*Editor’s Note* On Saturday, November 7th, Andrea Butler did something rather daring in Downtown, Chicago. Initially, we were going to interview her because her story is worth hearing about, but because of the passion she displays when telling her story, we felt it was best if you heard her story directly from her. Keep reading as Andrea paints a picture for you in her own words. This image that she paints gives you a glimpse into her life as a body positive activist and the driving force behind her mission.
What You Need To Know:
I’ve been obese my entire life – I am 37 years old, and when I was a teenager/young adult, the internet just did not exist in the capacity that it does now – and not only that, but it wasn’t really “ok” then to be plus-sized. I didn’t have any examples of curvy women who were embracing their bodies and setting an example for other women who did not feel comfortable in their bodies. I’ve always wanted to pay it forward and be an example to love your body at every size and that our size does not define us. Weighing in at almost 400 lbs at my heaviest, I committed to getting healthier in 2013 after my engagement ended badly. I’ve been open with my journey the entire way, and it was important for me to not only inspire people with my weight loss – but to help them to love their bodies at every size. I’ve always said that I am not trying to get down to a size 5, or a perfect 156lbs for my frame. I want to be the healthiest version of myself AND keep my curves. I have never hated my body. How could I hate my 400 lbs self when she is who worked her butt off (literally) to get the weight off? My first goal is to get to 199 because I have never weighed under 200lbs as an adult. From there, I’ll see where I am at and make a decision of what my “ultimate” goal is. If that means a fit and curvy size 14, 16, etc … AWESOME! My pants size does not define me, or any of you for that matter.
So often in this online world of “fitspirations”, you see people posting very carefully angled pictures that show progress – but not necessarily flaws. I’ve tried to show my body at all stages, including my stretch marks, and my big legs, etc. My most “embarrassing” posts (getting kicked off a ride at Great America in front of dozens of people because I was too big, being the girl in sweatshirts and hoodies when all my friends were in tank tops and dresses) are the posts that people connect with most. Hearing that my struggles give others struggling with their body issues hope, and a sense of “normal” makes my heart full. I’ll keep putting it all out there and taking a stand for everyone out there who does not feel that they have a voice if it means giving women a sense of “self-love” back.
Tess Holliday has been a huge inspiration to me for breaking onto the scene in full force and setting an amazing example for women everywhere to be confident – and that you can be big AND beautiful, it’s not just one or the other. I was also incredibly moved by the bravery of others like Brittany Gibbons and Jae West for fearlessly putting themselves out there in the public eye that this is something we need to talk about, and need to keep spreading this message. (Brittany stood in Times Square in a swimsuit, and Jae West stood in the middle of Piccadilly Circus in London and invited strangers to draw a heart on her body to promote self-love) My pictures were actually used on the Dr. Oz show a few months ago when Brittany was on promoting her book. They were pictures of me in swimsuits/bikinis, and the segment was talking about how women are so ashamed to be seen in a swimsuit, and about how all too often we are not really “living” if we are living in fear of what others think of us and our bodies.
I have the blessing of having large followings on several social media outlets, and it was important to me to SHOW everyone that our size does not define us, not just talk about it. I am in a position where I have a voice and can set an example, so it was really important for me to do that. Last week I saw the #NOBS movement online and I thought now was the perfect time to do something. I had the idea last Monday and couldn’t stop thinking about it – and made a plan to stand in the middle of downtown this past Saturday to promote “no more body shaming” and “self-love.” I also live by the motto “live fearlessly” and even got it tattooed on my foot 2 weeks ago – I couldn’t exactly tell people to live fearlessly if I did not set the example.
It’s not often that you see a 250 lbs woman in a bikini, and I knew that it would be something that would get people’s attention. I speak to a very specific audience online, so it was important for me to spread this message to those that may not have seen it/paid attention otherwise. Downtown Chicago on a Saturday morning/afternoon is full of people from all walks of life, and I thought that my message would be best received there.
Reactions That I Encountered:
Surprisingly or not, I did not hear ONE bad comment. For the first 5 minutes or so, there were some people that avoided looking at me, or side-eyed me, but then people started reading the whiteboard. Once they saw why I was doing it, the whole atmosphere became amazing. People started crowding around, speaking with me, taking pictures with me and THANKING ME. Women and men of all shapes, sizes, ages. I had several women hug and cry with me saying that what I was doing was so important. A woman named Suzanne walked by and stopped to talk to me with her daughter – coincidentally, she just did the Chicago marathon .. despite being the last person to finish. What are the chances she would walk by! We’re Facebook friends now!
There was one girl (her Instagram name is @the_sasha_nator) that was walking home from work and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw me. At first glance, she is a small girl. But she told me that she has battled both bulimia and anorexia – even getting down to 92 lbs at one point. I hugged and cried with her and told her that I understood – as I have also battled bulimia.
She left this message on a picture I posted of us:
“You are the most inspiring, courageous, and by far the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. Inside and out! I had a hard day yesterday, and you showed up on my walk home from work, like an angel sent from heaven! I love you!”
A girl who follows my Instagram who is over 300 lbs also stopped to meet and talk to me. She is amazing and thanked me for what I was doing, and we took pictures. She is AMAZING! I had a couple who did not speak English stop and was able to even explain to them what I was doing and why. The wife was in tears, and they took several pictures with me. I had people honking, yelling out their windows – I would say I spoke to about 150-200 people, and many more walked and drove by as I was out there. I was out there about an hour and 15 minutes. It was one of the most amazing things that I have ever had a part of in my entire life. It’s one thing to inspire people online, but to be out there in my community spreading this message makes my heart so full. My mother taught me to love my body, and to be a good person, and I so wish I could have called her to tell her about Saturday. (She passed away last 12/30 unexpectedly at age 55 – the morning after we buried my dad’s ashes who died last Thanksgiving) I know wherever she is, she is proud.
My Thoughts On Body Shaming:
Body shaming is judging someone based on their bodies – and not the content of our character and our heart. Nasty words can last a lifetime. I can remember an instance in HS when I wore an orange shirt to school one day. As I walked into the cafeteria to eat lunch, I passed by a table of football players. One of them started singing, extremely loudly, “Here comes the sun!” ….. and about 50 people who heard him started laughing at me. This was in 1994 or 1995, and I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I could even tell you what the guy who said it was wearing. These things can lay a deep seed of self-hate and shame in someone who is not strong – and I don’t want anyone ever to have to experience that. As I got older and more educated, I told myself that I was going to do what I can to make sure that I would always stand up for someone else who did not have the voice to do it themselves.
I think that many times, especially with the younger people, they hear someone pass judgement on someone and then they jump on the bandwagon and feel the need to perpetuate the hate and the body shaming. The more people that stand up to this and let people know that this is NOT OK, the sooner that we will hopefully live in a world that is more judgement-free.
Here are a few pictures to show you how supportive everyone was: