These Black Be Body Positive Leaders are Changing the Game

posted by 
MD Spicer-Sitzes
  /  
February 7, 2019

The rest of the world is finally catching up to the fact that Black people have nourished, loved, critiqued, and built the foundations of Body Positivity since before the term existed. You don’t have to reach far to begin to understand that this entire nation was built by Black folks, and they are still not credited for it. As I continue my own journey with anti-racist advocacy, I research, understand, and relay systemic connections regularly. Black people are still highly underrepresented in all fields, including the field of eating disorders prevention and treatment.

There is power in directly supporting the representation we want to see in the world, especially when it comes to diverse representations of beauty, creativity, success, and intelligence. I am not Black, but I know that supporting Black people’s success (and not being afraid to say/do it) only enriches us all. So grab your favorite tea mug, and sip on these experiences from seven outstanding Black folks who are leading the way in Body Positive Leadership, and then hire them, donate to them, and support their work.

Cintia Cruz

Queer, Black feminist and Ph.D. student researching ‘How Black Women in Brazil and the United States Build Their Self-Esteem’ in São Paulo, Brazil.

Cintia stands smiling proudly second from left, with several Brazilian digital Body Positive influencers after leading her first workshop in São Paulo, Brazil. Find Cintia’s bopo comrades on Instagram: Carol Chaves (@pluskeerol), Carol Santos (@musacarol), and Carool Andrade (@diariodeumagoorda).

"I interned with The Body Positive in 2017, and received my license to become a Be Body Positive Facilitator at their August 2017 Summit in Berkeley, CA, where I also volunteered. The Summit featured several queer women of color in leadership such as; Sonya Renee Taylor, Gloria Lucas and Virgie Tovar.

Currently, I'm offering workshops in my home country, Brazil. Our culture is very oppressive, and constantly reinforces a singular, thin-bodied ideal of beauty. I want to provide a truly Body Positive space that is set up for self-reflection and building self-confidence. Black women in Brazil often believe that they don't have time to think about themselves, they are constantly thinking of others. I want to help them to find time in their daily lives to practice self-acceptance, and embrace, as Sonya Renee Taylor would put it, radical self-love.

A tip for other black Be Body Positive leaders and aspiring leaders—Don't worry about perfectionism. Connect your own story with other people's and do what you want to do!"   

How to connect with Cintia:

Email: cintiacruz@hotmail.com

Instagram: @cintia_cruz

LinkedIn: Cintia Cruz

Website: www.autoestimaoprojeto.com

Oriana

High School Student and Campus Facilitator in Richmond, California (works with Cristal Banagan, featured below).

Oriana poses under a tree on a sunny day and laughs at the camera.

"In this day and age, it seems like people of all genders body shame one another a lot. I wanted to share knowledge about body positivity with others, and I knew that facilitating at my high school would bring awareness to other students and help, even if just a little bit, especially with other girls at my school. I think that, so far, we’ve accomplished that.

The Be Body Positive group at my school is very nice! Over the course of the school year, I’ve heard a lot of different and amazing stories. Many of the group participants are girls who came to the group experiencing some of the same things I have. We have all been able to connect through the group, and learn how to better understand each other. So far, I have facilitated these groups directly for about three months, but I’ve been a facilitator building the group out for a total of about six months. Our meetings are held on campus in the school’s Health Center.

One of my favorite experiences so far has been another group member telling me that hearing my story really helped them to break out of their shell, and love themselves for who they really are. They no longer try to be who they think others want them to be or look how others want them to look. They just find the beauty in being themselves! ‍

After high school I want to go to college and study criminal justice, and I now have the confidence to do it. I’ve been accepted to five different colleges so far...WISH ME LUCK! ;)"

Adenike Omomukuyo

Nigerian-American rising professional in mental health advocacy for communities of color with the pursuit of a Masters in Community Health and Social Epidemiological research in Ithaca, NY.

Adenike poses for the camera, kneeling low to the ground on the Cornell campus and smiling confidently.

"As someone 'recovered' from an eating disorder, my treatment experiences have influenced my indulgence in body politic work, especially as the absence of my communities of color within the journey has been painful. Having the highest intention of expanding these narratives inside these recovery spaces, I received Be Body Positive Facilitator Training from my alma mater, Cornell University, in August of 2018.

My campus training experience with Be Body Positive Cornell was a positive one, as the curriculum I learned from The Body Positive comprehensively emphasized the important multicultural/intersectional facets of body politics. However, my concerns began to arise post-training and amidst programming, because what was preached was not necessarily being practiced. In my experience, the implementation seemed so western and Eurocentric; I—a black, Nigerian, first-generation American and first-generation college student—struggled to find relationship to it. Not only was the demography of the campus program lacking in diversity and multiculturalism, but outreach efforts to challenge this were non-existent and uninterested. From my treatment journey, I had already discovered the disparities present in recovery spaces. Within The Body Positive, our unifying thread is the holistic embrace of all bodies. However, my developed understanding of the general Body Positive culture was its striking failure to enforce principles that were not just exclusive to privileged, heteronormative, white women. I did not expect the same problems to be present in what claimed to be a revolutionizing space. I was very hurt by this reality, and this is why I am pushing to eradicate it.

There are so many things that could improve with increased leader diversification. The first is visibility, as more individuals from our society's multicultural communities, who similarly battle with body insecurities, become present and seen in the space. Next, is an improved awareness of narratives that are co-existent alongside the marketed mainstream standard, yet are barely heard. A growth in willingness to authentically share one's story and experience also follows. I say this because representation can strongly reinforce whose voices are welcome, presenting a space as being either welcoming or oppressive. All of these create opportunity for a better appreciation of people's diverse narratives, for these inclusions of body experience demonstrate understandings that are not just valued, but honored.

In my current efforts, I act to debunk these marginalized understandings for communities of color within the Body Positive movement, and work proactively to create new spaces that welcome intersecting narratives. These are narratives that would strive to decolonize our bodies, present an anti-racist approach, and remove micro-racial aggressions surrounding body politics. I know advocating for collective inclusion within mental health dialogues can feel uncomfortable, but the challenge must not deter us. Authentic actions like asserting our presence, claiming our stories, and raising our voices all help to eradicate the movement’s exclusivity, and increase proper support for our communities.

So, to my brave black spirits, who may be questioning their role in this movement as leaders, facilitators, or activists, I challenge you to rise and own your space, not because you 'earned it', but because you are deserving."

How to connect with Adenike:

Email: aao56@cornell.edu

Instagram: @nike_omo_

LinkedIn: Adenike Omomukuyo

Y. Falami Devoe

Body Liberation/Self Care Coach and the Founder of Holistic Alchemy and Sister Circle in Atlanta, Georgia.

Top Photo: Y. Falami laughing with her Sister Circle in Atlanta, Georgia. Bottom Photo: A promotional photo for Y. Falami’s coaching business, Holistic Alchemy.

"I was trained as a Be Body Positive Facilitator at their 3-day Summit in Berkeley California, in August 2017. It was an amazing experience that afforded me the opportunity to meet fabulous activists and educators who are doing the work and making a difference. I was so inspired to incorporate what I learned at the training into my Atlanta based business, Holistic Alchemy. I have shared some of the techniques and information in my Sister Circle conversations and in one-on-one body liberation coaching sessions with women.

The virtual Sister Circles are informational supportive spaces where one can learn, connect, nurture, and grow with other women; developing and strengthening self care practices. It is my hope that my Sister Circle groups will flourish world wide engaging women virtually around discussions of self care, well being, and body liberation. As an African American Lesbian in this work, it is so important for me to be my authentic self and encourage others to do the same. This means that you have to commit to doing the work on yourself, addressing any past traumas and negative experiences, and understand and share how those experiences have shaped you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. People want to know that you are human, and that even as a leader in this work, you can share your feelings too. It helps your audience to feel more at ease. Finally, find your tribe. Find and connect with other 'sisters' who can support your dreams and aspirations. I am all for collaborating and connecting so that we all can help women live their best lives. Please reach out!"

How to connect with Falami:

Email: IyaLami@holisticalchemy8.com

Instagram: @holisticalchemy8

LinkedIn: Y Falami Devoe

Website: www.HolisticAlchemy8.com

Cristal Banagan

Current seeker of equitable justice for all life forms and Associate Director at Girls Inc. in Richmond, CA.

Cristal takes a selfie, smiling down at the camera. She proudly wears a t-shirt with a pineapple sketch that says: "Be A Pineapple, Stand Tall, Wear a Crown, and Be Sweet on the Inside."

"I first heard about The Body Positive when I attended an introductory workshop with the co-founder Connie Sobczak, hosted by a group called Alliance for Girls. I was immediately impressed with the concept and dove right in, volunteering to chat with my 'inner mean girl' during the workshop. Before the workshop ended, I was convinced that this kind of work could save the world and I bought Connie's book Embody that day. I read it in one week. I researched the organization and found that what they had to say about health and self-image made a lot of sense. Having personally experienced some of the 'healing', I was a quick cheerleader of the program to anyone who would listen. Soon, a facilitator training was announced locally, and knowing our tiny organizational budget, I asked for a scholarship. I think there was even a random drawing for a scholarship, and I was lucky enough to be the recipient. I was trained as a facilitator in Berkeley in 2017, and my life has not been the same since…

I work with school-age girls at Girls Inc, mostly girls of color, from the most underserved schools and neighborhoods around Richmond, California. (Richmond is a working class community situated across the bay from San Francisco, and directly across from a large oil refinery. It is home of the famous Rosie the Riveter.) Regardless of who we serve, all children deserve to hear that they are worthy no matter how they look on the outside. We started with in-school programs in some middle and high schools we work in. The program was immediately popular, especially in the high schools. Most school personnel want the BP program for their girls as soon as they see we offer it. Now we do in-school programs, we infuse it into our on-site programs, and we do an on-site program specifically for girls and an accompanying adult, because I know from personal experience that women need this education, too. The whole world needs this education, because as humans, we are too far-removed from our own intuition that tells us we are beautiful from the inside out, and not the other way around.

My advice for other black people (or anyone) looking to break into this work is to do the work, even when it is scary, because not only can it save you, but it can save so many others, too."

How to connect with Cristal:

Email: cristal.b@girlsinc-wcc.org

Instagram: @ognaturalbeauty

LinkedIn:  Cristal Banagan

Misia Denéa

Owner and Founder of Hatha Holistic Integrative Wellness in Oakland, CA.

Misia, bathed in green light, looks out at the audience during a dance performance.

I am a professional Body Positive wellness consultant and I've been teaching in Oakland, California over the last 10 years. I received my Be Body Positive Facilitator License with The Body Positive at their Leadership Summit in 2017. I'm a dancer and yoga instructor and I also have created a number of choreo-poems that reflect how to overcome fat shaming and fatphobia.

The Mission of Hatha Holistic Integrative Wellness is to offer a safe, healing, Body Positive, holistic wellness experience for those who want to enjoy a deep and meaningful connection to Mother Earth, the Divine and Embodied Inner Harmony. My vision is to develop a global community of joy-filled, empowered, and embodied seekers on the path to exploring oneness, wholeness, and personal liberation in the healing arts.

A tip I have for other Black people who want to break into this work professionally as facilitators or leaders is to know that it's important to understand how you'd like to navigate the myths of diet culture and explore how the HAES approach to wellness can reshape any toxic ideas you have about your relationship with your body.

I love being the owner and visionary behind Hatha Holistic Integrative Wellness. This Bay Area startup is focused on Health at Every Size with the idea that folks should not experience discrimination, shame, or guilt when seeking help on the journey to well-being. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the wellness industry has failed many of us with a very narrow, fat shaming approach to promoting wellness that lacks diversity. Not everyone is obsessed with the ‘beach body’ phenomenon that is often related to 'looking healthy'. Hatha Holistic offers several individual and group-focused  health coaching programs that highlight yoga for people with curves and holistic wellness for pleasure in the plus size body. Join me in a class sometime!"

How to Connect with Misia:

Email: hathaholistic@gmail.com

Instagram: @HathaHolisticWellness

LinkedIn: Misia Denéa

Website: www.HathaHolistic.com

Yarrow Halpern

Radical, Queer, Black, Brown, and Indigenous femme and healer. Bay Area born and raised. Yarrow (who uses the pronouns they/them or she/her) is a Be Body Positive Facilitator and educator who works with students at a charter high school in West Oakland, CA.

Yarrow takes a selfie, smiling warmly at the camera.

In August of 2017, my boss, Y’Anad Burrell, asked me if I wanted to go to a Be Body Positive Facilitator Training. I wasn’t sure, as the organization looked like it was only for white, middle class and wealthy women. But since she was paying for it, I went ahead and attended. I am so glad I did. I was able to learn and be in a loving space with great people, making friends from around the world that I still keep in touch with, a year and half later. I also was introduced to Connie’s book Embody which has become an incredibly valuable tool in the work that I do with youth.

I use Body Positivity with the young adults I work with because I feel that a huge gap in the education of young people is that no one teaches them how to work on their mindset. We just don’t do it. Mindset, to me, is a huge part of social and emotional learning. Our mindset affects not only how we treat ourselves, but how we treat others and the world. Without a positive mindset, we don’t invest in our own true potential.

I believe everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their skin. Everyone. And no one should be left out of the conversation. I cringe when people say things to me like 'You’re so brave' or 'I wish I had your confidence.' In the words of Sonya Renee Taylor, my body is not an apology. These backhanded compliments are not being said to smaller-bodied folx so why should they be said to me?

Advice I would give to Black folx wanting to do this work: Don't be afraid to take up space. Know your worth, don't work for free. I have done several workshops for free while my white or light-skinned counterparts got paid for doing the same work. Don't settle for that. Your voice is needed. Also, clean up your Instagram. Fill it with Black and Brown folx that uplift you and inspire you. Fill it with bodies that look like yours!"

How to connect with Yarrow:

Email: YarrowHalpern@gmail.com

Instagram: @oaklandbae and @softlikemink

Linkedin: Yarrow Halpern

For more information about how to locate Black Be Body Positive leaders near you, and to inquire about The Body Positive’s live facilitator trainings, online courses, or any of our other work, please visit www.thebodypositive.org or email info@thebodypositive.org.

MD Spicer-Sitzes
MD Spicer-Sitzes is Associate Director of The Body Positive and a volunteer with Building Allies, and organization that works to build active allyship. MD holds an M.A. in Urban Sustainability and also enjoyed studying Queer Theory, Marine Biology and Solidarity Economics. MD loves growing and making food for friends and family, hiking, storytelling, research, and a successful direct action protest. They live with their wife Cathy, and two rambunctious bunny rabbits in the East Bay.
Blog Home