Service Of Hmong Veterans’ Recognized, Update On Candidates In Gubernatorial Race, ‘Fat Memoir’ Tackles Body Image Struggles With Pride

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Hmong tribesmen look down at a covered body of one of their people killed by North Vietnamese troops during a patrol in the Plaines des Jarres area, Feb. 25, 1970. The dead soldier was brought back to Sam Thong, 90 miles north of Vientaine, Laos, by helicopter. (AP Photo)

The author of a new memoir describes her journey with body image, various diets and experiencing life as a fat person. We talk to her about writing her memoir and what she’s learned. We also hear about an act passed that recognizes the Hmong veterans who fought alongside US troops in the Secret War in Laos as part of the larger Vietnam conflict, and get an update on the candidates running for governor.

Featured in this Show

  • The Significance Of The Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act

    The Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act was signed into law by President Trump later last month. We’ll find out what it means for Southeast Asian people who fought alongside US troops in the Secret War in Laos as part of the larger Vietnam conflict.

  • Democratic Candidates For Governor Facing Deadline To Make Primary Ballot

    Democratic candidates for governor are facing a deadline that will determine who makes it into this summer’s primary race. We talk to a political scientist about how the race will change, and what to expect at this week’s Democratic state party convention.

  • 'My Body, My Rules,' Body Image Activist Says

    Jes Baker thought she was fat as a kid.

    A classmate called her hippo when she was in the fifth grade. At the time, she didn’t know what it meant, but that memory stuck with her for years.

    “I knew ever since that fat was a bad thing,” she said. “Personally, I think hippos are awesome as an adult … but at the time I didn’t know it was an insult.”

    But years later, looking through photos, she couldn’t find proof of it. Because those photos didn’t exist.

    Photo Courtesy of Seal Press

    “I looked through my old pictures and I realized that I kept flipping, looking for this fat child that I remember being, and I was not a fat child at all,” Baker said. “In fact I was quite a thin child until puberty.”

    We aren’t born viewing our bodies through such a harsh lens, she said.

    “I look back at those pictures now and I’m just like man, ‘I am, and was, so beautiful,’” Baker said. “And I just wasn’t able to see it. We weren’t born hating ourselves like this, we were given that lens.”

    Baker hopes to change that.

    Today, she is an advocate for loving your body, regardless of your size. She is the author of the new book “Landwhale: On Turning Insults Into Nicknames, Why Body Image Is Hard, and How Diets Can Kiss My Ass” and “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living.” She also blogs at The Militant Baker.

    WPR’s Judith Siers-Poisson recently spoke with Baker about helping others — and herself — love their bodies, despite societal pressures. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    Judith Siers-Poisson: You talk a lot about how women’s bodies are heavily policed in our society. Can you give us some concrete examples of where you see that happening?

    Jes Baker: Yeah, it’s everywhere. I think bodies are policed in general. I think that in our current society anything other than a thin, white, able-bodied, straight, cisgender person is going to be very politicized and different.

    Historically, women’s bodies have been targets of marketing. There’s a long history behind why we hate our bodies here in the U.S. and it has a lot to do with our economy and making money post World War II.

    And it’s so common to comment on other people’s bodies, as well. We really do believe that women owe society their desirability. And so you see a lot of pushback when some women say, “I don’t owe you thinness or beauty or prettiness or any of that.” Everyone has something to say because we’ve made a culture where that’s acceptable and normalized.

    JSP: You really push back against that idea that there should be an expectation that others impose on us, or that we impose on ourselves, about what size and shape our bodies should be. You have tattoos on your thighs to remind you of that because even though you’re steeped in this, you still need that reinforcement. Can you tell us about those tattoos?

    JB: They’re my favorite ones. They’re right over my knees and one knee says, “My Life,” and the other one says, “My Rules.”

    And I think that’s important to remember … I still have difficult days because this is the world we live in. And so a lot of people kind of want to have 100 percent impeccable body days. I’m going to learn to love myself and it’s going to be perfect from here on out. And that’s just not realistic because we’ve learned this for so long.

    Photo Courtesy of Seal Press

    JSP: One of the things that I found really touching because you’re so vulnerable about it in your book is that you’ve been with your partner for several years, and one of the things that you both have committed to is absolute honesty all the time under all circumstances. And yet you have a really hard time believing when he says that you’re sexy and you’re desirable and he wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.

    JB: Sometimes I’m like, “You know it, you know I know you’re lucky.” And it’s wonderful and beautiful. And sometimes the old teachings do sneak into my head.

    We’ve developed this incredible way to twist the beautiful things in life and make them negative. I can take even a positive comment and make it very negative. So we’re working through that, but it’s true that it’s come up. And one thing that’s really helped is me doing my own personal work to unlearn these lies that I’ve been taught by society, and also just knowing that I can trust him. When he does give me a compliment, when he does say these wonderful things, I know logically, even if I can’t internalize it, I know he’s being completely honest and I feel like it’s a blessing.

    JSP: Many people will say that we’re in the midst of an obesity crisis and that fat shaming is actually based on a concern for health. But you’re not buying that.

    JB: No. There’s a lot of research and logic in science that backs that up as well. Obesity is just pathologizing fatness. Some bodies are just fat, some bodies are fat for a ton of different reasons.

    The interesting thing about health is that what we don’t talk about is how there are multiple components to health and it looks different for each person, so when we paint health with one big brush stroke we often leave out a lot of ways that we can help people live a healthy, holistic life.

    We skip over them and end up harming them in the end. Fat shaming has been proven to cause weight gain, so that’s obviously not something that is going to be helpful.

    But I think ultimately what it boils down to is that it’s really difficult to take care of a body, to take care of something that you absolutely hate. And so I don’t think that a lot of progress comes from hating ourselves into this form of health that people require of us or we are told that we need.

    JSP: You wear really great makeup and clothing and you’re really a presence. And I think that a lot of people who are living in larger bodies go the opposite way, they try to shrink and take up as little space as possible.

    JB: Yeah we are taught to take up as little space as possible physically, emotionally, energetically, just really you know cross your legs and make yourself as small as possible — diet, don’t talk to people. I am not naturally that person, never have been. I think it’s very important for people to learn that they are valuable enough to take up the space they need to exist and live their best life.

    I think the sad part is when we don’t know that we have a choice and we think that we must hide, we must make ourselves as small as possible, we must disappear. But, you know, if living a quiet life in beige is your jam then I’m all for it.

  • Fat Acceptance Activist Says 'My Body, My Rules'

    Living in a body that is viewed as fat by the dominant society can mean being subject to both well-meaning and downright vicious commentary from friends and strangers. We talk with a woman who works hard to love her plus-sized body, and to help others find joy despite societal pressures to fit body size and shape expectations.

Episode Credits

  • Judith Siers-Poisson Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Rachael Vasquez Producer
  • Chia Youyee Vang Guest
  • Mordecai Lee Guest
  • Jes Baker Guest