Kyira: "What made you want to be a part of this project?"
Katie: "Well, I’ve done positive body image things before and, so, it was really exciting to hear about this and I was like 'Oh, fun that’s here'. A friend invited me on Facebook to attend the photoshoot and I looked at it and I after being excited for the project, I was like 'ugh, no, I am feeling not so great about myself these days'. But then I was like, “that is exactly why I should do it." Because I used to be a part of this plus-size Pussycat Doll Burlesque-type troop in New York and that was kind of what got me into this positive body image work. It was singing which is something I do and then they said, 'oh and by the way, we do this in, like, bustiers and stuff' and I was like 'ohhhh…’"
Kyira: (laughter) “Yeah."
Katie: “…And they were like ‘Oh yeah, we are going to do these photoshoots where you just have underwear on and your going like this’ (gestures) and I am like ‘Uh, wait…and you’re going to put these in the advertisements?’"
Kyira: (laughter) “Oh my God…yeah."
Katie: "But, I mean the other girls who were in it were so supportive and it was just like, once we did it, I kind of just wanted to do it all of the time, you know?"
Katie: "I'm like, ‘This is exciting and it feels good’. And it’s like you had said, just knowing that other people have issues too…"
Katie: “Or thoughts that are just like yours and they’re doing it and trying to…I don’t know…just feel good about themselves and feel happy about themselves….and like so many people, including people I am very close with struggle with body image. Big. Little…like all over, people struggle and its just…(sigh)…it feels so shitty that people have to feel sad or not feel good about themselves or want to change and…(sigh)…you know so that’s why I ended up saying, “you know what, I am just going to fucking do it’."
Kyira: Well and it seems too that the more I have talked to people - I am a very visual person - that the image that I get is this ever moving yard-stick where it’s like ‘Okay if I could just do [X]…' or ‘If I could lose this much weight…' or '...wear this outfit…' or '...do this to my hair' or ‘...fix this...' or ‘...do that…’ then I will be enough. But there’s literally no end point because it just keeps moving farther and farther away. It’s such a mind fuck because you keep thinking ‘I’m going to get there' and you get deeper down the hole. So you talked about this a little bit, but how do you think culture and cultural perception, meaning family, U.S. culture at large or perhaps the people you were with in New York - essentially culture in any way - has influenced your perception of beauty and the way you see yourself?"
Katie: I think that when I was younger, I didn’t have any friends that were my same size, you know, everyone was a lot smaller than me and everything so I often felt sad and self conscious…never wanted to wear shorts, never wanted to wear a tank top…you know, just all of that. And, I moved to New York when I was 24 and the group that I kind fell in with really helped me move in a different direction. I have done theater all my life and its all different people in this culture - all shapes, sizes, colors. Its so great! And the people I fell in with in New York are like that. They are just so accepting and everyone is so different - unique. And I mean in New York, like the cultures too were so much more diverse. Americans, I feel like, are very judgemental and then you are around all of these other cultures and your world expands. I mean, I lived in Harlem so there were people from all different backgrounds and it was just chicks in tube tops and all of these different outfits, comfortable in their skin and I was just like…(mouth open)…and you know, I would walk down the street and just have on sweatpants and feel so ugly and someone would just call out like 'hey girl' or 'hey mami’ and I was just, I mean I kind of, for the first time I actually felt attractive to another person…"
Kyira: "Yeah, absolutely."
Katie: “...like sexually attractive where someone is like, you know, hollering at me in the street. They thought I was beautiful. That kind of thing made it so exciting to be around so many different people and really helped broaden my view of what is beautiful and just like surrounding yourself with people who love you and accept you and just think you are the fucking greatest thing ever."
Kyira: "Hell yeah."
Katie: "I think that made me be better at accepting other people too because, I mean, I am judgy, and think things like 'mmm, no, she shouldn’t be wearing that' and then I stop and think ‘That’s exactly what I am always afraid of when I walk down the street' so, I mean I don’t know…perspective. And I was also pretty tight into the Gay and Lesbian community in New York and I feel like the stigma and outcast feeling that is so prominently felt in that community is so sad and through that, I mean they draw people in and want to build you up because they have felt the same types of feelings I have and have been so shit on and, ugh…"
Kyira: “Stigmatized for everything…"
Katie: "Yeah, exactly, so that was really great and just the people I hung around with followed the motto that they are who the are and that helped. I mean, its still hard when you know you are looking at magazines and stuff and you don’t see anyone who looks like you…that’s hard."
Kyira: "That really makes me think about this idea of your tribe - I think that the word was used in a podcast or something and now I seem to be addicted to it - but as you’re describing your experiences and the people you met in New York it just makes me think that you found a tribe of people whose beliefs and values are the same as yours. Where they upheld the notion that we are all unique and beautiful and deserve to be celebrated. But its so shitty that you have to find people that have probably been ostracized themselves that have adapted that mentality almost as a result of or protection against being attacked rather than having the opportunity to feel good about themselves their whole life."
Katie: "Yeah, I mean it is definitely like, I am a white American girl, you know? I don’t have the same struggles as some people but I definitely think I grew up in New York and I began to understand myself better than I ever did before."
Kyira: "Yeah for sure."
Katie: "Kind of like I grew up in the West Village because that was when I just really found myself. I mean I was always outgoing and wasn’t really someone who was closed in or anything but when I was there, I just really learned to not give a fuck. I mean, like, I want to have fun and I want to be around people who are fun and, like I said before, people who just….I don’t know, love me for me. My family is a big part of that and I know I am very lucky to have them. I mean I have the type of family who supports me in anything I do and tells me I am beautiful, tells me I am talented - all of that kind of stuff and would never say something to me like 'Hmm, I don’t know, maybe we should send you to fat camp' or something like that.
And after hearing the reason why you started this, with having an eating disorder…it was never a part of my personal life but when I was in New York, my youngest cousin really struggled with that in school. I think it was more of a deep depression that spiraled into an eating disorder and that became something she could control - the food and her body. And, um, (hesitation)...she ended up taking her own life…she was 14…and like every since then…(tearing up)…Man, I did not think it was going to get this intense…But it was like, ever since then, I just wish that she had had people around her - friends and family who could have been there. I mean she was my family but like, when your 14, family isn’t your real priority. It’s like, ‘Well my mom tells me I am cute, but big deal’. It’s just like, I feel that more and more, everyone’s life is out there with pictures and there is this constant comparison of yourself with everyone else, like for little girls to feel that way…hating themselves, is just like….so shitty…you know? And since then, I have met so many more people who have gone through that and just like all of these issues that like I can’t believe that everyone feels this way…like whether it affects them to the point where they feel pulled to extremes or…I don’t know. Everyone feels that way - men, women…it's just…(pause)."
Kyira: “It just looks different for everyone."
Katie: "Yeah and more and more, I have tried to not be so down on myself because that is what people hear and what people see and stuff like that, so…(pause)…"
Kyira: "Yeah…(sigh)...it is interesting too, we have been really trying to work with youth and do photoshoots…even like parent-child shoots and I was interviewing an 11-year old the other day and she said ‘I don’t understand why things are this way now. We used to be able to just be friends with anybody we wanted and now I can only be friends with people that weigh a certain amount or wear certain clothes or do certain things’. And it’s just like this ideological shift, you know? I asked her when it happened and she pinpointed exactly when it happened - 5th grade. She recalled immediately when it happened and she said that suddenly everybody started caring about what everyone else looked like and that she just wished she could be happy and celebrate people for who they are. And I thought, ‘God, I wish I thought that at 11' because all I was thinking about was that I was the one that ‘couldn’t' just wear a sports bra out for volleyball practice like all of my friends did because I didn’t look like them. And so I thought I had to wear over-sized sweatshirts and sweatpants and like, boy shorts, and you know, all of this things that were just different and maybe, had I understood then that this feeling is normal and how to fight against it, maybe I wouldn’t have had that downward spiral…I don’t know…"
Katie: "Ugh, I know, it is like that…I mean so young. Because now that you say that about the shift 5th or 6th grade, I definitely remember that in 4th grade, it was the first time that someone - this kid in my class - was like ‘You’re fat' and I thought 'Wait what? I am?’. Like what the fuck, you know? Man that sucked."
Kyira: “That’s awful. So tell me, after those experiences and as you move through your life now, how do you nurture and celebrate your beauty?"
Katie: I think that definitely focusing on the stuff that I do really love about myself makes a big difference. I mean, I have been singing and dancing since I was a little girl and music definitely, and performing in general, is where I feel the most confident. When I am doing that I never think that like ‘Ugh someone is going to think I look ugly in this costume’ or anything because I feel so good about being up there. I mean music in general, I just love music in any form. Every time I feel shitty, just listening to music has always just been something that makes me feel beautiful and makes me feel good. And it reminds me to think about the good stuff in me and the world."
Kyira: "That’s awesome."
Katie: "And more and more I am finding songs that are super empowering. There is this song by Jazmine Sullivan called “Masterpiece" and it’s just like…ahhh! She performed it on the BET awards and she had people of all different shapes and sizes in these body suits doing this crazy modern dance and…ugh…it was just like...I mean I was balling because it was just so impactful. And anytime I wake up and am like ‘ugh, I feel so ugly today’, when I drive to work, I play that song and by the time I get there, I am straight whipping my hair like Beyonce in the car and feel like, 'Fuck yes. I got this'. So definitely music and the arts in general and all my family and friends who are so supportive of it just makes such a huge difference."
Kyira: "Which I think sort of links back to what we were talking about before with having your tribe, and like…"
Katie: “…Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good, not the people who make you feel shitty. I mean, so many people put up with that and have so many people who shit on them and they're still friends with them and like, I just can’t. I don’t have time for that."
Kyira: "And it’s like you said, we are all judgmental - I mean no one wants to say that but its true. It’s human nature. You have instant judgments about people - that's the way we filter and see the world. But its when you can step back and tell yourself ‘Okay so that is a normal part of the human experience and I am going to choose to see beauty in everyone around me’, there is this stark shift in your being and it just sounds like you surround yourself with people like that, whose values outweighs those judgments and who choose to see beauty above all else."
Katie: "Yeah, I think most of all is my Gram. I mean, she is like my personal Oprah. She told me to put post-its all over my apartment to tell myself I am smart and beautiful and all of this stuff, and I don’t know. I mean she is just so great. We look a lot alike and I always think it is so funny because she always says ‘You are so beautiful - we look just alike' and I just love it so much - it’s so funny to me. It’s awesome to just have a kick ass family and people in my life to stand by me."
Kyira: "Absolutely, we all need more of that in our lives I think. Thank you so much for letting me spend a little time getting to know you and your journey a bit more and for sharing such an intimate part of your journey with the world. I know it has impacted me and will bring courage and inspiration to others as well."
Katie: "Absolutely, thank you for letting me be a part of it!"