I was interviewed by a Japanese new agency last weekend.
It went down like this:
There’s a super cool website out there called Big Fat Blog. Over the course of a year or so, I’ve gotten to know the man behind it, Paul, through email and my repeated requests to “let me write for you, puhleeeeeeeze!” Eventually, he consented to let me helm the Book Club, and so my connection to Paul was cemented.
What with school and a general lack of interest, the BFB Book Club has gone inert, but Paul and I have kept in touch. Therefore, when Kyodo News contacted Paul regarding an interview, and asking if any other Chicago area fat activists would be interested, he thought of me. Thank you, Paul.
So, on Sunday, D & I trekked down to Wicker Park’s plus-sized boutique Vive Le Femme. The owner, Stephanie, had also agreed to be interviewed and to have pictures taken in the store. More on this later. First, for you somewhat local gals who may be thinking of tracking down Vive Le Femme, I can’t say I recommend doing so. I admire what Stephanie is trying to do, and it’s an adorable space, but her prices are insane. Crazy. And D & I are DINKs, so you’d think I could afford expensive clothes. Not at Vive Le Femme. Also, her intense service style leaves you no room to browse and enjoy being in a plus-friendly atmosphere. So, I say skip it, and check out the amazing style – and deals! – at B & Lu instead.
Nervous and all lipsticked up, I forced us to arrive in the neighborhood way too early. Parking took up a good chunk of that extra time, but still with a bit to kill, we decided to have a coffee at a little cafe across the street from VLF. I sipped a decaf and concentrated intensely on not spilling it down my front, while D ordered and waited for apple beignets that never came. When we asked for the check, the sweet waitress, appalled that the pastries apparently vanished between the kitchen and our table, gave us our coffees on the house. Belle Chance! We’ll definitely be back to try those beignets another time.
So, full of free cappuccino, we headed to Vive Le Femme. I immediately recognized Stephanie from the store’s site; she greeted me warmly and sent us to the back where Paul was stationed. The folks from Kyodo hadn’t yet arrived, so Paul, D, & I got comfy in the cute pink room. Paul offered us red velvet cupcakes, and I took a peek, but since I can’t eat when I�m nervous, I declined. The three of us easily slipped into a comfortable conversation about the Metra, the suburbs (too “red-state” vs. cool), and the weirdness of meeting online friends for the first time while you are waiting to be interviewed by a Japanese news agency.
And soon enough, the Japanese news agency arrived – at least two members of it. The reporter Keiko was small and sweet, with a chic short haircut and a groovy leather jacket. Introductions were made, and excellent name cards handed out. Keiko explained that she is writing a series of pieces on the diversity of American culture. She told us she wanted to explain to the Japanese people this idea of “Fat Acceptance” and how some fat people in America are promoting it. She started with Paul, asking him about the genesis of Big Fat Blog, his own interest in fat prejudice and acceptance, and his background. I listened, still keyed up on nerves and decaf, and came to this conclusion: Paul is a really good guy. Then it was my turn.
Keiko asked me about how I got involved with BFB, how I came to the fat acceptance philosophy, and, well, other things that I can barely remember now. I do know I am particularly happy that I stressed to her that fat or size acceptance, to me, is an issue for all women, all people. That all women, no matter what size, weight, or shape, struggle with feeling too fat, too this, too that, and beat themselves up for being inadequate in some way. That all women (and men) can benefit from learning that they are wonderful, beautiful, and ENOUGH just as they are, today. I also distinctly remember telling her that, in working to embrace this belief in myself, I am happier than I have ever been in my life. I don’t think I’d realized it until it came out of my mouth, but it’s true.
Now then, while I was having this wonderful, transcendent conversation with Keiko, some interesting negotiations were happening between Paul and the photographer, Shuzo. Apparently Shuzo wanted some photographs of the interview, and of me. No problem. However, he very respectfully wanted to procure permission before photographing me – from Paul. As I was occupied, Paul suggested Shuzo speak to D, my actual husband. He did, and D was naturally enthusiastic. What’s terribly interesting in this equation, is that I don’t remember anyone actually asking me for my permission, at least not formally. After Keiko and I finished up, Shuzo and D came to me and I seem to recall one or both of them saying, “Shuzo would like you to be the model.” Sure, I’m not going to turn that down – but it was interesting to see the Japanese deferring-to-the-men culture in action.
So. Pictures. Shuzo wanted very much to capture D & I in a “special moment.” He wanted to know what activities we would typically do on the weekend, and somehow construct a facsimile of us in said action. As we explained what we tend to do together, Shuzo seemed surprised and stumped. “Reading? You don’t watch television? Libraries?” Considering there was no art museum in walking distance, and the one other activity that truly excited Shuzo – D piloting a small aircraft � was out of the question on such short notice, we settled for the exciting tableau of Shopping in Vive Le Femme. This is where things began to get a touch weird. At first, I browsed racks and chatted with D, heeding Shuzo�s advice to “forget I am here.” However, it was soon apparent that he sort of wanted me to know he was there, because he kept telling me to “have the big smile” and look at him. This was all very challenging and silly, as VLF is a small store, and since it was open for business during the entire episode, we were dodging customers and blocking the tiny aisles. But we gamely soldiered on, holding up one $100 blouse after another, and discussing them to death. The fake chatter went something like this:
Me: (having the big smile) I LOVE this! I LOVE pink! Fuck! It’s $100!
D: (also having the big smile) It’s HOT, though!
Me: I KNOW! Look at that great TRIM!
Shuzo: (taking quick break) Is this price reasonable?
Both of us: NO!
Soon, he found his masterpiece set-up. I stood in the large front window of the store, with a fuschia scarf from the window dressing draped around me. Shuzo went outside and shot me from across the street, then from the sidewalk in front of the store. At one point, he was shooing from directly below me, which I’m sure highlighted my large round face to best advantage. I can see the caption now: AMERICAN WOMAN LIKES HAVING DOUBLE CHINS! I have to admit, though, I did enjoy how much attention this little photo shoot garnered from people on the street. I hope it made them consider that fat women can be models, can be beautiful, and can and do merit the same esteem and attention that thin women enjoy.
Once we wrapped up the Window Scene, the photo shoot was finished. Shuzo met up with D & I in the back room, and much thanking and bowing ensued. Paul and Keiko were discussing the discriminatory and prejudicial treatment that many fat people face in medical care, and I couldn�t help but pipe up. Keiko seemed shocked at the idea. I felt a pang, then, that my interview hadn’t focused enough on discrimination. I did my best, though, to get my message across, and I’m proud of that. At that point, Keiko and Shuzo still needed to meet with Stephanie, who had been quite busy working in the front, so I felt it was time to slip out. We made our goodbyes, and Shuzo snapped a perfect group shot.
As we left, we connected with Paul who agreed to join us for a little debrief. We hit a Middle Eastern caf� down the street, and enjoyed banana smoothies. We had a smashing good time talking over the interview, BFB, online personas, Dr. Phil, and That Standing Thing on The Metra. It was the perfect way to end the experience. Paul, you’re groovy. Thanks again.
On Monday, this email was in my box:
Hello how are you doing.
Yesterday I took good photos very much.
I thank a good couple.
I send your photo. Please look it.
Have a good time!