Justice

The Powerful Reaction to a Woman Who Stripped Down to a Bikini at a Farmer's Market

Amy Pence-Brown once struggled with body image issues, so to help other women overcome theirs, she blindfolded herself, stripped down to a bikini at the Capital City Public Market in downtown Boise, Idaho, and held out markers for strangers to write comments on her skin.

Pence-Brown, who is a mother of three, was inspired by a similar experiment conducted by a woman recovering from an eating disorder. Her experiment yielded ample support from market-goers. People wrote many encouraging phrases on her body, and she even recieved some hugs.

"[A] flower was placed by a young man at my feet, I got a kiss on the cheek and an ice cold lemonade left by my side for when I was done," Pence-Brown wrote on her blog. "One woman came back to me several times during my nearly hour long stand for self love. 'While you can feel the people who are writing words of encouragement and faith on your body, what you can't see are all the lives you are touching by just existing in this space,' she said. 'All these people that are stopping to look at you and read your sign and watch the rest of us? You've reached them all in ways unimaginable.'"

 

In her blog post, Pence-Brown also noted that the most significant moments of this experience are ones viewers can't see in the footage.

"The dad who stood in front of me with his two young sons and knelt down to tell them to 'this is what a beautiful woman looks like,'" she wrote. "Thin women who are embarrassed by their small breasts. Old women who know life moves too preciously fast to hate themselves any longer. Teenaged girls who ran up to me afterward as I was walking down a side street to tell me I'm an inspiration and a role model."

Following the release of the video, ATTN: reached out to Pence-Brown via email to ask a couple questions about her experiment. Here's what she had to say about the endeavor.

ATTN: Obviously, you were blindfolded during the experiment. What was it like to watch the footage of your experiment afterward?

Amy Pence-Brown: It was pretty moving and emotional. I had no idea what size, shape, gender, age, nationality, or ability the people were, and upon seeing the diversity of those who received my message I was amazed.

ATTN: This experiment reminds me a little bit of an Internet comment section because you opened yourself up to potentially unkind remarks from strangers. Before going through with the experiment, were you worried at all that people would write cruel things on your body?

APB: Somewhat, but I was more fearful that no one would agree with my message of self-acceptance and/or be too judgmental and afraid to write on me at all.

ATTN: In your blog, you reveal that you received a lot of positive feedback for your experiment. Would you try this experiment in other places?

APB: This project has touched innumerable lives and continues to do so, well beyond that one hour spent at our public market. I do not currently have plans to recreate this performance art piece anywhere else.

ATTN: Would you recommend this experiment to other women who have body image issues?

APB: Probably not. I'm a very secure person with thick skin and I've done other similar public performances and created artworks that have opened me up for ridicule and hateful Internet comments in the past. This social experiment was designed to help others who continue to struggle with body image issues to begin looking at their body with kindness and respect.

ATTN: You recently told PEOPLE that you were heavier growing up but have been at peace with your body for years. How did you achieve self-acceptance?

APB: I have been at peace with my body for years, and have been a fat activist and part of the body positive movement for just as long. I've always rebelled a bit against the status quo, and in my early 30s, I felt I was my truest and best self not dieting, exercising for fun rather than fear, and loving my body at its natural weight and state. As a scholarly feminist, I've found reading other books and blogs super inspirational and helpful in this journey.

Twitter reactions to Amy Pence-Brown's experiment.

Like the market goers, the Internet showered Pence-Brown with praise. Here are some social media reactions to the clip:

Why body positive movements are so important right now.

In recent months, many have used the viral nature of the Internet to promote positive body image and fight unrealistic beauty standards. Earlier this summer, ATTN: covered the #thighreading movement in which women share photos of their stretch marks on social media to show that everyone has them, and they are nothing to be ashamed of.

Many also lauded American Eagle's Aerie lingerie line, when the brand decided to stop using airbrushed images of models in ads. The company saw an increase in sales following the change.

 

A photo posted by aerie (@aerie) on

 

A photo posted by aerie (@aerie) on

Earlier this year, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) awarded the #AerieReal campaign its first NEDA Inspires "Seal of Approval" accolade.

"The fashion industry has always been a huge part of the portrayal of unrealistic beauty ideals in our society," the release explained. "Many companies photoshop their models to extremely unrealistic 'perfect' bodies, which influences many people to believe they are not good enough."

While brand such as Aerie and folks like Pence-Brown are working hard to promote a positive message about body image, the Internet remains a hub for appearance and body image put downs. Comedian Nicole Arbour is a proud body-shamer, and she recently went viral for a harsh video she created titled "Dear Fat People." In the six-minute video, she mercilessly mocks overweight people and says they need to take better care of themselves if they want to live.

While she defends her claims by saying she could potentially help some people get healthier and thinner by giving them tough love about their weight, many felt the clip was in poor taste and did more harm than good. Because her video was released around the same time as Pence-Brown's, some argued Pence-Brown's experiment was especially important in the wake of Arbour's clip:

Featured Image:Image: Vimeo/Melanie Flitton Folwell