Hosted by Ashley Bullock, In This Body is a podcast that serves as a wake-up call for greater representation and celebration of body diversity. In each episode, Ashley and her guest speakers shine a light on social inequities, discuss how to address the underlying “isms”, like racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, capitalism and discuss what we can do to radically reform them. In this episode, Ashley’s guest is Savala Nolan.
Savala is the Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law and author of the recently published book “Don’t Let it Get You Down: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Body”. She is a regular keynote speaker and panelist on social justice issues, including implicit bias, structural racism, understanding Whiteness, and the importance of social justice work for all lawyers.
In this episode, Ashley and Savala discuss:
- Savala’s own recovery from dieting and overexercising and how she is able to now accept her genetic blueprint
- The way systems of oppression encourage us to see the “problem” as within ourselves
- What it was like to grow up without seeing her body represented in the world and seeing the traits that were praised and realizing she didn’t have them
- How Savala uses social media in her own recovery and body liberation and gives you suggestions on questions to ask yourself when deciding what media to expose yourself to
Savala: I guess part of my work now is when I feel dissatisfied with how I look, locating the problem in the right place, which is outside of me, it’s in the culture. It’s not in anything objectively wrong with what I look like.
Ashley: Hello, and welcome to in this body, a show that serves as a wake up call for greater representation and celebration of body diversity. I’m your host, Ashley Bullock, and together we’re shining light on social inequities and discovering how to address the underlying isms like racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, capitalism, and what we can do to radically reform them.
Hello, and welcome to in this body. Today, I’ll be interviewing Savala Nolan, the executive director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, and the author of the recently published book, Don’t Let it Get you Down: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Body. She is a regular keynote speaker and panelist on social justice issues, including implicit bias, structural racism, understanding whiteness, and the importance of social justice work for all lawyers. In this show, we’ll be discussing Savala’s own recovery from dieting and overexercising and how she’s able to now accept her genetic blueprint. What it was like to grow up without seeing her body represented in the world and seeing the traits that were praised, and realizing that she didn’t have them. And also how Savala uses social media in her own recovery and body liberation, and gives you suggestions on questions to ask yourself when deciding what media to expose yourself to. This is going to be good.
Alright, let’s dive into it. Nice restorative breath. Okay, here we are. I’ve got Savala today, thank you for being here. Happy to have you. And I’m just even more grateful that you’ve been so patient with me and all of my technology issues.
Savala: Oh, it’s my pleasure to be here. And I am the least tech savvy person, you’re probably having tech issues, because the conversation is with me, like I disrupt tech vibes.
Ashley: So I’m just gonna jump into it. Curious about labels and how you label yourself, or how you like to be referred to? Or how you describe yourself?
Savala: I love this question, because it made me think about the context of this conversation and how the labels that we use for ourselves, they can vary, right in the context of one conversation to another, the way I might introduce myself in this space is not necessarily how I would do it, I don’t know, in a work meeting or something, but I don’t know that might overlap, too. It’s an interesting way to start. So in the context of what we’re going to be talking about, I think of myself as a mixed black woman, sometimes I just say black, sometimes I say, mixed black woman, I think of myself as a fat woman. And I say that just as a descriptor of kind of my body, shape and size. It’s not a word that has a judgment, like a moral judgment, or an aesthetic value judgment. And as I have mentioned, I am also a woman, I’m a cisgendered woman. Each of those things, my gender, my body shape, and size, and my race, I think kind of come to the fore in these types of conversations. So that’s how I would root myself today in this space.
Ashley: Okay. Okay, cool. And what messages Did you receive about your body early on? Your body and your identity.
Savala: So unfortunately, I did not get super good messages about my body in particular. I would say starting when I was three or four years old, almost in kind of a pre memory space, you know, I started to get the message that there was something wrong with my body, because I was a chubby kid, quote/unquote “too chubby”, whatever that means. So I started to get the message that there was something wrong with my body, because that was the judgment of my family at the time. And that it was my fault. You know, we often think of body weight as something that’s like, totally within a person’s control. So if it’s outside of some kind of normal – whatever the norm in that culture and time and places – it’s the person’s fault. And we also tend to think that we have a lot of choice in the size and shape of our body. So the sort of third message I got was that it was my responsibility to fix it. There was something wrong and it was my fault. Because I guess, presumably, I ate too much. I didn’t run around and play enough. And it was up to me to fix it in order to kind of I mean, I couldn’t have said this at the time, but to comply with the normative rules that were influencing mostly my mom as my primary caregiver, when I was a little kid, so I started dieting around four years old.
Savala: Yeah, I know, I have a five year old now. So when I say that, it’s just like, oh gosh, because I think of how little I was. And that was at the instruction of my mom who thought she was doing the right thing, you know, her intentions were protective. They were rooted in what she grew up with, and the New England-y white beauty standards that prized thinness, so she thought that she was going to head off misfortune at the pass, like, she was going to get away from some future as a fat person. The impact was problematic, but I always feel like I need to mention that she was coming from a place of love, maybe a misguided kind of love. But her intentions were coming from her heart, even though they didn’t feel very good to me. And they probably weren’t very good objectively, you know, but based on what she knew, at the time, she was doing her best.
Ashley: Right, yeah, I was gonna ask, were the messages you were receiving primarily from your mother and family, or were they more kind of societal messages? I guess you were maybe too young to know what society was expecting of you at that time.
Savala: Yeah. I mean, I hope I was too young to know. Because Lord knows the wave is gonna hit you sooner or later, hopefully, not three or four. I think it was mostly coming from my mom. She has been a lifelong dieter, and then through that cycle of losing and controlling and restriction, and then quote “falling off the wagon”, and you know, her thin clothes and her fat clothes and sort of cycling between them. She’s, been on that treadmill for a long time. And sort of brought me onto it with her, again, trying to do the right thing by me. I do think that it was really rooted in the beauty norms that her family embraced, this kind of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant side of my family. On my dad’s side of the family, which is black and Mexican, you know, they have their issues, too.
Savala: It’s definitely not one side is paradise and the other is hell, there’s stuff on that side of the family around color, and just the typical stuff, but on that side of the family, and I think some of this comes from being black and brown, they were just a little more generous around body size. And there was more diversity in what was acceptable and considered beautiful in my family, and so the messages around my body being a problem and all of that, they unfortunately really did come from my mom’s side of the family, rather than my dad’s side.
Ashley: Yeah, I can relate to that. I’m biracial as well.
Savala: I thought so. Like I think I see a mix girl.
Ashley: Yeah, mom’s white, dad’s black. So that resonates big time.
Savala: Yeah, not to say that the black side of my family and the Mexican side that it’s a free for all and everyone is considered extremely beautiful. But thinness and extreme fitness is not prized in the same way.
Ashley: Yeah. Period.
When was the first time you were made to feel not okay. Or different? Is there a time that stands out?
Savala: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, so I don’t exactly remember the details of this, but my mom ended up writing a piece about this time. So I have a memory through having read what she wrote, of being four years old or so and being under the influence of the this thin-centric fatphobic gaze in my family and essentially saying I don’t want to eat anymore. And if I stop eating, then I can fix my body problem. I basically stopped eating. I would eat yogurt and broth, but in very small quantities. I really kind of dove into the dieting space. That’s probably the first memory that I have that kind of speaks to your question. Emotionally it’s very resonant because I remember at that time of my life already feeling self-conscious and feeling unhappy and not wanting to wear a bathing suit like just feeling self-conscious in my body. But the details around it I learned from my mom’s, you know she’s a writer, I learned from her writing about that time.
In terms of my own memories, probably it was like being teased on the playground, you know? I don’t know if I’d say was bullied, I don’t know where the line crossed from teasing to bullying. But I do remember being like, how do I say this without it sounding too intense? Not physically assaulted, that sounds like a little too strong. Like there was a clique of these dudes at my school who in first grade liked to poke my stomach and call me a human beach ball. So you know, it’s not exactly the worst thing that ever happened to you but it certainly made an impression. And I recall crying and going to the teacher and asking for help and not getting it. For whatever reason. So I think school became a space and in addition to my home where I started to have those kinds of memories, or why I started to have those kinds of memories.
Ashley: Yeah well, obviously, it meant something because you still remember it, you know? After all these years.
Ashley: How would you describe the relationship with your body now?
Savala: Well, a lot has happened since I was in first grade. Three and a half decades have passed. My relationship with my body now is complex. I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, probably because my body size was always too large to meet the clinical benchmarks. Although I certainly have had times in my life where I was really, painfully thin or even somewhat skeletal, but it was actually applauded by doctors because it was like, “Yes, you’re doing it.” All of which is to say, I think of myself as having had probably a subclinical eating disorder for certain points in my life, and certainly doing a lot of over exercising and earning foods through exercise, that type of stuff.
I did that, really, from the time that I was a young child to the time I was maybe 35, or off and on with varying degrees of intensity. It kind of ebbed and flowed but it was also a constant. Then when I was about 35, my daughter was born. For me, that marks what I called the beginning of my recovery from dieting and over exercising. Dieting not just like … I think all dieting is problematic and rooted in systems of control. And I’ll get into that. But the dieting that I did was really self-loathing and extreme. I have friends who I would see who would, they’d want to lose a few pounds. So they would just eat Lean Cuisine/frozen dinners for a couple weeks, and make no other changes, it would do the trick, and then they seemed to be fine. It didn’t seem to cause them so much pain. For me, it was like a darker, heavier, deeper … it wasn’t just “I’m gonna eat Lean Cuisine for a couple of weeks.” So I went into recovery from all of that five years ago, and my relationship to my body has changed radically. On the positive side, I am finally able to accept my blueprint, my genetic blueprint that I got from my ancestors, like, always had my dad’s frame, and my dad was really tall and really big. And I’m able to just describe myself as fat without really having any emotional reaction where it’s make me sob, you know, if somebody said that to me.
Ashley: Fat used to be a bad word! No one said it. If you said it, it was like …
Savala: Yeah. It would be “diet starts tomorrow” if somebody posited that word, in my face. I’m a lot more relaxed about my body, I’m more neutral about it. It is what it is, and I value it, but I don’t have to live it all the time. I’m less attached to being like, a sexy woman. Not that there’s anything wrong with being in that space of who you are. But for me personally, dieting was very much connected to being attractive and sexy for a man, some hypothetical man, so I’ve been able to let go a little bit of that constant stress around whether or not I was sexy, right? So, it’s been really liberating in that way.
On the harder side, right? Because it’s complicated. It’s not all good. Sometimes I struggle with how I can’t bank on the same goodies that come with kind of normative beauty the way that I did when I was in my thinner body. Sometimes that feels like a loss, and even though the radical feminist within me knows that, that whole thing is just a big mess, right? The other part of me that just has to get through the world sometimes grieves that and misses being thin. That’s just the reality. I wish that it were not. But that is a piece of the puzzle. I think that’s because we live in a world that’s pretty fat-phobic, and pretty racist, and generally doesn’t like women. Like men, you know, being fat and black and female. Like, sometimes I just wish, you know, I don’t want to say I wish I wasn’t all of those things together. This way, I wish the world regarded that combination of things differently. I am what I am. And I wouldn’t trade that. But I’m also well aware that like, the cultural representations of fat, black women are very flat, they’re generally not that great, you know, you’re used to, like sell maple syrup, or like, friggin, you know, fantasies about mammy characters, you know, care of babies, for white families and stuff. So I guess part of my work now is like, when I feel dissatisfied with, with how I look, locating that, locating the problem in the right place, which is outside of me, it’s in the culture, it’s not in anything objectively wrong with what I look like. So there’s good and bad and how I relate to my body now. But it’s 100% clear to me that I would never ever ever go back into that space of dieting, and for anything, you know, I just wouldn’t do it, even if I knew it was gonna work. But if somehow somebody was like, but this is the one, I wouldn’t, I just wouldn’t do it. There’s, there’s no way I would do it anymore, ever again. Yeah,
Ashley: I’m so glad that you mentioned that though. I think it’s really important when we are having bad days or feeling shitty to just kind of pause and be like, wait a minute, is this me? Or is this mine? Or is this something else outside, like white supremacy? You know what I mean? So how much of this is me versus how much of this is external, and most of the time, it’s going to be white supremacy. So yeah. Yeah. Really, though. Sorry.
Savala: Yeah. The trick is that all of these system encourage us to locate the problem within ourselves, right? If we could just change, if we could just right this and that, that’s madness. But we’re all sort of taught to think that way. It’s part of what keeps the systems moving forward.
Ashley: Nailed it. Do you feel like you see your body? Well? Do you feel like you saw your body represented as a child? And then do you feel like you see your body represented now?
Savala: As a child? Absolutely not. No way. No way no how. I’m trying to flip through the Disney movies I watched as a kid, the little magazines when I got older. No, just not at all. I didn’t exist as far as the world was concerned. Or I didn’t exist in a way that was worthy of spotlighting and praising, seeing, you know, wasn’t meant to be seen. There were depictions of women who were fat and brown, but as I said, it was like Aunt Jemima. I remember, somebody once told me I was like the Pine Sol lady, which is, I don’t know, maybe that’s true. It’s like, okay, but they said that because there was a spokesman for Pine Sol, who was a large black woman. And it was like, okay, so that’s my reference point like, Aunt Jemima or the Pine Sol lady. And they’re both great. Like, God loves them. There’s nothing wrong with either one of them. But it’s the narrowness of the vision. It’s the flattening, it’s being compartmentalized in such a narrow space, combined with seeing, what are the traits that we praise and exalt? And I don’t have them. So as a kid, yeah, no, there was nothing. The exception to that rule was, was when I spent time with my dad’s family. My parents split up when I was young, and I lived with my mom. But I traveled on occasion to see my dad’s family in LA. And he was one of seven kids. He had five sisters. And you know, they were just kind of big, curvy, brown women. And so, I saw something of myself in them. And they responded positively to my body. I remember one of them, my aunt Renee, when she saw me, after many years, I was probably 12 years old or something. And I’m tall, I’m 5’ 10”. And at the time, I was probably pretty tall for my age, too. And I was definitely on the fatter side of my body spectrum. Very, very painfully self-conscious about it. And I remember getting out of the car, kind of unfolding my body out of the car, and she saw me and she just, like, threw her arms open. And she was like, Oh, you beautiful Amazon. And it was, I think, the first time anybody said something really positive about my body. This thing from my head to my feet that I lived in all the time, this inescapable aspect of who I was, and this inescapable part of my experience on the planet, I think it was the first time someone had, seen me, seen that aspect of me and grinned, through their arms open. So, I remember that. Now, you know, social media is super complicated, but I personally am really thankful for it. Because if I can be disciplined, and like, not stray into the dark corners, but when I can curate a bubble for myself, that’s full of people who share some of my physical traits, or who don’t, but who were in other ways, “non-compliant,” I can just create this sort of mansion on Instagram, where in every room, I can go in and I can see a body that’s affirming to me. And that’s pushing back against the sort of norms that are coming in from everywhere else. So, social media for me right now is a really positive tool. And I use it in that way.
Ashley: I was actually just going to ask you about that next. So, it’s funny that you went there for me. That was my next question, how do you think social media impacts our view of our body?
Savala: I mean, it’s like I have to tailor it so narrowly. It’s really good for me right now. As a grown woman in recovery committed to not moving backward, committed to my own liberty, right? All of those pieces together make it a good tool for me. I think about my kiddo, who, as I said, is five years old. So, she’s not on social media, but someday she will be. And yes, she will have access to those spaces like I do, but she may not have the vocabulary, the emotional maturity, the strength built up over years, to resist the ways the diet culture is so deep in Instagram and other social media platforms. So I worry about that. I can very easily imagine my daughter, despite my best efforts to give her a really solid foundation and loving her body and appreciating and valuing her body, she might stumble upon some hashtags that I wouldn’t like. She might follow some of these so called fitness leaders, who are basically selling diets. And so, I think it’s a slippery slope, I guess it works for me, because my footing is really solid. It’s not perfect. I occasionally find myself, you know, checking out some page with some plan, and you know, daydreaming about whatever is in the future, that will probably always be with me. But I now have the fortitude to pullback. Yeah. Um, I think before you have that muscle built up, it’s a more slippery, tricky place.
Ashley: Yeah, it can be really dangerous. And it just happens over time. And it can be very gradual, too.
Savala: Totally, in all of this stuff it’s pretty gradual. Right. But the effect over years and decades, is extreme. It’s like small doses, but the ultimate dose is extremely high.
Ashley: Right? Yeah. But there are so many great accounts now and so many like affirming, wonderful accounts on Instagram that I’m thankful of in that. And they just kind of feel like just over the past couple years to like, maybe the past two years or something. I don’t know what’s, what’s happening. But there’s something, there’s been a shift.
Savala: Yeah. And I’m so thankful for it. Because like, Lord knows I’m on Instagram too much.
Ashley: How much time do you spend a day would you say, or how many hours?
Savala: I can tell you because I just had my little screen time thing. Let me just preface this by saying 2020 is crazy. Yes, he has been on one and we’re all in survival mode. And it’s like lockdown times. And I’m still recalibrating basically from the two weeks around the election when I was on it all the time. But according to my phone, my average screen time, I can’t believe I’m gonna say this on the air so to speak. I’m curious how you’re gonna react.
Ashley: And now let me look away.
Savala: Two hours and 18 minutes a day.
Ashley: Oh, really? That’s actually not that bad.
Savala: I don’t know. Actually, there’s kind of a long pause there.
Ashley: No, two hours. I mean, I was excited. I was thinking it was gonna be like four or five hours or something like that.
Savala: Now, it’s never it’s never Well, the week around the election, I think it was up there. Because it was just like, refresh, refresh, refresh. Um, I prefer it to be under two hours a day. To me, that feels like a nice compromise between the fact that like, social media is how I feed my extrovert right now. And how I read the news online, all that stuff. And the fact that my actual life happens outside the computer and I want to write, and I want to read, I want to take walks, and I want to do all this other stuff. Are you gonna say what yours is? Or no,
Ashley: I don’t have a personal Instagram. I had one and I was addicted to it. I used it way too much. And then, about two years ago, two years and two months ago, I just decided to give it a break. And then a couple months went by and I was like, I don’t really miss this. I just felt so much more relaxed. And you know, I find out about stuff from reading and just through friends and my friends are really good about screenshotting things and screen recording things and stuff. And it’s enough for me.
Savala: Now, I feel like I have to drop in this footnote that the two hours and 18 minutes is the time that I am on my phone. So might include half an hour on an app.
Ashley: Yeah, like going back and forth between things. No, I know I don’t picture you just like on your couch for two hours just like scrolling.
Savala: I can’t let myself do that. Well, it happens. But you know, I never feel good afterwards.
Ashley: Yeah. And I think it’s important too when you have kids, I don’t want my kids to see me totally on the phone. And we didn’t have to go through what I didn’t have to go through that I had my parents full attention. So, I don’t want to be a distracted parent.
Savala: Yes, I love it. Actually, because I read the thing that really, I don’t know, clarify how I feel about that, which is, basically, every time your kid walks into the room and sees you on your phone, you’re teaching them how they should spend their time. And I was just like, Oh, well, I don’t want that. I do not. So yeah, I hear you as a parent. Yeah. For sure.
Ashley: Absolutely. Okay, now for a larger question. And even like your question, so how has systemic oppression impacted you personally? And how do you fight against it?
Savala: Well, Lord, I mean, how much?
Ashley: How much time? As long as you want? This is an important question.
Savala: Yeah, I mean, it’s impacted me immensely and continues to, and probably always will, as a woman, as a fat person, as a woman of color, who’s black, every system I interact with is liable to have biases operating within it that disfavor those parts of who I am. When I go to the doctor, or work meetings, or you name it, the systems that run our lives are all infected. And so, we’re impacted. It’s not to say, I don’t have a ton of privilege. I certainly do, cisgendered society is built for the type of body I have in terms of ability, right? Like I’m able-bodied, society has enabled my body, I make a good living, there’s plenty of ways that I am sheltered, systemic oppression. But, I think fundamentally, I live in a body that is disliked by the powers that be and the time and place where I live. And I feel that every day, not all day, every day. I feel that every day. And it impacts me, probably in ways I don’t even know, sometimes in wings that I think are really, what’s the word profound and painful, like in the sense of medicine, and we know the biases that doctors and nurses unconscious biases that they have against fat people and black people, and I’m certain I’ve been impacted by those. And at great cost, sometimes they impact me in terms of sort of making the hill that I have to climb a little more steep, when I want to get to the summit of valuing myself in my work and my contributions to the world. And I hope that they also make me a more compassionate person. And I hope that they sort of lessen the sharp edges of some of the privilege that I hold, because privilege, the essence of privilege is, if it’s not a problem for me, it’s not a problem, right? I acted and I don’t care. And if you have enough areas in your life, where you see people saying that to you, and you feel the burn and the injury of not belonging that comes when people are like, well, it’s not my problem that you can’t, whatever you know, then hopefully, you’re able to lessen that type of response in yourself and the places where you have privilege. So yes, I’m looking for a silver lining in a way that systemic oppression has helped me evolve into a more compassionate person. It would be great if it didn’t exist. You know, I’m not saying, great, we have systemic oppression because it makes us more empathetic. But in my case, I think it’s probably opened my heart somewhat to other human beings. Still wish I didn’t have to deal with it and I wish nobody else did.
Ashley: Right? How do you fight against it? Or pushback?
Savala: Yeah, I think that varies a lot. I mean, certainly, in my writing, I am often pushing back, either subtly or strongly, like forcefully or in a more subtle way. And that’s a public facing way, right? If I’m writing an op ed, or an essay, or something that’s going to be published, or my book, obviously, I’m talking to the people around me. And that’s a certain kind of pushing back. There’s another kind of pushing back or responding to this, these systems of oppression that is, like inward focused. And I feel like we use this word “curate” maybe too much, but one of the ways is curating what I allow to come into my brain. I try to think of my brain and my heart as a house. And either I can open the windows and doors and let whatever blow through it, or I can close them. So, when I’m thinking about what to watch, what to read what to listen to, you know, I think about, do I want this content blowing through my consciousness? Does it fortify me? Or does it reinforce this lie that there’s something wrong with me? Does it nourish me? Does it protect me? Or does it expose me to harm in some way? Psychic harm, emotional harm, you know, and I rest, I spend a decent amount of time resting. I mean, I work hard, too. But I just think, in the last few years, especially, I have started to understand that the load that I carry physically, mentally and emotionally as who I am, fat, black female, is higher than what some other people carry. It’s not the highest, it’s not a competition, but it’s higher than what some other people carry. And I am entitled to rest and recovery, after things that tire me out. Which can just be like, you know, those could be huge things like having Donald Trump be the President. Or it can be like, a very small thing, like being the black woman shopping at the store and having somebody come up to you who’s white and say, Oh, can you tell me what to do? And you’re like, I don’t work here, you know, a very small thing. But you know, small things can be really impactful. It’s like, you’ll walk a few blocks with a pebble in your shoe. A pebble is very small, but it’s uncomfortable. Oh, one of the main ways that I sort of respond to resist and try to create in the face of systemic oppression, is to acknowledge that, you know, the rock, I’m rolling up the hill is heavier, and it entitles me to longer rest breaks.
Ashley: Yes. I love that.
Savala: I think, it’s not just for me. That’s a self-assessment, you know, like, nobody else gets to have that in their life.
Ashley: No, that’s so important. It’s so important. There’s an organization called the Rest Ministry. Yeah. And they talk about that, like rest being a form of resistance. And I love that idea. That was actually a really aha moment for me when I heard it phrased that way. It was like, uh, wow. And then if you just follow them and what they’re doing. Yeah, see, I have good friends. And they screenshot all of the time I found out about them.
Savala: It’s so true that we’re just hyper-obsessed with productivity. I am not a content farm. And so, I don’t need to be producing all the time.
Ashley: Yes, absolutely. How do you manage like shame, anger?
Savala: Yeah, seriously, it depends on the day. And it depends on what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a fight with my spouse, or are we talking about Supreme Court decisions? I mean, writing is probably the best way that I manage, feeling angry, because it helps me articulate and kind of pull the heat out of my body and put it out into the world, in a way. Shame is a really tough one. I think one of the things that makes me most angry about my legacy of dieting, and over exercising, is that it was rooted in shame. And so I have this well, or like taproot, or river or something of shame that was just kind of poured into me as a youngster. And then cultivated over decades, and I don’t think that I will ever not have a place, especially on my body, where I don’t carry shame. And I really, really, really regret that. One of the things that’s so beautiful about being a parent is seeing my child have no shame in her body. It’s a foreign concept, she’s like, right on the edge. But so far, she doesn’t have it. And, you know, what do I do with that shame? I think that I tried to, I think that I’ve tried to find the balance between revelation, like, sunlight can be kind of a tonic for shame, or the expression of our secrets keep us sick, things that we’re ashamed of, were often very secretive about, and then the sunlight never hits them. And we never see that, like, they’re not a big deal, you know, or the other people have the same thing. So I try to balance revelation with my desire for privacy, and my right to privacy. I think as a woman, I have been taught that my body is sort of like a public park. It’s open for observation, come on through, anybody have a look, anybody has a right to comment. I think that there’s a way that being a woman and I use that term inclusively, there’s the way that a woman invites you or requires you to kind of like, shed some of your privacy around your body. And I resist that. At the same time, I’m aware that sometimes my desire for privacy is really about shame. Like, oh, I don’t want to wear a tank top because I don’t want people to see my arms because they’re “too fat,” or they’re “too soft,” or “too jiggly,” you know, whatever. And, like, that’s more shame than like, I don’t want to wear a tank top because I just feel like being covered and cozy and modest or whatever. Today, that’s more about like, honoring my instinct for privacy in a healthy way. Does this kind of make sense?
Ashley: It makes total sense.
Savala: Okay, so what I do right now, what I’m doing with varying degrees of success is trying to balance and explore revelation and privacy. And what I reveal and what I keep to myself and why. And, yeah, as a way of kind of managing the things or engaging with the things that I made me feel shame or have felt shame about, especially physically.
Ashley: Yeah. That’s beautiful.
Savala: It’s a deep cleansing breath.
Ashley: I know. It’s a big question. I thank you for sharing that. Who inspires you?
Savala: I’m really inspired by Kamala Harris right now. I mean, I’m inspired by so many people, but the thing that inspires me about Kamala right now, I mean, there’s many, many things, but the main thing is that she’s not like 25 years old. She’s a grown woman. She is an adult woman, she is firmly in the age bracket. You know, we’re this culture that likes to say, we don’t want to see you or hear from you anymore, because you’re not a supple, young ingenue, you know, and I’m extremely, extremely thankful for and inspired by her willingness to be visible and seen and go after what she wants, damn it. I’m like, hold on to it and own it with vigor and pride. As a person who is not 25.
Ashley: And what’s been a helpful resource for you as you’ve been on your journey?
Savala: Like, my body recovery journey?
Ashley: I mean, just in general, anything that you find helpful, anything that kind of keeps you sane, grounded, just anything? It doesn’t have to be a book, a person, a place of thought, a mantra, anything helpful?
Savala: Well, I’ll say two things. Toni Morrison. I mean, it’s Toni Morrison. But like, if you have listeners who haven’t read Toni Morrison, you know, they should. I don’t know what it’s like to read, Toni Morrison as a white person. As a black person and a black woman, it’s just like coming home and throwing the curtains open and having the room be flooded with sunlight or something. It’s so familiar. And it’s being illuminated in the most beautiful way. So yeah, Toni Morrison is just, she was and her work remains deeply healing and educational for me.
Ashley: Is there a particular book or quote from her that you recommend?
Savala: Yeah, I mean, Beloved, right. Like, if you’re going to read one Toni Morrison book, I guess it should probably be Beloved. And another one of my favorites is a book that I don’t know. I mean, of course, people weren’t bananas when it came out. But I don’t hear it talks about as much and it’s called a Mercy. I remember picking it up off a bookshelf in a bookstore, an independent bookstore a couple years ago, and being like, Oh, what is this, you know, but it’s another one of her books that I love. And then I would recommend to people, but I’ve never read a Toni Morrison book, and then been like, dang, I’ll never get those hours back. Like, even the couple that I don’t love as much still stay with me and haunt me and move me after having read them.
Yeah, and the other another thing that has inspired me since the moment I decided to stop dieting is a group of women in Portland, Oregon, called Be Nourished. I just encourage people who want to start to heal or divest from dieting, or, look at shame and all of that in their bodies, to check them out. Because they were early features and were very powerful, and still are.
Ashley: Awesome. And so where can our listeners stay in touch with you? Should they want to?
Savala: I hope they want to! I would love to stay in touch with listeners. Well, as everybody knows, if they’ve made it this far, I’m on Instagram four hours a day now.
Ashley: Awesome. Well, thank you for being here. Thanks for being so open and transparent about your journey.
Savala: Oh, thank you. Wonderful. You make it easy. You hold such a steady, warm space. And I’m really thankful for the invitation to talk with you and help me get through it again. I hope our paths crossed somewhere down the line again.
Ashley: Wonderful, thank you so much.
Savala: Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you for listening to In This Body and being a part of these important conversations. If you want to be on the side of positive change, where all bodies and identities are represented and empowered, keep doing your part to speak up against systems of oppression and injustice and stand up for diversity. As the late great Audrey Lorde said your silence will not protect you. Your voice matters. Peace and love y’all.