FYSK 2013: Ashleigh Shackelford

By Guest Blogger

After receiving hundreds of nominations for our Feminist You Should Know contest, the Feminist Campus team was able to sift through them, sit down, knock our heads together, and decide on ten finalists! This was no easy task: every single nominee was the most amazing person we’d ever met so far in our lives. No lie. Our awe-inspiring crew come from a diversity of backgrounds, universities, regions, and perspectives in the feminist movement – and it’s just not possible for us to choose a winner alone. And that’s where you come in! 

Over the next week, we’ll be posting blog posts written by each of our stellar finalists; on Monday, we’ll launch an online voting form where members of our community – that’s you! – cast a vote for who moved you deeply, inspires you most, or simply has your favorite haircut. 

Drumroll, Please: Announcing the Feminist You Should Know Finalists!

Hey! My name is Ashleigh. Its always Ashleigh, never Ashley. I’m an awesome fat, queer, woman of color that is currently majoring in Business Administration and Political Science, and minoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. I’m the creator and president of a body positivity organization entitled Free Figure Revolution and badass grassroots activist.

My activism formally began last year when I decided that body positivity was not addressed enough on my college campus. I’ve been severely bullied for being fat my entire life, including my time in college. I decided to take on the task of creating a positive space for people to feel comfortable about their bodies and their right to exist and present themselves freely. My mission is to show the world that everyone is worthy of respect regardless of what they look like by providing a platform for body positivity and to engage political discourse surrounding beauty standards, bodily autonomy, gender awareness and cis-hetero patriarchal values. I created the organization Free Figure Revolution as a means to provide this platform for students and community members.

Through the organization I created, I organized a rally to incite change at VCU surrounding body shaming and fat shaming. I decided that organizing an empowering Body Positivity Rally for students would be a great way of showing my college campus (and the world) that you do not owe anyone beauty and that everyone deserves respect. The rally had a turnout of over 40 students and received coverage from multiple media outlets. Although the Body Positivity rally was a success, there was a lot of negative backlash from students who did not understand the purpose or the necessity of the event, and afterward a photo of me at the rally was taken and posted on the Internet by multiple students who felt that my size and choice of clothing during the program were unappealing and revolting. This was followed by a public Facebook thread created by VCU students to body shame, slut shame, and humiliate me. I took the opportunity to address the bullying publicly in order to create a dialogue around how dangerous and harmful cyberbullying and bullying are within our society and in college. I created a panel to discuss cyberbullying through my organization in addition to addressing why we stop talking about bullying subsequent to high school.

I recently created and organized a Consent Rally on my campus to bring awareness to rape culture and the importance of body autonomy. The rally was centered around how poorly my college campus addresses consent and the prevalence of assault and rape there (and everywhere). There is a lack of education in our society around the concept of consent, and it’s imperative that we talk about bodily autonomy and the definition of consent in order to help destroy rape culture. The rally also addressed positioning consent as mandatory in response to the problematic campaign of “Consent Is Sexy,” which I believe trivializes consent by sexualizing it and is triggering for survivors. The event had over 60 students that came out to discuss the importance of defining consent and addressing consent misconceptions.

In addition, I’ve created panels for VCU students and Richmond community members to discuss issues we often only talk about within an academic setting. The panel topics included body positivity and intersectionality, cyberbullying, bullying beyond high school, critically analyzing pop culture, queer community issues, defining feminism, black community issues and black politics, and religion & feminism. And finally, I’ve created a Body Positive Prom entitled Riots Not Diets that is for the community and VCU students to take back prom night and make it the most inclusive, comfortable, gender-nonconforming, and body positive social event of all time (so far). The ticket sales are going to a local charity!

The work that I’ve done to engage critical political discourse, to help change my community and my college campus, and to help others that may not have had the platform to discuss their experiences with body image and their identity within society has completely humbled me. It has helped my own personal journey in acceptance and self-love through the amazing stories I have heard and helped me realize that I’m not alone in the violence, bullying, and hate that I’ve suffered. The relationships and bonds I have gained with people who have suffered similarly since engaging in my formal activism has allowed me to realize how imperative it is that I continue to incite change and create dialogue in my community. I plan on continuing to engage conversation around issues that are often ignored and continuing to help those who are suffering find an outlet of positivity and love.

1 comment

  1. I met Ashleigh while I was at VCU for a campus visit. We had no plans to meet, but bc of fate/other miraculous & unintentional reasons, Free Figure Revolution was doing a demonstration the same day I was there to connect with the VCU GSEX department. This unapolegtic & wonderful group was in the common area holding signs that said statements like “I don’t exist for you” and “I’m not an exotic fetish” to point out warped beauty standards. Ashleigh quickly introduced herself as the leader of the rally and enthusiastically told me about their group and how they want to bring awareness about body positivity and intersectionailty to the VCU campus. I was really impressed by her and also the consistent grass roots activism I saw in Richmond. She is a great representative of that community and I look forward to working with her in the future!

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