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An Interview with Melissa A. Fabello, PhD

Personal Stories

Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for your time today. We are longtime fans of your writing and advocacy and are so excited to interview you!

What does it mean to you to be a feminist? How do you define feminism?

For me, feminism is a cohesive movement toward ending oppression against all people. I think that for a lot of folks, myself included, the entry point is around issues that affect women. But women aren’t a monolith – and if we’re not considering overlapping oppressions (that is, not just gender, but also race, class, dis/ability, and more), we’re not moving toward liberation for anyone. Being a feminist means taking actions toward dismantling oppressive power structures. It’s not enough to say “I believe that all people are equal.” What are you doing to move yourself, your community, your society, and the world toward the destruction of power?

You write so eloquently about many different topics affecting women and girls, including body positivity, eating disorders and the harmful effects of the diet industry, beauty culture, and sexual health and wellness. What inspires you to write about these specific topics?

Mostly, those are topics that are the most “in my lane” – that I have the most information on, that I can add the most nuance to. I don’t believe that we should only stick to what we know; in fact, we can’t be feminists if we don’t take up all oppressive struggles. I also think that if I’m going to put work out into the world to sway public opinion, I should know what the hell I’m talking about. I should be adding something interesting to the conversation. These are the realms that I can do that in because, from personal experience to academic and professional expertise, they’re what I know the best.

This month, our Monthly Actions are focused on developing healthy body image and/or sustaining body positivity. What suggestions or resources might you recommend for folks who are struggling with these kinds of issues?

One of the most powerful opportunities we have with the Internet is the ability to find communities of people who have similar experiences to ours, so that we can feel less alone, even if the people in our “IRL” communities don’t quite understand our struggles. Finding accounts that both validate our pain and challenge us to show up in the world differently can be so deeply healing. Of course, online community can’t take the place of professional mental health or medical support – and if that is what folks need, I would recommend they start there – but it’s an amazing way to develop and sustain happier, healthier relationships to our bodies and to consider the sociopolitics of bodies in general.

At Feminists Act!, we are dedicated to helping people explore the many different ways they can take action on issues that affect women and girls in the United States. What are some of the ways you recommend folks take action?

I believe in an inside-out approach to feminism, partly due to my many years working at Everyday Feminism, where that was a core value. Taking action isn’t necessarily flashy or grandiose; sometimes the hardest, most meaningful work is seemingly the most boring: working out your own shit. We need to be willing to recognize and acknowledge oppressive thoughts and actions when we’re the ones committing them. We need to be willing to address our own biases and prejudices. We need to put in work to learn about how we oppress others and how to mitigate that. Something like reading a book or watching a documentary on an issue that's new to you, with the goal of using that information in practice, is taking action. Social justice isn’t always Instagrammable; sometimes it’s just internal work.

Any thoughts on how people can best engage in self-care while also participating in social justice activism?

I think that the bigger question here is “How do people allow themselves self-care when the world is on fire?” Folks know what they need in order to find balance; if they don’t, there are a million resources on how to practice self-care in a variety of ways. The problem is that people don’t, either because of an overwhelming sense of responsibility (especially insofar as issues that are directly affecting their own communities) or guilt (especially with struggles that aren’t their own). When I need to take a break, I simply remind myself that the revolution isn’t going to die without me. Of course we need as many people as possible fighting – but we also need to let go of the idea that each of us, individually, is holding together the whole fight. The most beautiful thing about social justice work is that there’s an entire community of people taking part in the work. Trust them to be able to continue without you – and be willing to put in extra work when someone else needs a break. Social justice isn’t theoretical; it’s practical. Our communities will hold us, just like we’ll hold them.

Something we try to always do well at Feminists Act! is to amplify existing voices, organizations, and resources, especially those of folks who are members of communities that are underrepresented or marginalized. Do you have any recommendations for people to follow on social media, articles to read, organizations to know, etc.?

Body positivity in particular can be a dangerous place for folks looking for radical politics; so much of the space is wrapped up in white feminism. Some folks who I think are brilliant in how they unpack overlapping oppressions at the site of the body, who I think are more helpful to follow than the sunshine-and-rainbow ilk of the community, are Sonalee Rashatwar, Caleb Luna, Virgie Tovar, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Your Fat Friend. These are folks whose work stuns me every single day

Any parting words for the Feminists Act! community?

What I love about this community is the focus on the act – not just the thought. Theory is awesome. It helps give words and frameworks to our experiences, and it gives us perspective to consider the world around us. But feminism is work – it’s dependent on action. Action doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t have to include marching on Washington (although it can!). It can be as simple as having a sit-down talk with your racist uncle, donating money to a cause or an activist who deserves your support, hosting a space for your community to feel safe. But those actions are necessary. And I’m excited to fight the good fight alongside you.

Thank you so much again!

Melissa A. Fabello, PhD is a feminist educator whose work focuses on body politics, beauty culture, and eating disorders. She holds a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies from Widener University, where her research focuses on how women with eating disorders make meaning of their sexual experiences. Previously, Melissa worked as a Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, one of the largest independent feminist media websites in the world. Her expertise has been featured in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, SELF, and TeenVogue, and on MSNBC and the BBC, among others. Learn more about her work (and sign up for her newsletter) at her website. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @fyeahmfabello.

All views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the author.