Amanda at one of the first Love Your Body Detroit (LYBD) meetings on the campus of Wayne State University last year. She was focused and determined to get her message of size acceptance in the forefront on her campus. In attendance were other women who were just as passionate and eager to join her plight. Sitting there you felt as if you were on the presuppose of something amazing, life changing and revolutionary! I haven’t seen Amanda since then and I was eager to learn what this inspiring activist was up to.
Cassy: I was really impressed with your passion and focus when I met you late last year. When did you decide to start a body revolution on your campus? It is typically a journey to get to that level of commitment.
Amanda: Well, I changed my major to women’s studies and sociology back in 2009 when I transferred to Wayne State University. Before that, I was going into graphic design and body politics was sort of like my nerdy hobby, it wasn’t something that I talked to many people about. I have been running my blog “Communications of a Fat Waitress” for 5 years and had some pretty good experience with that but I really wanted to create a space for people to talk off line and see people face to face. Before coming to Wayne State I didn’t really have that. I of course had friends who were supportive, but no one other than my mother that knows fat shame and understands the discrimination that you can face in a fat body from their own experiences. I really started thinking about it really seriously beginning in September 2010 when I decided that I wanted to do something for LYBD.
Cassy: You speak of your mom, was there conversation in your home about the discrimination as it relates to size? What was that conversation like?
Amanda: My mom is the typical dieter, or I should say was as of late she has changed her tune. She likes to tell people that she diets every decade, 25, 35, 45 and loses a great deal of weight only to have it gained back. We talk about so many different things that its hard to really summarize it. She has the typical belief that fat is bad and thin is good in many instances. One situation to give an example is that last year she was unemployed and thought that if she lost weight she would have a better chance to get a job. While I understand that might be true, I have asked her why she would want to work for someone who will only base her work on how thin she is. She has in the past few years seemed to get the message and my beliefs to the point that I can talk to her about things that happen during my day and it isn’t negative but a really supportive relationship. I’m happy to say that she also doesn’t say that ‘we should get healthy together!’ anymore (aka lets get thin). Not sure if that completely answered your question..I will say one of the best conversations we had was when I asked her why she never stood up for me or tried to stop kids from bullying me at school when I was younger and she told me it was because she was fat too, and she didn’t see how she could stop them when she was the same as me.
Cassy: It seems your mom suffered similar experiences as you. It would seem easy to fall into the same way of thinking as your Mom. I do understand why your mom may feel that dieting was the key to a happier life given society’s correlation between happiness and weight. I am always curious about ones path to action. Was there a particular instance that caused you to become an activist?
Amanda: I have always been the type of person that gets really pissed off when someone tells me who I am going to be or how I should be. The earliest that I remember someone doing this was an aunt who told me when I was 11 ‘You would be so beautiful if you were thin’ and even at that age I thought it was horrible for someone to say it to me, it still hurt me deeply but It also helped me reject the notion that my worth was completely defined by how I look on the outside. Other than that my parents divorce was a pivotal point in my life because my father who is a great deal older than my mother and also was the sole breadwinner of our family thought that my mom didn’t deserve anything after the divorce because she never ‘worked’ during their 20 year marriage. Both of those things really gave me a huge push into wanting to learn about body ideals and feminism in general. I don’t think that there is one exact moment just a whole bunch of them that made me understand that changing beauty ideals and how a woman’s worth is defined are what I want to do with my life.
Cassy: I really admire the fact that you took something so personal and channeled it into such a public statement. When you do this work you have to be open enough to be able to help free someone else. It is a courageous task. Have you been met with any opposition with your work on campus? What has your support been like for LYBD?
Amanda: There was a blogger who wrote a blog post that I took to task because it was filled with a ton of misinformation as well as a whole lot of fat hate / shaming and it ended up being someone who is a grad student at Wayne State. This person actually took to tearing down our posters in the campus gym and even vandalized them because I made her so angry. You can actually read the whole thing as I posted something about it on my blog. It made me really sad for her but at the same time I wasn’t really surprised how enraged she got. The post is here.
The positive support we have had has completely outweighed the negative. The Dean of the Women’s Studies Program at Wayne State has been sending emails out for our events, Marilyn Wann who is literally my hero has been telling everyone about the work LYBD has been doing and just recently asked me to contribute to the relaunch of her website FAT?SO! There have been so many people that are supportive and are even taking the ideas we are doing and doing them in their own cities. The Love Your Body day posters that I made were posted in New York City by one activist. It has been crazy and amazing.
Cassy: That is amazing!! That grad students actions were just a testament to her own self loathing, it is sad but hopefully through efforts like yours she will come around. That is wonderful that you have gotten such support across the country. Marilyn’s book is our first Curvy Composition of the month on DVD, I am excited to work with her too! She is amazing. Tell me about your “BODYSLAM” that took place in February.
Amanda: I have for a really long time, before even starting LYBD, wanted to put together something that was similar to the Vagina (Monologue) show but talked about body image, fat shame and other forms of body oppression. It turned out pretty well, it happened at the Trumbullplex in Detroit and we had speakers talk about everything from skin tone in the African American community to my own story about being called fluffy by a doctor. We uploaded the whole thing on youtube at youtube.com/user/LYBDetroit
Cassy: It is true that the plight of the curvy community is similar to the plight of the African American community in that discrimination is solely based on appearance. Tell me about your latest project, a tool kit right?
Amanda: Yep! A few weeks back I started thinking about what it would be like to be a newbie in this movement. I wanted to create a kit that someone who is new to the movement could use to not only learn the basics about Fat rights but also give them a list of resources, and other little things to hand out to friends or use for activism. So far the kit will have a handbook, a body positive tape measure, a business size card that can be given to friends to explain a safe space and bookmarks that people can put in diet books to be naughty and spread fat rights.
Cassy: I love it! Will you be selling them?
Amanda: Yes! I’m trying to keep them as low cost as possible but I am hoping at a max for $15 which includes shipping and a $5 donation to LYBD.
Cassy: That’s great! Congratulations on all of your achievements. Whatever I can do to help you spread your message, let me know. I am trying to see how I can have you involved in my event in September. At the very least I can place your information in our gift bags for our participants at the expo this year!
Amanda: That would be amazing! I would love to be involved!
Amanda still holds the LYBD meetings on the campus of Wayne State University. For more information on how you can get involved, drop Amanda a line at [email protected].