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Same Same Different: Flip The Script

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illustration of four people hugging and saying you are precious beyond belief
Roza Nozari for Michigan Radio

When was the first time you decided to flip the script on all the negative stuff you were programmed to believe about yourself?

Take Virgie Tovar, for example. She is a body image activist and the author of the forthcoming book, "The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color." She also wrote the book, “You Have The Right To Remain Fat." 

She says when she was growing up, people taught her that the world hated “people like her”: fat girls. 

“It’s like classic victim blaming psychology,” Tovar said. “Somebody tells you: this is how the world works, you’re the one who’s messed up. And you just accept abusive behavior, and you kind of become a weird complicit part to it.”

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And then there’s Kiese Laymon. He’s a writer from Mississippi. He’s known for his book “Heavy: An American Memoir.” He also wrote the short story collection “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.”

He said he grew up a “fat black boy” in the city of Jackson. But in contrast to Tovar’s experience, he said fat black boys weren’t treated with the same disdain as fat black girls. However, other parts of his childhood, he said, did influence his upbringing.

“Police treated us like, I think regardless of size, actually treated us like men, which meant that they could, you know, ironically touch our bodies in any way they wanted to,” Laymon said. “They could say they saw us do things with our bodies that we know we didn't do. So in this weird way, I think police, sadly, dictated a lot of what I thought about myself when I was a young person.”

So when did Laymon and Tovar decide to flip the script on their thinking?

pull quote

“One question that really changed my life that somebody offered to me was like, 'what would you do right now if you truly believed that you were precious beyond belief?'” said Tovar. “And I think when you’re somebody who is marginalized, multiply-marginalized, the concept of your preciousness is consistently negated day after day."

Laymon says he often flipped the script as a student in his classrooms, which were predominantly run by white teachers.

“I just remember pushing back early,” Laymon said. “If teachers said I did something I didn’t do, whether it was second grade, first grade, fourth grade, like I was going to let them know that’s wrong.”

Laymon says he and his friends played with words a lot, like the word abundance. "We threw black in front of it, and you know, just saying it, like, it made us feel good." He pushed back in other ways, too: wearing baggy jeans when everyone at school told him to wear really tight jeans; being obsessed with rap music when most folks around him didn't even consider it music. 

Both Laymon and Tovar have used their experience flipping the script to influence their writing and their lives.

Listen to host Bryce Huffman’s full conversation with Tovar and Laymon in episode 2 of Same Same Different from Michigan Radio on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

So how have YOU flipped the script? We want to hear from you. Join us in our Facebook group.

Want to be a part of the Same Same Different story? Share yours with us!

About the artist: Roza Nozari, known as YallaRoza, is an artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto. Her art is deeply rooted in the intersections and layers of who she is: a queer Muslim; an artist of color; a survivor of sexual violence; an educator; a settler of color; an auntie; an activist; and much more. She uses her art to tell stories of trauma and healing, of oppression and injustice, and of both collective and individual resistance. Her art centers the stories of those often erased from our archives of “survivors,” mental health and wellness —those of queer, trans and two-spirit people; of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person(s) of Color); of Muslims; of femmes and non-binary folks; and of many more. 

You can find her weekly art posts on Instagram by following @yallaroza.

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Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.