What’s the secret to becoming powHERful? For an increasing number of women on the North Side, the answer is pizza and beer.
Pizzeria Serio, known for its brick oven pizzas, is now home to “BODY IMAGE: Taking Away Judgment,” a new women’s group that celebrates local women learning to accept and embrace their physical appearances.
The group arose out of organizer and public speaking coach Nikki Nigl’s “ABOUT WOMEN,” a series of women sharing personal stories, which began earlier this spring and continues to meet every third Tuesday of the month at the same location.
Nigl explained that she held an event on body image back in June and that it was her largest turnout yet with over 60 women in attendance.
“The place was packed,” she said. “After that night I kept thinking of body image. I decided it needed its own night.”
The new group first met on Nov. 3, and borrowing from her original format, featured four women close to Nigl as its main speakers.
“I do not hire or ask public speakers to speak,” she explained. “I ask women who have a story to share, or women who approach me with something they want others to know.”
Writer and media educator Alicia Swiz was always looking for “opportunities to combine performance with activism,” and was excited when Nigl invited her to present.
Swiz was 19 years old when she underwent breast augmentation surgery. She shared her frustration in how women respond to finding out that she actually had them reduced and not enlarged – they usually asked how big they were before surgery.
“I hate this question because when women ask this they are trying to determine if my decision was warranted. They want to know if my actions were necessary,” Swiz said. “I just hated being the little girl with big boobs.”
Zumba instructor and plus size model Lisa Freelon struggled with her body image for the past 20 years. Freelon described her frame as athletic while growing up, but she grew curvy in her twenties.
“I mean, everywhere we look we’re bombarded with images and messages stating this is what beauty is, this is what you should look like at this moment,” Freelon said. “I’m accepting of the fact that I will never be a size zero.”
Nigl also invited theater educator Danielle Holtz to speak, who was surprised at the invitation at first.
“How am I going to talk about body image?” Holtz said she asked herself.
Since she was 13 years old, Holtz had lost and gained over 700 pounds, she explained.
After years of changing her body to meet the expectations of others, Holtz began paying attention to how she felt rather than how she looked.
“If your body image has anything to do with pleasing someone else, then you’re doing it wrong,” she explained. “You have to exist in your skin.”
Event attendee Charlene Walsh was surprised each speaker shared “something so personal with such detail, humor and compassion,” and was expecting something more “scientific” or “clinical.”
Everyone needs to realize that all women have a story, according to Nigl, and she is committed to providing a space for those stories to be heard that is safe and judgment-free.
“I want to give women a license to do what they want,” Nigl said.