Ashley Manta is presenting Does This Panel Make Me Look Fat?: Body Image and Sexuality. Check out Ashley’s bio here.
How do you see yourself as a catalyst for change?
I’ve had a lot of different life experiences. I’m a rape and child sexual abuse survivor, I have genital herpes, and I’ve had an eating disorder and struggled with body image. I think my openness and honesty about my experiences creates space for others to do the same. I believe that vulnerability is a vital part of human connection, and I try to model that willingness to be vulnerable.
Who or what was a catalyst for you?
In April of 2005, during my first year of college, I attended my first Take Back the Night rally. I didn’t intend to speak, just to go and support my fellow students. That night, I found myself disclosing my rape for the first time in public, to an audience of close to 400 people. I felt supported, I felt seen, and I felt relieved. It was that experience that made me realize that I love educating and sharing stories to raise awareness. That led me to start speaking out more about my experiences, and doing sexual assault awareness presentations for different organizations. Telling my story changed my life.
What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges or concerns facing us in the field of sexuality right now?
I think the biggest challenge in the field of sexuality is the pervasive sex negative culture by which we are surrounded. Everywhere you look, people are decrying marriage equality as “crimes against children,” arguing against comprehensive sexuality education, and shaming and ostracizing those who don’t fit in the heteronormative mold. The result of our sex negative culture is that the services that we provide as sexuality educators, counselors, and sex workers are not valued and are thus woefully underpaid (or illegal, in the case of sex workers). It’s difficult to find a full time job as a sex educator with benefits. Those jobs don’t really exist right now, except for with non-profit organizations, and those are few and far between.
What do you feel are some of the most important/valuable positive changes that have been made in the world of sexuality in the past year?
Watching DOMA get overturned was possibly one of the most joyous moments of my life. I remember sitting at work and reading the news, jumping up from my desk and doing a happy dance. Although there is still a long way to go in the fight for marriage equality, I appreciated the Supreme Court’s decision.
Why do you feel it is important to bring the topic of your session, Does This Panel Make Me Look Fat?: Body Image and Sexuality, to CatalystCon West?
It’s really important to discuss fat shaming and body image, because fat shaming does not just affect “fat people.” People of any size can feel fat or have trouble with body image, and it’s important to raise awareness so that we can begin to be more loving and supportive toward one another and ourselves. I have been 132lbs and I have been over 250lbs. I had times that I hated my body at both weights. We live in a culture that has a specific aesthetic ideal when it comes to our bodies, and we need to push back against that. This panel helps to raise awareness and start a dialogue about the way we see our bodies and the way we interact with the bodies of others.
Share one unknown (or little known) fact about yourself.
I love watching people get tattoos and piercings. I find it fascinating.