Bea is a mixed-race, giant femme babe hailing from Northern Maine (Wabanaki territory) and currently residing in Northern California (Nisenan territory). Her work focuses on the intersection of tribal and environmental justice, having been recognized as the 2016 Student of the Year for the Maine Environmental Education Association, as well as a 2018 30 Under 30 recipient for outstanding work in environmental education with the North American Association for Environmental Education. She enjoys mapping, thrifting for dishes and old-school fat lady clothes, and wicker purses. Her brain is filled with existential panic, guilt over how poorly behaved her sidekick pupperino Spikey is, and intricate nail art because in a dream world, fake nails wouldn't be so bad on the planet.
What role does clothing play in your life?
"Clothing is both a battle and a comfort for me. My love for it can be complex and confusing, and at times exhausting. Up until recently, my identity within and relationship to appearance and clothed expression were limited by clothing industry-imposed standards.
Growing up, my siblings and I were some of the youngest of our cousins, so we got lots of hand-me-downs. We would walk to our small town’s thrift store during their $1-a-bag day and fill the paper bags to the brim with whatever grabbed our eye, not limiting ourselves to any section, but just grabbing what we could. We’d play dress-up and have fashion shows with our friends. We weren’t reading labels, and we weren’t trying to find slimming silhouettes or tummy-tucking technology. We were kids without a whole lot of money who all wanted to express our own voices.
Growing up, it got a lot harder because I just didn’t have plus-size options in person. I wore my mom’s hand-me-downs in high school and really appreciated the stuff she had collected over the years. Cardigans made from colorful yarn with appliqués, longer jumpers, eclectic shoes that helped with back pain—I loved how it all looked, and loved that it fit. But it also led to merciless mocking throughout school. It taught me to shut down a lot in order to get through the bullying. I haven’t unlearned that yet, so it’s hard for me to be social when I have so many fears. But I’m working on being true to my voice, leaning into the scariness, and just trying to do something of value to others even if I feel uncertain.
As an adult, my relationship with clothing still fluctuates. We just haven’t had the options that those with size privilege have. Even now, the arbitrary size cutoff of brands—even 'inclusive' ones that stop at a size 20, or 24, or now 28—makes it so challenging to navigate the clothing world and know where I’m invited, where I’m seen as a person worthy of that maker’s clothing. I haven’t found a pair of jeans that fit me properly. I haven’t found a bra that doesn’t hurt from the moment I put it on. You hold size privilege if you can go into a store and leave with an item that fits, let alone something you like.
I am beyond fortunate to have found supplemental work as a fit tester and model, so I have some pieces I can keep from brands that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. I’m able to even be picky, have choices. It’s extremely sudden and surreal, and I’m not sure I’ve wrapped my head around it still. But it’s a complete privilege and joy to be able to do this work with brands who care about my voice and needs. I am so grateful for how far we’ve come, and I know I’m with the best people as we continue to get through it."
How is clothing political to you?
"I think of this in terms of accessibility.
WHO can fit into these clothes?
WHO can pay for these clothes?
WHO is profiting from these clothes?
WHO is hurting from these clothes?
As the saying goes, 'If it is inaccessible to the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary.'
I also think of the current overuse of 'inclusive' when it comes to sizing or 'made for all,' when in reality it's exclusionary and has a limited size cutoff. How in the fuck is a size 18 'inclusive'? I was at a conference witnessing a remarkable keynote by Angela Park on DEI with one of her biggest points being the watering down of intention with overusing generalized terms. What this means is that we need to define what we mean when we say things. What does 'diverse' mean to you? Because I have absolutely attended a conference’s diversity panel with all old white dudes. And I’ve been one of the 'golden tokens' from my time as a SHIFT Leadership recipient, where we were literally separated into a small room away from the affluent white conservation industry attendees. When you say 'people of color,' are you referring specifically to Black people? Educate yourself on what you’re talking about, so you know what you mean when you say it. So when you say you’re inclusive, what are you inclusive of? Just say what sizes you offer; it’s not up to you whether you’re inclusive or not, just like it’s not up to you if you’re an ally or not. Just go on with your actions; that’s where your attention should be in the first place.
When we talk representation, how many brands hire models at the high end of their size range? As in, the actual largest body they wish to market their goods to? Who is allowed that representation? So much of the slow fashion I own is in sizes much smaller than I am, but was designed as 'oversized'; yet none of these brands acknowledge me or any other larger person.
Recently I’ve started conversations with other fat BIPOC around inclusivity and needs, as well as focusing on solutions so we don’t trap ourselves with issue on issue and feel so powerless. We are the holders of our own solutions. Without putting too much pressure on Clothing Is Political, I’m just very grateful and invigorated to partake in these exchanges. I’ll be excited to share this more when it’s ready."
As a person who lives within many intersections and within a politicized body, how do your clothes express these lived experiences?
"I have not found any piece that feels completely complementary to me. I think clothing is only part of it. The most important pieces in my life come with a story, a comfort. I graduated from college after going on and off for a decade. At my graduation, my mother gave me a brooch that my godfather, her older brother, had given her during her master’s graduation. My mom raised us by herself that year, working multiple jobs while attending college for a master’s in special education. My godfather passed a few years ago, the greatest loss I’ve experienced in my adult life. It’s created this hollow, scary feeling that I can’t ignore. I’m afraid of time. I’m afraid of change and afraid of picking up the phone when someone calls because it means we may have lost another loved one.
The losses I’ve experienced since then have made me feel lost in a body that doesn’t always feel familiar. So when I dress myself, I’m usually looking for two primary functions: comfort and grounding. These feelings can come at any time with no warning, so I just put something on that I can live in and do my best to get through it. The fact that it’s a battle just navigating the clothing world for these pieces is overwhelming. I recall reading an article a few years ago about a fat person struggling to find clothing for a funeral on short notice. I think companies choose to dehumanize fat people or people with bodies that need more consideration for functionality because holding the empathy required to make the changes to their brands would mean doing some serious soul-searching in their own lives, which could mean completely derailing their current approach or practices. I can’t tell people what to do if I expect them to own their change; I can only bring honesty and vulnerability when I find the strength because, as Dr. King said, 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'"
Bea is wearing the Georgia Tee in Moss Silk Crepe size OSP3, the Clyde Trench in Olive Midweight Linen size 4XL, the Serpentine Wrap Belt in Navy Midweight Linen size OSP3, and the Florence Pant in Olive Midweight Linen size 4XL-Tall.
What is one step clothing consumers can take to move the industry needle towards inclusivity?
"Speak up for those who are underrepresented, but remember those not even in the circle yet. It’s important to demand sizing increases and affordability options, but we also have to remember those not even at the table. There’s an assumed mentality that you have to buy your way into movements, especially when morality and ethics are centered. But everything boils down to marketing and storytelling. I guess, know what you care about, and let that lead you to authentic relationships. Understanding where you’re welcomed yet others may not be yet is a privilege not to be taken lightly. With the brands I work with, I’m keenly aware that I’m the largest person they’re talking to, so I try to bring up larger bodies, mobility and accessibility considerations, and quality of life for workers. These points are all deeply personal and important to me, so when I bring them up, that sincerity comes through.
I hope to continue to move towards intersectionality with the brands I choose to work with. Never get complacent."
What is a political issue you are passionate about?
"There are so many. General civic involvement is underrated, which, as I’ve worked in government for a while now, I firmly believe is made intentionally confusing and hard to navigate.
I want people to understand their own voices, whatever that looks like for them. We can be told we’re powerless, but until we stop fighting, that’s just noise trying to distract us.
I want people to register to vote while demanding better leadership and policy changes. I want people to understand what their own town, city, state, and local government’s practices are and how to engage from the public. For other government workers, I want them to make meaningful connections with local residents and truly partner with the public on what equitable solutions look like.
I have always had this fierce call to serve the world, and it’s looked a lot of different ways throughout my lifetime. My current state is pragmatic and meditated, trying to understand how each part of the puzzle works and moves and the opportunities for involvement in policy and legislation.
Understanding our system and why it’s broken is the first step in dismantling and rebuilding."
What is one concrete way you want people reading this to take action today?
"Check your voter registration status.
Look up your town’s ordinances and public meetings. ATTEND ONE.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the world, volunteer. It can be a couple of hours here and there or a larger time commitment, but our connections are what make this human experience so worth it. Give back the most when you feel you have the least."