Years ago, Amy Pence-Brown sat at a desk in an office tucked into the back of a big building. Today, the multi-talented, multi-tasking mother of three no longer works in the shadows. She is an artist, body image activist, public speaker and writer. She's also a self-defined "fat, fearless, feminist rebel" who, on Aug. 29, 2015, nearing her 40th birthday and weighing 226 pounds, stood wearing only a black bikini and blindfold in the middle of the Capital City Public Market (with friend/local artist Melanie Folwell filming from a distance). Pence-Brown had a few washable markers in her hand and a sign at her feet that read, "I'm standing for anyone who has struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable. To support self acceptance, draw a heart on my body." Pence-Brown feared she might be ridiculed, shamed or worse—ignored. Instead, she received so many compliments, hugs, hearts and messages, her pens ran dry and little of her skin remained unmarked.
The five-minute video of Pence-Brown's "Radical Self-Acceptance" performance went viral. She and/or her story were in or on The Idaho Statesman, KTVB Channel 7, CNN, USA Today, People, Today, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Nigeria Daily News, TLC, The Dr. Oz Show and more. (Full list at amypencebrown.com.)
In celebration of the one-year anniversary of her "stand for self love," Pence-Brown is presenting a screening of controversial body-image documentary Embrace at Edwards 9 downtown on Monday, Sept. 19 (she'll speak before and do a Q&A after). Over biscuits and gravy, Pence-Brown talked about her own body image issues and what her stance accomplished.
Did you have body image issues as a child?
Yes, mostly as a teenager, which I think is when they sort of appear for most people, especially young women—when your body is changing, when you become more aware of others' bodies and media becomes more important. You're trying to figure out who you are and what that means to you. We look to what we see represented the most via Hollywood or magazine ads or TV. Today, it's probably mostly social media. The people, the bodies and the commentary has a strong impact on who we want to become.
Did you ever do anything drastic to fit a perception of what you thought was beautiful?
I tried to take diet pills in high school to lose weight. It didn't work. They made me sick. I tried making myself vomit, and I hate vomiting, so that didn't work for me, either. I had a bit of an exercise addiction as a teenager, which is glorified in our culture. There's nothing wrong with exercise, but when it becomes an addiction or damaging, it's a problem.
Why did you do the self-love stance?
I had done work as a body image activist for about seven years ... through writing, art, performances and public speaking. I gave an Ignite Boise talk on how to be fat, fit and fabulous about four years ago. Another important part of my activism is the the Boise Rad Fat Collective, the Facebook group I started three years ago. This piece though...
Do you consider it a performance piece?
Yes. I call it performance art. Performance art/peaceful protest/social activism—a combination of all of those.
Where did you get the idea?
This piece was directly related to a piece by Jae West from the Liberators International, a group out of Australia who stage public performances around "participatory acts of kindness." [The video of West] had about 2 million views. At the time, I didn't really know what "viral" meant. Little did I know I would become schooled. The video of my performance is sitting at 200 million views now, which I guess makes it one of the most viral videos of all time, to date ... Google Alerts couldn't keep up. I'm still finding major news organizations did pieces on me I didn't even know about ... I got a lot of requests from talk shows. I learned a lot about TV and producers quickly, because they were coming at me like crazy.
What did you expect would happen during your performance?
At first, it was terrifying ... then, I only stopped because the markers ran out of ink and I ran out of skin. [People] went rogue, which I didn't expect. The first woman started it. I'll never forget this: She touched my arm and whispered, "Thank you. This is so brave and so powerful."