Kyira: “The first question I like to ask is what brought you to this project or what made you decide to sign up and be a part of it?”

Angela: “Gosh, there’s so much, so much. Um …”

Kyira: “Besides it being a 38th birthday present.”

Angela: “(Laughing.) Well, yeah! Um, well it’s, it’s really like a past thing. I have three kids and all of them were born by C-section. And so I’m, there’s always that dealing with the scar, and the tummy that hangs over the scar. And I’m still trying to be OK with that. ‘It’s OK, there’s babies that came out of there.’ But it’s still a big struggle…still. And I’ve lost more babies than I’ve birthed, so there’s that, you know, that realization that I’ve been pregnant seven times and have three kids. Still…it’s still there. And being abused as a child. Um, there’s always that feeling, sort of, disconnected from my body. Like, you know, your permission was taken away, you know, you weren’t given the opportunity to grant permission for people to lay hands on you.”

Kyira: “Your voice was silenced.”

Angela: “Yep. And when, when it happens to you fairly young, you spend most of your growing up years, and your adult, like not knowing how to tell people no, how to make good boundaries. And, um, two of my three kids are girls. So that’s a huge thing, that’s a huge thing to me. My entire perception of my body changed when I had little female eyes watching me.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “Cuz all of a sudden, that checking yourself out in the mirror, scrutinizing yourself so much more critically…It changes when little eyes are watching, cuz I’m like, ‘Do I want them to feel like this?’”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “Absolutely not, I don’t. And so, rethinking the way I think about myself and around them, you know, when my – cuz my one daughter, she’s 16. And, you know, talking about, ‘Gosh, I’m shaped just like you!’ I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, honey. Welcome to Camp Booty, I can’t do nothing about it.’ And she’s like, ‘It’s not so bad.’ She’s like, ‘It makes jean shopping easier.’ I’m like, ‘I hear ya!’”

Ileah (another #ReclaimBeauty participant): “That’s hard for everyone!”

Kyira: “Yeah! (Laughing.)”

Angela: “We’ve had that conversation – jean shopping should be so much easier. That’s why I like yoga pants.”

Kyira: “Yep!”

Angela: “Yoga pants are great! I’m like, for those of us that have goofy proportions, it’s perfect.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “And, um, and then in the last two years, I was physically and sexually assaulted. And so it’s another one of those violation of boundaries – so this is a way of reclaiming my space, my body. You can’t take that away from me. This is mine, screw you. You can’t have this. You can’t, you – I’m not gonna let you mess this up for me anymore.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “So, oh, and I keep forgetting one, I don’t know how I didn’t remember that, but I have fibromyalgia, too. So there’s basically this, uh, almost, almost constant war going on inside my skin of, you know, what kind of day are we gonna have? Waking up with migraines, going to sleep with migraines. Constant, you know, neck pain, feet pain that just doesn’t go away no matter what I do. And, you know, I may be able to shoot for a level three, level four pain day instead of a level nine (laughing). It’s like, come on, give me a three!”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “Give me a three tomorrow, you know. And I guess that’s the other thing is I’m trying not to be angry, trying not to be mad that I have, you know – instead of looking at this as fighting myself, like my body is fighting me, it’s more of coming to a compromise, I guess. Now I understand this is how it’s gonna be, but come on now. Give me a little, and I’ll give a little and we can get through these every day, you know. But understanding that I can’t, I can’t do what I used to do, making peace with that.”

Kyira: “Well, it also sounds like from the physical side and from some of the stuff that’s happened to you, it’s like so many components of that just represent your power being taken from you.”

Angela: “Oh, yeah.”

Kyira: “And so it’s this sense of like how do you redefine what it’s gonna look like for you to be in the power position.”

Angela: “Right.”

Kyira: “Over others and over your body and this thing you can’t, like you said, you can’t stop it, but you can rework your relationship with it.”

Angela: “Well, and that other person that was here (for another interview) was talking about the tattoos and stuff like that, that’s part of how I have made the inner me outside.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “This is my space. You see right here, I have marked it. It is me, it is mine, and you can’t have it. Cuz, see, I’ve marked it. And that’s kind of, I mean, how I’ve done it is, you know, either marking it to show who I am on the outside, or show like it’s, you know, it belongs to me and these are my boundaries and you can’t do anything about it. But it’s like, you know, sometimes bringing that inner roar out, bringing it out here where people just go, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll just, I’m just gonna take a step back and I’m gonna, you know, view from over here.’ Until I know them a little bit better. People are kinda, people either really, really love tattoos and body modification, or they take two steps back, like a little uncertain.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “And I’m like, you know what, the people that come to me and say, ‘Hey, that’s really cool!’ Those are my people. And the ones that take two steps back and are afraid of me because of what they see, I don’t have any time for that.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “I’ve had to figure out ways to, you know, claim myself, make me, make this space my own, not feel the need to hide from it anymore. And I’ve been shaped like this since high school, like the weight is different, but the proportions are exactly the same. I mean, I’ve always had wide hips, I’ve always had a big butt, I’ve always had wide shoulders. And there was still, you know, 20 years ago, this like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I need to lose 10 pounds. Oh, my gosh. What is this little pooch here on my belly? Oh, I totally need to go on a diet.’ And I’m looking back going, 135 pounds and you thought you needed to go on a diet? Are you serious right now! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Right, right.”

Angela: “You know, I mean, I’m not even in stone’s throw of a distance to that right now and I don’t ever wanna be that little again. I can literally look back and go, ‘I don’t ever wanna be that small again.’ I would look like a ridiculous, ridiculous proportion stick figure if I was that thin again, because of my bone structure. And I get all that now but, um …”

Kyira: “But now you’re seeing your daughter go through that with the same thing of, like, helping her see that, when it’s taken you years too.”

Angela: “Oh, and what’s funny with her is that she’s shaped almost exactly like me. She’s not as tall as I am. She’s like 5’2” and I’m like 5’6”. But she’s got the hips and the thighs and stuff like that. She’s, well, she’s like, ‘Well, I know I’m not gonna get any taller, I’m done growing tall-wise.’ Well, she started growing early and so now that she’s 16 and a half or so, she’s probably not gonna get any taller. She’s probably done, height-wise. And so, you know, we have these talks. But she does not, she does not look the way that I remember teenage girls – or at least she doesn’t act that way, she doesn’t sound that way, bashing on herself, you know, constantly berating herself for what she eats or whatever. She does things because she knows it’s good for her. She does it because she knows her dad’s diabetic and so it might be a good practice for her to watch her sugars and things like that. But otherwise, she eats ice cream like it’s going out of style, and she doesn’t even feel bad about it. And I’m like, ‘You go.’ I don’t want her to feel bad. She’s active, but she eats what she likes to.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “And I tell her, ‘As long as you feel healthy, as long as you feel good, that’s all you’ve got to worry about.’ And that’s all I can want of these two. I don’t want them to hate on their bodies or constantly count calories and feel like they’ve got to watch everything that they eat for the remainder of their life, cuz life is way too short.”

Kyira: “Right. Well, I think that’s a testament to the environment that you’ve created for her, and probably for your other kids too. Because they wouldn’t be that way if you didn’t work so hard to be that way for you.”

Angela: “My son is probably one of the most accepting, kind-hearted – he’s almost 20, and he used to give her, my older daughter, a hard time. And I said, ‘You better not mean that.’ And he’s like, ‘Mom, really. Look at her. If I call her a fat kid, look it’s a joke. It’s because she’s so skinny.’ And I’m like, ‘The minute that she starts to feel bad, it stops.’ He’s like, ‘I know, cuz she’ll stick a fork up my ass, I’ll be too…” And I’m like, ‘You’re right.’ He goes, ‘I know better.’ I’m like, ‘All right. Just as long as you understand.’ The minute that it goes beyond kidding and she starts to feel bad about it, it stops.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “So, um. Like I said, the whys are kind of (many). Because of all of this, I went to school for women’s studies in a school that didn’t offer a major in women’s studies. So I created it.”

Ileah: “It does now!”

Angela: “Is it really? It’s a major now?”

Ileah: “Mm, hmm.”

Angela: “Whoa! Trendsetter am I! Woo-hoo!”

Kyira: “Where?”

Ileah: “Platteville.”

Angela: “UW-Platteville.”

Kyira: “That’s awesome.”

Angela: “Yep. I was the first person to graduate from UW-Platteville with a major in women’s studies, women and gender studies, because I took the minor and then I just built psychology and sociology and stuff around it, women’s health and whatever. Because I’d been too wrapped up and too involved in things with women’s lives and spaces and bodies being violated for too long. So it just seemed like it made sense.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “So I’m like, and I was going to school for something else and then someone, one of the instructors for the women’s studies courses looks and me and goes, ‘You know they only have a minor in this.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ She’s like, ‘But you know you can make a major out of it.’ I’m like, ‘So tell me more.’ And so, being able to make something that was mine, and be the first person to do it, that was so cool! It was the coolest thing ever to have my advisor go, ‘You’re gonna be the first graduate in women’s studies!’ I’m like, ‘This is so cool.’”

Kyira: “So how do you think some of the experiences that you’ve had and just like sort of the culture that you’ve been in – so, you know, you mentioned having like an advisor or people that, like, pushed you to have those opportunities – how do you think you’ve been limited or influenced by other aspects of culture in your experiences?”

Angela: “Um, I think the biggest thing is what we see on the billboards, the magazines, the movies, the TV shows, commercials – the stuff that you see that is not even real. Like telling people all the time, I’ve had friends, you know, with their, like, pinup girls. I’m like, ‘That’s not real. That’s not real. That’s not real.’ And they’re like, ‘What do you mean it’s not real?’ And I’m like, ‘You see that right there? That’s Photoshop shading on her waist, Photoshop shading on the thighs.’ You can, because part of my minor was imaging media, and so I can look at the stuff and go, ‘They could’ve easily shaded that on that background, easily shaded that on that background.’ They’re like, ‘No way.’ I’m like, ‘It happens all the time.’ The women that come out on these photographs don’t even look like the women that showed up for the shoot!”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “They’re just kinda like starting points, and then they kind of, you know, reconfigure everything.”

Kyira: “We just need you as a baseline for where we’re gonna create.”

Angela: “Yeah, it’s the shape of your face and your hair color, basically. I’m like, and that’s what women and girls see every day and go, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to look like that.’ That’s not even physically possible. That person doesn’t even look like that. And it makes you, the way that the sizing ranges have changed – a size 12 today …”

Kyira: “Oh, heck yeah.

Angela: “It’s not a size 12 20 years ago.”

Kyira: “Probably even a year or two ago, honestly.”

Angela: “It changes so fast! Like why are our women’s pants not measured the same way as men’s pants?”

Kyira: “I agree.”

Angela: “I, so, that’s why I – some of the, some of the struggle is the clothing industry. And the media is awful. I, like I can’t even stomach watching anything in the mainstream media anymore, it just makes me sick because everything is so artificial. It’s unattainable; it makes you feel like you’re a failure if you can’t somehow attain these lofty ideals of, you know, what we’re supposed to look like and feel like. And I’m like, ‘I didn’t even look that way when I was 15. I wasn’t even that size when I was in high school.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “I’m like, if I wasn’t even that size in high school, and I was healthy, how could I ever have a prayer to look like that as an adult with kids and, you know, the metabolism slowing down and stress and whatever?”

Kyira: “And life.”

Angela: “And life, yeah. I’m like, if I graduated from high school a size, like, 9, how am I ever gonna be a 3? That’s, I, I don’t even remember ever being a 3. I swear, I went from like a 16 in like girls to like a 5 in women’s, just like that.”

Ileah: “Me too! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “To be honest though, there used to be things about that, that like a 16 was the equivalent of something like a 3 or a 5. So also then that way it just seems that, like, you jumped a bunch, when really you didn’t.”

Angela: “Yeah, how did I go from a 16 in girls to like a 5 in women’s when they’re about the same size? What happened to that middle section? How did I jump that far? And I don’t, like I said, and even when I was in high school, there was no 0 and 00, it didn’t exist.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “I mean, it basically started at like a 1 or a 2. There was nothing smaller than that. And now I look and I go, ‘I couldn’t even fit one thigh in there, maybe.’ And now instead of being upset about it, I laugh. I’m like, ‘Yeah, maybe my right butt cheek.’ (Laughing.) You know, like, I know that’s not even possible, and I know that even if I could, off my bone structure it would be so ridiculous that I wouldn’t even want it. And so not it’s gotten where, you know, the looking at what I’ve got and the coming of plus-sized models has made it so much easier for me to go, ‘Now, that’s what I’m shaped like. That is what’s realistic for me.’ I know that, you know, if these women can make money being beautiful, being the size that they are, I can rock this! I got no problem with that. But when your only option was size 0s, where they stitch the clothes on them at the runway, it makes it seem like it’s impossible to ever measure up to anything close.”

Kyira: “And even like, how you said, having a background in like media and knowing some of the things that would be done to the photos, or even like your understanding things in the fashion industry, even that doesn’t stop you from feeling like you “should be” that way. Because there’s such a strong pressure to it.”

Angela: “Right. Well, and some of the stuff we did in, like, you know, media studies and things like that, we went through the, um, the myths that were fed through like advertising, the way the angles that were used, the lighting that is used, the clothing, the styles, the positioning of bodies, male vs. female – things like that. It all plays this role in making women want to look smaller, meek, frail. They’re not go-getters, they’re not confident, whereas men are tall and strong and confident and go-getters and achievers and it all – whether you’re talking about preteens all the way up to women, they’re absorbing this and they don’t even realize it. They’re internalizing all this garbage and lies and they don’t even realize it. Until you point it out and go, ‘Why is that women positioned like that in that ad?’ And they go, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Well, look how the man is. And then they go …

Kyrira: “Ohhhhh.”

Angela: “And then some of them feel like, ‘I’ve been lied to.’ Because you have been.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “And so, it makes me just feel – garbage, garbage, that’s garbage. But I didn’t know that 20 years ago. Twenty years ago when you’re paging through Seventeen magazine or Cosmo, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that looks amazing!’ And you look at yourself and you’re like, ‘I’m never gonna be that. I’m never gonna be that.’ I still look at my face, and I break out like a 15 year old. I’m like, ‘When am I ever gonna have skin that looks like that?’ Probably never. And so, now I try to just see other people – see myself the way other people do.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “Other people tell me, ‘You’re so pretty. Your hair is so cute. You can wear short hair, I could never do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ Like, I don’t see it. And I’m trying really hard to see it. I’m like spending time looking in the mirror and actually going, ‘Can I see these things that other people say they see?’ Cuz I usually brush them off. I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever.’ Or I used to tell my mom, ‘Oh, you say that cuz you’re my mom.’ And she’s like, ‘No, I don’t have to say anything.’ I’m like, well that’s what moms do, so I never really believed it.”

Kyira: “What do you think has been one a pivotal moment for you where you did decide to kind of make that change into seeing or accepting this stuff isn’t real or, like, starting to find that voice that is you again?”

Angela: “When that one was born (indicating her daughter), I had a blood clot in my lung and I almost died. I spent five days in the hospital. I had to face the idea that I had a newborn at home that I might not ever see again. It completely changed everything – the way I looked at things, the way I felt about things, what really mattered. I’m like, ‘Does the size of my jeans really matter when I could’ve had three kids with no mom?’ No. I don’t care. I want to be able to hold her. I want to be able to go home. I want to be able to watch her walk and talk and get bigger and watch my big kids grow up and get married or do whatever they’re gonna do. I don’t give a damn about my face breaking out or my pants being a size 15. Who cares? It completely changed everything. You realize, I mean once you stare death in the face, you completely reassess everything that mattes, completely. All the trivial crap that you were worried about, it’s small potatoes to everything else.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “And so now, I notice that, I notice sunlight coming through icicles off the roof. I notice when the leaves start to change. I notice the smell of somebody burning firewood. I mean, things, which matter too – coming out, coming in. Just little things every day have come to mean so much. Cuz that could’ve not happened ever. So …”

Kyira: “When you think too, I mean, being ‘Mom’ is such an important part of your identity and you can tell, that’s something you really put at the forefront. When you think about, you know, especially when she gets to be 13, 14, 15, and she’s faced with hopefully not as bad of pressures but similar pressures, what message do you want her to hear or what would you want her to know at that point?”

Angela: “It’s been the same – I didn’t have the luxury of figuring this stuff out when my older daughter was 12, 13, it’s only come about as she’s been more into her teen years. But it’s the same way only amplified with this one, that I try to tell her all the time, ‘Oh, you’re such a smart (daughter).’ I tell her all the time how beautiful she is, how smart she is. Because I want her to always believe in all of these things so that it doesn’t matter what the world throws at her, what the kids at school say. She oughta be like, ‘Nuh uh. Nuh uh. Cuz I have plenty of people at home who tell me that I am smart or I am beautiful and I am important.’ I don’t need your approval.”

Kyira: “Right. That she trusts and that …”

Angela: “That she trusts that me and her dad and that people who love her will always tell her the truth. And that she can find it in herself and she doesn’t need it from anywhere else but herself.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “Because I don’t want her to feel the things that I did growing up, always feeling like I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t good enough. I don’t want her to feel those things. I mean, and luckily, you know, for me, she has some special needs and stuff so she’s kind of unaware to some of the criticism. She’s kind of insulated inside herself, and so I don’t think she would even notice if people were talking badly about her. But there’s still, you know, I still want to buffer her with all the confidence in the world, just in case. And you know, if nothing else she’ll grow up in her own little bubble and still feel pretty awesome about herself no matter what. So, yeah, she changed me. Absolutely, she changed me.”

Kyira: “There’s a light when you talk about her that just sort of comes across your face, too.”

Angela: “Like I said, when I – my whole world, my whole being, everything that I thought that I knew, it all shifted when she was born. Because I literally had my baby in my arms and I almost died. Like, ‘If I don’t get to see this child grow up, it is gonna wreck me.’ And so it was like this reason to try and be healthy and stay alive and …”

Kyira: “And fight.”

Angela: “And be the best person that I could ever be, and fight to be as strong as I could be. And not like the strong that I’d been forced to be, like the strong that I want to be.”

Kyira: “Right. And choosing that for you.”

Angela: “Being able to choose how to be strong instead of being forced to survive. Cuz I’ve already done it enough, you know, struggling just to survive. I want to be able to grow and be strong.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Angela: “Like healthy strong, and happy strong. And this one, she’s an absolute … anywhere she goes, people notice her. There’s no doubt about it. She is one of the greatest little people I’ve ever met.”

Kyira: “So it’s cool because you can be there for her and inspire and motivate and buffer her, and she can do the same for you in so many ways.”

Angela: “She has made it easier for me because of her, because of the things that she has to deal with, she has made it – I have to live in the now, in the right now, the right here, today. Because that’s how she lives, moment to moment. And if I spend so much time in the, you know, the back then or the what’s coming, I miss right here, right now. And that’s all she knows, that’s all she’s capable of is right here. You know, if you talk to her about tomorrow or next week, she has no idea, no concept of time. So it forces, I am forced to be in the right here, the right now and the joy that exists in this moment. Because I realize that tomorrow is promised to nobody so suck it up – all the color and all the flavor and all the smells, all the cool stuff you can. She’s all about that too, anything sensory she can get her mitts on. So it makes it interesting to see things, smell things, hear things. Her eyes and ears are completely different.”

Kyira: “So I feel like kind of what you said just now really feels like is answers the last question in the element of, like, you living in the now and embracing that. But how do you want to, in each day, how do you want to continue to celebrate the growth that you’ve made in spite of all that you have overcome, and how much you have thrived, given everything you’ve had to overcome to get to this point?”

Angela: “Um, this year, this last year’s been pretty…I don’t know, it’s been hard. And I’ve learned a lot. I know that I want to literally work every single day from here on out figuring out, you know, how to not become stagnant, not become complacent, always going, ‘What is the next thing I’m reaching for?’ Keeping it small, keeping things attainable, so that they’re not so big and lofty that I lose hope or whatever. And figure out how to get through day to day, how to get through this thing called life with this body being the way it is. You know, I mean, yeah, I have pain. There’s days I can’t move, there’s days I have a migraine and can’t see straight. And so it’s figuring out how am I gonna get through these days? And then when I have good days, what can I accomplish on those good days? How do I make more of those good days? Is it possible to make more of the good days? You know, and rather than beating myself up for what is, maybe try to pat myself on the back for what is, what I do accomplish and what I shoot for, even if I have to put it off to tomorrow because I hurt too much, you know.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Angela: “This is reality. You can’t live somewhere out there in la-la land, that’s not real so …”

Kyira: “Yeah, and to, like you said before, just this idea of, like loving each moment where you’re at. And what you’re capable of in those moments changes day to day, or even minute to minute. And so being aware of that and being OK with whatever that looks like and knowing that’s already enough, that’s already good and beautiful.”

Angela: “Well, and just sometimes I think that I struggle because, um, the way that I, when I function mentally in the world around me, I kind of hover in this zone up here. And people are like, ‘What is with her?’ I don’t care if people think I’m strange. If I live in this childlike moment every day – I mean, you go through and you pay your bills and you do whatever. But if I wanna be a child and I wanna color and, and play with Play-do and play games on my phone and act like I’m 12, leave me alone. Let me do it. It helps me be there for her if I can stay at her level. And you know what? You enjoy so much more out of life if you observe everything from this high, you totally do. If you spend all of your time in grownup adulting mode, you miss a ton. Because you’re so focused on, where do I gotta be, what do I gotta do …”

Kyira: “What’s next.”

Angela: “What’s next. What boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You’re supposed to have everything mapped out for the next, like, week. … So stay young at heart. I’ve always wanted to travel, I always want to. And so I guess one of the next adventures is figuring out how can I make that happen. It might not be two or three years, but you know, how do I make that happen. What am I gonna do today or tomorrow to make that happen two years from now?”

Kyira: “Exactly.”

Angela: “So that I don’t feel like I stalled.”