I recently received interview questions from the lovely Angela Pittenger and as I answered them, I found myself thinking "God, this is everything I've wanted to blog about for a while... and it's all in one place!" So I'm sharing them here on TMB with you because it's about time we talked about some complicated topics like my privilege, what activism means, Society's mean streak, body love as a recovery journey and finding the balance between fierceness and softness!

1.) How old are you and are you a Tucson native? 

I just turned 30 and I am! Born, raised and in love. I spent some of my childhood in LA and college times in Idaho but this is home and I adore living in the Southwest. 

2.) When did you get started in activism?

I don’t know if activism is the right word for me to use anymore, even though I have in the past. There are so many different kinds of “activism” and I think that everyone has their own and different idea of what activists are or what they should look like/do. I’ve stopped using that term when referring to myself within the last year simply because I don’t know where or how I fit into that entire world. What I (and so many other people do) is incredibly varied, y’know? People ask me what my job is and I say “Uhm, I’m just a Jes Baker for a living... I guess?” because I don’t fit in just one box and there isn’t a manual for this shit. I can't speak for everyone but I know that there are lots of people doing online social justice work and are just making it up as they go, me included.

I suppose if I fit into a person's definition of an activist, it's cool for them to use that description (I'm often called a Fat Activist), but for me... It's something that I'm questioning.

All of that being said, I AM a blogger, author, speaker, rabble-rouser + loud-mouth and I preach the importance of equality, mental health, body autonomy and authenticity from the platforms I have. I also like to post a lot about Fatshion, sex, cats and karaoke. So, yeah. I’m just a Jes Baker doing the best she can every day.

When it comes to challenging the status quo (what you might personally call activism) I’ve been pushing buttons and advocating for change my entire teenage and adult life. I grew up in a Social Work home and making the world a better place has always been something that's been at the core of my upbringing. In other words, I've been a pain-in-the-ass longer than I haven't.

The internet has simply given me a way to amplify that message and other people’s messages (who tend to have a lot more experience than I do!) and I’m fortunate in that way.

3.) When do you feel it really took off? I mean, you’re off speaking around the country and have been featured on big news outlets…How did that happen?

Abercrombie and Fitch, no doubt. It was a perfect storm situation where I was just starting to write things that were “going viral” which gave me the platform to send a counter campaign out into the interwebs where EVERYONE was talking about the old comments that A&F’s CEO had made. The world was just looking for a visual middle finger and “Attractive and Fat” just happened to be it. It was luck. And that luck landed me a spot on the Today Show and on nearly every country's media circuit. This has all continued over the years with various projects.

On top of the “perfect timing” aspect, it's also important to mention that my success is due in large part to my social acceptability... I’m fat, sure, but that’s the only real “controversial” part about me. I’m also white, able bodied, cisgender, kinda hourglass and somewhat educated.

I haven't earned any of those things, yet they fall in line with Society’s standard of "acceptable" which means that the world is comfortable(ish) with listening to my message and propelling it into the spotlight. My success in this way is also completely luck. There are so many other people out there who do not have these privileges who are doing far more incredible work… but the media passes them on by without promoting. I’m working on learning from what these amazing humans write and also using my platform (that's created from privilege) to amplify their messages too. 

Because “body image work” isn’t just about plus, cis, white girls but you wouldn’t know it if you were to Google body love or body positivity.

So, The Militant Baker took off because of luck. It’s successful because of luck. I do hard work behind the scenes (OMG I worked 90 hour weeks for years!) but I realize these reasons are the biggest part of The Militant Baker's success. I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend my time sharing a message of self-acceptance and life reclamation, TRUST ME. So, so, SO grateful. 

But I’m also working on being and doing better when it comes to the bigger picture because it’s wrong that the structures that I’m dedicated to tearing down are also the ones supporting me more than others. I’m benefiting from something that I want to eradicate and that’s just beyond fucked.  Learning how to effectively maneuver around this situation is a complicated but I’m working on it.

4.) Please give me a brief description of your background in mental health.

I started baking in mental health, believe it or not. In my early 20s, I was a typical Tucson downtown hipster who was working as a Baker (and often Barista) for years until I found this really amazing opportunity to work within the mental health system as a baker and Psych-Social Rehab Specialist. Basically, I was using baking as a way to train other adults with a serious mental illness (SMI) on how to find independent employment and work through life barriers. I personally have several diagnoses, so this was something I felt passionately about.

I did job training for years (while earning a million certifications) and then developed a curriculum for those who wanted to find jobs similar to mine (as a Peer Support Specialist/Recovery Coach- there are lots of different titles for this work) and taught it for a while afterwards. And while I left that area of work so that I could be self-employed several years ago,  I spent a lot of my summer this year  going back and working for the same agency; this time doing Supported Employment and helping those same individuals find real life jobs!

Working within mental health changed the way I interact with and understand the world in such a powerful and positive way. It's taught me more about resiliency, advocacy, compassion and communication than anything else could. I often tell my Executive Director that working with others in behavioral health is a form of “self-care” for me; it’s so grounding. I’m so grateful for those who have mentored me in this work and I plan on incorporating it (because, how can you NOT?) in everything I do for the rest of my life.

5.) People are jerks and judgmental. How do you handle the flack and the negative comments from people online?

I’ve written lots of articles about how to handle this shit, because honest to god you don’t understand the basic depravity that an average human is capable of  until you have websites dedicated to tearing apart your “failures”, diet, BMI, relationships, clothing, facial expressions, writing etc. simply because you’re fat and you like yourself and people have complicated feels about it.  It’s really hard to not write off all of humankind when you see how horrible thousands of people can be.

But you also have to remind yourself that these are the people with
1.) No impulse control/online filter and
2.) Nothing better to do. 

They don’t represent ALL of humans, just a pocket of really depressing ones.

I combat the negativity by not Googling my name and having someone else monitor my social media so that I see half the bullshit instead of all of it; this leaves more energy and space to do the things that are important. I also surround myself with incredible people in real life (Tucson has a bunch of them!)  that remind me that life can be beautiful. And lastly, I check in with other activists that I respect and aspire to be more like; the doers that are making the world a better place. These are the people that I take criticism from because these are the people that matter to me and my own journey towards becoming a better person. I try to listen to their honest feedback and then remember that everyone else’s opinion about me (good and bad!) isn't really important.

6.) What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with body issues right now? How have your own struggles affected your work?

I like to be honest about having “Bad Body Days”. I have ‘em all the time and this is totally normal when you grow up and continue to live in a world that tells you that you’re not good enough. We all have that experience and to pretend that everything is sunshine after you "know better" is silly.

Recovery from beauty bullshit/body oppression is a very real recovery journey in every traditional sense. And within the Stages of Change, one of the natural steps is "relapse". In recovery, we expect it. It's part of whole person healing. It doesn't make it easy but it also doesn't make you a failure.

If you're looking to change the way you view yourself and your body, I recommend surrounding yourself with diversity and positive body image messaging! In real life (find people who have the same goals!) and online. Our social media feeds, if left on their own, will continue to be full of false “perfection” but we have the personal power to change that. I have compiled a list of over 175 blogs, Facebook pages, Tumblrs etc that I recommend you hit “follow” on and see what happens for you. Chances are, all kinds of bodies will become normalized for you which will only help you to normalize your body as well. SUPER POWERFUL!

Start there.

7.) What would you tell your younger self if you could go back in regards to body image, confidence and being an overall bad-ass?

Dear Younger Jes,

Everything you’ve been taught about personal worth is wrong. Don’t worry so much about it (you do you, boo) and know that when you get older you’ll start to figure that shit out.

Until then,
Older Jes (who is much smarter than you but is still figuring it out <3)

8.) What are you doing full time?

I spent a lot of time this summer working in mental health, but that’s coming to a close for now. I’m headed back into full time Militant Baker-ing which means I’ll be doing speaking gigs at universities, working on a project I can't announce yet (UGH), blogging here and there... and then seeing what pops up in my inbox. Seriously, I never have ANY IDEA what’s really next because this “job” is all about living one day at a time. IT COULD BE ANYTHING! It’s both terrifying and exciting.

9.) How do you find the courage, confidence and will to keep at it day in and day out?

On good days, I roar as loud as possible. On bad days, I retreat into my safe spaces, surround myself with wonderful people and allow myself to be vulnerable and imperfect. It’s important to me that I allow myself permission to do both. Challenging what is “acceptable” and harmful in this world is beyond exhausting. Yet, it needs to be done. So equal parts of  fierceness and softness is how I maintain my existence.

And I think this is true for many people, don't you?

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