You're listening to Voices of Your Village. This is episode 264. I got to hang out with Pam Luk to chat about building allyship for plus size kids. We know that the world that we are living in today is so different from the world that so many of us grew up in, and we all are coming to the table with our childhood experiences and our cultural experiences, and that includes our body experiences, what we've experienced in our bodies, what we've heard about our bodies, what we've been exposed to in media and all around us. And we get to have a real, open, honest conversation about what it looks like to build allyship for plus size kids. I'm so jazzed about the work that Pam is doing, and I'm truly excited to see the world that our kids get to grow up in now. All right, folks, let's dive in.
Hey there, I'm Alyssa Blask Campbell. I'm a mom with a master's degree in early childhood education and co -creator of the Collaborative Emotion Processing Method. I'm here to walk alongside you through the messy, vulnerable parts of being humans raising other humans with deep thoughts and actionable tips. Let's dive in together.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Voices of Your Village. Today, I get to hang out with Pam Luk. She is the founder of Ember and Ace, an athletic wear brand for plus size kids. Growing up playing sports, Pam learned firsthand the importance of finding activewear that fits. Not finding one is one of the main reasons that kids quit sports. Pam launched Ember and Ace exclusively for plus size kids with a focus on comfort and performance. Pam's career has spanned the federal commercial and nonprofit sectors where she worked in project management and IT consulting. She holds an international business and econ degree from SUNY Brockport. Pam lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Pam, thanks for hanging out with me today.
Thanks so much. I'm excited to be here.
Me too and we were just chatting before we started recording about how we are both from western New York which is always a fun little connect.
Yeah, not having to for instance say it's not sunny it's SUNY Brockport-- yeah I dig it I dig it. Well I'm super jazzed to kind of like learn more about your story. I grew up as an athlete and I didn't grow up in a plus sized body and I also bring so much shame around body jazz from my own childhood experience. And so like so much came up for me as I was like preparing for this interview and thinking about it and have a little boy and have a little girl. And I was like, I want everyone to feel comfortable. Honestly, I don't want them to think about their bodies, really. Like I wish I just thought about my body less.
What a concept, right? I mean, the idea that you could just be in your body.
Yes. Yeah. And, and I'm curious, actually, a friend of mine is a dietician for collegiate sports. And it's been so interesting to hear from her and learn from her about like how much in the athletics world is really problematic, really problematic. And so, I mean, I'm really jazzed you started your company. I'm also just really interested in chatting about kind of what it looks like to become more comfortable in our bodies and help kids do the same. While for me like also being healthy in my body you know what I mean and like finding that balance for myself can feel like a challenge.
Yeah I mean I think part of why this resonates for so many people is because we're still sort of living every single day trying to figure all of this out and all still wanting something better for our kids.
So it's complicated and you know I'm not surprised or shocked to hear you know that you struggle, because I feel like every woman that I've ever met that's my age or younger--
Yeah it's legit
--and I'm also not going to sit here and say I don't also have difficult days but I have done a tremendous amount of work to get to a place where I'm more comfortable um with my body and that has been tested um--
--daily now that I'm in perimenopause but um yeah I mean I think I would love to see us all get to a place where the baseline at a minimum is your body's going to change your entire life.
Yeah I hate that fact.
I know. I know. But it's the truth. And I think part of where we run into this resistance is that we think that there's something we can get back to.
Or there's some previous version of this body that's somehow trapped inside. And the reality is, I mean, our bodies just keep changing every single day. I mean, it starts when you're little and your teeth fall out, which is wild.
Yeah. Well, and I think for me, there's like this idea of there's an ideal, right? Like, and, oh, like, oh, I've shifted from this ideal. And, but I've never once, like, I was just doing this as we're recording this, I'm pregnant. And so also living in a changing body and every day changing. It was just the other day was looking at pictures with my son from a year, year and a half ago. And I was like, oh, wow. Like was struck by like my body and my size at that point, given the body I'm living in today. And I was thinking for just a second though, and I was like, oh, but I didn't feel that way about that body when I was in it. Right. Like, and as I look back, I've never looked back and been like, yeah, I felt even when I was like my most like athletic, fit, strongest, I've never in the moment been like, I feel really good in this body, you know? And so I was like, ah, shoot. Like, how do I not pass this on? How do I not pass this on? And what does that look like? And it's something we've talked, I've talked in therapy a lot about I think also like growing up as an athlete there was so much of a focus on like my body. You know, like being strong, being fast being whatever like its performance.
Yeah. And I think you know I did play sports as well, I also danced and I um tap jazz and ballet all three for a very long time and then I also played soccer um because that was the big sport where where I grew up.
Yeah it was.
By the time I got to high school um because I've been plus size since you know puberty hit we were just off to the races um but when I got to high school I struggled to find like I was the goalkeeper and I struggled to find shorts and shirts and pants that would fit, so I ended up shopping in the men's section. And this was all you know pre -internet pre -online shopping, you had to go to the store and head on over and try things on and it was just rough it it was tough to sort of have to do that at 16, 17 years old. And the idea that, you know, I was working as hard as the other members of my team. I was attending the same practices as everyone. I was doing the same drills as everyone. I was playing all the same games. And this is still the body that I had, even despite all of that. And so I think part of what I'm wanting to do is just do away with the idea that kids in bigger bodies are not athletic and they're not capable of being good at sports so I think it's trying to find-- moving this idea of health away from weight and focus on weight, um and really focusing on everybody can get better, right, everybody can improve their skills and you can improve your endurance and you can improve your speed and do all the things that everyone else around you is doing but to try and let go of the idea that all of those things may result in a smaller body.
Because they may not.
Right. Right. And I think the challenge around that is like the societal messaging and the social programming that they're going to get in other spaces, even how the world's going to treat them, right? Like when they go to the doctor, when they whatever, and it sucks. And I come back to this sentence, my friend Trystan Reese said to me years ago, he was like, we have to prepare kids for the world that they live in right now, while arming them with tools to change it. And I think of like, what does that look like here? How do we prepare them for the world they live in now while giving them the empowerment and the self -confidence to change it?
I will start by saying, I do think as kids get older, we have to have conversations about media and we have to have conversations of what you see. And also just the idea of the billion dollar industry that is around health and beauty and, you know, getting the concept of who benefits from making me feel bad about myself and sort of that there's money attached to that. All of those things will come as age appropriate ways. But one thing I do want to say is some of the most damaging things that happen around kids and their bodies actually come from the people closest to them. So that's parents, grandparents, that's coaches. And so yes, the broader society we live in a culture of diet and anti-fat bias, but some of the most difficult things that happen with kids in bigger bodies start with their own families. And everyone that is my size can probably tell you about a relative or someone who made a comment, or a teacher or a coach that made a comment. So I think, you know, when I talk about where do we start, a lot of it starts with getting clear on how you talk about your own body and how you talk about your children's bodies, because how you talk about your own body is the first thing that your child's going to hear and remember.
Yeah, 100%. I have my mom's body. We have the same body and she despises her body. And so like a thousand percent, yes. Right. Like the things that I see in the mirror and pick apart are the same things I saw her see in the mirror and pick apart.
Yeah. So I think it starts with all of us having to do our own sort of work first. When I found out I was pregnant with a daughter, I had a moment where I'm like, okay, I have some of my own stuff I have to figure out. And if, I guess it hits me more so than I think boys, although boys are now starting to have some of the same struggles that girls did. But I was like, I have to get a lot of my own sort of thinking about my body and get a lot of that really sorted out, start to step away from all this diet culture that all of us have really sort of been fed for decades.
Right, yeah the diet culture, the photoshop, the like fillers, the whatever, right like so much of it. I love that though-- it feels for me empowering to be like okay, actually doing your own work, Alyssa, and being mindful of your role here really matters. That I can't control the rest of the world but I can control my relationship with my body, and then the communication of that relationship outward.
Yeah I think because kids you know kids are always listening and watching and paying attention.
They sure are.
And so I think the other thing that I think has been really nice to see, that wasn't a thing when I was coming up, was when we started to incorporate more talk about consent. Because to me, bodies are private. That means yours is your business and that person's body is their business. So we're not going to talk about other people's bodies. And that for me is another huge piece of something that we all can work on is start by not talking about your own, but also don't talk about others'. And that includes people at the high school reunion, or celebrities you see on television. And so I think if we can get to a place where people aren't talking about bodies all the time, it goes back to what you were saying. How can I make my body something I don't think about it all the time? What would help if we start by not thinking about other people's bodies all the time either, and commenting.
Totally. Yeah. I think it's so hard to do because those parts are so deeply ingrained, right and so it's almost like for me like not saying something outward, I'm like but that conversation still happens internally and kind of like what I do with that internal conversation, and maybe it is like some of our work in emotional development like starting with just building awareness of like, oh that conversation's coming up again, oh I noticed this and like acknowledging that to myself: oh I'm noticing this about this person without having to then express it outwardly but just noticing inside when thoughts are surfacing and just getting curious like we do with kids. I wonder what that's about. I wonder what's coming up for me here.
And I will say meditation has been a huge key factor for me in that work, because what it's allowing me to do is sort of get that separation from my thoughts. And the wildest idea for me is that not all thoughts are necessarily your own.
They come from all of this culture that you've sort of ingested, for me for the past 50 years. And so, you know, when I'm listening to you talk, for me, that separation comes through. I learned that skill through meditation. And that for me has given me a chance to get curious and be like, okay, what was that thought? And let's take a minute and be like, okay, that's not mine. And we're going to set that down. And then I also practice. I do affirmations just because I think we're trying to rewrite a little bit that script that runs- the negativity bias that runs through your own head.
Sure does. I love that. And I think for me with the, like, when I can notice a part, it's hard for me to set it aside. It's helpful for me when I can ask, what are you afraid of? What are you trying to, and a lot of the times for me, it's emotional safety, right? Like I want you to be loved. I want you to belong. I want you to feel included. And I'm afraid that X, Y, and Z, if you behave in this way, if you look this way, if you whatever, that you won't have those things, that you won't feel a sense of belonging, that you won't feel included, that you won't be loved. And when I can open up the space to have that kind of internal conversation, then I can reassure that part of me like, oh yeah, that makes sense from all the messaging you heard as a kid. And that's not the case anymore. You are lovable just the way you are. And you are allowed to feel emotions. You're allowed to have your needs met. You're allowed to live in this body. For me, I think the journey to, I don't even know if the word is like- I don't love the idea of self -love to be honest, like acceptance maybe, is really being able to like find that pause, which is so frigging hard to do. It takes so much practice, but find that pause so I can hear those thoughts. And I was just having this conversation with a friend the other day that my pregnancy with Sage was really hard. I had had a four month long miscarriage right before getting pregnant with him, had a D&C, had one period, got pregnant with him. And like my body was in a really hard space and like physically and probably also emotionally. And I had a really hard pregnancy with him and felt like a lot of headaches, really sick, all that jazz. And I lived in a smaller body than I did in this pregnancy. In this pregnancy, I live in a bigger body than I did then. And I feel so much better. Like I have been, I haven't really had the headaches. I have had more energy. And for me, it's been a real practice in shifting from like the, what I look like in any stage of the game versus how do I feel in this space and really starting to ask myself that question and answer it honestly. How do I feel when I'm sitting at my desk all day? How do I feel when I go for a walk at lunch? How do I feel and to tune into like how I feel in my body at given points versus how do I look? That's a practice for me.
Yeah. But I think it's an important one that really starts to sort of call out that our bodies are capable of doing great and amazing things. And you can do those things in different size bodies. And I think for a lot of folks, there's a place where your body sort of is most comfortable and that's just genetics, right?
I think one of the other most sort of damaging concepts that we still really have to break down is this idea that I have so so much control over the size of my body.
Because that just keeps perpetuating this, these ideas that I'm just lazy. And if I try it hard enough, right, I could look like all these other people, I could drop 50 pounds. And the reality is just, that's not the case, right? That's not the case.
I'm never going to look like my sister-in-law, right? Like I'm just not, we have such different bodies. It's bonkers. And I'm literally never going to, and I, it took me a decade to come to that. I was so curious. What is she eating? What is she doing? What is she whatever? What products? For so long, she's my brother's high school sweetheart. So she's been in my life since I was like nine and always was someone that I looked up to. Just this beautiful, incredible, active, strong human. And I emulated that. And it took me so long to be like, yeah. You can feel the same way she does and you're never going to look that way.
Nope. I mean, we could all do the same kind of workouts. We could eat the exact same foods. We could sleep on the same schedule and our bodies would still be different and they would still be different sizes.
So what does it look like to talk to our kids about this?
I mean, I think the good news is there's a lot more diverse bodies showing up in kids' books in particular that start to talk about this idea that all bodies are good bodies and they look different. And, you know, we sort of need to start thinking about body size as just another sort of way that bodies are. Some kids have blonde hair and some kids have brown eyes and some kids are tall and some kids are short and some kids have bigger bodies and some don't. And so it's just another way that bodies are made and bodies exist. And so I think starting there and trying to, you know, read books that have broader representation and also talk about the differences and bodies, because as you know, little kids will be the first one to jump on any differences anywhere.
And I think part of it is also, how do you react when your kid calls somebody fat?
What does that word mean to you?
What does that word mean to you, but also then getting curious about what that word means to your child and sort of starting to understand because kids at a very young age can pick up on the fact that fat is bad. Right?
So part of it is, how do we start to to talk about that word and why people try to use it to be hurtful. And can we get to a place where it's just a neutral descriptor? Right. Part of the challenge is that word carries so many other things with it. That's why we react.
Right. Right. Yeah. It's interesting. Cause I was just chatting with a friend about this, where she was saying they don't use the word fat in their household and she lives in a plus size body. And she's like, I don't want that. I don't my daughter grow up with this word always in her presence. And I was like, oh, help me understand this because she's going to be exposed to it. Right. And so what does this look like to really break it down and to make it so that fat isn't a bad thing and it's not a dirty word. And she'll substitute things like, oh, your body has gotten so strong or you've been getting older and growing. And now we have to, you're, you can't go in that toy that your little brother can go in or whatever. And I was like can we say that your body's heavier than his and that toy isn't designed to hold your weight it's designed to hold his weight as a baby, and like can we talk about this in a way that for me feels really genuine of like-- that is why she can't go in that toy. You know what I mean like it is designed for an infant and it's not because she lives in a plus-sized body, this kid also doesn't live in a plus size body. She's above the weight limit for this because it's designed for an infant. But I have fear around the tiptoeing around the word fat or around words like heavy or talking about weight at all. I guess my dream is just that we can talk about weight in the same way that we would talk about hair color or eye color. I'm just like, this is just another thing.
Yeah. You'll notice that I refer to plus size kids when I talk about my line and that was was an intentional choice. I use the word fat for myself as a neutral descriptor that just means I have a fat body. It doesn't carry with it all the other things because I've been able to sort of make my peace and reclaim that word. But to your point, it is still a word that's very, very charged for a lot of folks. And so I am mindful of it still being a word that people need to come around to. And part of that is because there is still so much bias around around fat people and how we exist. And I don't ever want to push people to a place where they are forced to use that word. But to your point, I would love us to get to a place where we can use it as a neutral descriptor of a body and it doesn't carry all these other things along with it. And a lot of folks address that with their families and saying, fat's a body descriptor that's neutral. Some bodies are fat and some bodies are small, but people also try to use that word to hurt other people. So, you know, when we see people in public and we're back to this conversation of we don't comment on bodies, but also if someone says that they're not comfortable with that word, then we don't use that word because that word has been used to make people feel less than, and we can think of other words, maybe that were used in a similar way to make it sound like you're lazy or stupid or all the things that we carry with the word fat. And so it's sort of introducing it and trying to make a change while also being respectful of people that, you know, to this day, we we struggle with, you know, there are economic consequences to being in my body. Yeah, I will earn less money, I will get fewer promotions, I will receive poorer quality health care. And until all of those things starts to change yeah it's going to be a word where you're going to find mixed reactions from adults particularly my age, right, around use of that word but I also think it's important that we eventually get to that place but it's going to be a journey with a lot of stops along the way.
Yeah, I really think it's helpful to hear language examples of how do we talk about this, as you just gave there; like yeah some people live in fat bodies some people live in smaller, thin bodies or however you want to phrase that. And letting kids know like it is a word that has been used to be hurtful in the past and people might be uncomfortable with it. The not commenting on other people's bodies, I think is a rad rule. And I'm just thinking of like toddlerhood where there just isn't that filter or like even understand-- like it's curiosity, right? They're designed to notice differences and sameness and categorize, and I am mindful of that, of like alright when your toddler inevitably says something in the grocery store in whatever of like why does that person look like that? Right, like we do- this just happened with someone who was using an assistive device to walk and Sage was like why are they using that? And I was like oh yeah that helps their body move, and like could break it down, but totally get the like uuughhhh like can we just have this conversation in private and never have to talk about in public like, again, because I'm afraid of offending or hurting somebody, is like the first thing that comes up for me. And then when I can regulate through that, I'm like, okay, now I can just talk about this. But the initial is like, is that person going to feel hurt?
I mean, and I can only speak for myself and my experience, because as you can imagine, you know, I have a teenager now, but I had a toddler once, I had a young child once. And it has happened, right? I have been the one that --that mom's fat. And I think first of all, I understand, I have a toddler, I had a toddler. So for me, there's sort of this age where I understand what's happening in that child's brain and where they are developmentally. So my reaction to three, four, five -year -olds saying that versus a nine, ten, eleven -year -old saying that, I'm going to have a different reaction to it. So my response, and again, I can only speak for my own, but my response has always been to just be like, yeah, I do. And what's your body like? Or just to try and not have an instantaneous, like not come at that child for saying what they did.
Fight a four -year -old. Right.
Exactly. You know, so I think, you know, just also have a little bit of faith in my ability to understand. And then for the older kids, I'll be like, yeah, I'm fat. What does that word mean for you? And sort of try to engage differently as the kids start to get older. But I, you know, I have been on the receiving end for little kids. And to your point, yes, this is round, this is square, this is fat, this thin, this is tall, this is not, you know, and so I understand where they are. And I react, I think for me, accordingly and try to understand. And it's just, I'll be honest, you know, that's one of the things you have to do in your fat body is you have to sort of be an advocate everywhere you go, because I can't hide this. So on some level, I have to sort of always be in a position to, and it stinks. I mean, I just want to be walking around in public and not always have to be modeling appropriate behavior for everyone all the time. But I think I think it's just, it's the reality of when you look this way, you have to sort of know that this is sort of coming. And I do, as much as I can, because I'm still a person, try to respond in a way that hopefully keeps that exchange positive.
Yeah, I'm curious.
But it's a lot. I mean, it's a lot.
Oh, it sounds exhausting. You know, you spoke about finding goalie clothes as an athlete and having to go to the boys section to find it. And I'm hopeful that there's a shift there. I mean, even just the internet and the ability to search, hopefully, fingers crossed and with brands like yours, intentionally making spaces where there are clothes for plus size kids to have access for athletic wear. I feel like there's a different conversation and a shift, which I'm grateful for. But I'm wondering for you, were there other things outside of like, I needed athletic clothes that fit me that I could find shame -free, judgment -free? Is there anything else that inspired you moving into this space, becoming the founder of Ember and Ace? Yeah, I'm curious more about your story.
Yeah. I mean, so obviously I had my own experience. And so, you know, know, fast forward 30 years after I left high school and I have a daughter who's also in a bigger body, and she dances, and we can't find dance wear. And so for me, it was sort of that tipping point of nothing has changed in the 30 years since I tried to do all of these activities.
And I'm just so tired of all of it. And so that's the moment where I decided I'm going to try to do something, because I think-- here's the thing that people need to know is it's more than just dance wear and athletic wear. It's about keeping these kids connected to their classmates and their friends. Because I think so many times when you take away something that brings this child joy, that keeps them connected to all of their friends and classmates, when that goes away, those kids start to isolate and start to shut down.
And, you know, I think for me, I can't, I can't ever remember the record of any of our seasons. I don't know how good we were or how how bad we were. But I can tell you about, you know, in high school, the bus rides when we had away games and all the hanging out and the singing and the chatting and all the things that we used to do as a team. And I can probably still rattle off almost all the teams names of all those girls. And so it's more than just sports or dance. It's sort of keeping these kids connected and keeping these kids in community. And I think it's also how you get straight body kids to sort of understand that these kids are capable too-- like this kid goes to all the practices I do, and does all the same things I do, and works as hard as I do, and oh guess what their body's not the same as mine. But they're still doing all these things. And so I think it makes it, as we talk about making changes for kids, you know I think part of it is just like how are you even engaging with-- I mean do you have any fat friends, yes or no, and I want to see a different answer for these kids because because a lot of people I talk to, if more than 50 % of the women in this country are size 14 and larger, how is it you don't have any fat friends?
Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Is that often a no?
I mean, you just look around at some of the Instagram posts or people, other girls' night out, or I'm having this gathering....
It's like a carbon copy. Yeah.
And then you start to sort of look around and you're like, well, why don't you have any fat friends? And so I think part of it is just just keeping these kids connected. And we all know the benefits that moving your body brings, both mental health, physical health that have nothing to do with making your body smaller. And I think particularly when you get to junior high and high school and the stressors that a lot of kids have, they need to have something that brings them joy, that gets them moving, that they're having fun doing. And then to have that taken away because the uniforms don't fit?
Yeah. Or even if it is the like, we have to go to this other section to get this, the shame or judgment. And I'm sure a lot of kids at that point are like, no, I'm not going to play soccer, right? Like throw in the towel there. And that makes total sense to me from like a belonging and inclusion, just messaging of like, well, you don't belong here, but try over here.
Right. This space isn't for you.
And that's sort of what I came away with. You don't belong here. We don't think you can do these things. So we don't want you here.
Yeah. I'm really sorry. It's really shitty.
And so just imagine at, you know, 13, 14, 15 years old when you're already a hormonal mess--
And inclusion and belonging is at the core of your being at that point. Like your almost entire development from a brain development perspective in those teen years is around social engagement, which is around community and inclusion and belonging, from like a nerdy perspective. And so if the messaging you're hearing right then is you don't belong, it is devastatingly impactful.
Yeah. And a lot of kids, you know, will walk away and never, ever go back to that thing that they used to love. And I understand that there are some schools and programs that are, you know, a pipeline to college athletes, and that's not the majority of the athletic programs that we're talking about. And what I'd love is just there are so many places that have active adult rec leagues for like softball or for soccer or whatever it is, and if you're taking this kid and not having them play, and they drop out and they don't play soccer anymore, then they're also missing out on that community that you can develop even as a grown -up, as an adult, right? We all have friends that play basketball or some sort of rec program. But I mean, if you walked away at 13, what's the likelihood that you're going to, you know, engage and do all those things as an adult. And that to me is the even worse sort of version of what this becomes.
Sure. The like longer term trajectory.
Yeah. That you've, you've now got somebody who feels disconnected and stays disconnected.
Yeah, totally. Yeah. I didn't think about that part. We joined a bocce league when we moved to Boston from New York because we didn't have any friends. And we were like, my husband and I, we were dating at the time. We were like, what can we do? We were both in our master's full -time and we were working full -time. All right, what can we do that we can like meet people, but that's like real low commitment. And we went with the bocce league and it was great. It was awesome. There were some real competitive bocce players and we were not those people.
I wish there was like a little descriptor that said, okay, this is who we are. This is like the kind of league this is. Like what version of this? I just want to hang out, meet some people, have a little fun, you know, throw a couple of bocce balls and we're going to call it a night.
Yeah, we're going to go to happy hour after. It's going to be great. We're going to hang. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But no, you're right like that. And it was really like, what activity can we do for community and connection, right? And like, that is the role that I think sports or dance or activities, clubs, groups play in so many arenas, whether it's teens or adults. It's really about like, how do we feel a sense of community and connection that then for some of us becomes a part of identity. And I'd imagine that like disconnect of this feels like a part of my identity and still there's this messaging of I don't belong. It just reminded me of a conversation I was having with a friend of mine who's Indian, and she has brown skin. A lot of her friends were white. And she was like, I felt like this was-- so many things that they engaged in were like a part of me. She was like, and then there were these little reminders all the time of like, oh, right, but not really, like not fully. And you don't really belong here. And that just kind of came up for me here too, what does it look like to break down the what you look like part of this, in so many spaces, to just like who are you, what you're interested in.
Yeah and I think, you know for me particularly it's going to be difficult as these kids continue to grow up to have to navigate being in a bigger body as an adult because it doesn't end right when you graduate, and so part of it is trying to have these things in your life that you do feel connection to, and you do bring you joy, because you know there's going to be all these times when, something that comes up for me regularly: if I want to have a spa day, I want to go for a massage, I would say the majority of times the robe either doesn't fit or barely fits.
And so I'm expected to just sort of walk through my day, and every now every time I think about having a spa day I'm like............... You can't just you know, and I also volunteered this past year as a reading tutor for elementary school kids, and they gave out these fleece vests for all their volunteers as a thank you. Um do you think they had one in my size?
So it's this constant reminders, to your point, that you don't fit in, you don't belong here, this isn't for you, we didn't think of you when we did any of these things, and having to navigate that on your own-- there have to be other things in your life that hopefully you feel connected to and that are bringing you joy-- because there are some days when that will take everything you have to just sort of--
--keep trying to be out in public, and be in society, and doing the things that you think are meaningful and helpful, but you're constantly reminded that no one thought of you as being a part of this.
How do you support your daughter, right? If you're-- I know this lived experience and how freaking exhausting it is. And while hopefully empowering our kids to change the world, what do those conversations look like?
I mean, I'm going to be honest. I put a lot of energy into trying to smooth over some of those things for her, even though she's a teenager still, because I want very firmly for her to be comfortable and confident in the body that she has. And because the world doesn't necessarily accommodate that, I'm going to find ways to help with that. And so we talk a little bit about like, you know, hey, we have to maybe-- I have custom pieces made for her for dance wear. I just do. We've reached that stage because a lot of dancewear doesn't run large and some studios have very specific uniform requirements. So I have to take the uniform pieces and have them sized up. And so she's part of that piece. And so what I hope she's seeing is, you know, for whatever reason, they don't have it in your size. So we're going to make that happen because you do belong here and you should keep doing the things that you love. So I'm going to help. And there are other people that will help. I have found people that do, you know, extended size dance wear on Etsy, for example. And so there are people that do see you and are here to help, while mainstream commercialism is not. And it's just part of that bigger conversation about how and where people want to make money and they prefer to try and make money off of making you smaller versus making clothing that fits you.
But I do try to, even ever since she was little, I wrote a blog about it a while back, but it's the little things that you have to sort of, people don't realize you have to think about. And one example that comes to mind when, you know, family members want to give kids jewelry, sometimes the necklaces aren't long enough or the bracelets aren't big enough. And so I went out and bought an extender set that had three or four little extenders in it. And so that when, inevitably, that cute little heart locket shows up, but it's a little too tight around your neck, I have an extender in my drawer. And so, oh, well let's put the extender on so that it fits more comfortably for you. But it's stuff like that that people don't think about.
And just because I have them for myself so I'm like let me just get another let me get another set.
Totally, yeah it's like the word that's coming up for me is accommodations, right? Like we find this in schools with neurotypical versus neurodivergent kids too-- it's like the world's designed for neurotypical humans for the most part and which, I call bullshit on, but that's where we are now and so what does it look like to have accommodations for everyone to feel included, to belong, to have access to? And I'm thinking on my end, like, what can we do? What's the phrase you use? Straight size kids? That's new for me. Okay. Yeah. Because if our straight size kids are going to grow up to then be running these companies, running the dance company, making those clothes, you know, continuing to like be in these spaces, how can they be advocates of change as well? Right. So not all advocacy is self -advocacy. And how do we support straight -sized kids with tools to ask the right questions for inclusion and belonging outside of themselves.
Yeah I mean I think it starts with-- honestly situational awareness is a really great place to start. Like observe, sort of, and getting curious about what's going on around you, and noticing for example and this goes for- I'll speak to a parental example first, um you're signing your kid up for soccer camp or summer camp and they ask you to pick out out a shirt size for their whatever, they're going to give you a t -shirt for the week, right, and you look at the drop down and it's small, medium, large, extra large. There's an opportunity for a parent of any size child to reach out and say hey, I noticed that the largest size you have is an extra large, you know you should try to have larger sizes than that for kids in bigger bodies. It's just one of those things. Or you know what are the weight limits on your kayaks for kids that want to go out on the the lake, you know, just noticing even another, this is an adult example, but when you go to the doctor's office, do all the chairs have arms? And by the way, if there's one chair without an arm and you're, you're thin or straight bodied and you sit in the only chair in the doctor's waiting room that--
You're doing it wrong
-doesn't have arms on it, it's just situational awareness. I mean, if it's the only place that somebody in a bigger body might potentially be able to sit down, or even just when you pick out a restaurant, are they all narrow booths? Are they all really thin, small plastic outdoor chairs? I mean, there's just ways where you can start to notice things around you that might be impactful for others, and sort of start to just ask questions like how big are these seats? How big are the seats at the performing arts center? How wide are those seats, because some of these buildings, particularly in cities that have been around for a minute, right, older cities on the East Coast, these theaters are tiny seats and so a lot of it's just starting to broaden your own understanding of who the world is really built for, right? And I think that comes with, you know, also just broadening people's exposure through the kind of media you consume, the books you read, but just even listening to people who are advocates that work in this space and, you know, what are some of the things that you can start to notice and comment on? And something as simple as expanding the t -shirt sizes that are offered or what, what size uniforms are available for the basketball team? There are uniform companies that make them larger, but if the largest size that you have for your basketball team in high school is a large pair of shorts, then that's something that's very fixable. But I think the burden does typically fall on people like me to sort of be the ones to step up and notice. And I get it. Raising kids is tough. It really is. But I think, you know, a lot of the times we've ended up in this place where we are because we've had such narrow vision about what's going on around us, and how other people are living and are impacted.
Totally. Yeah, I don't think that it's intentional. I think that it is a lack of awareness of like, oh right, if my kid has always been in a medium sized short and that's always been available for the basketball team, it never entered my mind that like, of course, like there would need to be bigger sizes for more inclusion and belonging, and when it's not your lived experience. I think it's hard to imagine all lived experiences, right, and so I think things like this, and hearing those kind of concrete examples of like-- here are ways that you can advocate beyond your child, I think is really helpful.
Yeah and I do think you know we all have these periods in our lives where our kids just require all the energy that we have, but then sometimes they're like--
Sure do. Livin' it.
--and sometimes it feels like it's every day of every year, but every once in a while, maybe you get a little bit of an easier year, and there's and some of these things are so small. That's an email right, maybe to the high school coach, that's an email to the team to say like hey let's expand the t -shirt size and you know maybe you mark it for follow -up to make sure that they they do make a change right, but that's that's two quick emails. But what you've hopefully done is started to sort of build some awareness around it or and maybe you ask another friend that's got a kid at the same camp to do the same thing, because the number of times people make these kinds of requests does make a difference; but yeah you know that's three people maybe sending two emails, and that feels doable to me. And, even though it's small, it can make a difference if they've heard from three paying camp customers-
-that this is something that matters to us than how we make choices about where we send our child.
Uh -huh, 100%. And it's within their target audience, right? Like I said this to my husband of like, it's more impactful for you to advocate for women in your workspace than it is for women to advocate for themselves in your workspace because you are the target audience. And so if their target audience is kids who are gonna fit into short sizes, small, medium, or large, and those are the people saying, I'm only gonna send my kid here if you're inclusive of other children, then you're really hitting the target market from an advocacy perspective, right? Like when they are saying, hey, we're only going to come here, and there are plenty of places for us to go, if you're more inclusive. It's, I think, so impactful for folks outside of a marginalized group to be the advocates. So I think in often cases more impactful, which is a bummer. And I hope is empowering for people to be like, oh, that one email that I send matters.
Yeah. And oftentimes it really does. I mean, because I think I still, to this day, I don't know how, but I try to assume ignorance over malice.
This is not a malicious choice that's being made. It's just a lack of information or it's an uninformed right choice that's being made and so starting from that place and trying to say hey you know this makes, this does matter, this does make a difference that you do this.
Yeah and I think then we get to raise kids who see that as an example and they become that.
Yes. Yeah and it's important, I think, to include your kids and say hey we're going to send this note; do you want to write it with me or depending again on age but--
Right. And also-
Or even for younger kids just saying what you're doing out loud. Oh wow, I noticed that they didn't include X, Y, and Z. Hmm, I wonder how someone in a wheelchair would access this. Huh, we should ask them. Just bringing that awareness, I think, outwardly to our younger kids just to help build the awareness around accessibility, because I think that's a key part of what we're talking about here is accessibility. And if you don't have clothes that fit ya, is this accessible? If you don't have a robe that fits you, is the spa day accessible. Not the same way.
Certainly it puts a damper on things, I will say.
Sure. Yeah, I bet. Yeah. Pam, this is so helpful. It's so helpful to have the examples, the language, and frankly, shining a light from the awareness perspective. Even for us to, as adults, start to slow down and pause and ask who is being included here and consequently, who isn't. Thank you. Thank you for doing this work. Thank you for creating this company. Where can folks find your work and learn more about it and come purchase?
Yeah, the best thing to do is to head to emberandace.com. And I will say really quickly, people are like, what's up with the name? It's a play on the word embrace. So yes, when I say that the light goes off, but I'm also like a real stickler about using actual words that are spelled correctly. I don't know why. It's a quirk. But anyway, it's emberandace.com. And we're also on Instagram. You can find us @emberandace. And yeah, right now we're only online because, you know, a brick and mortar store is crazy expensive. So people can check out the line there and reach out if they have questions and know that dancewear and swimwear is very much, you know, on my mind. It's just as you can imagine being a small company is a lot it's a lot but yeah they should check us out there.
So also if you're a funder and you're listening..
Oh I love that. Awesome, thank you. Thank you, Pam for this conversation and for doing this work. Grateful for ya.
Thank you for having me. Thank you.
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