Trigger warning: This interview contains language about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and food-related struggles.
When you think of someone with an eating disorder, what comes to mind? Surely an image like that of Lily Collins in the new and controversial To The Bone. What's wrong with this image? They're white, privileged, and don't represent everyone who struggles with their relationship to food. That's where Nalgona Positivity Pride (NPP) comes in. NPP is an organization specifically helping youth and people of color with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and anyone who struggles with these food-related issues. Why is that important? Because POC are left out of the mainstream conversation when it comes to mental health. especially body-related concerns.
NPP's eight-member team took the time to answer a few questions I had about their program. They shared personal experiences, how POC experience eating disorders differently, and how you can get involved. They're truly helping the youth in their community, and it's my absolute pleasure to introduce you to them today.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: So tell me about yourselves! Who are you and what do you do?
Nalgona Positivity Pride: We are a women of color collective organizing a body positivity program for teens of color in Los Angeles! Our program is Trensitas NPP Youth Nights, led by Abriana Avila, Vanessa Correa, Jacqueline Gradilla, Maria Lozano, Gloria Lucas, Marina Perez, Alejandra O., and Scarlett Villacorta. And we began working with a new summer volunteer Ale G.!
Pink Things: What is Nalgona Pride Positivity for those who don’t know? What does the organization do?
Gloria Lucas: Nalgona Positivity Pride (NPP) is a xicana-brown, body-positive project that focuses on eating disorder awareness in communities of color and cultural affirmation. NPP consists of support groups, social media, an Etsy store, and more. I created NPP in response to the lack of eating disorder resources and platforms for indigenous peoples and people of color. NPP offers educational classes that connect the relationship between colonialism, historical trauma, and eating disorders. Additionally NPP has three support programs that are free to the community: Trensitas NPP Youth Nights, Te Con Miel, a womxn of color circle that focuses on body image in Los Angeles, and Sage+Spoon, monthly online support group for people of color and indigenous people with eating issues. One of NPP’s upcoming projects is researching eating disorders among brown and indigenous womxn.
Pink Things: Tell me about the Trensitas NPP Youth Nights. What is it and what is it for?
Abriana Avila: Trensitas NPP Youth Nights is a soon-to-be body-positive program for youth of color. It branches off from Nalgona Positivity Pride. The eight of us came together through our own personal struggles with eating disorders and decided that it was up to us to create a safe space for youth of color to heal. Spaces like these don’t exist, especially in marginalized communities when their youth are vulnerable during that awkward coming-of-age stage. They need direction and guidance in navigating such intense experiences and exerting it all in a positive way. It isn’t easy being body positive, it isn’t easy to love yourself, but it is possible, and worth it.
Pink Things: What makes your program different from all of the other body positive campaigns out there?
Scarlett Villacorta: Trensitas NPP Youth Nights is like no other body positive campaign because we will cover uncharted topics: decolonization, radical self-care, and body image. We differ because most programs can't offer a curriculum that will cover the unique experiences of youth of color.
Pink Things: How exactly is it going to help with POC body positivity?
Maria Lozano: Trensitas NPP Youth Nights will provide a space for youth of color in the community to connect with other peers, and adults, to see a reflection of themselves. The members of the collective are dedicated to creating the space we lacked in our youth and adulthood that reflects our familial and cultural backgrounds. We envision creating a space where youth can strengthen their self-perception, individual gifts, and voices in generating a shift in body image for their generation and future generations of POC.
Pink Things: What are your goals with the program?
Jackie Gradilla: My personal goal is that the teens participating in our program take away a lesson that they would like to share with a friend or family member in the hopes that those friends share it with someone else, and so on and so forth. It is through community healing and knowledge sharing that we will support our teens of color battling body image/food related issues. Through this organization I envision a future of teens reclaiming their culture, being proud of their bodies, being unapologetic, and being a voice for their communities.
Gloria Lucas: I agree! Some of our essential goals for the program are to assist teens of color in retrieving tools for healing and radical self-care, challenging the pressures of the American beauty ideal, and reclaiming identity, culture, and land.
Pink Things: Why is a body positivity campaign directed at POC so important?
Alejandra O.: When I think about eating disorders, the first images that come to mind are of lifetime movies about white teenage girls with anorexia or bulimia, their bones showing through their skin, living at treatment centers. I know I’m not the only one to for whom the term ‘eating disorder’ conjures these images. As a young person, these images told me that people who look like me don’t have issues with food.
While many communities of color perpetrate conflicting ideas about food and body shape, we don’t have the language to talk about the consequences on self-concept and body image. Music videos show us brown and black womxn with big butts as being desirable, but anyone with a curve in their body is criticized for having cellulite or not having the perfect hourglass shape. The same tia that is shoving you a huge plate of food is also criticizing you for putting on weight.
Nalgona Positivity Pride attempts to tackle some of these issues around food and body acceptance in our communities, and emphasizes that these issues are rooted in historical trauma as a result of colonization and the white, thin, cis industrial complex. These systems affect the relationships that communities of color have with their bodies, with food, and with unattainable beauty standards. However, in the mainstream body positivity movement, race and class are seen as divisive and are often left off the table for discussion. It is important that we have a body positive movement that reflects our history and experiences. In this context, the Trensitas program is vital to the health of our communities by creating a space for young people to explore these topics and have access to information and resources that can literally save lives.
Pink Things: Can you elaborate on how people of color’s experiences of body shame are different than those of white people?
Marina Perez: People of color have such unique experiences with body shame because our cultures and peoples are underrepresented or misrepresented. POC are sent mixed messages on what type of bodies are considered beautiful and socially acceptable. White people don’t deal with the daily traumas of having to fit unrealistic beauty expectations because those same beauty standards are racialized to privilege white people. Youth of color are conditioned to build negative perceptions of themselves and the bodies they occupy. Our experiences are painful and isolating, especially when we lack culturally appropriate resources to help us deal with issues like body shame and eating disorders. Our healing processes are postponed because professionals refuse to acknowledge our stories.
Pink Things: If you’re comfortable sharing, can you tell me about any of your personal experiences with body shame or eating disorders — what led to it and how you overcame it?
Maria Lozano: I remember the first time I heard the word “anorexic”. I was 8 years old. My sister was in college and learning about disorders as a Social Sciences major. It stuck with me and as I grew up, with friends who were “skinnier” than me, a majority of them white due to the community I grew up in, I was not feeling accepted or acknowledged by girls that actually reflected my image. I fell into a cyclical relationship with food, hating my body, and unrealistic exercise routines. I felt a lot of shame beginning at the age of 8 due to my sister “diagnosing” me as anorexic because I didn’t want to eat everything on my plate. In high school it grew into a different monster. I used laxative teas, unrealistic exercise routines, and unrealistic expectations to look like my petite cheer teammates. My body looked different than everyone else's, and comments were never in short supply, whether it was about my ass or tits, from guys or girls. The ability to accept and love my body didn’t fully come to be until I was 31, when I learned the magic my body could do in a healthy way and trained for my first marathon.
Pink Things: Where are some places you go, or people you look up to, for a healthy reflection of the body?
Maria Lozano: I really enjoy going to People’s Yoga, a yoga studio located in East LA. I love the space for many reasons and I see people that look like me and speak the same language I do. The space was created and is owned by two amazing mujeres; Lauren Quan-Madrid and Leah Rose Gallegos. The yoga studio is the first studio in the East LA area and started out as a community effort in different community spaces to later become it’s own self-standing studio. Leah and Lauren had a vision to provide a space for the community of ELA to have access to yoga, pilates, and meditation. It feels like home, like I’m walking into a prima’s house, like I will be held in community to practice yoga and continue healing whatever is weighing me down. People I look up to include Leah and Lauren, as they are two women of color who have had a vision and manifested it, and hold in high regard the health and well being of the community, along with the other instructors of the studio — Ana Maria Delgado, Larios, Raquel Lemus, Jocelyn Ramirez, Trinity Capili, and Traci Ishigo.
Pink Things: Why are you personally invested in this project? What does it mean to you? What impact do you hope it has on your community? What impact has it had on you?
Alejandra O.: I’ve dealt with food and body image issues since I was a teenager, but never had the language to fully understand it myself, or the courage to look for help until I was well into adulthood. Having seriously thought that only white girls have eating disorders, and having received constant messages from my family that mental health issues are for the weak, I had nowhere to turn. I hope to help create the kind of program I needed as a younger person, the kind of program that could have saved me from years of pain. Being a part of the Trensitas core collective and working with other womxn with similar experiences in their bodies has been a therapeutic experience for me. As a teenager I didn’t know that other brown girls like me existed. Now, as an adult, the kinship we have created in building this program is something I consider to be healing and transformative.
I personally aspire to help create a program that helps young people have a better understanding of their cultural identity and, in turn, a better understanding of themselves. I hope that this program helps young people to better understand the forces that shape their relationships with food and their own bodies. Additionally, I hope this program provides participants with access to resources to be mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.
Pink Things: Have you listened to Brown Girls Rising? I immediately thought of them while reading about your project. Do you have any comments on their talk about eating in relation to culture and body positivity?
Marina Perez: Yes! Brown Girls Rising has interviewed some amazing WOC who have made some really important points about the intersectional relationship between culture, food, and body positivity. Some of my favorite episodes include Jocelyn Ramirez from Todo Verde, Karina Jimenez from Viva Los Cupcakes, and our very own Gloria Lucas from NPP! I really enjoy hearing about the different cultural experiences and memories these women have made with cooking, eating, and loving themselves because POC culture is often marketed as being unhealthy, unsavory, and undesirable. However, mujeres like Jocelyn, Karina, and Gloria celebrate the reclaiming of our culture, food, and bodies! Because we can still be healthy and beautiful if we eat horchata cupcakes and chile rellenos!
Pink Things: If you had advice for any POC struggling with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or accepting their body, what would you say?
Jackie Gradilla: I would let them know that they are not alone in these struggles, and that there are many others that have overcome these issues. That there are many organizations out there to support folks that deal with these types of things. I’d let them know about my own issues with eating and body image. I would let them know how I am actively working to learn how to deal with days that I struggle with food or my perception of my body. I’d tell them how amazing and needed they are, and let them know that whatever they are going through won’t be resolved in a day, but will take time to heal.
Abriana Avila: That it’s going to be okay. That they will overcome this. While experiencing these struggles it might feel never ending, but it’s all temporary, and as long as you’re trying your best, you will get through this.
Pink Things: What’s next for NPP?
Gloria Lucas: One of the things that we would love to accomplish with NPP is a podcast where we can interview a wide range of people within the body positive podcast. I would also love to write a book about my story as well as my work.
Pink Things: How can we get involved? Tell me more about your Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the project!
Marina Perez: Our Indiegogo is being used to raise funds for our Trensitas NPP Youth Nights, which will be implemented in October at Mendez High School in Boyle Heights. Our goal is to raise $6,500 by August 21! All of the money raised will be utilized for program materials, technology devices, curriculum activities, guest speakers, healthy snacks, media literacy, and much more. We are a grassroots program and rely on contributions from our supporters since we don’t receive any funding. If you are interested, please check out our Indiegogo. There is more information about our program, and details on some Trensitas incentives! Our Indiegogo also has an awesome video, directed by Christina Herrera of La Cleta Films, which further discusses the importance of having programs like Trensitas NPP Youth Nights for youth of color.
Pink Things: Is there anything you would like to add that we didn’t touch on in the interview?
Nalgona Positivity Pride: Throughout the summer we will be having some fun and spontaneous opportunities to win some cool stuff! So be sure to follow us on social media! Our Instagram @trensitasnppyouthnights and our Facebook! We can also be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org! Thank you!!!
Nalgona Positivity Pride is making a real difference in the Los Angeles community. Please consider donating to their cause, and follow them below!
This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited.
Photos courtesy of Nalgona Positivity Pride.