| This is the 297th story of Our Life Logs |
When I have negative feelings about the way my stomach looks, I think about what I would say to my mom if she were talking bad about her body. I know my response would be: “I love your body. I think you’re adorable.” It’s an easy sentiment to offer someone else, but it took a long time for me to view my own figure in this way. Loving my body has been a journey.
Growing up in the middle of the woods in a log cabin destined me to be a “weirdo.” I use that term fondly, but I do think my rural home life in the backwoods of Grants Lick, Kentucky, set up my personality and the direction of my life.
I was born in 1988, the youngest of a blended family. My parents brought two children each to the table from previous marriages who were all grown and living on their own by the time I was born, except for my brother Zach. The four of us lived together in our log cabin, and my childhood was happy. However, many of my peers grew up in the suburbs, and with my rural background, I felt like an outcast who had a lot of catching up to do.
That feeling was intensified by the fact that, since age five, I’d been living with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels in the body. When I was first diagnosed, there were suddenly rules in my life that weren’t there before. My fingers were routinely pricked for blood tests. Insulin was injected into my body on a regular basis. There were foods that I was no longer allowed to eat when I wanted them, especially at the beginning. Diabetes technology was not as advanced as it is today and my mom carefully planned my every bite.
My earliest memory of shame is from kindergarten. A classmate asked, “Why do you have a different snack?” and I remember thinking, why am I weird?
I had so much restriction built into my relationship with food that I began binge eating at a very young age. I can understand now why that would be a coping mechanism, an outlet. Binging is a behavior naturally born of restriction. As a child, however, it was confusing. I couldn’t put that behavior into any kind of context.
Additionally, growing up, I understood that I was bigger than other girls of my age. I also gauged, like many young females, that this being bigger was bad, somehow. Dieting was all around us: in the media and in the habits and words of the women who raised us. This awareness, coupled with my habits of restrictive and binge eating, translated into a hatred for my body as I entered my teenage years that led me to dieting. My sense of beauty was tied entirely to my weight. I remember reading a book written by Dr. Phil’s son, The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution for Teens, while being on the treadmill. This perceived need to live a life dieting, to lose weight, to shrink myself, was a desire that featured prominently in my life well into adulthood.
After high school, I attended a small private college in Ohio called The Art Academy of Cincinnati. It was truly a space in which I felt free to create and I really responded to that. I was obsessed with art. My dad was a carpenter, always making things with his hands. Growing up, I loved that about him, loved watching his process. I think that’s one of the reasons I chose to study sculpture in college.
Dieting came with me to my college. It was never my entire life; there was now art, school, friends and family, romance, and the start of a career. But dieting was never far away. It was a shadow, always there, but only visible at certain times from certain angles.
There were bits of life that I couldn’t fully enjoy because of dieting. I remember during a family trip to Montana, we went to a café where everyone ordered these delicious-looking, delicious-smelling, homemade cinnamon rolls. Well, everyone except me. Here we were on this vacation in a special place, sharing this special experience, and I chose not to participate in it. Although at the time, I defined this moment as a victory, a success, because that’s what my diet would have me believe it was.
Diet culture consistently defined success and other measurements of myself: worth, beauty, happiness, social status. I was taught that I could only acquire these ideals by looking the “ideal” way.
Then, my half-sister Melissa committed suicide while I was in college. She was a big, beautiful woman and she was great the way she was. Losing her pushed me to reexamine my perception of the perfect body. Her death highlighted how important it was for me to stay cognizant of my mental health, how I could actually care for myself versus how society was telling me to care for myself. I realized how valuable my time was, and I wanted to do great things with her in mind.
And so, I started working on 2×2-inch drawings of different areas of my torso. Sometime after graduation in 2011, my focus returned to this subject of the female body that I was so fixated on. I began shaping “goddess” figurines out of polymer clay, inspired loosely by Venus of Willendorf, a fat female figurine estimated to be some 35,000 years old.
My goddesses had uneven breasts, squishy-looking bellies, curvy thighs—everything that diet culture had taught me to fear. Making them felt inherently liberating, but at the time, I was oblivious to the path in which I had started down and the changes it would bring.
In 2014, some friends brought me back a coffee mug from Asheville, North Carolina. It was shaped as a twisted face with a snaggle tooth, and I loved it immediately. It also triggered an epiphany: I could make my goddesses into mugs. Thus, the Chubby Ladies were born. People were immediately interested in them, the feedback overwhelmingly positive. Still, I thought them to be just a random obsession on my part and a type of kitsch on the part of consumers.
However, as their popularity rose, I began questioning my views on my own body. Lifelong behaviors steeped in diet culture made their way onto the examination table. I researched body positivity, self-love, intuitive eating, and health at every size. I immersed myself in these new ideals, and I realized how much baggage I was carrying around from the environment I had been raised in. It’s the water you’re swimming in your entire life, so you don’t even notice it. But once you do, you see you’re surrounded by it. It’s everywhere.
With this realization, I decided to quit my unofficial job as “food police.” I had not only been regulating my own dietary decisions for much of my life, but I had begun playing that role for my husband, Dave, as well—yes, in between all the dieting, I found love and got married to a “weirdo” like me in 2013. He loves me for me, and that’s the best feeling.
I’ve come to realize how important it is to get reacquainted with and listen to my body, to make sure I am satisfied, nourished, and eating enough food. I’ve even shifted away from using the word “chubby” in trying to reclaim the word “fat.” Chubby is the nice, cute, easy-to-swallow version. I’m fat, and so is my pottery. I think my Chubby Ladies resonate with people because fat is still taboo, and that’s something that I’m dealing with now. I hope that through Chubby Ladies, people can find confidence and love in their bodies, no matter what size.
I’m working to help rid our society of fat phobia through social media posts and my everyday, real life. For example, instead of focusing on how my clothes can make me look thinner, I strive to dress as a fat person who is visibly confident in herself. I believe that’s a more important impression to leave behind than hiding who I am. I’m building a future that holds a greater depth of self-care. I want to continue to create space for positive growth, as well as space to help other people. I’m proud of who I am, the work I’m doing, and the path I traveled to get here.
This is the story of Amanda Joy Dennewitz
Amanda lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband Dave, their dog Henry, and six chickens. Growing up with Diabetes led her down a path of binge eating and disliking her body. It wasn’t until the suicide of her half-sister that she started to dive into her body shaming issues, eventually emerging with a sense of bodily acceptance and pride with the help of her Chubby Ladies pottery. When she isn’t dismantling diet culture and fat phobia or having fun in her garden, Amanda works with blind/visually impaired artists at Clovernook and artists with developmental disabilities at InsideOut Studio. She loves being a part of art shows and festivals because setting up a booth covered in chubby female sculptures presents opportunities to have meaningful conversations with people about her work and everything behind it. Amanda often wonders what her sister would think of her Chubby Ladies. She would like to think her sister would be proud. Check out her Chubby Ladies in all their beauty on Etsy.com (shop name: AmandaJoyPottery) and Instagram (@amandajoypottery).
This story first touched our hearts on March 20, 2019.