Ida & Michelle

 

Kyira: “What made the two of you want to be a part of it or now that you have heard more, what makes you feel like this project is important?”

Ida: (laughter) “Want me to go first?”

Michelle: “Mmhmm.”

(all laugh)

Ida: “I have been thinking about it, um, a lot for sure. i think when I saw Laura’s pictures especially, we have had conversations about the things that she is uncomfortable with and so those stripped down, close up shots, you know, knowing the vulnerabilities she has, it’s like, I totally see why she did that, you know? And it made me think, like, okay I think I could do that. I mean like there are things that I think about that bother me and it is not just necessarily weight for me. Like, it’s the other little pieces. I mean I have two kids and, you know, the little mama belly and pouch that is there,  like that doesn’t go away. I mean I could exercise and I could lose weight but like that is always going to be there unless I get it cut off. Which, I mean people do and I am not going to lie, like I have definitely thought about that, I mean after my kids were born and I knew I wasn’t going to have kids again. I mean because it makes it difficult to find clothes that fit that or above it and so, it was that piece for me. And then, there are scares there too that won’t go away. And those don't bother me really because there are scars on my face that do bother me. I had cystic acne on my face until I was 18. And I grew up in Texas, which is a very, you know, it’s all about like the make-up and the hair and I grew up in a family and a culture where you have to kind of be made up before you go out of the house. And, like I did glamour shots when I was in college and I mean, I liked them and they looked great, but like, we had a friend recently who just did boudoir photos and was like, ‘if you ever get a chance you have to do these’ and it was like, ‘yeahhhh…’. And I mean I don't think I am in the same place as I was 20 years ago to go and do that. But what drew me to this is that there is an honesty to it and that is the piece I really like. There is an honesty not only within yourself but in what other people see in that. You know?”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Ida: “And that the juxtaposition between, I mean I could tell like for the people I know who have done this, I see their photos and I am just like, ‘Woah those pictures are beautiful’ and I could tell that to them and they are just like, ‘no I don't believe that’ and that is such an unfortunate disconnect. And I mean, I am sure I am going to have some of those same thoughts and feelings and so I really wanted to challenge myself to kind of put it out there and I mean, I did, right? Stripping down into a bra and bikini where you can really see that belly in particular. Wearing my glasses instead of my contacts. No make-up. Hair just completely natural. That was a challenge for me, personally so that was I have been thinking about a lot. All of the times that I have been thinking about doing this or talking to people about it. And also, I think there is a piece related to us that is different, you know. Um, people talk about how they see us so happy and, you know, I think there is also that physical piece, too, I mean because we are like opposite…” (all laugh) “…you know physically we are opposite. Tall and the. Shorter and more curvy. And there is something to that, you know like that is just who we are and there is a beauty in that. And I think for me, I was with a man for a long time before I was with Michelle and your body image changes like, you know, I mean at least for me it changed being with a woman. I mean having somebody appreciate your body but who doesn’t know about a female body is different from being with a woman who understands and appreciates a woman body. I mean, even if your body types are different, it is a totally different experience. And so, I struggle with my own things, but I feel my body differently. You know, like if that makes any sense?”

Michelle: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Ida: “And I’ve tried to unpack that as I have been thinking these past few days and it is like, I can’t even put words to that. It’s just…I mean I feel my body differently because there are some things I just don't have to explain because she understands it. And because we are together, I am very aware of how good that feels. And so I have also had that experience. So, there is a lot there. And I mean, I have been thinking about it a lot for sure, as you can tell.”

Kyira: “And I think the one piece you said too that has come up with other people before too that are moms is this idea that you get so excited about your body and what your body is doing…”

Ida: “Yes! Yeah!”

Kyira: “And as soon as you have them, it is like we are instantly programmed to feel like shit about our body. It’s like, how quickly do you lose the weight, do you have the, what you are saying, the ‘pouch’ that will never go away or…”

Ida: “I tell people all of the time, I have never felt as sexy as I did when I was pregnant - both times. I mean, actually in my body, gaining the weight, like how curvy it was, like how I was taking acre of my body - which I mean I take care of myself now in most ways but just when I was pregnant and putting good food into my body and getting so in touch with my body, drinking more water, and what the hormones do…like I have never felt sexier or more comfortable in my body than in those times. So it is like this very weird, you know, experience. Like, especially being 10 years out from the last time I was pregnant.”

Kyira: “Yeah absolutely.”

Ida: “And now, it’s just those in between times or since then where, like i have to see the belly all of time and like, to try and muster up those same feelings of confidence is always difficult. Like you are always trying to get there and just never can. Which is just frustrating because it’s like, why not?”

Kyira: “Well and when you are pregnant, your body is actively serving a purpose and so there is this sense of, when you are pregnant, that you arefulfilling this greater purpose. And once you have had the baby, we lose that sense of purpose and the role of our bodies and it becomes easier to fall into that pattern of self loathing. And we lose sight of the purpose and role our body serves on a daily basis. Like, you mentioned you are in research and your able to that because your body carriesyou through that and it helps you get there and engage the way you want to and need to. It’s just harder to see that when it isn’t like a baby that is right there and in your face to remind you every day.”

Ida: “Yeah that is so true.”

Kyira: “What about for you, Michelle?”

Michelle: “Um, well I was thinking just like, a couple of different thing but like growing up, my family, we never talked about anything. Like, we didn’t talk about anything. You have this thing going on? Just deal with it on your own. And so, like, I was a runner and you know, it would get so hot in the summer and I mean, I would have never dreamed of running just a sports bra, you know and like one time I did and I had taken a shirt with me and almost right away I had this reaction like ‘oh, no’ and I put the shirt back on right away. And I mean, I feel like I will now but sometimes I still think about it even a little bit and feel like I am not supposed to. Even though it is something i am entirely fine with and am comfortable doing. It’s that I feel like I am not supposed to be doing it which is the hard part. But like when we were up taking the photos I was like, ‘I am just stripping down in front of a total stranger’ and she was like ‘you don’t care’ and you know, she is right. I don't care. Because I have worked to get over that. Like even now, if we go to the store and I want to try something on, like I usually have like 12 layers on so it’s like, well I will just stand here and take off 3 of them and try the things on I am interested in. I don't want to have to be so concerned that I have to walk all of the way to the dressing room to simply try on a shirt. And so, like now, we may want to go somewhere and I will just be like, ‘okay I just have to change real quick’ and I sometimes forget that maybe you aren't comfortable with the fact that I am comfortable, you know, like…”

Ida: “When you are changing in the parking lot.”

(all laugh)

Michelle: “Right, I mean I am a sports kid right so when you change you just do it. Like I used to coach soccer and I would head there straight from work and so I would just like change under my clothes real quick and go.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Michelle: “Or like, master of the two shirt switch, you know. And like, our 14 year old is all like…”

Ida: “Freaked out.”

Michelle: “And it’s like, well okay…And like, since I am really comfortable with that kind of stuff, I don't really think about it and so…”

Ida: “You are also a camp kid.”

Kyira: “Oh yeah, for sure.”

Michelle: “Yeah for sure, a camp kid to. Right, so like, it doesn't bother me to do things like change in front of people. Like, this is what you get…” (gestures) “…I mean I will walk around in my underwear and, I mean, I don't care. I mean I went for probably like a year or year and a half in college without wearing a bra and I didn't think anything of it.”

Kyira: “But I think that really connects to that idea of culture, in all different capacities. So like, you being in sports and at camp and the messages you received in those cultural groups that led you to be comfortable or, not even be comfortable but not make it a thing with regards to your body. And, what you said really reminds me of someone else I interviewed, Sarah, who talked about how comfortable she was in her body. She enjoys and loves her body and has no problem with being naked. Like to her, she describes it as ‘just a body’ and nothing that needs to be so censored.”

Michelle: “Like I would love to walk around my underwear in the house but like, the children are there and like, I mean I will put a shirt on or whatever but I mean I like being in my underwear and stuff and like, you have to knock on the door before you come in unless you don't mind me in my underwear. Like, if you don’t knock and you walk in, you are going to see me in my underwear, because that’s how I like to be. And if you don’t like that, I mean that is on you. Like if you blow the door open and are upset by what you see, that’s your bad. You have to knock and wait if you want me to look or be different.”

(all laughter)

Michelle: “Cause like sometimes I will be changing or something and then suddenly the door opens and at first I am like, ‘agh, sorry’ but it’s like, no, you walked in on me!”

Kyira: “And like even what you said though about this idea of forgetting about other people’s comfort levels and like this idea that you are sort of supposed to take on the role of making sure other people are comfortable. That seems a bit ridiculous of an expectation. I mean, sometimes, depending on like, different identities and spaces that we are in, it is not always safe to not be thinking about those things. And safe in a variety of ways. But it’s, we tend to make that our responsibility a lot more often than I think we need to.”

Michelle: “Exactly and that leads into the other thing that I was thinking about. We talked about it a little bit but like, people always say that they hate shopping or that they have a hard time finding clothes that fit, like if they are a bigger person or you know, depending on your body. And I will often be like, ‘yeah, I have a hard time finding clothes too’ and people look at me like, ‘why do you have a hard time finding clothes?’. Do you see my body type? Like have you seen how my clothes fit? I mean they don't make these pants in my size and I don’t feel comfortable wearing things like leggings or a lot of women’s clothing like…”

Kyira: “…it’s not your style.”

Michelle: “Right. I mean I prefer to wear things that are comfortable to me and most women’s clothing is not comfortable to me. And so, to get these clothes or even shirts in general in my size, like they don’t make a lot of small men’s shirts. And even if they do, I am at a place right now where I put on the small and it looks too big and it’s like, I mean, what am I supposed to wear.”

Kyira: “Which is even interesting because like for women’s clothes it’s XS, XXS…how many more X’s can we put in front of the clothes but for men’s clothing, we are not doing the same thing. And so, anybody who likes to wear ‘male clothing’ which is also its whole separate issue and probably way too much to get into today to talk about gendered clothing…”

Ida: “Ugh, oh yeah.”

Kyira: “‘Male clothing’ it’s like, well you are supposed to fit within this box of sizing and if you are somebody who wants to buy ‘male clothing’ and you need something smaller than that box they gave you, then you’re fucked.”

Michelle: “Right or you end up having to go to a tailor. We just bought a suit for me and…oh my goodness it was a nightmare…like I was supposed to be this size and you guys sent me this size, you don’t seem to understand that that doesn’t work. So we ended up having to take the suit in and get the whole thing restructured and like, I mean it looks great, it’s fine but like, that seems ridiculous. SO I think a big part of the thing is like, its not that I can’t find the clothes that fit or what I want to wear, it’s just that it isn’t as easy as people like to perceive it to. And like, going a little beyond the scope here but like, when we go out in public, like, if I need to use the restroom, there are only certain places where I am comfortable going to the bathroom. Or like, I will have to bring someone with me or whatever. Like, I took the 14 year old up north to go camping and when we were on our way back down, we stopped at the gas station because she had to go to the bathroom and then after she went, I went in and she was outside waiting for me and I could hear the lady at the counter ask her, ‘well where did he go?’ And I mean ultimately, the real point is does it actually matter?”

Kyira: “Right.”

Michelle: “Like if there were a huge line of women waiting to use the women’s rest room and no one in line for the men’s, you would have no problem with me going in there but like this situation is a problem. And so I think a big part of what I hope to do in this project is to help people realize it doesn’t all look like ‘this’. Not everything can fit into one box.” (gestures)

Kyira: “Right.”

Michelle: “Like, I don’t look like you. Like, I have short hair, I wear a hat all of the time. These are the clothes that I like to wear. And ultimately, what does it matter to you and like…”

Kyira: “…why does it have to be only this or this?”

Michelle: “Right, I get so annoyed when people like…”

Ida: “…Right that is the piece that gets you. It’s the like, why does it matter to you? Like I hear it all of the time from her with people like, ‘why do you care?’”

Michelle: “Right, like why is this anything to be concerned about?”

Kyira: “Right, why is this something you feel like actually impacts your day or your life?”

Ida: “Right, like it is not impacting anyone whose lives I care about so why should this be something that concerns or impacts you?”

Michelle: “Yeah that is the part that bothers me, like why do we have to label everything…men’s or women’s, right or wrong, etc. Why do I have to look like ‘this’ in order to be ‘this’?”

Kyira: “And I think that is the powerful piece behind having these conversations because ultimately, no one really fits inside of those boxes. There are people who try really hard because they feel like that is the only way they will be valuable which is equally as sad. And then there are people that are like, but I don't fit there and I don't have the energy to keep trying. And then as a result, you are ‘othered’ and it become a whole different obstacle. And it’s like, if no one actually fits inside of the boxes, why do we keep painting the fucking boxes?”

Ida: “Yeah, like why are we doing it. Like, I was talking to my mom the other day and like, growing up under that influence of like having a face put on all of the time, when my sister and I moved here 17 years ago for me to go to graduate school and her to go to undergrad, that first few weeks/months into the semester, we still did all of the same things we always did. Like we put our make-up on, did our hair, etc. And then at some point, we just started like, you know, not caring as much. I mean because there is a difference here in the Midwest than Texas, especially like here in Wisconsin. How people present outwardly, here, is different. And like, so we stopped fixing our hair all of the time and stopped wearing make-up and like, my mom and a really hard time with that. I mean, for a long time she would be giving us a hard time and would say things like. ‘why aren’t you fixing yourself up’ and we would be like, ‘Mom, it’s fine. Everybody does whatever here.’ And like, as we have gotten older and spent more time in the Midwest, I think she has definitely eased up in terms of giving us a hard time about it but like, there are definitely still times, depending on where we are going, where she has specific expectations of how we are to present. And, when I was talking to her the other day, she was polishing her toenails because she was getting ready to go to one of her physical therapy appointments - she just had surgery. And because they were going to be working on her knee, her toes needed to be painted. And I was just like…I mean, she is not going to change, you know? Like, I totally get it. That is who she is. And so, like I go through cycles and I am finally at this place where it is okay if I don't wear make-up or don't dress up. And it feels different now than it has because it feels like a choice to me and it is empowering. And part of that for me, too, I think also comes from that camp culture and being around all different types of people who just are who they are. I mean people might be different outside of that context but at camp, people just are who they are and that I think is such a solid and grounding concept.”

Kyira: “Yeah absolutely.”

Ida: “And I think that makes me happy to know that our kids get to grow up in that environment. Where they get to choose. I mean, and our older daughter is the one who is like, no make-up, wears what she wants to wear, the things that make her comfortable and aren’t like what everyone expects. And then you have the little one who, you know, loves to dress up and loves to wear jewelry and, all of the stuff. And like, it is great because for each of them, they get to choose that and not have it put upon them. And then when they go to camp, they are just fine without all of those things and can just be in their own skin comfortably. And that is one of the most important things to me because I don't want their sense of self to ever come from the way that they look.”

Kyira: “That’s awesome.”

Ida: “And so we focus a lot on who they are as people and how they treat and engage with others, reminding them that who they are does not come from the way they look.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Ida: “And we still have conversations about this regularly. Like, Isabelle, a couple of years ago had her hair really short and she would get a lot of those mis-identifications from her identified gender and she got a sense of what Michelle oftentimes has to go through. And I think that was a huge piece for her hat really broadened her perspective. And I mean that was when she was, what? 11?”

Michelle: “Mmhmm.”

Ida: “And I mean, 11 years old, to cut your hair like that? But like, she was on the football team and a lot of her friends were boys and like, just a lot outside of the norm people would often want to put girls in. And, i mean, there was a lot of familial conflict like with my parents about her hair and saying things like ‘you’re trying to make her into a boy’ and I am like, no, she is just comfortable being who she is and I will fight EVERY DAY to give her the space to be who she is. And I mean, now her hair is long. She has decided that she wants it long, you know, and that is just who she is. And I think, you know, all of the things that I have learned growing up and being with Michelle, like we are seeing them translate to the kids and, that’s good.”

Kyira: “And it’s a culture clash too. I mean not only of just the culture of your family and how you grew up within your family but like, how you described the different cultural contexts of Texas versus Wisconsin and then, also, the generational cultural contexts and things like the evolution of understanding and nurturing identity development and what that looks like now as opposed to with previous generations. And I think it says a lot that the two of you are making such deep efforts to understand those different pieces and then bring that into the conversations you have as a family at large. What do you think has been the hardest part for each of you in uncovering your beauty as an individual?”

Michelle: “I think it is has been about getting over other people not minding their own business and having an opinion about things that don’t concern them and how to let go of that and not get sucked into that. And I mean, it still does bother me a lot. Like, I used to work at a bank and everyone knew me there but like, over time, there started to be a lot of trainings that would happen in the building and so, people from other branches - who I knew because I talked to them on the phone all of the time but they had never seen my face - were coming to the building a lot. And on those days, I would try to avoid going to the bathroom because I would, without fail, every day that we would have a training, I would go in and when I would walk out or when I would be washing my hands and someone else would come in, even if they didn’t say anything, I could see it. They would double look at the door to check the sign or start to wonder, not necessarily am I in the wrong place but did they go into the wrong place. And right outside the two bathroom doors, there is a little bit of a lobby but like mostly just a hall to get back other spaces and like, I could walk out of the bathroom 5 seconds after someone and they are no where to be found. Like, where did they go so quickly?”

Kyira: “Geez.”

Michelle: “So I think the hardest part for me, that I am still working on is understanding that it is not me, it’s them. But like, it still hurts.”

Kyira: “And like, especially about something so simple, I just…my heart breaks that you have to go through that. I mean, it is just going to the bathroom and like…”

Ida: “…and there’s stalls. You don’t even see anyone going to the bathroom.”

Kyira: “…but like, I mean, regardless of what any body parts anyone has, like who the fuck cares. It’s just, literally, doing what EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEING does on the face of this planet.”

Michelle: “Right, like I am not trying to hang out in there. I’m not being a creep.”

Kyira: “Right, you’re not sitting on the floor watching people. Like, you’re not being weird.”

Michelle: “Right, I mean unless I wash my hands weird…?” (all laughter)

Kyira: “Ugh, I mean that is just so, ugh…yeah. I am feeling a lot of anger for you right now and for anyone else who has ever been made to feel like they don’t have the same rights as anyone else to be able to go to the bathroom in peace and to just feel safe in that. And it sucks because I have the privilege of never having to think twice about something like that, which is how it should be for everyone. And the fact that you and so many others don’t, just…that’s fucked up. And honestly, I feel like the worst part is that, then no one talks about it either. So then it is just the looks and weird reactions without anyone ever owning up to their shit that comes up in those moments.”

Ida: “Oh right. No way.”

Kyira: “Like, the growth point is in the conversation. It’s in realizing you had biased expectation or thought and then owning it and connecting in that vulnerability. It’s saying, ‘you know, I just did something really fucked up. Let’s talk about it because that’s my stuff, not yours’. Cause like, inherently, they are not a crappy person, or at least I would assume the vast majority of people who have done things like that are not crappy people.”

Ida: “Right.”

Kyira: “They have just been socialized in a way that there expectations are a bit narrowed in thinking about the world and people in it.”

Ida: “Right and like, we have a lot of friends who identify as female who might have short hair or people who might be commonly mis-gendered or trans friends and you know, it’s different when you are hanging out with people who have gone through this because we all understand it and bond within it. So, like, if we are out with a group of friends like I might get tapped by someone who asks me to go into the bathroom with them. And so like, I will purposely have conversations as we are walking through the bathroom doors so that people know that I know I am talking to somebody and we are coming into the bathroom together. And so like, from an advocacy perspective, it is a way to stand forward in that. Like, and I am with you, I have never experienced it personally and so I do what I can to be the support and advocate I can. And like, for Michelle, I mean sometimes it can throw her whole day off or like, we could be having a great time out somewhere and then something like that happens and that just taints everything about the night. I mean, it just sucks.”

Kyira: “Yeah. And I think it is important that, even for us having this conversation now, we create spaces to allow people to think about the role they may be playing in situations like this and how to check in on some of those unconscious biases and move past them or open the door to at least start looking more at them. Because, like we said, having these interactions does not make the person a shitty person, but these are the types of interactions that don't need to happen and wont happen if we create space to get curious about and explore our biases and make a conscious effort to work past them.”

Michelle: “Yeah, absolutely. And all of this is not to say that I too don't sometimes make the same kinds of mistakes or notice those unconscious biases come up for me too.”

Kyira: “Right I mean we all do.”

Ida: “Right, but then you think about it. You interrupt that thought process and pay attention to what is happening, even if it is uncomfortable.”

Kyira: “And say that something like that is happening where someone has that reaction or does a double take or whatever. By not talking to the person about it or acknowledging it, they lose the opportunity to hear that this is not unique to them, we all have those snap judgments and thoughts. But they can hear the strength in bringing it up or your gratitude in being able to address it in the moment.”

Ida: “Exactly.”

Kyira: “So then, thinking about the last question I have for you, how do each of you, either independently or together, work to celebrate and nurture your beauty so that you don't get pulled back into those pressures of society?”

Ida: “Um, I think this ties back into even the other question you asked but like for me, I think I am at the place where I can, even though sometimes it is still challenging, celebrate those moments where I do feel that way. You know what I mean? And sometimes it is when I have make-up on and sometimes it is when I don’t. Sometimes it depends on who I am around or how I feel in my body. But like, celebrating those moments where I do feel beautiful is, I mean definitely still challenging, but something I am able to do more of. And I remind myself that it is cyclical. Like we aren't going to feel good about ourselves all day every day. And in particular, people who are female bodied, there are cycles and hormone vacillations and things that happen that impact those feelings. And so, we don't always feel beautiful but this ability to celebrate the moments when they come has been the most significant.”

Kyira: “Absolutely.”

Ida: “And as I have gotten older, it is oftentimes tied to my strength, whether that be my strong will or physical strength. And one of the things I have done more of over the past couple of years is yoga and so, even if I just do a half hour of it, the strength I see in my body growing strong is so empowering. I think especially because my mom is on disability because her body is failing her related to her bones and her strength and so I find a lot of beauty in that for me and something that was not always the case. I mean, when you are able bodied, you don’t necessarily always think about how important that strength is and I have come to realize it in a different way.”

Kyira: “Yeah that tying together of strength and beauty is so important and strength in whatever way it is defined by and for you.”

Ida: “Yeah and I think it has also been in realizing those feelings can come in moments and don’t have to be there all of the time. Just nurturing the moments is enough.”

Kyira: “What about for you?”

Michelle: “I think, uh, I remember the first time that I wore a tie when I was going out with my friends. And after the first time, it felt normal and it was fine. But that first time, I was a little uncomfortable. And I decided to push past that because I really like ties and I really wanted to wear one, and so I did it. And now, I wear a tie all of the time. Regular, bow ties, whatever. And I feel like that moment is one I have been pushing myself to do for a long time and have helped me to grow in my comfort in just being me. It is about finding that courage to just be who I want and getting through the awkwardness until it is just the norm.”

Kyira: “Yeah and I think that piece of it getting easier over time is so important because that is true for all of us in deciding to be who we want or living more authentic to ourselves.”

Michelle: “Right and I think the one piece I haven’t really talked about is my family. I mean I told you, we don't talk about anything. I mean like, you know, we never really talked about…well one time my mom was on the phone and giving my sister a hard time to me about always being the one who drove and I was like ‘look, this person’ - who happened to be another girl I was with at the time - ‘doesn't have a car so I am obviously going to go and drive there. Like this is how it works and you just gotta make it work’. And then I was like, ‘uh, whoops. I just came out over the phone to my mom 6 hours a way. Inadvertantly. And so then, we never talked about it because, we don't talk about anything, so they either ignored it or just didn’t say anything and like, we still haven’t talked about it. And when my cousin got married, she came with me to the wedding and like, nobody said anything and still, nobody says anything, but like nobody doesn't acknowledge that we aren’t together. You know what I mean? So nobody says we are together but nobody does anything to suggest they don't think we are.”

Ida: “Right, like you don't talk about anything.”

Kyira: “So there are probably some pieces about that that are nice to know they acknowledge but at the same time, since no one talks about it, you just never really know where you stand.”

Michelle: “Exactly, so I don’t know. I mean I guess we are all good” (all laughter, shrugs)

Kyira: “Well thank you so much for being a part of this project and for sharing so much of yourself with us. Both of you are truly inspirational and strong woman.”