Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion


One U Thriving


Centers & Offices


Thriving in Your Own Body


Mar 16, 2022

What does body positivity mean to you? We suggest that body positivity should be radical acceptance and inclusion – loving the skin you are in regardless of its size, shape, color, age, or ability. Join us for a panel of body positivity activists and professionals to discuss how to broaden our definition of beauty and health to embrace diversity – including perspectives on race, gender identity, hair type, and body shape. We will discuss how diverse representation in media, government, and our everyday lives expands and shifts our understanding of beauty. Challenge your idea of what “perfect” looks like and celebrate all facets of your identity, because body positivity, acceptance, and inclusion work together.

Transcript

Wendy Peterson: Okay, hello and good afternoon. On behalf of Women’s Week; the Women’s Week Planning Committee; and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we welcome you to today’s session, “Reframing the Conversation: Thriving in Your Own Body.” I’m Wendy Peterson. I’m the Deputy Chief Human Resource Officer here at the University of Utah, and I’m also co-chair of the Women’s Week Planning Committee this year.

Before we begin our discussion today, I would like to acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous Peoples and their traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.

We would also like to thank our partner, the Hinckley Institute, for hosting today’s session, and I would like to introduce Ann Lopez, who will be our host for today’s session and is an outreach coordinator and Women’s Week committee member. Ann joined the Hinckley Institute in July of 2021. She holds a B.S. in political science and a BFA in acting, and oversees the Student Ambassador Program and coordinates outreach efforts across campus. And with that, again, welcome and I’ll turn the time over to you.

Ann Lopez: Hi, guys, thank you and welcome to this Hinckley Forum today. Just a little introduction of the Hinckley. We are a non-partisan institute at the University of Utah. We provide an array of transported experiences for students through internships, forums, and classes. Hinckley Forum seeks to foster public discourse and civil debate on the most current and pressing issues, bringing in local, national and international thought leaders. Today’s forum is presented in partnership with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce our moderator, Dr. Lexi Kite. She and her identical twin, Dr. Lindsey Kite are co-authors of the book “More Than A Body: Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament,” and co-directors of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined. Lexi received a Ph.D. from the University of Utah in the study of female body image and has become a leading expert in body image resilience and media literacy. Authors of numerous studies and books have cited her original research, she has been featured in a variety of national media outlets, including the New York Times, The Dr. Phil Show, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, and more. Lexi helps girls and women recognize and reject the harmful effects of objectification in their lives through her significant social media reach, online Body image resilience course, and speaking events. So without further ado, I will turn the time over to Lexi.

Lexi Kite: Thank you. Hi, everyone. I am so happy to be here. Usually, I’m in the panelist position. This is much more fun; I just get to ask the questions. Just a few housekeeping items: if you have any questions, we have 15 minutes at the end for a live Q&A. If you are streaming in, you can submit those questions on Zoom on the EDI livestream webpage. And if you have questions here, there will be 15 minutes at the end that you can come up to the mic and ask your question, or we can pass it around. Let me introduce you to our awesome panel of speakers.

I’m going to start with T Anthony in the middle here. T is a non-binary, transfeminine individual passionate about enabling people to discover their authenticity through self-compassion, curiosity, and making love to discomfort. They are currently a senior in the College of Fine Arts, majoring in musical theater and are privileged to serve as the collective representative for the Department of Theater SAC — that’s the Student Council…

T Anthony: Student Advisory Committee.

Lexie Kite: Student Advisory Committee. Mostly there.

She believes everyone is entitled to loving their body and discovering what healthy feels like for them in a world cluttered with diet culture that places stipulations on what looks desirable or is acceptable, especially for feminine-centered folks. She is an energetic, grounded, and compassionate soul looking to spread love and light in this life’s incarnation. She is enthusiastic about poetry, fashion, spirituality, and her plant children. I bet have thrived in a pandemic with all that extra love. She’s a certified yoga instructor, energy healer, and zealous freeform dancer.

Next up, we have Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield here on the end. Alyssha is a visionary and builder doing vital work for Black girls and young women in an unlikely place: Utah. Her non-profit organization “Curly Me!” is on a mission to educate, empower, and encourage girls from five to 14 years old to be their best selves through community events and mentoring. She began developing and hosting events such as “Change the World with Her,” where participants get in-person access to professionals like pilots, city planners, and news anchor anchors to learn about different careers and ask questions. Other events, like “High Tea with a Twist,” allow girls to wear their hair in twist-outs or plaits, get dressed up, and be girly. Today, the organization continues to be a valuable resource for young Black girls and their families throughout the state. Outside of the organization, Alyssha enjoys being newlyweds with her husband, Meligha, working a day job — don’t we all? — karaoke, and meeting new people.

Finally, we have Kelsie Jepsen right here next to me. Kelsie is a body acceptance coach who helps those who struggle with negative body image to dismantle fatphobia and love themselves through a radical mindset change and body acceptance. Kelsie is also a professional actor, director, and educator. She’s worked professionally for over 15 years and holds a BFA in acting from the U, from the theater program. She has also lived and worked in Minneapolis, where her passion for education was ignited at the Tony-award-winning Children’s Theater Company and in New York City, where she served as a program director and educator with The Shakespeare Forum. Kelsie is an activist who has committed to serving oppressed, marginalized, and underserved communities with the mission to dismantle systems of body oppression. She aims to build community and empower those around her to build self-esteem, develop their voice, live in their truth, and participate fully in their own lives.

Let’s give a round of applause. Okay, I have a few questions I have prepared for the panel. Like I told them, this is a conversation. If they want to answer a different question, if they want to ask a different question, this is a great forum for that. So for the next 35 minutes or so, we’ll just be having a conversation with these experts in their fields.

First of all, I want you to tell us a little bit more about yourselves. What paths in your life led you to do the work you do now? And why is radical body acceptance, in whatever form you take it, important to you? Anybody can start.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: So I’ll start. Hi, everybody. My path to doing what I do now started as a child, of course. We work with children in the organization, but I didn’t think I realized until I moved to Utah how big of a community impact I had on my life until I moved here and saw that the community wasn’t as big as the community I had as a child. And so I came out here for something totally different. I was only supposed to be here for two and a half years, and that was the deadline, okay? But when things changed and I just prayed about it and really started to think about what was my purpose in just existing in life, I started, my eyes are open to the possibilities and I was able to see a need and be able to provide some sort of solution to the community that I did not see but was desperately needed in Utah. So that’s why “Curly Me!” exists in its form now.

Lexie Kite: Tell us a little bit about that process of starting a non-profit. How that worked?

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: So… I just started doing community-organizing because that’s the community I came from. My mom and dad, George and Beverly — they might be on the livestream. Hey, parents. Shout out to them — they did a great job in showing me that if you see something, you want to be a part of or you see something, be the change you want to see, basically. And so I didn’t know I needed to start a non-profit. What I did was I just wanted to be a part of the community, but you really can’t go far with just here and there. So we decided to become a non-profit and really develop our programing to make sure that it’s a staple in the community and apply for grants, because you can’t do that without that sort of certification, that status. So it’s been a learning experience, for sure. My mom started a ministry-based non-profit, but this is totally different. So I’ve just really been seeking information, utilizing the resources that are in the community for non-profits, and using my go-getter attitude to go about making sure that we are consistent. We show up for people and we have fun. So that’s been the process of the non-profit. We became a non-profit in 2018. We had been doing programing since 2015, so it took us some years, but it definitely has paid off for sure.

Lexie Kite: What does radical body acceptance look like to you?

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: So radical body acceptance…going back to my childhood, I didn’t realize certain words or certain comments about my hair or just my body. I grew up in a predominantly White space, so my body didn’t look like everybody else’s body. And my parents at home were very supportive, so everything started at home. When I went out into school and I knew I didn’t look like everyone else, that was okay because when I came back home, my parents were reassuring me that I was, I looked fine. I had a community who reassured me that “you’re beautiful,” this, that, and the third, but coming out here, I realized that body reassurance, body acceptance is a big, big thing because you really have to seek it out. It’s not in your news. It’s not in your classrooms all the time. It’s not in the different professions. So to me, it is accepting yourself regardless, if you’re the only one in the room, that looks like you it’s okay. But that’s something that you really have to start telling yourself from a young age, especially growing up in Utah. And then with hair, we can get more into that a little later. But oh, it’s really just learning that you can occupy any space regardless of how you show up to other people. How you show up to yourself is the biggest thing.

Lexie Kite: Beautiful. Thank you. Who wants to go next?

T Anthony: I will. I’m T, so my journey to Utah started four years ago when I came here for college. I grew up my whole life in a small town called Paducah, Kentucky. I feel like my body journey has been very interesting, because I have existed in multiple gender expressions, one that was forced upon me and decided for me, and then the one that I later came to found or find for myself. I existed in a bigger body, you know, 100 plus pounds than this, but in a different gender identity. So it’s interesting to see how the different gender expressions are treated and the expectations placed upon them. So when I came to college, and I was 100 miles from home and not in a small religious community, I finally had space for myself to think for myself, to understand — I don’t know — how to think for myself. So and in a city like Salt Lake that is more of a bubble, it was like a whole new world to me. So through inclusive spaces on campus, through friends who didn’t even ask questions, no — you know — side eyes or glances, fully just able to be vulnerable, I was able to come into my gender identity and then a year later come into a new gender intersecting identity.

So it’s interesting for me to exist as a non-binary person where with the body, it’s like you don’t feel in either binary and then as a transfeminine individual, it’s like, oh, I see one of these binaries that I’ve admired since I was a little kid, you know? Like, I want to wear my mom’s heels. I want to wear my blankets as dresses, very much things. So it’s like feeling so attached to that binary, but then also internally feeling so completely not wanting to be forced into that position. What has helped me find peace with my body and my genetics, I guess you could say, in my femininity where it’s like, you can’t have body hair, you can’t have short hair? “Can’t” being what the world says — if that makes sense. Has been yoga, free-form dance. I was certified as a yoga teacher in November, and that has helped me come into my body. I feel like transformation starts inside and then comes out. You know, that is growth. That is change. But being embodied starts with you. It starts from within. So being connected to your breath, being connected to your mental dialog, kind of what you were saying, like, it starts with what you tell yourself, you know? So anyone can say, “oh, your hair looks great, your outfit looks great,” but until you believe that for yourself, you don’t, you want to get to the point where you don’t need anyone to tell you that. You don’t need anyone to tell you’re special or that you’re beautiful, because you know that for yourself. And yeah, yoga and free-form dance. Just moving your body. It doesn’t need to look like anything. What it feels like can be so powerful and transformational. I got a little lost there, so thanks for sticking with me.

Lexie Kite: Oh, that was perfect.

T Anthony: But yeah, that’s where I’m at.

Lexie Kite: So thank you so much. That was perfect. I love your thoughts about embodiment. That is one way that we can all come back home to ourselves. Instead of trying to serve a purpose of being looked at, of fulfilling the sights, the hopes of an onlooker that will never serve us, so that — your thoughts about embodiment are really beautiful. Thank you. Kelsie?

Kelsie Jepsen: Yeah. So I grew up here in Utah, and my first memories of hating my body were when I was eight years old, and I actually believe it was probably before that, but I just can’t remember it. Then that eventually turned into an eating disorder a few years later, unfortunately, and with a couple of girls in my neighborhood, we would not eat together. We would call each other if we got hungry. We would exercise incessantly. And unfortunately, that led one of them to die, and it was horrible and life changing. But I realized, like at a very young age, “oh, I have to eat to live.” And so I did. And that, of course, resulted in weight gain, as it should have. But everybody in my life commented on it. My friends, my teachers, my parents, my family, my neighbors, you name it. Anyone that saw me. We in our culture, we think, “oh, we can make any body comments we want,” whether that’s a compliment or, you know, like saying something negative. So that unfortunately led me to decades of disordered eating, body shame. And eventually, I went to therapy and it was actually in therapy that I was able my therapist helped me name, “I’m fatphobic,” and that blew my mind. I’d never even heard that term. And I want to tell you, my definition of fatphobia is the fear of fatness on ourselves, coupled with this systemic hatred of fat bodies. And so we’ve inherited that, that our country was founded on anti-fatness, anti-Blackness, systems of body oppression.

So it is not our fault. It’s not my fault that I had those narratives, but I did internalize that. And so I found intuitive eating, and that was a game changer for me to start healing my relationship with food. But it did not help me dismantle my fatphobia. And so I looked for a program or group to help me with that, and I couldn’t find it. And like you were saying, I realized that with like with the support of my therapist, that I needed to be the change I wish to see. So I don’t feel like I chose this work of body acceptance. I feel like it chose me. And so I became a body acceptance coach with the mission to dismantle fatphobia because one of the hardest things about fatphobia is the silence and the hiding and the isolation. These topics are very taboo. They’re very subversive. There’s a lot of money invested in making sure we hate our bodies. So I wanted to do that if I wanted to work on dismantling these systems of oppression, both internally — oh, I’m hitting my mic — and externally, I wanted to do that in communities So, I built these workshops and small group workshops with that mission and I’m really, really proud of what I’ve built and, you know. But I do believe, like both of you are saying, this work is about, you know, it’s not that I’m not going to expect that fatphobia exists, I know it does.

When I can clearly see, “oh, I live in a culture that is that benefits from body oppression. I’ve inherited this.” It’s not that I’m not going to have to navigate what it is to live in a fat body. I also want to tell you I identify as fat, and that in and of itself is radical body acceptance. But when we can take back that word that is typically associated with ugly, lazy, gross, you know, all of these negative things and I can say this is just a neutral descriptor. I am White. I have long, light brown hair. I am a woman. I’m fat. That is just me. That’s just who I am. And there’s nothing bad about that. It just is. So taking on that I can identify as fat. I can encourage other people to start using that word. This is how we break down systemic oppression. And so though I teach workshops that is about the internal embodiment of a radical body acceptance, this is really with the impact of changing our culture because I believe it starts with us and that trickles out. So even being here is a step forward.

Lexi Kite: Thank you so much. I hear, in your words, my own specific love and resilience. All three of you, really, you are able to take what is a personal pain and something that on an individual level, you experienced in your life and you were able to see that you are not alone in that pain. You name it, you don’t swallow it. You figure out how you can make a change, not just for resilience for yourself, but community resilience, the ability to change yourself, to change communities. And it does happen one by one, and collectively, we all rise. It’s the only way and every one of you are speaking about that resilience. It’s such a hopeful way of seeing the world, and it’s the only way.

Kelsie Jepsen: Yeah, and I just want to add on to that. I think it’s a real gift when you can see, “oh, this is bigger than me,” because the work doesn’t stop once you personally feel better or once clothing companies offer my size because I hold a lot of privilege even in my fat, not-accepted place. So that work doesn’t stop with us, and it’s such a gift when you can see, “oh, this is about more than me,” and when you can center like, “okay, we’re not– none of us are free until all of us are free,” then that is a real gift. It’s a gift, it frees me from my own narrative, that own oppression.

Lexi Kite: Yeah. Beautiful. Thank you. I want to ask another question, and I want all of you to take this how you will. My own personal experience and my work is and some of it is in critiquing body positivity. I believe that body positivity, as a concept, has become super commodified. It is something that you sell. You sell products by selling “you go, girl, you can feel good about yourself, but you better make sure you look good too or it doesn’t count.” It’s capitalism. It’s incredibly sexist. It’s in many ways racist. So I believe that body positivity– I know that it began as a fat acceptance movement was largely started by Black women. It was started by fat women and Black women and fat Black women. And it has become this very watered-down, White thing. I think that that is true for the intersections where we all find ourselves, that a lot of times social movements become in word alone or in ways to just make money through making change in whatever way. I’m wondering if you can each speak to what body positivity means to you a little bit more. What is the work you’re trying to do that helps your movement not just be a watered-down, you-go-girl type of thing, if that makes any sense?

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: So I’ll start again. No, I will say that “Curly Me!” is definitely not a movement. It is a lifetime, lifestyle shift. So we are transforming minds of girls at a young age so that they don’t grow up thinking that they’re not accepted in places that may exist in Utah. And so movement, I’m not a fan of movements necessarily understand that they exist, but I feel like the work that I’m supposed to be or I’m purposed to do is not going to, like you said, it’s not going to stop with me when I’m gone whatever that means, someone else is going to take the baton and keep it going. And so in regards to body positivity, it’s not always about like this side of your body, but we work on the hair and the mind. And so when you find out what– as part of the beginning stages of “Curly Me!” when you find out from parents that their daughters don’t like their hair as young as three, or when we talk about body acceptance as young as five, they’re adultified. Adultification exists.

So identification bias– there’s a study out of Georgetown Law that talks about Black girls as young as five, their bodies are adultified, so like, they’re not protected. They are seen as older. Myself, I was 13. Someone thought I was 16, based off of what my body looked like. No questions. Just nope. Now when you start talking to a 13-year-old, you know they’re 13. I was one of those girls you knew I was in elementary school, regardless of what my body told you. And so it’s really just body positivity for me– in media you don’t see a lot of women with hair like mine, or if you see women who look like me, you don’t see their hair looking like mine. And that’s not by accident that is coming from when Black men and women were brought to this country and they were not able to accept their own hair. They didn’t have the things that they needed to do their hair. And then when they figured out something, they were oppressed. Laws were created that they couldn’t do the things like wear headscarves, or they were supposed to wear headscarves and then they got too cute and people were discriminating against them or jealous — if you look at it just saying what it is. Jealous of what they’ve had to do transform throughout history in the United States. So knowing the history of Black hair, Black bodies in this country, body positivity is definitely learning. Us teaching our girls to make sure that they understand their own selves, their own hair.

What do you want to do with your hair if you want to wear it an afro like this today? That should be okay, and society should accept that because my hair doesn’t grow like Kelsie’s. And that’s all right. That doesn’t mean you can’t politicize something that grows out of my scalp. However, when we try and bring up why you shouldn’t discriminated against and we need policies to tell you not to fire me because I choose to wear my hair and braids. And so if you’re not familiar with the CROWN Act that does exist throughout the country, it started in California. And so…I think I’m rambling.

Lexie Kite: No, you’re not. Tell us about the CROWN Act, I think it’s important.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: All right. The CROWN Act started in California in 2019. And if you look up the CROWN or crownact.org, you’ll find out more information about it. And it basically says that men and women — like myself — have immutable characteristics, like our hair. This can’t be changed. I can straighten it, but if I wet it, it is going to turn out like this every time. Shouldn’t be discriminated against. I should not be fired. I should not be. There are cases– have been cases in elementary schools, specifically in high schools that say that kids can’t graduate, can’t walk in their graduations because their hair isn’t a certain way. And you think his face is like, “what?” Yeah. So you think about when you’re graduating from high school, how big of a moment that is. And in some public or private schools, they’re like, “oh, you can’t have locks,” and you’ve existed in this school for however long. And this is a case that’s happening right now. So you can look it up and it’s…I’m trying to remember where it’s at, but it’s a young man who is not able to graduate because he goes to a private Christian school and he has locks and he can’t have hair in his face. But this has existed for some time where the CROWN Act, if passed in their state, they wouldn’t be able to necessarily do those types of things. And so we’ve tried to get it passed here, too, for two years. The first year we were referred to as “you people” and showed photos of young children that were not the senator’s children. They were Black children, and he just thought it was okay. Black bodies not being protected to take pictures of these two little kids in a grocery store that he had talked to the father and I don’t know if he got permission or not. But just thinking about that is just like, “wow, who is going to protect these Black kids” from, like, I call them, a predator? I don’t think he had any malicious intent. But what makes it okay to just take pictures of kids you don’t know? And then in the same breath, call us “you people.” Yeah, other us. We’re not other. We’re part of this state, the country, but the ignorance that exists in legislation in this state is very palatable. This year, I got 43 seconds to speak about the CROWN Act again and how important it would be, especially for young kids growing up in this state. And it was held again in committee. So there’s definitely an ignorance that exists in in our state when it comes to accepting all types of bodies, not just your size, but hair texture. It exists, so I don’t want that to be remiss from the conversation when we’re talking about body acceptance.

Lexi Kite: Absolutely. What I hear you say is that body positivity has to go beyond just teaching people to feel good about how they look. We need to move it into legislation that protects you. We can’t, on an individual level, just allow people to just feel good or you’re beautiful, too. We have to go so much further. We’re not actually protecting the people that are being oppressed. So thank you for that. Who else?

Kelsie Jepsen: Yeah, I could. I mean, I am not a fan of the body positivity movement either, because it is mostly White women that are thin telling each other they’re not fat. So it’s like the irony of that and then selling products to do just that. So I mean, really, you’re talking about all the right things and that this this is more than…that’s it’s kind of the same side, the different side of the same coin, because when you can’t really go from “I hate my body” to “I love my body,” that is the same thing. You are still in that world of objectification. And so like, I use a body neutral approach, and I like that as a practice that actually it doesn’t really matter if I hate my body or I don’t like how I look, I still am worthy of existing and existing safely, and being like that, that is loving my body is not the goal. And I think that some people, when they come to work with me, they think, “oh no, the goal of the end of your workshop is not that I’m going to love my body?” And I said, “no,” because, you know, I say body acceptance is not something that we arrive at. It is a repetitive practice of staying with self as discomfort again that we’ve inherited about our own body arises or oppression that we face of, “I don’t fit in this chair. I don’t fit in this space. I can’t find clothes. I can’t get medical care. I can’t get life insurance. Nobody wants to hire me or promote,” right? This is like the systemic oppression that I’m talking about, that that even when those things arise that I can feel neutral about whether or not I love how I look or I love my body because that is not a prerequisite for just existing and being protected and being loved and being respected.

Lexie Kite: Thank you.

T Anthony: Yeah, beautiful things, both of you said. Sort of relating to the media question in this number two, as a transfeminine individual, you know, I have genetics where I grow hair and my body, which is not a traditionally feminine trait because I’m…well, the removal of body hair is actually a racist and misogynistic patriarchal act that was used to separate, you know, White people, White women from Black women and White people from people of color. Alok [Vaid-]Menon, they are a poet, super big in this movement, so they’ve been very inspirational to me, and I just had to say that. It does come with like accepting the discomfort that is mostly projected onto you from other people. You know, like I can speak for my own experience. I hated my body hair when I came into my sort of feminine ideal because it’s like, no one will take me seriously as a woman, no one will take me seriously as a feminine individual. I can’t wear bathing suits, you know, like I paid over $100 — sort of what you were saying — like we have to pay for or what you were saying earlier, you know, it costs to be a woman. It cost to experience femininity, but not the femininity you want, the femininity that the rest of society expects you to fit into. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I had to put myself through pain, have rashes on my body, so obviously I won’t do that again. So then I didn’t even get to enjoy the benefits of being waxed, which is just sick because I want to wear a bathing suit. I want to enjoy the sun on my skin, the, you know, the water on my skin. And I don’t get to do that unless I have the body that you want to look at. It’s sort of the objectification of our bodies. I don’t exist for you to look at or for you to marvel at. I exist because I am.

So in media, there is little-to-no representation of women with body hair or transfeminine individuals with body hair in fashion magazines or editorials, or, you know, whatever the height of fashion, and then past that and more like pedestrian fashion, at all. So for me, it’s personally– I had to start by being afraid with showing my body hair in my clothing and in my walking life. And then from there, it’s making space for other people to do the same thing. So I think we have a really long way to go in terms of representation in that realm. And maybe we’ll get there, but that’s just where we’re at right now, and that’s the reality of that. So yeah.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: I wanted to kind of go back to the cost of beauty.

Lexie Kite: Yeah.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: The cost of beauty, I’ll say for Black women, Black girls, it goes, it’s a billon dollar industry in our community. And when we think about the, you know, body positivity and what you normally would see on on different television shows and even the news — I go back to the news because I grew up with my parents watching the news all the time, and there would always be a Black woman with straight hair. But how does she get her hair straight? Relaxers are expensive, and they’re chemicals that people put on their bodies — for those who don’t know — put on their hair, that could be expensive and a health hazard. Some people may do it because they want to, and that’s okay. But others may do it because “I have to have this hair for my job” or “I have to have this hair because society says I look good this way.” And it’s expensive. It is very expensive.

Can you imagine being a college student going every six weeks, because that’s when they tell you to come, every six to eight weeks? And you have to do a relaxer. You get a trim, and you get a style. And normally that’s– we’re running about $100 every six to eight weeks. And as a college student, who could tell you right now, I don’t know what $100 is coming from. And so if I have an internship coming up and I don’t know how to do my hair or I don’t know any braiders or these types of things, it could be psychologically damaging. And when you have some people who can’t walk out the house with $400 sew-in or a 400 or 500– these wigs can run you, okay? Run you some coins. And so the cost of beauty, what society says is expensive and not everybody can afford it. But society will try and make you think that you need to figure out how to fit in the mold, and it’s not just, you know, you have society and you also have your own community.

So like I talk about my community was pretty supportive, but we also have things in our community that’s like, “oh, girl, your hair is knotty.” Yeah, and depending on how you take that. My grandma would say that I would laugh it off. It really didn’t faze me too much, but you go into certain places and some families are like, “you do not leave the house unless a hot comb has touched your head.” And there’s a systemic or a reason for that. That’s a protection. We don’t want you to be outcasted. Some folks didn’t learn how to swim, not because they didn’t have the desire to want to swim, but because when grandma like hot combs your head on Sunday or Saturday, you had to have that last until the next week. And so that starts from a young age and we don’t want our girls to grow up– now granted, people aren’t hot combing over the stove as much anymore. We’re using flat irons. But why? Is it because you just want this style? Or is it because “if I don’t have it, I’m not beautiful? I’m not going to be accepted.” And we see girls a lot who are like, “I got to have braids. I got to have braids.” Yes, braids are great. Braids cost money, too. Okay? And a couple of years ago, we didn’t have as many braiders as we do now, so people were charging you outrageous costs for getting your hair braided or getting it retwisted, or that was almost not even in existence here in Utah. But the cost to get your hair braided every two months, or I’ll leave it in for three, and the damage it causes to your natural hair while you leave it in for three and six months. I’ve heard just countless stories and it’s just like, “well, why aren’t girls feeling comfortable with their natural hair?” I think that’s the bigger question. And that’s the question that I try and ask older girls, not so much younger girls, they may not really know, but older girls can kind of give you some words, just descriptive words of why they feel the way they feel. So I do want to also mention the cost of beauty, because Kelsie mentioned about the how we have these products that are pushed and it’s okay for skinny women to be skinny, but it becomes gray when they’re like, “well, you can be like me.” Yeah, girl, ain’t nobody trying to be like you, you know?

Kelsie Jepsen: Well, and I’m really, really happy that you’re bringing up the cost because when there’s like the literal cost, but there’s also the cost of can my life be about more than shrinking myself? Can we do more with our lives then? And especially women. And now that I always say like fatphobia impacts all of us. None of us are free from the harms of it. And I see men being impacted more and more. And toxic masculinity says men can’t even talk about this. Men can’t even like, say, “hey, I feel I feel bad about myself.” So I mean, all of us are impacted by that, but I just think, man, what could we do if we didn’t waste so much money, time and energy hating our own bodies on buying products to shift our own bodies? Can we do more with our lives? Can we do more with our community? And that cost, I mean, it shakes me to my core. And so I’m really happy that you’ve added that to the conversation because the brain space that captures that, that holds hostage is not okay.

Lexie Kite: The collective burden that is required for people who identify as female is great. And you guys represent intersections of that at race, at gender identity, at body size. These are ways that women are asked to take on a massive, expensive, painful burden. A portion of our lives and our consciousness has to be dedicated to how we appear. And that I’m so glad we’re having this conversation because once you see it, it’s the first step to fighting back like each of you are doing your own lives and missions are doing that work. And when we all feel the truth of this message, we all take it upon us. However, we can to change, to change ourselves, our perceptions of ourselves and our perceptions of everybody else in this room, and then we take that out and try to figure out how we can make real change. And we all can. And it starts with how we talk about ourselves, how we talk about other people. It extends so far beyond that. The changemakers just in this room and listening on this stream at the University of Utah and beyond. You guys are the people that will continue on in these changes. Thank you so much for your thoughts here, you guys, and for your work, and we have a few minutes for a live Q&A. I would imagine some questions are coming up on the livestream.

Ann Lopez: I do have some on the livestream, but I’d like to open it up to those in the audience right now if anyone has any questions.

Audience Member: Well, I just have a question, T and Kelsie knows this, but I’m an actor myself, and I mean, I have a different perspective because I have a cisgendered-male perspective, right? But like, the acting and entertainment world is a very visual world, right? But even how you were seeing at least how even with jobs, sometimes your hair gives you raises or doesn’t give you raises, or gives you jobs or doesn’t give you a job. But my question is like, what are some of your thoughts about what you personally– well, I can personally draw what you can personally do to start the– what’s the word– radically accepting your body image with all the great densities, intersecting identities, so that you’re not necessarily helping to present what the world wants commercially, but what the world should need? If that makes sense.

Kelsie Jepsen: Yeah, I mean, I think what you’re, what I hear — I think we kind of talked on it earlier — there’s a difference between like we cannot make systemic change without that collective responsibility. But I think, I mean, what I’m seeing both of you do today is saying, my body is like this. I have body hair. My hair grows this way. I am naturally this way. And I think that’s that embodiment of “I don’t have to fight my own body. y body is not the enemy. Can I treat my own body as a friend and take care of myself?” Because that makes a collective shift. Everything we do impacts everyone else around us. We know that lesson from COVID. That is always true.

And so even me being with you and you and you today and all of you, that impacts me and hearing your stories, seeing you live in your authentic body and being yourself, that makes a difference. And then I think like when encountering systemic oppression, like I did not get that job. And I know it’s because my hair wasn’t right or my skin wasn’t right or my body wasn’t right. You can say, and that’s wrong. I do not internalize that. And what can I do to advocate for myself and advocate for others because we all have a lot of influence? Like you said, the changemakers, you’re in this room. We all have a big community that we impact. And when you speak out, when you share your story, when you live in your authentic self, that makes a difference. Our bodies are telling stories without us even saying anything. So show up.

T Anthony: Yeah. I love all of that, and I think it starts with words, it starts with mindfulness, you know, like being aware of the stories you’re telling yourself, not internalizing. I like affirmations a lot so affirming to yourself, like what you want to feel about yourself or how you want to view the world every day in the mirror. It’s practice. It takes practice to get to that place. And specifically, like you were saying in the entertainment world, you know, like it’s very visual and it can be hard to try and fit in that mold. So it does start with just authentically being yourself, not apologizing. I mean, we’re a very apologizing society, you know, it may feel like the elephant in the room, but it’s only the elephant if you give it power, it could be, you know, could be a pebble in the sand. As long as you have awareness of that, you can sort of break through that mental narrative and that mental story that you need to be aware of this or you need to think about that thing, if that makes sense.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: And I also say, T mentioned awareness, just being aware of the thoughts that we think about ourselves and being honest with ourselves. I had darn COVID. I had to come to grips, like, I was not happy with my body. And that was okay, it wasn’t based off of anybody else’s. It was I was tired. I was this, I was that. I’m used to performing or I’m used to being at this level. I want to I accept where I am now, but I don’t want to stay here, so I’m going to work. And through the personal training that I’ve been able to do, I’ve learned more about my 33-year-old body and I think I was comparing it to the 25-year-old Alyssha, which is like, that doesn’t even make any sense. So understanding that your body is going to change your thoughts about yourself. I’m still strong, that body neutrality, I’m still strong. If I’m not strong, how can I get back to being maybe not the same level, have the same level of strength, but feeling uplifting about myself so that I can go out into the world and people will see that. And even if they don’t see that, I still feel it. And also being aware of your thoughts of others. I think even through this discussion, thinking about the thoughts that I have of others is probably more important because I’m comfortable with me. But how do I perceive other people? And so definitely taking that moment. Yes, we do this work right, but we’re part of the society that you guys are a part of. So it’s like catching yourself when you’re thinking those thoughts about other people. “Oh, well, no, they wouldn’t be able to do that because they’re in a wheelchair, or they wouldn’t be able to do that because they’re an amputee or they won’t be able to do that because they’re too old.” Ageism exists as well.

Kelsie Jepsen: Yes, I think this is a really important thing because I think one of the biggest hurdles people face with body acceptance in this, particularly fat acceptance, is that “but what about health?” That is like the number one. And first off, when you actually engage in body acceptance, like you’re saying, you can actually make choices to improve your overall health and I mean health in a holistic state physical, mental, emotional health. When you are not fighting your own body, you can actually make choices that improve your own health. But the more important thing is that we need to dismantle this collective mobilization around health because health is not a prerequisite for dignity or respect. And that is actually that ableism that happens of, “oh, they can’t do that because they’re in a wheelchair.” That is what we’re talking about, right, that health is not a moral, that does not make someone superior to others. And that is what upholds the hierarchy of bodies in our culture. And we it’s why fatphobia is so overt and socially acceptable because they can say, “oh no, you shouldn’t be fat,” but it’s under the guise of “I’m just concerned for your health.” Right? So I think this is that’s the real– I’m really happy you brought that up. I just want to say that.

Ann Lopez: Right on. Any other audience questions?

Audience Member: There’s, this is an issue of one I’m trying to figure out the best way to address in my own life. I feel like there’s a lot of women in my life that make comments about their physical appearance to me and expecting a response, like my roommate coming out in the morning wearing something and immediately, “does this make me look fat?” I never know how to respond to that, or like my mom making comments of, “oh, I need to lose weight before I do that,” or my best friend being like, “I need to go down a dress size before I like, look for, like my wedding dress.” And I never know how to respond to those things, like, what’s a good way? Because I, you know, they’re looking for a reaction of, “oh no, no, no, no. Look, you don’t look fat,” but I never. It’s not the reaction I should give. I never know how to address when women, when you know, people identify as female come to me, like for a physical affirmation of their physical appearance.

T Anthony: I think, yeah, I think I’m more like from the approach of less about the body, but more about like you’re not responsible for their discomfort, you’re not responsible for their insecurity. It’s not their insecurity to have. It’s something they’re working through. So compassion is always my approach and having compassion for yourself. Then you can then see that through the lens onto someone else. So being also maybe not being afraid to be uncomfortable and say, “you know, I don’t appreciate being approached with, you know, that subject,” that’s boundaries. So that’s a boundary you have and you don’t want to give someone that constant reassurance or validation. You’re allowed to do that. Like we have to be okay to set boundaries for ourselves just in a basic sense.

Kelsie Jepsen: Yeah. And I actually teach this very thing in the workshops. I teach how to interrupt fatphobia with our loved ones who we want to stay in relation with. I just did a TV segment on this yesterday at “Good Things Utah.” This is a very common ask, question and it’s really important. I always say meet the person’s energy. So if someone says…Okay, give me one of your examples and I’ll tell you how I would respond.

Audience Member: One of my roommates coming out asking, “does it…?”

Kelsie Jepsen: “Does this make me look fat?” I would say, well, depending on how she said it, I would say, “hey, what’s wrong with being fat?” Right? Just even asking the question, “what makes you feel uncomfortable about looking fat?” Just ask and then you can start to practice ways of interrupting that. “You know, I’m personally working on accepting my body. I’m working on dismantling systems of oppression that say being fat is bad, so I would love to tell you more about that if you’re open to hear that.” Or I set a boundary, “hey, I’m actually not comfortable having a conversation about how looking fat is bad. That’s something I’m working on. So I’m going to ask you not to come to me with that.” But it depends on the conversation, right? Depends on their energy, depends on the relationship. But what you said about not prioritizing comfort is really important. Remember that they’re the ones bringing the violence into the space. You not speaking up is enabling. You are complicit in that violence. So that’s your work, that is the work for you and everyone else to do is to speak up in those awkward conversations with your roommate, with your mom, with your grandma. Do not prioritize someone else’s discomfort over oppression because that impacts you and impacts everybody around them. We cannot make change without doing those interruptions.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: Let me tell you something, if y’all didn’t write any of that down? I don’t know. That was some good words.

Kelsie Jepsen: That is high praise.

Ann Lopez: All right. I think we have time for one more question, and I want to get some of our online viewers’ questions because they have some great ones. So not only are we expected not to take up space, we are expected to take up space in very specific, limiting ways. How do you embrace your space?

T Anthony: I think just being unapologetically you in whatever way that looks like. That sounds so generic, but like taking up spaces is not being afraid what other people will think, and not even– well not considering what other people think, but not consider– like living for yourself. What do you want to do? Where do you want to go? What do you want to think? Also, sometimes thinking outside the lens of yourself, how can you make an impact in someone else’s life? How can you showing up authentically, maybe give someone else bravery to show up for themselves?

Kelsie Jepsen: I think I’m going to push back on that a little bit because I think the expectation that we don’t care what other people think is against our human nature to belong. We all have the human need to belong. And so the expectation that you don’t care. I think that’s unrealistic for me.

T Anthony: Yeah.

Kelsie Jepsen: What I think is powerful is telling your own story, of telling the truth about, “hey, I’m really afraid right now that I won’t be loved because of my body. I’m really afraid that because of what that thing you said, you value this, that I’m not going to belong. I’m not going to be accepted.” Telling the truth is life changing. We can feel it in our bones as a storyteller, as an actor, that authenticity of telling your own true story that allows other people to tell or tell theirs vulnerability invites vulnerability, and it is only through that compassion of seeing humanity that we can start to make those shifts. And that’s how I take up space is I’m not trying to tell anyone else’s story. I only have my lived experience, but by telling, by embracing that — all of the parts of me, not the parts that I think should be shameful or hidden away — that actually becomes my superpower, right? When I start telling the things I was so afraid of, about my life, that then unlocked all of these things for me, and that’s I think how we do that.

T Anthony: That’s perfect.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: And I’ll just add one last thing. A lot of times for me, staying in Utah was just like, “what are you doing here? Like, why are you still here? Approaching a decade? Why are you still here?” And understanding that my life has meaning and I am purposed to do certain things…I am coming to the University of Utah to speak on a panel with some other distinguished experts in their field or just in their life. They’re the experts of their life, right? So to be able to sit on this panel and understand that I was asked to be here, which means I was purposed to be here, that is how I can go into a space and say, “hey, this is where I’m supposed to be. I am comfortable here.” If no one shakes their head, which I appreciate, shakes their head in agreement, or they just give you dead stares because that exists as well, I was purposed to be here. And so I can, you know, afterwards I can go through, watch the recording, and things like that. But understanding that I could be anywhere in the world, but I was purposed to be here.

Lexie Kite: Beautiful. Thank you so much, everyone.

Wendy Peterson: Wow, this has been a very inspiring, powerful session, and I thank all of you for being here today and sharing your inspirational words, give us all something to think about as we go forward in our lives, so again, thank you very, very much for being here. We would like to thank our Women’s Week sponsors, Domo and Zions Bank. And as a reminder, there are still some fantastic Women’s Week events planned for the remainder of the week. You can find out more at www.diversity.utah.edu/ww. And thank you for everyone who joined today, both virtually and in person. We very much appreciate you being here. For those of you who are in-person, there is pizza right outside of the room. Please take them on your way out. So again, thank you to everyone for being here.

body images, so that we’re not necessarily helping to present what the world wants commercially, but what the world should need?

Kelsie Jepsen: We cannot make systemic change without that collective responsibility. Everything we do impacts everyone else around us. We know that lesson from COVID. That is always true….When encountering systemic oppression, you can say, “that’s wrong. I do not internalize that. And what can I do to advocate for myself and advocate for others because we all have a lot of influence?” We all have a big community that we impact. And when you speak out, when you share your story, when you live in your authentic self, that makes a difference. Our bodies are telling stories without us even saying anything. So show up.

T Anthony: I think it starts with words, it starts with mindfulness, you know, like being aware of the stories you’re telling yourself, not internalizing. I like affirmations a lot so affirming to yourself, like what you want to feel about yourself or how you want to view the world every day in the mirror. It’s practice. It takes practice to get to that place…So it does start with just authentically being yourself, not apologizing. I mean, we’re a very apologizing society, you know, it may feel like the elephant in the room, but it’s only the elephant if you give it power, it could be, you know, could be a pebble in the sand. As long as you have awareness of that, you can sort of breakthrough that mental narrative and that mental story that you need to be aware of this or you need to think about that thing.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: Just be aware of the thoughts that we think about ourselves and be honest with ourselves. I had darn COVID. I had to come to grips, like, I was not happy with my body…And through the personal training that I’ve been able to do, I’ve learned more about my 33-year-old body and I think I was comparing it to the 25-year-old Alyssha, which is like, that doesn’t even make any sense. So understanding that your body is going to change your thoughts about yourself. I’m still strong, that body neutrality, I’m still strong. If I’m not strong, how can I get back to being maybe not the same level, have the same level of strength, but feeling uplifting about myself so that I can go out into the world and people will see that. And even if they don’t see that, I still feel it. And also being aware of your thoughts of others. I think even through this discussion, thinking about the thoughts that I have of others is probably more important because I’m comfortable with me. But how do I perceive other people? And so definitely taking that moment. Yes, we do this work right, but we’re part of the society that you guys are a part of. So it’s like catching yourself when you’re thinking those thoughts about other people.

How do I address when people come to me for a physical affirmation of their physical appearance? Like, “does this make me look fat?”

T Anthony: I think I’m more like from the approach of less about the body, but more about like you’re not responsible for their discomfort, you’re not responsible for their insecurity. It’s not their insecurity to have. It’s something they’re working through. So compassion is always my approach and having compassion for yourself. Then you can then see that through the lens onto someone else. So being also maybe not being afraid to be uncomfortable and say, “you know, I don’t appreciate being approached with, you know, that subject,” that’s boundaries. So that’s a boundary you have and you don’t want to give someone that constant reassurance or validation. You’re allowed to do that.

Kelsie Jepsen: I always say meet the person’s energy. I would say, “hey, what’s wrong with being fat?” Right? Just even asking the question, “what makes you feel uncomfortable about looking fat?” Just ask and then you can start to practice ways of interrupting that. “You know, I’m personally working on accepting my body. I’m working on dismantling systems of oppression that say being fat is bad, so I would love to tell you more about that if you’re open to hear that.” Or I set a boundary, “hey, I’m actually not comfortable having a conversation about how looking fat is bad. That’s something I’m working on. So I’m going to ask you not to come to me with that.” But it depends on the conversation, right? Depends on their energy, depends on the relationship. But what you said about not prioritizing comfort is really important. Remember that they’re the ones bringing the violence into the space. You not speaking up is enabling. You are complicit in that violence. So that’s your work, that is the work for you and everyone else to do is to speak up in those awkward conversations with your roommate, with your mom, with your grandma. Do not prioritize someone else’s discomfort over oppression because that impacts you and impacts everybody around them. We cannot make change without doing those interruptions.

So not only are we expected not to take up space, we are expected to take up space in very specific, limiting ways. How do you embrace your space?

T Anthony: I think just being unapologetically you in whatever way that looks like. That sounds so generic, but like taking up spaces is not being afraid what other people will think, and not even– well not considering what other people think, but not consider– like living for yourself. What do you want to do? Where do you want to go? What do you want to think? Also, sometimes thinking outside the lens of yourself, how can you make an impact in someone else’s life? How can you showing up authentically, maybe give someone else bravery to show up for themselves?

Kelsie Jepsen: What I think is powerful is telling your own story, of telling the truth about, “hey, I’m really afraid right now that I won’t be loved because of my body. I’m really afraid that because of what that thing you said, you value this, that I’m not going to belong. I’m not going to be accepted.” Telling the truth is life-changing. We can feel it in our bones as a storyteller, as an actor, that authenticity of telling your own true story that allows other people to tell or tell theirs vulnerability invites vulnerability, and it is only through that compassion of seeing humanity that we can start to make those shifts. And that’s how I take up space is I’m not trying to tell anyone else’s story. I only have my lived experience, but by telling, by embracing that — all of the parts of me, not the parts that I think should be shameful or hidden away — that actually becomes my superpower, right? When I start telling the things I was so afraid of, about my life, that then unlocked all of these things for me, and that’s I think how we do that.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield: A lot of times for me, staying in Utah was just like, “what are you doing here? Like, why are you still here? Approaching a decade? Why are you still here?” And understanding that my life has meaning and I am purposed to do certain things…I am coming to the University of Utah to speak on a panel with some other distinguished experts in their field or just in their life. They’re the experts of their life, right? So to be able to sit on this panel and understand that I was asked to be here, which means I was purposed to be here, that is how I can go into a space and say, “hey, this is where I’m supposed to be. I am comfortable here.” If no one shakes their head, which I appreciate, shakes their head in agreement, or they just give you dead stares because that exists as well, I was purposed to be here. And so I can, you know, afterwards I can go through, watch the recording, and things like that. But understanding that I could be anywhere in the world, but I was purposed to be here.

Speaker Bios

T Anthony

T Anthony
Student, Musical Theatre Major
University of Utah


T Anthony (They/Them | She/Her) is a non-binary, transfeminine individual passionate about enabling people to discover their authenticity through self-compassion, curiosity, and making love to discomfort. They are currently a senior in the College of Fine Arts majoring in Musical Theatre and are privileged to serve as the collective representative for the Department of Theatre SAC. She believes everyone is entitled to loving their body and discovering what “healthy” feels like for them in a world cluttered with diet culture that places stipulations on what looks desirable or is acceptable, especially for feminine-centered folks. She is an energetic, grounded, and compassionate soul looking to spread love and light in this life’s incarnation. She is enthusiastic about poetry, fashion, spirituality, and her plant children! She’s a certified yoga instructor, energy healer, and zealous freeform dancer.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield
Founder, Curly Me!


Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield is a visionary and builder doing vital work for black girls and young women in an unlikely place: Utah. Her non-profit organization, Curly Me! is on a mission to educate, empower and encourage girls from 5-14 years old to be their best selves through community events and mentoring. She began developing and hosting events such as Change the World with Her – where participants get in-person access to professionals like pilots, city planners, and news anchors to learn about different careers and ask questions. Other events, like High Tea with a Twist allow girls to wear their hair in twist-outs or plaits, get dressed up and be girly. Today the organization continues to be a valuable resource for young black girls and their families, throughout the state. Outside of the organization, Alyssha enjoys being newlyweds with her husband Meligha, working a day job, karaoke, and meeting new people.

Kelsie Jepsen

Kelsie Jepsen
Body Acceptance Coach, EmBODY Love Workshop


Kelsie Jepsen (she/her/hers) is a Body Acceptance Coach who helps those who struggle with negative body image to dismantle fatphobia and love themselves through radical mindset change and body acceptance. Kelsie is also a professional actor (AEA), director, and educator. She has worked professionally for over 15 years and holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Utah ATP Program. She has also lived and worked in Minneapolis, where her passion for education was ignited at the Tony-award winning Children’s Theater Company and in NYC where she served as a Program Director and Educator with The Shakespeare Forum. Kelsie is an activist who is committed to serving oppressed, marginalized, and underserved communities with the mission to dismantle systems of body oppression. She aims to build community and empower those around her to build self-esteem, develop their voice, live in their truth, and participate fully in their lives.

Lexie Kite

Lexie Kite, Ph.D.
Co-Author, “More Than a Body
Co-Director, Beauty Redefined


Dr. Lexie Kite and her identical twin, Dr. Lindsay Kite, are co-authors of the book “More Than a Body: Your Body Is an Instrument, Not an Ornament” (2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and co-directors of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined. They both received PhDs from the University of Utah in the study of female body image and have become leading experts in body image resilience and media literacy. Authors of numerous studies and books have cited their original research and they have been featured in a variety of national media outlets, including The New York Times, The Dr. Phil Show, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and more. Lindsay and Lexie help girls and women recognize and reject the harmful effects of objectification in their lives through their significant social media reach, online Body Image Resilience course, speaking events, and their popular book, “More Than a Body.”

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