This story was originally published on Sept. 18, 2016
While reading a post from her favorite lifestyle blogger, Jes Baker, a then 20-something Tucson native, had an epiphany.
She didn't have to hate herself for the rest of her life.
For years Baker struggled with accepting her body and mental illness.
"It's really sad that this was the first time I had ever entertained the idea — and believe me, it was still a question mark sort of idea for a while — but once I started to process this concept I couldn't stop," Baker recalled. "I started reading every book I could get my hands on. I searched for blogs, websites, anything that could help me understand this foreign concept. It was euphoric."
While she still struggles with bad-body days, that moment is what got Baker started on her mission to not only accept herself, but to help others feel worthy no matter their size, shade, shape, sex, gender, age, or ability.
Baker describes herself as an "unabashed fat chick" who is on a mission to "turn society's concept of beauty on its oppressive head."
She started a blog, "The Militant Baker" — which gets more than 500,000 views per month — that addresses issues such as body acceptance, rape culture, equality, body hair, feminism, general empowerment, fashion, and cats, of course.
She took on Abercrombie and Fitch with a powerful photo series featuring photos of herself in provocative poses with a traditionally attractive man, published a book, spoken at universities across the country, been featured on major news outlets, started a body love conference and most recently, walked the runway for JCPenney.
On her background in the mental health field
In her early 20s, Baker, says she was a typical downtown hipster, working as a baker and barista until she found an opportunity to work within the mental health system as a baker and psych-social rehab specialist.
"Basically, I was using baking as a way to train other adults with a serious mental illness on how to find independent employment and work through life barriers," Baker said. "I personally have several diagnoses, so this was something I was really passionate about."
She did job training for years and then developed a curriculum for those who wanted to find jobs like hers and taught that for a while afterward.
Although she left that field to be self-employed years ago, Baker spent much of this summer working for the same agency helping individuals find real life jobs.
She considers working in the mental health field as a form of self care for her.
"It's so grounding," Baker said. "I'm so grateful for those who have mentored me in this work and I plan on incorporating it — because, how can you NOT? — in everything I do for the rest of my life."
On why she doesn't call herself an activist
While you might consider Baker an activist, she doesn't think that's the right word for it.
"There are so many different kinds of activism and I think that everyone has their own different idea of what activists are and what they should look like/do," Baker said. "I’ve stopped using that term when referring to myself within the last year simply because I don’t know where or how I fit into that entire world. What I (and so many other people do) is incredibly varied, y’know? People ask me what my job is and I say 'Um, I’m just a Jes Baker for a living... I guess' because I don’t fit in just one box and there isn’t a manual for this s***. Anyone doing any kind of online social justice work are just making it up as they go, me included."
On what she does
Baker says she's a blogger, author, speaker, rabble-rouser, loud-mouth who preaches the "importance of equality, mental health, body autonomy and authenticity from the platforms I have."
"I also like to talk a lot about fatshion, sex, cats and karaoke. So, yeah. I'm just a Jes Baker," she said. "When it comes to challenging the status quo, what some people might call activism, I've been pushing buttons and advocating for change my entire adult life. I grew up in a social work home and making the world a better place has always been something that's at at the core of my upbringing."
On her success
Baker credits much of her popularity to her "Attractive and Fat" campaign she did as a counter to Abercrombie and Fitch CEO's comments about how people who are not cool and popular don't belong in their clothes.
"It was a perfect storm situation where I was just starting to write things that were 'going viral' which gave me the chance to send a counter campaign out in to the interwebs where everyone was talking about the old comments that A&F's CEO had made," Baker recalled. "They were just looking for a visual middle finger and 'Attractive and Fat' just happened to be it. It was luck. And that luck landed me a spot on the Today Show and on nearly every country's media circuit. This has all continued over the years with various projects."
On top of that, Baker said she is "socially acceptable" and that helps get people to listen to her.
"I'm fat, sure but that's the only real controversial part about me. I'm also white, able bodied, cisgender, kinda hourglass and somewhat educated," Baker said. "None of those things are things I've learned, yet they are what falls in line with society's standard of acceptability which means that the world is more comfortable listening to the words coming out of my mouth and my message is being propelled into the spotlight."
On luck and hard work
"My success in this way is also luck. There are so many other people out there who do not have these privileges who are doing far more incredible work," Baker said. "But the media passes on by without promoting. I'm working on following and learning from these amazing humans and also using my platform to amplify their messages too.
Because body image work isn't just about fat, cis, white girls, but you wouldn't know it if you were to Google body love."
Though Baker feels incredibly lucky, she has also put in the time, often working 90 hour weeks to get her message across.
On dealing with online negativity
Baker has written many articles about how to handle negative and mean comments online, using her experiences.
"Because honest to God, you don't understand the basic depravity that an average human is capable of until you have blogs dedicated to tearing apart your 'failures,' diet, BMI, relationships, clothing, facial expressions, writing, etcetera simply because you're fat and like yourself so people have complicated feelings about it," Baker said. "It's really hard to not write off all of humankind when you see how horrible thousands of people can be."
Instead of writing them off, though, she reminds herself that those people have no filter or impulse control and have nothing better to do. And they don't represent all humans, "just a pocket of really depressing ones."
To combat negativity, Baker doesn't Google her name and she has someone else monitor her social media so she has more energy and time to do the important stuff.
She also surrounds herself with people who remind her that life can be beautiful.
"And lastly, I check in with other activists that I respect and aspire to be more like, the doers that are making the world a better place," Baker said. "These are the people that I take criticism from because these are the people that matter to me and my own journey towards becoming a better person. I try to remember that everyone else's opinion of me, good or bad is irrelevant. I'm far from perfect at this, but I'm working on it."
Words of wisdom for someone struggling with body issues
"I like to be honest about having 'Bad Body Days.' I have ‘em all the time and this is totally normal when you grow up and continue to live in a world that tells you that you’re not good enough. We all have that experience and to pretend that everything is sunshine after you have an epiphany is silly," Baker said. "If you're looking to change the way you view yourself and your body, I recommend surrounding yourself with diversity and positive body image messaging. In real life (find people who have the same goals) and online. Our social media feeds, if left on their own will, continue to be full of fake “perfection” but we have the personal power to change that.
I compiled a list of over 175 blogs, FB pages, Tumblrs etcetera that I recommend you hit 'follow' on and see what happens for you. Chances are, all kinds of bodies will become normalized for you which will only help you to normalize your body as well. SUPER POWERFUL!
On taking on A&F
"It was overwhelmingly positive and negative… which was exactly the point. Basically, the world lost it’s s*** when it saw a fat girl getting all sexy with a traditionally attractive model (Tucson’s own John Shay). Some people said 'Yes, it's about time!' and others said 'WTF this is appalling.' That’s exactly what happens when you show something new without apology. It was wonderful, all the way around."
On her book
"Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls," which is available at Barnes and Noble, Antigone and Amazon, "calls on women to be proud of their bodies, fight against fat-shaming and embrace a body-positive worldview to change public perceptions and help women maintain mental health."
The book has comments from guest authors, as well as Baker's personal experiences and in-depth research.
On working with JCPenney
A few months ago, Baker was asked to work on JCPenney's "Here I Am" campaign, which was created to put plus-sized bodies and their stories in the spotlight.
She went to Dallas to meet up with "Project Runway" winner Ashley Nell Tipton, singer/songwriter Mary Lambert, fashion blogger Gabi Fresh, yogi Valerie Sagun and a crew from JCPenney to shoot a video for the campaign.
"It was awesome. And such a huge step outside my comfort zone," Baker said. "When I was approached by JCPenney I knew that I was taking a chance by partnering with a giant company; there was a chance that my message would be changed or diluted. But it wasn't. They did such a great job of giving the microphone to several fat women and allowed us to share our stories our way."
She also got to walk the JCPenney runway earlier this month.
"Walking the runway is f****** amazing and everyone who gets the chance should say yes," Baker said.
Her first runway stint was for Candystrike, a line designed by Tucson fashion designer Elizabeth Denneau.
"I owe her. Big," Baker said.
On finding the courage and confidence to keep going
"On good days, I roar as loud as possible. On bad days, I retreat into my safe spaces, surround myself with wonderful people and allow myself to be vulnerable and imperfect," Baker said. "It’s important to me that I allow myself permission to do both. Challenging what is 'acceptable' and harmful in this world is taxing and exhausting. Yet, it needs to be done. So equal parts of fierceness and softness is how I maintain my existence. I think this is true for many people."
27 questions with Jes Baker
Your name, age, occupation.
Jes Baker, 30, and I’m a Jes Baker for a living!
I'm on a mission to _______________________.
Give the world permission to feel worthy no matter their size, shade, shape, sex, gender, age, or ability.
What's your astrology sign? Does it fit you?
Leo, and holy s*** yes it does.
Describe yourself in three words...
Loud. Imperfect. Human.
And in five emojis.
Top five used always: 🙌😘❤️🌵🍩
Your first-ever job?
16-year-old hostess at a family owned Mexican restaurant that was two blocks from my house. I spent all my money on Avon.
How long have you lived in Tucson?
Nearly all my life, with a childhood stint in LA and some college years in Idaho.
Who and/or what inspires you?
Sonya Renee Taylor is the most bad-ass woman I know.
The secret to coping with stress is ________________.
Your favorite Tucson spot?
Cafe Passe, aka my other office
What are your favorite three songs and why?
Hate on My by Jill Scott — ANTHEM
Here Comes the Sun by Beatles obvs — Instant pickmeup
Chandelier by Sia — I don’t know all the words and I’ve listened to it 200x but I don’t care if I can understand her, it’s my fav.
Your go-to order at your favorite Tucson restaurant?
Chicken Yakisoba at Yoshimatsu ALWAYS
What's your favorite Tucson-only thing?
The Buffet. A GEM.
You know you're a Tucsonan when _____________.
You’re excited by the really inconvenient/dangerous flooding from the monsoons.
What constitutes your morning getting-ready routine and how long does it take?
It takes five minutes and I brush my hair if I’m lucky.
Favorite app at the moment?
That one where you collect cats and buy them toys. Omg so fun.
Give us a two-sentence pep talk.
The world is f*****. You are not.
What would you tell your teenage self?
Chill, girl. It’s all going to work out eventually.
What's a quality you got from your mama?
I’m an empath. Amazing and difficult. THANKS MOM.
And one you hope to pass on to the next generation?
I do not plan on having children, and that is my gift.
The last great book you read?
Shrill by Lindy West. Best book I’ve read in 10 years, tbh.
The last great movie you watched?
People would be surprised to hear you're actually a(n) ______________ expert.
“Guess the year this random article of vintage clothing was made.” I’m strangely amazing at this.
Is there something you've always wanted to learn, but haven't had the time?
Someday I will learn the harmonica in a non-ironic way.
Anything you've always wondered about Tucson?
WHY IS THE STREET CAR SO DAMN ELITE AND INEFFICIENT?!?!
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Where can our readers follow you on social media?
(It's at the top of my blog sidebar)
Is there something you REALLY nerd out about?
Cats. Forever, cats.
What's your spirit animal?
I think you mean Patronus. My Patronus is a fierce lioness for SURE.
Which fictional character (from TV, movies, books, etc.) just gets you?
Lee Payne (Kathryn Hahn’s character) from Happyish is everything I ever felt wrapped into one character and I feel really amazing about it.
What makes you feel the most confident?
A fresh haircut
The best piece of advice you ever received?
“The most important things in life are hard, Jes.” -Brittany Gibbons
Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson