Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Radical Woman Q&A with Filmmaker Julie Wyman

Today’s Radical Woman Q&A is with award winning filmmaker, performer, writer and professor Julie Wyman.  Her acclaimed documentaries include Buoyant and A Boy Named Sue.  Her newest film is STRONG!.  The film documents the story of Olympic Athlete and Weightlifter, Cheryl Haworth.

Julie, Myself & Cheryl
I was fortunate to meet Julie at the sneak preview of STRONG! at Haverford College in March.  Watching the film and talking with Julie after it, it became apparent to me that we shared passion for creating a new paradigm for women and their relationships to their bodies.  You will have no doubt about the fact that Julie deserves the title Radical Woman after reading the Q&A! 

I also had the chance to meet Cheryl Haworth the subject of the film and was equally taken a back by her awesomeness.  In May, Cheryl will be joining me in a live teleconference interview just for women about female strength, bodies, beauty, sport and fitness (For more information click here or register now.)

Without further adieu, meet the Radical Ms. Wyman! 

Who are you?
I am Julie Wyman - filmmaker, artist, performer, professor, dancer, swimmer, cook, dogmom.

What do you do?
See above. More specifically, "what I do" is this: I am committed to challenging, confronting, and destroying the cultural and visual logic that produces a sense of bodily dysphoria for many women and many people. Put more positively: I want to encourage and produce images that model a radical sense of beauty and embodiment for people of all sizes, shapes, colors, and with all sorts of abilities.

What makes you radical?
Radical = to get at the roots: The roots of problems like widespread eating disorders, fatphobia, and our culture's ubiquitous bodily dysphoria is a particularly insidious logic that simply cannot comprehend that fat people can be healthy, that a woman like Cheryl can be an elite athlete. This logic is visually created and supported by a certain language of the image. My goal is to create images and stories that pull up, from its roots, and to overturn, this logic.

Describe your own personal journey with your body image, health and/or fitness?
As a child I was very active- I loved gymnastics and swimming and dancing and soccer - not to mention climbing trees, building forts and other outdoor activities. But, I was told, my body wasn't proportioned or shaped ideally to really find success or be seriously encouraged in any of these areas. Instead, surrounded by a family and a larger culture who were afraid of fat and wanted to "nip in the bud" the chance that I might put on extra weight, I became a normal weight kid who was put on diets from the age of nine, and encouraged, with all kinds of incentives to lose 10, 20, 30 pounds. I lost weight, I gained it back, and food and exercise became charged and loaded - certainly separated from any simple sense of their functionality or pleasure. This training to diet chronically, combined with the frequent enough feedback from kids at school and adults as well that I was "funny looking," bred a serious sense of dissatisfaction and bodily dysphoria in me: a sense of being in the "wrong body" with an ever present mandate to change who I was, how I looked. It wasn't until I was in college and developed a feminist perspective on food, body, and weight that I started to understand the cultural and political dimensions of this aspect of my life. At that point, I made a deep-level commitment to myself to try to reclaim and inhabit the body I have, and to not only bear witness, but to try to change, the harmful factors that had contributed to the needless suffering I'd endured through my childhood and teen years. Today, and for most of my adult life, moving is my joy: I love dancing, swimming, hiking, bicycling, yoga. Although I have grappled with injuries, and do still battle at times with the cultural mandate to alter my body rather than accept and embrace it, I do feel like I've transitioned, in adulthood, to a better relationship to my own physicality.

What are your philosophies on food & eating?
Food is hugely important to me; the pleasure and the creativity of cooking, the tasks of preparing and enjoying food with friends and family are incredibly important to the fabric of my everyday life. It would be a denial of everything I hold dear, my priorities in being alive, to sever myself from that experience, or to look at food and eating in a purely utilitarian way.

For me eating "well," i.e. in a way that is taking care of my physical, mental, and emotional health does require a certain discipline - a practice of being honest with myself about what I want and need at any given time- in terms of what food and how much food. This practice requires a certain slowness - patience- which is difficult to come by in the life I lead, but it is one to which I remain dedicated.

I also oppose dieting or regimentation of my diet in any way that is extreme or temporary. I believe in making productive long-term changes in one's eating patterns, but in avoiding crash changes that are difficult for the body to endure, and which usually create a backlash. Most of all, I believe in fostering, in myself and others, a sense of confidence that within each of us is the knowledge we need to make best food/ eating choices we can.

What are your philosophies on fitness?
I don't really like the word "fitness" because it implies "fitting" in to an external model.
I believe in a sense of physical embodiment, a sense of knowledge and active use of one's bodies - in whatever way that makes sense at any given time. I enjoy challenging myself physically and reaching new heights/ building new physical capacities like strength, flexibility, balance, as well as gracefulness and pleasure in movement. This would describe the goal I'd like to strive for: I'm not sure what the word for this is: but it's not "fitness."

What do you have to say about self-love & acceptance?
It's a tough, and ongoing process. It is, in many ways, related to a process of enlightenment, a process, perhaps, of one becoming less all-important to oneself, a process of acknowledging what's there and letting go of what's not. There is, in my experience, no zone that is long-term 100% safe from the societal influences that want to destroy that acceptance. It's bad for capitalism, self-love and acceptance. It takes us out of the market, in some senses, out of the project of trying to fill that empty endless desire. Which is all the more reason to adopt this as a goal.

What message do you want to communicate most to other women?
What if the body you had right now were perfect?

What else do you have to say/share?
Some of what I have to share is visual: I try to carve out/ create visual, visceral experiences with the imagery I create. So see my films. And that will answer this question ;)

You can start  by seeing STRONG!.  The film will have its television premier on PBS’s Independent Lens this summer, however there are community screenings of the film happening all over the country now.  Check to see when the film is showing near you here.  If you’re in my neck of the woods (Philadelphia) there is an upcoming showing on May 8th, to RSVP follow this link.   Hope meet you there!

Thank you Julie for taking the time to share yourself with the readers of Radical Hateloss and for doing the important work you are doing in the world! 

"What if the body you had right now were perfect?" 
-Julie Wyman

Watch the trailer for STRONG!

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