When University of Idaho Alumna Amy Pence-Brown stood in the middle of a busy Boise market in just a black bikini and blindfold, she said it was one of the most important moments of her life.
“It seems as though my whole life was leading up to that moment, and this moment,” said Pence-Brown in her keynote speech for Body Positive Week Wednesday evening in front of a packed International Ballroom.
From early on, Pence-Brown”s weight fluctuated. She said she had never really been thin when she was growing up – she was slightly chubby as a child, curvy as a teenager and was fat in high school.
“Boys call me the fat cheerleader,” she said.
As a student at UI, Pence-Brown minored in women”s studies, which lead her to read “The Feminine Mystique” and “The Second Sex.” Both books played an important role in her life, she said.
But what Pence-Brown said really kicked her feminist and activist spirits into high gear was becoming a mother. She realized that she was happy with her life at 250 pounds. She didn”t feel the need to change despite the conflicting messages she observed in the world around her.
After doing her research online, Pence-Brown came across the blogs, “Curvy Fashionista” and “Fat Heffalump.” These inspired her to go forward with her own activism, and eventually she started the Facebook group, Boise Rad Fat Collective.
The people who joined the group helped Pence-Brown prepare for what she did last year in Boise and create a video of it to post on social media. Pence-Brown said the video now has over 130 million total views.
But Pence-Brown said she had no idea what type of response she would get just from her initial act alone. She had told no one what she was planning to do except the people in the Boise Rad Fat Collective, and said she was nervous the night before.
“I was scared that the police might ask me to leave, the people would yell mean things, that I”d stand there alone and crying for, you know, minutes that felt like hours,” she said. “But none of that happened, except for the crying part.”
From the moment she stripped down to her bikini, she said the effect was instantaneous. She stood in the middle of the market for almost an hour, and people hugged her and drew hearts and wrote words all over her body so by the time she took her blindfold off she was covered. She said she knew it was time to stop when a stranger told her that her markers had run out of ink.
Pence-Brown works to spread the message that all bodies are good bodies, and she encourages people to be kinder to themselves, even though she admitted that some days, it can be hard. She encouraged the audience to exercise for fun, to hide or throw away their scales, to start reading and to take more selfies.
“Take all the selfies you want,” Pence-Brown said. “Like looking in the mirror, I think selfies really help you examine and help you love yourself. See what you want, don”t want, and embrace all of it.”