Image by Lindsay Jardine Photography
“I try to do something selfish every day, just for me,” says writer and activist Melissa Fabello. And when that fails, Melissa admits, there’s always her guilty pleasure: Taylor Swift. Melissa is well versed in the ways that women can lose sight of their own joy and self-worth; she’s a sex educator who writes and teaches about body image. She currently serves as an Editor for the outstanding site, Everyday Feminism, and was the creative drive behind the site ToughxCookies, a place to support queer women. Melissa walks her talk on the frontlines of women’s advocacy, she also works as a Community Educator for a local domestic violence agency. Next stop on her world domination tour: a PhD in human sexuality from Widener University!
If you could describe yourself in one hashtag, what would it be?
#RiotsNotDiets. Because most of the work that I do is around body image and because I think that we need to take the anger that we (rightfully!) feel toward a society that constantly tells us that our bodies aren't good enough and turn it into rebellion.
Tell us about a girl in your life who rocks.
I am fortunate enough in my life to have so many amazing women and girls surrounding me -- in my classrooms, in my social media, in my circle of friends. I am inspired every single day by these everyday, so-called "normal" people. Let me tell you about one young woman in particular who has touched me recently: her name is Shanni. She's been following me on social media for a while, and when she realized that I would be at a conference that she was also attending, she asked to meet up. And when I found her there, she was just so luminous. She was smiling and happy and hugging me and talking a mile a minute -- and knowing, and truly, deeply understanding, what she's been going through in her life made it that much more beautiful to see her glowing in that way. She gave me one of the most thoughtful gifts that I've ever received, but moreover, she really gifted me her spirit and her resilience. I'm so proud of her for what she's accomplished, and I hope that she and I can remain friends.
What are your dreams/goals/ambitions?
To change the world. There are so many aspirations that I have for my personal and professional life, but what it all comes down to is creating a better tomorrow. And I think that we so wrongly mistake having influence for being a household name, going down in history, having a Wikipedia page. Really, we need to recognize that we touch everyone who comes into our lives. And my goal is for those one-on-one interactions to plant the seeds of revolution.
What are you most proud of?
I am in the honorable and humbling position of having complete strangers online come to me with their problems, their crises, their traumas and really trusting me to guide them. What happens sometimes, then, is that I'll receive a thank-you note, a little something to say that I had a part in their accepting that their sexual assault wasn't their fault, or in finally seeking help with their eating disorder, or understanding that some part of them that they were ashamed of is normal. And those are my proudest moments -- the reminders that our day-to-day interactions matter.
What piece of advice changed your life?
When I was in elementary school, I got teased a lot for not being “cool” -- whatever that meant to ten-year-olds in the early 1990's. I didn't listen to the right music; I didn't wear the right clothes; I preferred books to kickball. I remember one Sunday sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, relaying this to one of my aunts. I wasn't necessarily bothered by it; I think I was just making conversation. But what she said to me was, “Well, do you want to change?” And I said no -- that I liked what I liked, and I was okay with that. And she told me that it was okay, then, to be myself. “Do what makes you happy,” she told me. “You'll be happy that you did.” And as it turns out, she was right.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Content. Happy. Right now, I look toward the future and think I'd love to be working for a university, running programs and workshops for young women, and doing research and writing books on body image. But who knows what will change in my desires and ambitions between now and then? I just know that whatever I'm doing and wherever I am, I want to be happy.
What is the number one item on your bucket list?
I want to visit Greece. I have been blessed to travel to different parts of the world, but the one place I want to go to and haven't had the chance to is Greece. Mostly because I'm a sucker for Greek mythology. How cool would it be to stand on the same ground as Odysseus? Really, though.
Who has been the biggest female influence in your life and why?
I'd be doing a disservice to reality if I said anyone except for my mother. She raised me; clearly, she had a huge influence on who I am and who I want to be. She's a powerhouse in her own right, and I'm lucky to have had so much love and light in my life growing up. Beyond that, I had a best friend in middle school named Rachael who did a number on me as far as changing my attitude about myself and the world around me. She was so unabashedly her own person that it was awe-inspiring, and she was the first woman in my life who I ever knew to truly think for herself. I credit her with teaching me bravery and sisterhood.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and what did you learn from it?
I think that the biggest risk I've ever taken is trying independence on for size -- moving around the country and across the globe to cities where I knew no one, believing in myself to pursue education in a field that most people don't take seriously, even just ending relationships that were bad for me. It's scary to be alone. But when you're left with no one but yourself -- and all of the joy and desperation that comes with it -- you have to learn to trust yourself. And that's a beautiful relationship.
Why are you THAT GIRL?
The amazing Ayesha A. Siddiqi once tweeted, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” That's why.
*Interview conducted and compiled by Sheila Moeschen, IATG Senior Editor