Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Q&A with Abundia Vice President Megan Stemm-Wade

Photo by Anne Anatra

Abundia is a “community of women who come together to support each other in living lives of fat acceptance and Health at Every Size.” They’ve been around since 1994 and have grown into a yearly retreat of educational workshops on self-esteem, size acceptance, fashion, healing art, and more for women who identify as plus-size.
Vice President Megan Stemm-Wade

Through sharing stories and words of encouragement in a safe and open space, Abundia retreats have helped countless women work towards self-acceptance and self-empowerment (just check out their incredible testimonials page). We have happily donated an outfit to the 2016 retreat raffle to help support this touching group of intelligent, strong women. Abundia’s Vice President Megan Stemm-Wade was generous enough to answer a few questions about the retreat taking place this year on November 11-13, and why it’s such an important space and community for plus size women. 

1. What makes Abundia special?

Abundia is unique because it's so many things. It's a yearly retreat for plus-sized, fat positive in the Chicago area - but it's also an online community that reaches far beyond those geographical boundaries. It's literally and figuratively a place where women can find acceptance, empowerment, self-care, and support. And we're so happy to have been able to keep it growing for more than 20 years now.

2. How many people attended the first retreat in 1994, and how many attend now?

Attendance has waxed and waned at our retreats, as we've moved locations and changed our format somewhat. We are excited to be at new hotel this year in Northbook, IL and much more accessible to women all over the country (and world) due to our proximity to O'Hare Airport. We are holding steady at around 35-40 women and now have lots of room to grow!

3. Your testimonials page is incredibly touching and heartfelt. What’s the most common response you get from attendees about the retreat?

Thank you so much! We are so grateful to have such open, giving, trusting women attend our retreat and to share their feedback so honestly. One of the most common responses we hear, especially from first time attendees, is a deep sense of belonging and a relaxing of the guard that so many fat women feel they have to keep up, that they haven't necessarily felt in other spaces. We love providing that.

4. What challenges do plus-size women still face in today’s society?

I think many plus size women struggle with finding their worth in a culture that puts a woman's value too much on a narrow definition of what is worthy - a certain size, certain definitions of women's work, even certain constraints on women's behavior. There are practical challenges that come with this - such as the assumption that plus size women aren't active, and that leads to making things like plus size active wear harder to find. That's why we love you folks at JunoActive so much!

The Abundia founders: Jeanette Zweifel,
Sue Ross, Cheri Erdman, Barbara Spaulding,
and Sally Strosahl courtesy of 
5. Since Abundia launched in 1994, have you noticed any positive changes in society in regards to size acceptance? 

We've definitely seen a shift in the culture a bit in the last 22 years. The burgeoning Size Acceptance movement of which Abundia was a part has grown and evolved and taken on different meanings for different people - from Fat Acceptance to Body Positivity to Fat Activism. It has all become more mainstream and we even have a presidential candidate talking about the harm of body shaming and bullying. That's pretty amazing! That isn't to say there isn't room to keep growing. I'm hoping we can get to a point where size is immaterial to anyone's worth and that we can focus on self-growth, health, and joy instead. 

6. What kind of healing art do you do at the retreat?

At the Abundia Retreat, we have worked with mandalas, painting objects and filling them with affirmations, writing love letters to our bodies, journaling, and body painting, to name a few things. We always try to include self-esteem boosting hands-on art, in many forms.

7. When it comes to the fashion portion of the retreat, what are women saying they’d like to see more of in the plus-size fashion industry, and the fashion industry as a whole?

This is a great question. Last year, we ran a "fatshion" survey prior to the retreat, to facilitate a discussion about shopping and dealing with fashion as a plus size woman. Among the respondents, and it was echoed at the retreat itself, was a desire to see more options in sizes larger than 24-28, where a lot of plus size retailers stop. Women also want more brick and mortar options, because while many of us are comfortable ordering things online, just as many really want not only to try things on before they buy, but the validation that comes with being welcomed in to a physical retail space. 

8. Why should someone attend your retreat?

Attending the Abundia Retreat means walking into a space where you are not alone in your struggles and in your joys. We are a very welcoming, non-judging, loving group, and many women leave an Abundia weekend with lifelong friends. It's a bonding, educating, enriching experience - and we have a lot of fun, too. 

9. Last thoughts?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share the wonderful community that is Abundia with you! And thank you for your support and for your fabulous clothes. I love your QuikWik stuff!

For more info about the retreat, visit
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