Healing Through T-Shirts
By Erika Del Cid
Nalgona Positivity Pride (NPP) was founded by Gloria Lucas, an insightful small business owner who based her t-shirt shop on her personal experiences with eating disorders. NPP’s t-shirts come with messages of self-love influenced by feminism and decoloniality. We had the opportunity to talk to her and understand how NPP came to be, what issues NPP looked to address, and what her hopes were for the project.
Gloria's work is influenced by her background as a daughter of Mexican immigrants, feminism, and her love for punk culture and music, among other things.
“I was raised in Southern California by migrant parents from Mexico. I am the youngest of four siblings. My parents migrated to the US in the 80’s. I grew up in a home where there was violence, machismo, and dogmatic beliefs, which I believe played a role in my development of binge eating disorder at the age of ten. By the time I was 17, I had developed bulimia. My father was Catholic but I was raised Jehovah's Witness by my mother. I was indoctrinated into the religion but by the time I was 16 I left the religion.”
“Even before I knew of the feminist movement, I always held feminist beliefs. I felt a great need to defend women’s rights. I was highly influenced by anarchism and punk culture. My previous 9-5 jobs included working in sexual health education and substance abuse & trauma treatment.”
About the word "nalgona"
Nalgona is Spanish for "a girl with a big butt". According to Gloria, using the word came out of a conversation she had with a friend, and is a way to talk about the body without it having to be sexual.
"One of my friends said, "oh it's because we're Nalgona positive", meaning us chubby people have big butts and we are proud of it. I thought it was the most funny and cute thing, and also very catchy. I felt like that was a term I didn't use a lot for brown women. I feel like we never get the chance to claim whatever names we want for ourselves. I also feel like we could never really talk about butts without it being a sexual part of a body. It was funny, there was a message behind it, and it's proven to work because the term catches people's attention.
Having a project that is related to a traumatic personal experience hasn’t been easy; however, Gloria found it important to place herself in a somewhat visible position to further illustrate why there needed to be more spaces for black and brown women with eating disorders.
“It wasn’t until recently that I decided that I should be more visible. When I first started NPP, I didn’t necessarily want it to be about me. I wanted to create a platform for all people of color. Later, I realized that the white women in the body positive movement didn’t hesitate to take up space. Seeing that made me realize how important is was for me - a chubby brown woman - to be visible and to include my own imagery in my project.”
When it came to creating NPP, she realized that something was lacking and looked to fill the void, as well as make something that she would have liked to see: “I was always interested in Etsy and being an entrepreneur. I saw there wasn’t a market for brown women that was intentional and political, and also meaningful. So I created t-shirts that I wanted to wear that I could not find elsewhere. I didn’t think some of my designs would sell. When I first made the 'Indigenous women resisting colonialism and patriarchy' t-shirt, I honestly didn't think people would understand the meaning. But to my surprise it became my top selling shirt. I just feel there is such a small market for brown women who care about political matters and they (we) are hungry for it."
In addition, Gloria hopes the t-shirts will be more than just a clothing item and be something that expands on what is being discussed in the current body positivity movement.
“I feel that this movement should be centered on the experiences of marginalized people and one of those groups should be women of color. I feel that we don’t share many experiences that white women do. We experience limitations and traumas just for our skin color, our accents, and bodies. We continuously receive messages that say we are not valuable or beautiful, and we don’t get justly represented in media. Also, many body-positive pages never address intersectionality. Movements such as BLM and the Undocuqueer movement are all about body autonomy and freedom, so IT DOES correlate to body-positivity. There also isn't a lot of visibility around older people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, and people with disabilities. So that's my thing. I think mainstream body positivity doesn't go deep enough. It’s not only about ‘oh I love myself’, but it should also include ‘I don’t want my body to be a target for police brutality.’”
For Gloria, the messages on the shirts were a result of a long continuous process of trying to understand her identity, history, and eating disorder.
“I've always had a strong sense for wanting justice, and wanting things to be equal across the board. But with regards to learning about decolonizing, and having indigenous descent, I think that's been a process for me in the last few years. I went to community college for a couple of years but I don't have a college education. I learned about historical trauma by reading 'A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: a Multiracial View of Eating Problems' by Becky Thompson - which is one of the very few books that are out there on eating disorders and people of color. That book mentions that the legacy of slavery in the US still impacts the black community today and how they view their bodies. That really struck me and made me ask, ‘what has 500+ years of colonialism done to my body?’ From there I started doing research. I wanted to know why I developed an eating disorder. I always felt that current eating disorder research and medical treatment didn’t include my experience. So I started to learn about historical trauma, I started to learn about colonialism, and I started to learn about post traumatic slave syndrome. Colonialism, which is still going on today, has really fucked us up. Our behavior, culture, and even our food was impacted by colonialism. So all of that helped me start NPP.”
Furthermore, Gloria critiques the way school systems sanitizes history and how it’s hindered our ability to recognize our ancestry.
“I realized that what they taught me in school was incorrect and repurposing white supremacy. I never considered myself to have indigenous ancestry, even though my father speaks Nahuatl and he has dark indigenous features, I never thought of myself as coming from a native lineage until recently. So again it's a process, I'm still in that identity discovery journey because I don’t think I can claim something that I was not necessarily associated with while growing up.”
In addition to working towards being something positive for people who need it, NPP has also helped Gloria with her own struggles.
“I will say that NPP for me has been my own medicine. It has helped me a lot personally. It keeps me preoccupied with community work and it has helped me heal from my own eating disorder.”
“The amount of support that I've received is amazing because I never thought it would grow this big. It's very easy to feel like you're the only one, that you're the only brown girl with an eating disorder, who is chubby, who is not anorexic, with a working class background. But having started this project, I encounter a lot of people saying that they too struggle, they too are brown or they are black, or asian, and so on, and that they are very thankful for this project because it helps them realize that they are not alone. The encounters I have had with others have been very powerful.”
A few styles of t-shirts by NPP
Looking forward, Gloria has much in mind for NPP. Volunteers, alongside Gloria, are starting a program for youth of color in LA that focuses on body image, food, and culture. NPP also has a monthly women of color circle called 'Té Con Miel', that focuses on bringing people together to talk about body image, as well as an online support group for people of color with eating problems.
“I'm just trying to do what I wish I had around me while I was severely struggling with bulimia and binge eating. I really feel that the reason why NPP has grown so fast is because it hit a nerve for a lot of brown people. Someday I would like to write a book. Whatever I can offer because I honestly feel like I'm just the messenger.”
Check out NPP’s Etsy Shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/NalgonaPositiveShop and their instagram @nalgonapositivitypride