Move over Naomi and Gloria. Feminism has a brand new activist in Tucsonan Jes Baker – blogger, photographer and body positive advocate. By Gillian Drummond. Cover photo by Jes Baker.
It’s the day before the day that will change Jes Baker’s life. We’re sitting on the patio of Cafe Passe on 4th Avenue drinking iced coffees and discussing the ‘F’ word.
Jes is a size 22, and is happy to describe herself as fat. “I love it,” she says, grinning, her blonde hair in pigtails, tattoos creating a colorful wave across the top of her body: up one arm, over her chest and boobs, and down the other arm.
It took Jes a long time to feel comfortable with using the word fat, she says. And she understands that others still consider it an insult. Which is why on her blog, The Militant Baker – a site that celebrates size and encourages body positivism – she censors the F-word.
“I want my blog to be a safe place. Women don’t need to come to my blog to see that shit. I’m very protective of my readers. The whole free speech thing, I totally agree with it. Everywhere else, go for it. But I’m the queen of my blog. I’m not going to let you vomit over my very vulnerable readers.” They have come to her site for refuge from a cruel, thin-loving world, after all. “They might not be ready to hear the word ‘fat’ and it could hurt them.”
The next day, however, that rule changed with Jes’s most celebrated blog post yet. In a cheeky letter to Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Jes took issue with his controversial comments that A&F’s clothes were meant for the “cool”, “good-looking” folks. (Jeffries had made the comments back in 2006, but they recently resurfaced, causing as much of a furor as before.)
Jes openly challenged what she called “the separation of attractive and fat… I assert that they are compatible”. She and her photographer friend, Liora K, drove home the point with a series of A&F-inspired black and white photos showing Jes with a tall, muscular, handsome male model, Tucsonan John Shay. They called it – carefully using the same font as Abercrombie & Fitch – Attractive & Fat.
The photos went Internet-viral and the world’s media – from The Huffington Post to NBC, Le Monde to the BBC – lined up for a slice of Jes. Overnight she became a spokesperson for the body positive movement. And she decided that, this time, the F-word wouldn’t be censored. “If it’s said about me, that’s OK. I can take it,” she reasoned.
But back to Cafe Passe, the calm before that A&F storm, and the woman behind all the fuss. The Militant Baker is so-called because of Jes’s pastry chef job, and her sometimes shocking approach to spreading the gospel according to body positive women. She pulls clever public stunts, like standing in a Tucson street in a bikini holding a sign saying ‘Don’t like it? Don’t look.’
Jes gives full credit to another body positive blogger, Rachele, for inspiring her to start blogging about her body issues. The in-your-face, warts-and-all style of The Militant Baker, however, is all her own. Jes bears her soul, talking of her borderline personality disorder and an emotionally abusive father. The other ‘F’ word is abundant. She has fun with topics like big women on top during sex.
The Militant Baker has been – and still is – a journey of self-confidence for Jes, 26. She grew up in Tucson the eldest daughter in a Mormon family, a self-professed perfectionist and over-achiever, yet also a rebel or “firepoker”. She attended Mormon college in Idaho, with desires to be an interior designer, then realized “having people buy a rug wasn’t going to change the world.”
In tandem with her blog, Jes is a mental health advocate. (Her pastry chef job is in a facility that gives training to people with mental health problems). She is also a photographer, a hobby that she has pursued for years – and made money out of occasionally. Just recently it has taken a different turn. With a project called The Body Images, featured here and on our home page, Jes invited women from Tucson and Phoenix to pose in only white underwear for some revealing body shots. Many of them were recruited through contacts she made through Sexy Lady Bookworms, another feminist photography project. (See our feature, You Sexy (Bookish) Thing)”
“My initial thing was to flood the Internet with positive images,” she says. But she knew it was risky. How many women want to reveal their back fat, their belly rolls? How many would be OK with not editing out a graze or stretch mark? “I was really nervous about sending the photos to these women because we’re so critical of ourselves,” says Jes. Every one of the models loved them.
If firepoker Jes had had her way, the photos would be naked. But in order to circumvent Facebook’s nudity policy, she went with panties and had the models cover their nipples with their hands.
The images are many things: sexy, soft, brave, jarring. But mostly what comes across in each of the models’ faces is joy. The shoot was done in a bedroom at Jes’s house, with only natural sunlight and Jes, who did her best to make them laugh. “It was so fun and so easy and the location is so bright and welcoming,” says Liora K, one of the models. “She would give instructions like ‘Give yourself a hug’. Even the release we signed was super-fun. It said in one part ‘Are you ready to have an awesome time?'” Jes plans to resurrect The Body Images project again this summer.
Although Jes laments the fact that she is more popular outside of her home town, if she and her cohorts have their way, that could change very soon. Jes is planning Tucson’s first body positive conference, which she hopes will take place at, and be endorsed by, the University of Arizona. Scheduled for next April, it will include workshops, poetry readings and body positive yoga. Jes will begin fundraising through Indiegogo in June.
Among the speakers is likely to be Liora K, whose own feminist photos are stunning in a different way: half-nude women bearing painted-on remarks like ‘Don’t whistle, I’m not a dog’ and ‘Emotional abuse = abuse”.
Meantime, Jes and another friend, Elizabeth Albert, fashion designer and owner of the new plus-sized Tucson clothing store CandyStrike, have formed a body positive book club. And an online version of CandyStrike launches in June.
If Jes has an even bigger smile on her face right now than usual, it’s well-deserved. But she admits that she is a work in progress. Despite the ballsy public persona, she still suffers from self-doubt, and has bad days as well as good.
When her long-term live-in boyfriend left her recently after two years, she felt the sting of self-doubt. “The conversation was ‘I’m not attracted to you, you’ve gained weight since we’ve been together’.” It was ironic, she says, since he “was the beginning of this journey for me. I met him and he thought I was the most gorgeous woman ever.”
What is Jes’s type when it comes to men? She makes no excuses when she says she prefers “conventionally attractive”. For Jes that means tall, tattooed – and fit and muscular over fat. And she has another stipulation: they have to be bigger than her. “I like to feel smaller than the person I’m with. I think I’m socially conditioned to want to feel small but I also think there’s nothing wrong with being attracted to a conventional man.”
As for the future, Jes is as committed to raising awareness about mental health as she is about positive body image. She says she’s neither planning to give up the day job, nor leave her blog readers in the lurch. At barely a year old, The Militant Baker now logs up to a million visits a day – proof not only that the world is happy to have her, but that Tucson is lucky to call her its own.