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Show Notes:

Beck: Lovely ones, welcome to episode 49 of Hello, Rebecca Ray. I’m so ridiculously excited about this episode. Perhaps the most excited for a conversation that I’ve been in at least 12 months. Sitting with me is Alicia Johnson, I need to first tell you about Alicia and her. Um, oh my goodness, her daughter has just entered the room and my ovaries have just gone insane.

Beck:  But I need to tell you about Alicia and her impact on me. So I found Alicia maybe 12 months ago. So I think I found during my explore feed, on Instagram and I followed very quietly for quite some time and very quietly as in not stalkerish. But I didn’t feel comfortable commenting because I was learning from you and I wanted to learn without impacting your voice or throwing any kind of lens that I had on that voice and what I watched through that time is someone who just knew how to claim space, how to re educate but not from a place of shame except for dickheads that needed to be shamed.

Beck:  Many of them you a single-handedly the human being I think who has done the most for transforming my relationship with my body. So lovely ones Please let me introduce you to Alicia because we’re going to talk a lot more about bodies in a second but I need you to know who we’re dealing with here.

Beck:  She’s an incredible force of nature. Alicia Johnson is a Barkindji – Latji Latji – Buri Gubi & Wakka Wakka woman growing up in rural New South Wales relocating to Sydney as a teenager with her family for better opportunities and access to education. Alicia is a PhD candidate at Sydney University, writing on environmentalism, highlighting the importance of indigenous knowledge and the influence of Eco Feminism.

Beck: Alicia began producing content online, which we’re going to talk about in a minute because it transformed my entire life and contributing to the movement with First Nations people are retelling many narratives through an indigenous lens, challenging Australian beliefs and opinions regarding Aboriginal people historically, and contemporarily.

Beck: Especially the lived experience of First Nation women, the impacts of colonisation and regarding their bodies and their babies. I just feel like there should be some kind of standing ovation at this point.

Alicia: You’re making me blush

Beck:  No one’s here to clap. Alicia like me is fat. And I want to start off by using that word straight up because it’s you that gave me permission to use it. As someone who grew up with a mum who has been on a diet for my entire life of some she’s either on a diet or she’s being bad busy. There’s no in-between.

Beck:  She’s never just okay in her body. And I’m not attacking her for that because her mom was like that. Where we’re going to talk about ancestors you’re not Yeah, irrational.

Alicia: That’s right.

Beck:  And I have grown up as someone who was never okay. Essentially with the messaging that I you can never be okay, if you’re fat. There is something completely and inherently unacceptable about you. We feel fat. And I wasn’t fat for so very long until I went on fertility treatment to have been at and had a horrendous pregnancy where I put on 40 kilos and where what three and a half years now been at three and a half and I’ve not lost it because because I don’t I don’t know why that’s right.

Beck:  It’s so complex. It’s so to reestablish my relationship with my body has been so interesting. doubly complex to me. I don’t know that I was looking for you, but I needed you so much. Gosh, thank you so much. Um, the way you showed up online and you, I mean, you’re gorgeous to begin with, sorry, stop it, were you, you makeup skills and just to show up in your body, I could always cry thinking about it.

Beck:  Because I have watched you and literally been able to sit in my own body and go on, you know what I look at you and go, you are just was so representative of everything I want to be when I grow up. But in terms of your comfort in your skin, you know, when someone’s incredibly grounded, that that energy makes you ground in, feel that.

Beck:  And that’s what you do for me in your body. You’ve you’ve enabled me to be able to sit in my body and go You know what, this is not about the stretch marks in the larger society. It’s not about that. It’s about it’s about being acceptable. And I won’t read a nine honey article that you were in.

Beck: Yeah, yeah. And they mentioned the self love journey. And I have this thing around the term self love. Because in clinical practice, I really felt like there was a big leap between where clients came to me and their sense of feeling worthless, to then kind of preaching self love at them. kind of felt like the gap was too big. Yeah, I feel that.

Beck: Yeah. And so I kind of would talk a lot about self acceptance and self kindness rather than its destination called self love. And true. Yeah, I feel like that’s where I’ve been in my relationship with you. I mean, we’ve not really had a relation we have in terms of my work, you’ve been in my world a lot longer than much I’ve been in yours, because I’ve looked at you as someone that has kind of held my hand to come back to myself.

Alicia: So beautiful.

Beck:  And I just I want to know, that was a really long soliloquy.

Alicia: You’re literally gonna make me cry.

Beck: This is the impact that you’ve had, and why I was so excited about this conversation, because I need you to know that every video that you do online, every post that you put up, and you are so consistent with your content, it’s making a difference, like you are literally changing people’s lives.

Alicia: That means so much to me.

Beck: Thank you so much every bit of effort that you’re doing is making a difference. And so I want to know, how, how did you get here? How did you get to this piece of gorgeousness that can stand up in front of a camera, and not only reeducate followers on the bullshit piece of education that we received in school because I was not taught the truth, I now know the truth. I’ve done my own education. So I’m wondering how did you get to this place where you can both take the peace, but also be very serious? in being able to be in your own skin? And except your body the way it is?

Alicia: Yeah. But it’s such a powerful question. And again, thank you for being so respectful and understanding the complexities and even saying that the work behind my work because I feel like there’s a lot of in this kind of colonial model. And we’ve both been, you know, what you call highly educated, these modes of like disseminating information or contributing to our society, or the Australian diaspora is undervalued, you know, and I’m sick and tired of that, again, work of women, you know, in our homes and with our families and without children.

Alicia: It’s always undervalued on what we do in our wider families. But also what we do online now is another undervalued and underappreciated, unless you’re providing, I don’t know, a sports commentary or I don’t know you’re talking about the arts, and respectfully so those modes of you know, contributing, the culture should be respected, but socially everything else, so thank you for that.

Alicia: But I guess where my journey began with sharing online, it’s a really kind of wholesome story my sister and younger cousin sister was sharing on tik tok and that’s it. They will call me Lisa at least what do you think about this video? Do you like it? Is it funny, but I haven’t looked at oh my goodness, you guys are hilarious. But no the flip side to that come up to me and that showed me these racist comments or my sister being a video and she just be tearing into someone or my younger little sister will come up to me and say this person said this to me, what can I say back?

Alicia: And I thought no, I’ve had enough if my two girls who are the love of my life if they are on tik tok, and they are creating content and they’re being proud to be black on it to be a part of this and also the whole other community that would share it. It is with me, but most importantly them. So I created an account, backing them up supporting them. And through supporting them. I got a lot of racial and fat phobic comments as well. So I just started creating and it kind of just took off from there.

Beck:  She says it so casually like I just decided to get on Tik Tok. How did you get to the point though, where there’s something existing within you that you had to share? So I’m wondering how did you get to a place where you could share online? Oh, actually, I’m making a huge assumption. I, my question was going to be how did you get to a place where you could share online comfortably? But maybe it wasn’t comfortable to begin with? How did you go?

Alicia: That’s an amazing question. And I think like what you were yearning about before, I feel like in fat bodies, and then again, that intersectionality of having a black body. Am I ever going to be comfortable online? are fat women and even as a woman? Are we ever going to be comfortable? Are we ever going to be able to feel safe because every single woman that I interact with, from the most ideal, you know, Bondi babe and the flat tummy and the bikinis and the sun, sun-dried, or bleached hair, they’re dealing with the same shit, you know, but then you’ve got me over here is big Aboriginal over here dealing with it.

Alicia: So it’s kind of this notion of when are we comfortable. And I do like to think that I’ve created a community. So I’ve created a really nice little community on Instagram, and nice community over on Tik Tok on minus the racists. But in saying that, I am one of those people that privacy is everything.

Alicia: So my even within my own extended family, I have a very large extended family. They know that I’m very private, very, very respectful around that. But then in saying that, within work within my social circle within anything, I’m very private. And I feel like that’s a common thread for a lot of First Nations people simply because of through colonisation, we were stripped of that, you know, we had people coming into our homes, checking it for its cleanliness, people, you know, from the government or housing, looking at us, and judging us still to this day, we have lots of, you know, intervention into our lives.

Alicia: So I’m very private, and I’ve been private for the last, I don’t know, 28 years. And then all of a sudden, I just started sharing online. And the reason why I started sharing was a necessity, I did not see anyone talking about what I’m talking about in the way I’m talking about it. I did not see anyone presenting and disseminating information in a way that was practical. That was more than let me manifest self-acceptance, or let me teach you how to be self-confident and your size eight and you’re absolutely gorgeous. You know, I can’t stress enough the oversaturation of what we’re seeing right now in this kind of self-help space, or self-confidence, or body positivity, or, you know, success space, and I’m all here for manifestation.

Alicia: But you can’t manifest something if you’re entrenched in this colonial society that teaches you to devalue yourself. As a woman, the moment you’re conscious, you know, that you’re sitting at home watching Disney movies, and we’re, you know, being programmed around beauty, beauty ideals, and gender roles, and even the most contemporary cartoons now with my own child watching them, they’re still following these gender roles of what boys can do and what girls can do. So I think that’s where it kind of came from was my first of all, was my relatives needing my help me having privacy, but also understanding that if I want to do this, I’m going to have to go all out, and in hopes to encourage people to embark on their own journey of going all out and loving themselves and using their voice. But also in saying that recognising when someone’s trying to give you help or support, is that relevant to you? And can that be applied to your life? Because not always it can.

Beck:  I feel like it’s important that I say right here that when I talk about us both being fat, we’re not the same. And I think it’s really important that I acknowledge that out loud for listeners I am why as white as they fucking and I have blue eyes, and I was once upon a time a size 10 and did not face have never faced this idea that the land on which I walk is not mine.

Beck: And there’s this sense that I did spend a lot of time actually in a sense of shame around that and just being ashamed of the blood That kind of courses through my brain, my my body because my brain because of what has happened and I want to really acknowledge that when we’re talking about fat bodies, varies, a heaviness that sits even further on fat black bodies. And another heaviness on top of that, because I’m not talking about perhaps black bodies that are white-passing.

Alicia: Yes. Let’s get into that.

Beck: Yeah, black bodies who are digitus as well in this country? And you’re also a single Mum, yes. To the most gorgeous little Emily. And I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that as we have this conversation I have not had the barriers that you have. And yet I’m still looking to you to going Holy shit, how do I cope with my double chin like, you know, like this, I’m still seeking out comfort from you because you’re comfortable in your own skin. But there is so much more when we’re talking about the intersectionality of this that I haven’t faced.

Alicia: And I love that you say that. Because a lot of people feel like that. They’re like, Oh, well, I haven’t. And it’s almost a sense of guilt and shame. And that, again, is a colonial paradigm, where you’re taught to almost have a disconnection from people that are worse off than you, you know, we’re always taught to feel within our own collectives, privileged by our society.

Alicia: And I’m the very same you know, I’ve talked about in my work leaving my rural and remote community to become urbanised. There’s always a sense of guilt, but an action or an actuality we need to start moving those walls or those barriers, and we need to start seeing each other on a human level. And if you’re going to learn about accepting to be fat, if you’re going to learn about beauty, if you’re going to learn about the impacts of this white supremacy model, being enacted in beauty or beautification, who better off to learn from than an Aboriginal, someone who had since the first fleet arrived, has been brutalised by this force.

Alicia: And most importantly, in the last 233 years been reminded that I’m invalid and not and never be worthy, if that makes sense. So I feel like changing those power relations and really start valuing voices that have been traditionally marginalised and underappreciated. And it’s always an honour for me when I meet non indigenous people and people from all different backgrounds or even different sizes. And they yarn to me about being motivated or touched by my work. And I think that really speaks to this kind of deep colonial work that so many Australians are embarking on.

Alicia: And it’s one other comment to add with what you said, I think that’s so important and powerful, with what you’re recognising around bodies. So I’ve been fat, my whole life, I’ve been fat, or big, or whatever you want to call it, I was an athlete for a number of years in basketball. And even then also big ago, my muscle was different, again, my fat distribution and going through puberty, it was always very different. And that, again, has shaped my relationship with my body.

Alicia: And I try to always make people understand there are different power dynamics. So understanding someone that was smaller for a chapter of their life, understanding that your experience with your body is going to be very different. And it’s inarguably saying that it might be a bit harder, because you have that connectedness to your smaller body, or you have that relationship and almost emotional connection to your smaller body. But for me on my own journey, I have not had that, if that makes sense. So I’ve kind of been forced to love this body.

Beck: How did you get there?

Alicia: So this is an amazing question. And I again have that. I’m always kind of self-regulating. And I feel like again, as a result of colonisation, I’m always kind of regulating what I share. And I love it when people ask questions like that because it’s just so encouraging to me. So thank you, and supportive. So I have fabulous, fat Aboriginal artists. I am telling you, you guys think I’m funny.

Alicia: You think I’m sassy. Do you think I’m put together You think I’m quick? My Auntie’s. I’m talking about five of them. Four of them, have just the definition of a matriarchy, maternal, hilarious, supportive, but also strong. You know, they’ve held their families together, five of their children. One of my auntie doesn’t have any children. But again, she’s absolutely hilarious. She’s kind of a diva of the game.

Alicia: So I was very lucky to grow up around these Aboriginal women in the very, very influential years of my growing up as a young teenager, and a young woman, and they may have had their own issues or struggles with their bodies, but that never made them hate themselves.

Alicia: It never made them feel unworthy or like they couldn’t be themselves, they could not be outgoing, or they couldn’t be dress well. And again, even the way they dress I would in the 90s you know, I just love the fashions of the 90s and early 2000s just these layers of these fabrics and bold colours and prints I just remember as this little five year old it ingrained in my memory.

Alicia: So I was very lucky to grow up around Aboriginal women that were proud and if they had body issues or they weren’t comfortable with their bodies, then sure as hell black and Latino, black well said that’s out my business. My own business. You ain’t got that. So that’s what I was lucky to grow up around. And always even today as they’re older now, always admiring them and so honoured and proud that I’ve got that as role models growing up.

Beck:  Wow, it’s I love that for Emily as well. Yeah, that she’s growing up around that too. I feel like you’re my aunty, you know, I feel like you’re providing that for me. And for your community online.

Alicia: Thank you.

Beck: There’s something I’ve really struggled with in my journey of being fat. And I’d love your take on it, if you don’t mind. So one of the things that I need to know, you know, kind of given my background as a scientist, I understand that I have a responsibility to look after my body from a health perspective. I get that. And throughout this time, this journey has been largely emotional for me in terms of re-establishing a relationship with a fat body that I’ve never had before.

Beck: And I’m now looking at this line between where is the line of looking after oneself, Diet, Fitness, that kind of thing. And I mean, diet, nutritionally, I don’t mean going on a diet. And where is the line between the kind of copping out and giving up? Because I guess this is complicated, too, because I asked a lot of myself on a daily basis, you know, invariably, I’ve got a book going, usually at some point in a year, then there’s other online stuff that I’m doing. And sometimes I find that I just don’t have the headspace to think about my body any more than I already do. And I understand that at some point, I have to get to this space where I feel like I’m also looking after it, not just accepting it.

Beck:  Does that make sense?

Alicia: Yeah, that makes sense. That makes so much sense. And again, even a question like that goes, how invested you are in your own journey. Because I feel like again, you can be fat and you can be proud of being fat. Or you can be thin, or you can be whatever you want to be a health health on your health journey. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re connected to your body.

Alicia: Yeah, but does not necessarily mean you care about your body, you respect your body, you value your body. So that’s my first commentary, but in relation to what you’re talking about health and your health experiences, we have to understand and I had an amazing yarn with a dietitian earlier in the year, which was featured on her podcast, America, what we have to understand this the health system is colonised. Okay. And when we’re talking about colonisation, guys, this is not an Aboriginal issue. This is not a Indian or issue.

Alicia: This is not an African issue. These countries that have been colonised around the globe, or an American or a Canadian, the list goes on. This is an issue for everybody. These paradigms of whiteness that work and persist in our society, negatively impact everyone, they negatively impact your children or future children or children’s children. They’re negatively impacted your mom and your mum’s mum. So we have to understand that colonisation is deeply embedded in our health system.

Alicia: So our health system focuses predominantly on a Western mode of analysis or approach to health and body, we can see such a disconnection between mental health and physical health mental health in our country, it’s been so greatly demonstrated does not matter, they do not give a shit how you feel. They do not give a shit what your journey is. And that is represented through the lack of support systems around mental health.

Alicia: And even the most basic things like access to free mental health supports. As somebody that’s access that you get a limited amount of appointments you can attend to see a so called psychiatrists or psychologists. And once you run out, my friend, she pretty much fucked. So you cannot go anymore, you’re out until you want to pay for a private practitioner. Medicare only pays for so much. So keeping that in mind, let’s evaluate what health means.

Alicia: So we have our bodies indicators. So you know, you may have high cholesterol, you may have high blood pressure. I feel like they’re really great pillars or indicators on my own journey. That is something I’m always tracking. And if something is something spikes, or my blood sugar’s if something spikes, that is a great indicator. But also importantly, guys, if you go to your doctor regularly, you get updates. Oh, your cholesterol is not high yet, but it’s on the journey.

Alicia: Oh, your blood sugar is not high yet, but we need to get it back down in the healthy range. So let’s start using those paradigms. Let’s start using not how much I weigh on a scale. It’s been greatly disproven now there’s BMI which was so prevalent during my high school and the trauma that it’s caused. So BMI is a myth. Now, let’s start looking at Actually what our body’s telling us are not what these white doctors and white men are telling us about our bodies.

Alicia: Now to add on to that we’ve got healthy bodies as well, healthy bodies can still get diabetes, healthy bodies can be anaemic, healthy bodies can be low in I don’t even know vitamin C, or these, these horrendous things can happen to them, unfortunately, or even other medical conditions that aren’t related to weight can happen to skinny bodies, just like they can happen to bigger bodies. So we as a country, in particular, and I think, again, saturated with this beach narrative, you know, being on this large mass of land, which is the largest island in the world, or in the continent, we have to start understanding that we have to start stripping back what it means to be Australian, and how so inherently connected to body image.

Alicia: And then importantly, deconstruct health and start listening to what your body is actually telling you. And again, you might roll out of bed and feel like shit one day, oh crap, my knees hurting, I need to, you know, go start walking regularly on my back hurts a lot. And that’s something I struggle with. That’s my journey. But in saying that, am I gonna go and get jump on a diet or cut out of bread out of my diet or no more? I don’t know, sugar ice cream on a weekend. sure as hell I’m not. Because that’s not unrealistic. And that’s not sustainable. And I think that’s the most important thing as well.

Beck:  My goodness, I feel like I could talk to you forever. And that, because that’s the most important point. In terms of our experience of our bodies. I really, I’m just gonna leave it there, I think. Because this has just been profound. So much, and I’d really love for us to catch up again, around this and going deeper. Thank you so much for coming on. Alicia, can you please tell listeners where they can find you?

Alicia: Well, first of all, I just wanted to get a little bit of a thank you. I feel like again, this is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about allyship. This is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about sharing power.

Alicia: What is more sharing of power and allyship than what you’re doing right now inviting me on your podcast sharing me with your audience and you’re about to shatter all of my plugs. Allyship is not what has again been provided through us through these white narrows and paradigms. Allyship is gonna look like what you can do. So thank you so much for having me. And I guess people attract you girl down. You can follow me on Instagram @8983AJ. And then all of my links are pretty much there on old IG.

Beck: I will catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello, Rebecca Ray. Lovely ones. Lovely ones if you have gotten something out of this episode, I’m so happy to hear that and I’m so grateful for you listening. Thank you for being part of my community and thank you for being with us today. If you’d like to explore more, my latest book setting boundaries has just been released. I’m very excited and also very nervous that it’s now out in the world. If you want to get your hands on it, you can do so at rebeccaray.com.au/books and I will catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello Rebecca Ray soon.