Ep#48 Body Liberation: Dismantling Diet Culture with Pia Schiavo-Campo
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Pia Schiavo-Campo. She was recently named one of the Top 100 Responsible Health and Wellness Influencers of 2020 by New Hope Network. For the last decade, she has been authoring a blog that empowers women to take up as much space as they damn well please. As a fat woman of color, she uses an intersectional approach to explore various subjects, including race, equity, mental health, motherhood, and conventional notions of beauty and wellness. Pia is a certified transformational coach and supports others with tapping into their intuition as well as organizations so that they can access their inner wisdom and let go of their limiting beliefs.
Main Topics Discussed:
- What it’s like to grow in the U.S. as a half-African-American, half-Sicilian woman
- “Body liberation/body neutrality” versus “body positivity”
- Reframing and reclaiming the word “fat”
- Why diet culture is so harmful and why we shouldn’t demonize comfort food
- How to improve your wellness beyond what you put in your body
- How Pia built a successful agency on vulnerability
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Pia: I’m celebrating just being present and alive. My husband and son came back from a trip last night and I’m so happy to have their energy back here in the house. I’m celebrating being with a friend that I haven’t seen in forever to dive into a really juicy conversation about vulnerability and looking out for each other, you know—women of color. We have to keep lifting each other up. There’s space for all of us.
How would you describe your medicine?
Pia: My work is about decolonizing wellness and beauty through body liberation and body neutrality. This is a deep passion of mind as someone who had struggled with an eating disorder for decades, and as someone who had struggled with self-esteem and body dysmorphia. Sharing that story with others has been liberating for myself. In turn, that vulnerability has allowed other people to face and overcome that pain. That is a blessing.
How has your ancestral lineage influenced your path today?
Pia: I am half-African-American and half-Sicilian. Both of those parts of my identity were equally important growing up. I have really strong roots. My mother who passed earlier this year was truly magic. Even though I struggled with my identity in school, I was always grounded in being a Black woman while understanding the privileges I held as a mixed-race person with light skin. I always felt safe talking about those things with my mother and on how to show up in the world. Since her passing, I’ve been a lot on that strength being passed down. I can literally feel her presence lifting me up. She’s now an ancestor. I also think of my grandmothers on both sides. My father’s mother was a concert pianist and rejected the idea of being a housewife in the early ‘20s in Sicily. I come from these powerful women who stand their ground—who say, “Fuck you. If you’re not onboard, I’m doing it anyway.” I'm trying to bring all that energy to the work that I do, and to show up as a good role model for my son.
How do you stay in touch with your roots while living in the United States?
Pia: I feel very lucky because my father immigrated here for school on a tennis scholarship when he was 20. He wasn’t born in the States, so he didn’t have that thing where you don’t get to learn your mother language because you have to try to assimilate. So, he always spoke Italian to us from the moment we were born. We grew up bilingual. Even now, as a grown woman, we still only speak to each other in Italian. That’s how we’ve been able to maintain the language and the fluency. We also spent a lot of time with my dad’s family in Sicily growing up. We have really strong ties to all of our cousins there. We talk all the time. It’s such a beautiful gift to have that connection. My mother Hazel was Black girl magic before that was a thing. My parents were married for 52 years and my mom traveled to Italy a lot. My dad’s family embraced her completely. She was a tremendous cook, and she used food as a way to learn the culture and the language. Over the course of being married to my dad, she learned to speak Italian. She grew up in the Projects in Boston, and yet she went on to become a PhD and write a bunch of books. Both my parents played a role in the struggles that I had about the way I looked at myself. I’m Sicilian, but I’m also Black. I’m both of those things, deep in my roots. When I was a kid, I felt like I had to make a choice, but that’s just not the case. Both things can be true, and I can have pride about the places that I come from, from both sides.
What was your mother’s influence on your life as you were birthing this platform of “the mixed fat chick”?
Pia: My dad grew up during World War II where you couldn’t waste a scrap or food nor overeat. I got very confused messages growing up. My parents love me and I love them, but they could only do the best they could with the tools they had—and the tools were rusty as fuck. That’s where I had to find my healing. Starting that blog to find freedom and acceptance was partly due to my upbringing and partly due to growing up in a society that values young, thin, white bodies—and I’m none of those things. I was really trying to find a sense of peace. I had to set boundaries because my weight gain was always a topic of conversation. “Fat” is just a descriptor. I had to reclaim this thing that had been used against me as a tool of oppression and reframe it as, “This is just a body that has gotten me through all kinds of things. I honor this fat body.” That has been part of the work, and it’s ongoing work. But I no longer stay stuck there.
What are your thoughts on diet culture?
Pia: Diet culture is so harmful. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone on a diet. I know I’ve been on a hundred times over the course of my life. Even the word “lifestyle” is just a synonym for “diet”. You’re trying to sell an image and a lifestyle that doesn’t exist for 99% of the population. To me, diet culture is one of obedience, and it’s usually women who are encouraged to get small. We have to ask ourselves, “Why is that?” Why is it that the patriarchy and white supremacy doesn’t want us to take up space? There’s also this piece that women’s bodies are meant to be consumed by the male gaze. And that’s exhausting. For me, part of the healing was realizing that diet culture was about shrinking the body and not being seen and heard. I am good and damn tired of that. You’re just going to have to accept that this is who I am. Women of color have been leading movements since the beginning of history. It’s our time to demolish the patriarchy and white supremacy. We reject things like diet culture because that’s restrictive. Moralizing food is dumb. There are no “good'' and “bad” foods. I don’t think I’ve ever felt seen until I joined this movement of rabble-rousers. Diet culture is also racist. It’s intersectional. Diet culture despises cultural food. Eating food is not about nutrition. There’s nothing wrong with “comfort food”. Eating food is about connection, celebration, and comfort.
How would you define “wellness” in a world where “wellness” is supposedly all about what you put in your body?
Pia: Wellness is more than the physical. It’s also the spiritual, mental, and emotional. If you’re physically well but everything is lacking, are you really well? My mental health impacts my physical health. It’s about balance. My numbers are for me to know. We all know what we need, whether it’s a Twix bar or a kale salad. Once you start letting go of these expectations, you open your eyes to what your body needs. Just trust that.
What does “body liberation” mean to you, and why does it need to be intersectional?
Pia: Body liberation or body neutrality is a little bit of a different concept to body positivity which has kind of been co-opted by capitalism. Body liberation is not necessarily about loving my body everyday. It’s about not having to always look in the mirror and being neutral, like being neutral about the color of a pen. We have to shed being constantly worried about what our bodies look like. That will open up space for other things in your life. I thought about it 24/7 when I was dieting, and when I quit dieting, I experienced the kind of liberation that I never experienced before. When you experience liberation yourself, you give others permission to do the same.
How can vulnerability be a strategy to help us connect with our own wisdom?
Pia: I bring up vulnerability with everything that I do, including my work. We set the example of what it really means to bring your fullest self to work. We don’t have to do that “code switching” that we’re taught to do. We’re very intentional, when onboarding clients, that we’re building conscious relationships with people. We want to get to know you. That surprises clients but they also appreciate it. That’s why we get a lot of repeat clients. It’s not just about the end product. We deliver it in a way that’s super-intentional where we connect on a human level. That’s liberation. That’s powerful.
What are you doing to stay grounded and what is it that you’ve learned to release?
Pia: I stay grounded by cultivating my connection to my community—my friends and family. I try to enjoy the small things like playing with my son. I also do really amazing therapy work with a therapist who helps me with Somatic Experiencing as a healing modality. That has been transformational for me. I’ve learned to release other people’s problems and expectations of me. I’ve learned to release the ego, which is the inner critic voice. My therapist taught me to identify the ego instead of identifying with the ego. It’s all about creating boundaries and getting comfortable with saying “no”.
What is Hazel telling you right now?
Pia: Sweetheart, you got this!
Conclusion: Body liberation is neutral, holistic, and balanced. By letting go of ego, we open up space for what’s truly important in your life. When we experience liberation ourselves, we give others permission to do the same.
Action Integration: Walk away from letting other people’s problems and expectations define you. Find a supportive community where you can all create a virtuous cycle of empowerment that ripples out—contributing to the work of breaking down barriers, boundaries, and prejudices.
Learn more about Pia and her offerings:
Visit her website: mixedfatchick.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/mixedfatchick
October 22: Rewriting Your Food History for Liberation (FREE workshop)
Click here to register: t.ly/kQwI