Outspoken, fearless and uncompromising, never before has there been a woman like Shay Neary. If you’re in any way affiliated with the body positive community, then Shay is surely on your radar as being one of the most badass trans plus-models out there. Here, I talk to her about “Shay Butta”, her trans sisters and why we shouldn’t take anyone’s shit…
Hi Shay! Why don’t you start by telling me a bit about yourself?
I’m 29… reluctantly going on 30 in November. I’m a trans-woman, Italian/Irish American born and raised in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. I live in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn with my rescue pitbull fur-baby named Pumpkin. I have many jobs, to be honest, but I began modeling over the last year and a half ago.
As a plus transgender model, what challenges have you had to face in society?
I think being a model has its own set of challenges. Being plus size and trans, are just a minimal part of me, but they get pulled to the forefront in many situations. Whether that be for diversity, or for exposure. Many times I have to question if the job I’m taking is for authentic reasoning, and not just to prove they are and open and inclusive brand. Society has its own standard, that we are told to follow, but I’ve always been an outcast. Not fitting in has rarely bothered me. I’m tall, fat and proud… I also love eccentric jewelry and bold prints, I’m pretty hard to miss. lol
Do you consider yourself body positive? Or fat positive?
Can you not be both? In my opinion, I find that fat positivity gets thrown to the back corner of body positivity too often. In reality, the Bopo movement was a political movement for those who were not willing to accept the standard that was being thrown at them regularly. The Bopo community in recent years has become more diet trends, living a “healthy” body, privileged individuals who use it as a platform of connivence, and conforming to the notion that you can love your body if it fits into the boxes. I don’t agree with any of that. I’m very much body positive and fat positive, I want a future where you can be any size, because a body can be any size. Being that I’ve been fat for the majority of my life, I lean towards fat positivity. I’ve learned to love the cards I’ve been dealt. My doctor and I regularly monitor my body, and that’s the only person who I should ever need to discuss my health with. I can love myself at any size but I try not to compare myself to others.
What first drew you to the body positive community?
Body positivity for me has always been something I’ve clung too. Before I transitioned, I worked as a drag queen. In that time, my character “Shay Butta” had a insane take for her body. I was all about loving what you’ve got. Being fat and proud, and not being afraid about taking up space. Since my transition, I’ve found that the Bopo community gives me solace. Seeing other women who deal with my same struggles as me is helpful. For many years I’ve felt like an outcast in my own community, trans women, more times than not, are highly critical to their fellow sister because of her size. I’ve gotten lucky enough to have a core group of trans sisters who I support and who support me. We aren’t going to tear each other down, we accept each other for who we are.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Billy Holiday, Marsha P. Johnson – Women of Color. I have always found women of color extremely powerful, beautiful, inspirational, and strong. Even though I cannot relate to their direct struggles, reading about their lives is often empowering for me personally. It often also keeps my privilege in check, the minimal amount of it I have. Passing privilege, white privilege – a constant reminder I am blessed more than some, and not to take that for granted. I never want to feel like I am coming from one direction on a topic, I love to hear differing points of view.
What challenges do you think young men & women face every day?
I think there are many problems with media and society. From size shaming, racist bias, and gender judgement. Times are changing, but the issues are more than skin deep. We have to understand that brands need full faced representation. Even in our small marginalized societies, exposure is massively important. Times are changing, and things are becoming more gender fluid. It is my hope that one day we can just live freely as our true selves. Less judgement, less criticism… Be yourself.
Who are your favorite plus brands?
There’s a bunch. I don’t think I could pick just one. For my day to day, Lane Bryant – Avenue – Simply Be – Eloquii – ASOS. For night time, Fashion to Figure – ShopLoveYourz – MonifC. For special occasions, LightInTheBox – Jibri – Adrianna Papell.
What gave you the confidence to first start sharing your fashion posts?
After a massive breakup, I just stopped caring. My perception of my life was not what I thought it was. I cared too much what others thought about me. I needed to change. a friend of mine told me to join an agency, that I’m no longer a part of… And I started posting more regularly, and more often. I started learning to love myself. I chopped off my hair, and had no option but to see myself. My life since, hasn’t been the same.
Do you think that the body positive world offers enough representation for those who are LGBTQI*?
The Bopo community a mix of representation. LGBT is a part of that. I think there is a pretty good spectrum, but I do find more women then men in it. Humans like to conform. We like to feel connected. However, I do think the LGBTQI community has many of its own judgment and issues that we need to address as well. Too often we are putting people in boxes, and doing exactly what heterosexual cisgender folks have been doing for generations. We need to support each other and build each other up, not divide us because of our differences.
How would you like to see society change?
I want there to be an embracing of different cultures and communities.The only way for things to change is to educate. For me and others to be open and raw about our lives. Without that we will remain the same. I want to see full size spreads in stores, not two racks for plus women. Trans women/men, gender fluid, binary people on the cover of US magazines. Understanding of something other than your own dimension of knowledge. The more the public knows, the more things change. We are only as smart as our most ignorant citizen. Humility is so important, that sometimes we lose it, fighting for what we believe in. Nothing changes overnight. Time is the overbearing reminder that we keep on going.
What piece of advice would you offer to someone wanting to smash through body image ideals?
Take the lead by the reigns and control your thoughts. I’ve always found myself to be my worst enemy. I wont badger myself for my short comings anymore. By taking control of your thoughts, which is the only thing you can control, you can accomplish anything I put my mind to. I don’t let others hold me back, I make my own path through the crowd. Stand out, be brazen, don’t take anyone’s shit. Live an authentic you!
(Photos by Lydia Hudgens. Clothes from Ellos.)