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Portland’s Liberation Barbell Is The Inclusive Diet-Free, Mirror-Free Gym People Have Been Wanting

For many people, hitting the gym can be an uncomfortable experience. Whether because they’re a woman, trans, a person of color, vegan, punk, feminist, fat or an other in some way, it can feel like an unwelcoming place.

Liberation Barbell in Portland is here to combat the exclusivity that comes with the typical gym experience by creating a gym that’s a safe space for marginalized people. It’s all in their philosophy:

Much of the fitness industry tells us that our bodies are never enough – or more commonly – that they are too much. Liberation Barbell calls bullshit on that! We believe in lifting in a positive, explicitly feminist fitness community as a tool of empowerment, and refuse to motivate fitness through body-hate.

Liberation Barbell is a celebration of diversity, body and fat positivity, empowerment and strength over looks. We are founded on the idea that physical fitness should be accessible to any body regardless of age, race, ability, gender identity, sexuality, current health, or size. We use barbells, kettlebells, and free weights as tools to strengthen our minds and our connection to ourselves and each other.

Liberation Barbell believes in total liberation! This means we approach fitness through a lens of anti-oppression and with an aim to always grow and better serve the various communities that thrive in our space.

Founders Lacy Davis and Christina Cabrales raised $25,000 via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to build a weightlifting gym that reflects their values.

Cabrales says there are many issues marginalized people face at the gym.

“For trans people, it’s very hard to find gender neutral restrooms. For women, it’s men approaching them and hitting on them or mansplaining to them,” she says. “For fat people, no one that looks like them are there. As a brown person, I can go to a gym and only see white people. It’s universal. You don’t see anyone like you so it’s uncomfortable.”

At Liberation, they create a safe space by providing gender neutral restrooms, individual gender neutral changing stalls and asking preferred pronouns at sign-up and at the beginning of each class.

Even dieting and mirrors don’t exist within the walls of Liberation.

Courtesy of Liberation Barbell

“There are no mirrors. There’s no talk of diets. We aren’t offering diet plans or nutritional plans or anything like that at the gym,” says Cabrales. “If there’s a mirror or talking about diets, that sends a subtle or not so subtle message that you’re not good enough. But you are good enough, right now the way you are.”

Cabrales experienced first-hand body shame. Despite always being fit and athletic, as a kid she didn’t think her body was “good enough.”

Liberation Barbell

“Because I was a jock my body wasn’t feminine enough,” she says. “I’m short. I’m built like a tank. I’m not this lean, long, slender person with hips and boobs. I was mistaken for a boy all the time when I was a kid.”

For Cabrales, it was important that Liberation counteracts those feelings of body shame individuals might have. Together, she and Davis worked to “predict the future of what our clients would appreciate” based on each of their personal life experiences and gym experiences.

But that doesn’t mean they think they’ve mixed the perfect potion.

“We want feedback from our clients all the time,” Cabrales says. “We’re going to welcome that. We know we’re going to make mistakes and know culture changes all the time.”

To ensure Liberation is a space where all are welcome, they offer a cleaning trade which allows individuals to get a free gym membership if they help clean the space at least one day a week.

“We want it to be accessible and we understand that a gym membership universally is a privilege,” says Cabrales. “It’s not what we would call rent or grocery money. It’s a benefit and a privilege, and we want that to be as accessible to everyone.”


READ: At Just 6 Years Old, She Told Her Parents To Put An End To The Birthmark Removal Treatments She Was Going Through

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

Lilliam Rivera has written two novels featuring strong Latinx female characters including her latest Dealing in Dreams. The Puerto Rican YA author released The Education of Margot Sanchez in 2017, a romantic coming of age story set in South Bronx that explored family dysfunction and the importance of being true to yourself. Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Rivera penned the ode to her hometown after relocating to Los Angeles. The book was nominated for the 2017 Best Fiction for Young Adult Fiction by the Young Adult Library Services Association and Rivera has also been awarded fellowships from PEN Center USA, A Room Of Her Own Foundation, and received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Speculative Literature Foundation.

In Dealing in Dreams, Rivera takes readers on the kind of fantasy adventure she imagines her teenage self would’ve wanted to read. The feminist dystopic novel is clearly influenced by Latinx culture following the adventures of sixteen-year-old Nalah and her all-girl crew Las Mal Criadas and her dreams of escaping Mega City to the exclusive Mega Towers. Read on to learn about the strong Latinx women in the book, why she chose to portray toxic femininity, and how immigration came into play. The book will be out March 5 and she’ll be talking at bookstores throughout the U.S.

The story focuses on an all-girl crew, can you tell me more about Las Mal Criadas and how you developed these characters?

Nalah is the sixteen-year-old leader of Las Mal Criadas, an all-girl crew who patrol the streets of Mega City. They are notoriously fierce but Nalah is wary of the violent life. She believes the way off the streets is securing a home in the exclusive Mega Towers where her leader Déesse lives. She’ll do anything to reach that goal. I wrote a draft of Dealing In Dreams six years ago and Nalah came to me first. I had just given birth to my second daughter and there were people, mostly women, who remarked how my dream of being a published author would have to be placed on hold. Rage can be a great incentive for generating art. I refuse to be pigeonholed. I wrote this draft while taking care of a newborn and I put it away for six years, workshopping a chapter here and there, until a year ago when I returned to the manuscript and still felt its relevance.

Can you describe Mega City and the Mega Towers and their significance in the story?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I based the concept of the Mega Towers on the housing projects I grew up in the South Bronx. The Twin Park West Housing Projects is a U-shaped structure connected by three buildings. With the Bronx slowly being gentrified I could just imagine how these buildings will soon be so desirable for those in power. In Dealing In Dreams, the towers are the only structure that survived the Big Shake, a man-made disaster caused by drilling. The Mega Towers is where the elite live and it’s where Nalah believes she can secure a home for her crew if she plays by this society’s rules. There are a couple of hints that Mega City is the Bronx but only a person from there would discover those Easter eggs.

The book is being described as a feminist Latinx dystopia and The Outsiders meets Mad Max so suffice it to say it’s a fierce book, how would you describe it to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre? 

I would describe Dealing In Dreams as a young adult book about a girl who grew up in a violent world and must decide if that path is truly her only salvation to a better life.

There is a very clear Latinx influence in the city and characters, why was that important to you?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I grew up reading so many science fiction and fantasy novels (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell…) and didn’t see any of my people in them. Where were the Puerto Rican girls from the Bronx crushing monsters? The same holds true of current films. I love Star Wars and have watched it hundreds of times but how amazing is it that my kids get to see Oscar Isaac being a part of the Star Wars canon? The future I envision in my novels is very brown and very black, just like my upbringing. I want to write Latinx characters that are flawed and heroic, who fall in love and discover their voice.

This is your second time writing a teenage Latinx protagonist, why is it important to you to tell these stories through the lens of a Latina?

These are the type of stories I craved for when I was young, desperately trying to connect with protagonists in novels. I think there’s more than enough room in bookstores and libraries for different Latina stories.

You take toxic masculinity and flip it to women instead, what was your intent in doing this?

There’s this great image of activist Angela Peoples taken during the Women’s March. Angela holds up a sign that reads “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” I thought of that image when I was rewriting the novel. I also kept thinking of how our own people will gladly throw us under the bus in order to secure a place beside someone in power. Sometimes our own family are quick to lead us to destruction. I wanted to explore those two realities in Dealing In Dreams.

What are some of the main concepts you wanted to tackle when you wrote this book and why?

I was thinking of books I’ve read that inspired me as a young person such as Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I was drawn to their violence and also to the idea of formed families. I wanted to explore this idea of blood family versus the family you create but I wanted to come from the point of view of a Latina.

The idea of finding a better home is a concept that’s all too real for many Latinx in the US, was it a conscious decision to have Nalah’s journey mirror the immigrant experience in a sense?

@lilliamr / Instagram

The quest for home is so rooted in my family’s history. My parents left Puerto Rico to find a better home in New York. Each decision they made, however hard, was made with the intention of providing us with the tools to succeed. Almost everyone who wants to enter the United States come with that hope. There’s an amazing painting by the artist Judithe Hernández titled “La Muerte De Los Inocentes” and it is of a child who clutches a ribbon that states: “We come but to dream.” I feel that painting really captures Nalah’s journey and the journey of so many who come to the U.S. searching for a better life.

There’s a lot of action in this book, what was it like writing those scenes featuring all women?

I had the best time writing those scenes! I think it’s so rare to see young women owning their strength on the page and not being afraid to use it. I love that my characters are unapologetic about it. I also didn’t want to give the reader a chance to rest, to think of putting the book down, so I tried to inject as much action as I could.

What do you want readers to take away from Dealing in Dreams?

I want readers to be transported to a place that looks at times familiar and completely new. I want Nalah, Truck, Nena and the rest of Las Mal Criadas to leave an imprint on the readers long after they read the last page.

Read: YA Writer Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Debut Fantasy Book is a Feminist Story of Forbidden Love and Oppression

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5 Crucial Lessons We Learned About Fatphobia, As Taught By Chicana Body Liberation Author Virgie Tovar

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5 Crucial Lessons We Learned About Fatphobia, As Taught By Chicana Body Liberation Author Virgie Tovar

In a culture that’s finally embracing body positivity, how tf is fatphobia still so pervasive? Body image and fat discrimination activist and author Virgie Tovar says it’s because society isn’t as pro-big babes as the latest Dove ad, full-figured Barbie or curve model at New York Fashion Week imparts. Behind every “healthy is the new skinny” mantra and juicing fad remains the same ol’ oddments of fat bias, hate and fear. In her manifesto, “You Have the Right to Remain Fat,” the San Francisco-based mexicana uses almost a decade’s worth of research and a lifetime journey from self-hate to self-love to discuss fat bigotry and debunk the falsehoods of diet culture.

“With the years I’ve spent working with women of all sizes and ages, it’s really clear to me that there is a global crisis of female unhappiness, of female confusion. Our culture is committed to keeping women confused and blaming ourselves. I use diet culture to begin the conversation, but this book is really about freedom. I’m trying to show women what my journey to freedom looks like. I’m trying to be that good friend who takes you to church in the moment when you need it. I’m trying to hold somebody in their weak moment,” Tovar, 36, told FIERCE of the intentions of “You Have the Right to Remain Fat.”

The short-yet-powerful read, published by the Feminist Press in August, is like a slice of creamy flan, a small, high-calorie sweet treat you’ll devour in one sitting. Even better, it was baked just for you by the loving hands of your fave prima.

“I feel diet culture makes you feel alone, even if you’re with people. When you’re feeling lonely, you need that thing that symbolizes something, that symbolizes you’re not alone. … This book, this physical thing, can act as a grounding for you. It reminds you that you’re rooted and that there is a community with you,” she said.

A crucial manifesto for every girl, woman and femme, we’re sharing our biggest takeaways from “You Have the Right to Remain Fat,” which is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

1. Fatphobia is bigotry.

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Like gender and race, fatness, alone, is meaningless. We are not born believing thin bodies are good and fat bodies are bad. That is a lesson that culture teaches us. We are taught that people who are fat don’t have self-control, that they’re dirty, that they’re not beautiful and that they are not deserving of love. As a result, we are taught to look down, even hate, fat people and live in fear of becoming like them, largely because of the bigotry people of size experience.

2. Fatphobia harms everyone.

While fatphobia targets fat people, Tovar reminds us that it impacts individuals of all sizes. “Everyone ends up in one of two camps: they are either living the pointed reality of fatphobic bigotry or they are living in fear of becoming subject to it,” she writes. In other words, fat bigotry harms fat people by humiliating them, by making them feel inferior and by refusing to take health issues seriously, but it also injures non-fat individuals by using fatphobia to control the size of all people, by forcing them to, often dangerously, diet and over-exercise, by not allowing them to revel in the joys of life out of fear of becoming fat or appearing fat.

3. Controlling women’s body size is about controlling women’s lives.

While fatphobia impacts everyone, it’s also a tool of sexism. According to Tovar, “internalized inferiority is part of sexism and diet culture feeds on that sense of inferiority.” To feel inferior, or less than, is to feel like you, as you are, are not good enough or worthy of what you want and need, that you must change who you are, or what you look like, to become deserving of those things. Diet culture, more commonly veiled as healthy culture these days, hinges on women’s internalized inferiority. We adopt ineffective, or downright damaging, regimens so that we might finally find ourselves worthy of romance, of healthy relationships, of the job we are otherwise qualified for, of playing sports, of dressing how we like, of being adventurous, of taking photos — of taking up space.

4. For Latinas (and other immigrants), dieting is a part of the American dream.

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If you’re a non-white person in the U.S., you’ve received a lesson (or a trillion) on bootstrapping, the idea of pulling yourself out of your current circumstances by taking advantage of everything the “land of opportunity” has to offer you. If you’re unable to make something out of nothing — the idea goes — that’s on you for choosing not to bootstrap, not on the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that functions on the existence of the haves and the haves-not. For Tovar, and so many other chubby girls of color, thinness was a form of assimilation into dominant U.S. culture as a second-generation Mexican girl, and dieting was how she would bootstrap her way to the American dream.

5. You have the right to remain fat.

While we live in a fatphobic country, one that tells all of us that fatness is a problem that must be solved by diet and exercise, Tovar debunks this fallacy, pointing her finger at the real culprit: a sexist, classist, racist and fatphobic culture that is banking on female insecurity, internalized inferiority and mental health illnesses. Once we begin to understand this, we can stop mistreating our bodies by speaking down to them and depriving them of what they need. When this happens, we realize that we have the right to remain fat and live joyous, loving, productive, successful lives with our big bellies and double chins.

For more body liberation goodies, purchase “You Have the Right to Remain Fat” and follow Tovar on Instagram.

Read: Model-Activist Denise Bidot On Raising An Empowered Daughter

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