“I want every person to feel empowered” ~ Kristen Vermilyea
On February 25, 2019, accompanied by some chocolate, I sat patiently, looking forward to introducing myself to the Boston native asked to speak tonight. With the help of some friends and family members she greeted everyone inside the Great Room at New England College in preparation for presenting her highly anticipated film Beyond Boobs.
Kristen Vermilyea, who stands at about 5’ 3″, rocks blonde hair (although she is a natural brunette) and a pair of glasses, has come a long way from being the “confident & outspoken” young girl raised on a farm in Pembroke, New Hampshire. Now residing in Zurich, Switzerland, the Ted Talk alumnus braves audiences of attendees and critics ready to learn more about the writer and filmmaker’s engaging journey, and how she has gotten to where she is today.
Listening to her and watching her film the audience (myself included) are drawn in by a life made up of hard work and self-growth all as a result of a determined Vermilyea and her at one point pair of triple D boobs.
As a child Vermilyea describes herself as being the kind of girl who lived life wanting to someday “break free from other people’s expectations.” Being she had an interest in the performing arts, Kristen began to slowly distance herself from farm life and into the world of theatre only to be disappointed when in a show she received recognition for her beauty as opposed to her talent. But as Vermilyea grew up so did her breasts. Named “Blessing and Curse,” what were once C cups while she was a teenager later grew to become Triple D’s by the time she was twenty-two years old.
After years of being able to avoid being a stereotype she soon found herself becoming one due to a natural growth spurt, which not only caught the attention of both sexes but also redefined her as a person. The confidence and boldness Kristen once possessed as a teenager was now gone for good. The world had come to view Kristen as a sexual object and in turn she did too. Along the way the college student went from denial and self-acceptance to taking full advantage of all the perks that came with being viewed as a sexual object.
With the help of her film Vermilyea gave the audience an inside look into her journey of self-discovery as we watched her make the transition from self-objectification to self-love. Beyond Boobs is a reminder that we are not defined by the opinions of others but how we come to personally view ourselves.
Fast-forwarding to 10 a.m. the following morning, I was given the opportunity to sit with Kristen and ask her about her life today since getting a breast reduction two years ago!
1.) What’s the major difference between living in Europe and in the states?
Well, the weather is actually a lot like New Hampshire. People have a conservativeness about themselves, very private but once you get to know them they’ll take a bullet for you. It’s also very similar in bad ways which means there’s a big lack of diversity be it financial or racial. Both things are in need of improvement, but very similar to the United States in that respect. Overall it’s a very beautiful place. It’s fantastic, giving an awesome perspective of the fact that the United States is not the center of the world.
2.) In your film Beyond Boobs you talk about wanting to break free from other people’s expectations even as a young child. Was that drive always there or was there a particular moment that made you realize “I do need to break free from other people’s expectations of me?”
It took a long time. I am a late bloomer in probably every respect of the word. I think I did what was expected of me for a really long time in life and I think I was afraid not to. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties when I went to New York that I started to break out a little bit. But it wasn’t until I went to graduate school at Goddard College in 2011 when I really started to blossom, and was able to break out and realize this is who I am, this is what I want to do, I am creative, I am a artist, I do have a voice, a point of view and that I am worthy and valuable. Those were never things I was confident in before. Even though I had always been making art, I never had the confidence to think it was good. I also didn’t have any mentors in my life which is something I try to do now for other people. Whenever you have somebody on your side telling you you’re pretty great it helps a lot!
3.) As an outspoken advocate for feminism, what are your views on certain movements such as Free the Nipple?
I’m fully in support of anything that has to do with freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I’m never going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies, for me that is a core feminist belief. My feeling is that as people we should always respect one another’s personal choices. I do feel that it is provocative which of course will get people talking. But I also know there’s a lot of push back because it makes people uncomfortable, so yes of course women should be free to “free the nipple” but in our day and age I don’t know how practical it is. What I would like there to be is no law, since there shouldn’t be a law stating that women have to wear shirts and that men don’t. But knowing that that’s my choice versus being a governed rule is why I think it is so important to change what we are legally allowed to. The reality is I would love that to be the law but I’m still gonna keep my shirt on. Especially if it’s new Hampshire in the winter.
4.) Throughout your film you speak about getting to that point in life where you had control over it. What would be some advice you would give to someone who maybe is seeking that control but may not have all the resources right now, or can’t see beyond their current situation?
We as people in the world don’t ask for help very well. I think that finding a mentor, or people that think the same way and believe what you do, even if it’s just one person is great so you can start opening yourself up. For me, I didn’t always have that either because I didn’t reach out for it or those who did just ended up being men that wanted something from me. My advice would be you are responsible for yourself and you don’t wait for things to come to you which is kind of like this Cinderella idea that for us as women we’ve been taught, that as women we have to wait for a man to come and rescue us, a terrible narrative that we have to disrupt. Women can rescue themselves, men can rescue themselves but it isn’t a man’s job to rescue a woman. Therefore, being assertive and saying I’m going to rescue myself out of this is great, and from there make your own opportunities. But it starts by reaching out to people that are asking the same questions that you’re asking.
5.) So what about women like Kim Kardashian or Blac Chyna who promote self-objectification and live to push boundaries? Should there be a “You can’t have it both ways policy?”
I’m somewhat conflicted by this. I want every person to feel empowered and to do what they want as long as it is legal and they aren’t hurting other people, having said that when you say Kardashian most of us go “oh, my god are you kidding me?” Granted I’ve never really heard them speak, never watched the show but I do feel that they have helped a lot of women own their curves, but it’s also saying you have to have a certain look to be embracing that body. My body isn’t like their body. Great you can have a big ass but not all of us have a big ass. I have a big belly and no waist and nobody’s advocating for that. But the whole idea of saying this is your body and love it is great. At the same time it’s very much all about how you look. Which only perpetuates this idea that women who have to look a certain way when they wake up in the morning, which is never okay.
6.) What about the more conservative thinker that argues that “If everything is made ok, then there will be no end?”
My feeling is that it’s not my place to govern that. For, example if someone in their family wants to decide to let their child cross dress I can see both sides, meaning that they should let their child be who they are but at the same when I was five did I really know whether or not I was a boy or a girl? So, if you’ve grown up gender neutral that’s fine, but that child could always grow up to change their mind. Furthermore, if you’re conservative, fantastic, but being open-minded to hearing other people’s opinions and knowing that things could always change while still holding on to your core beliefs is pretty awesome. So, yes we should both believe what we want to believe and still love each other. Let me be what I want to be.
7.) What piece of advice would give to a young woman that is learning to love herself?
Find your posse. You have to find people who can give it back to you. You can never escape toxic people but you can build up a wall so that when those arrows come or people are saying negative things you can bounce those arrows off.
8.) One of the things I picked up in your film was that even when you were going through what you were going through you went home. Is that something you had to learn overtime and advice you would give to someone now, that regardless of how hard life gets you can always go home?
It depends if you come from a place where you have safe people at home being there or people who have toxic family members. But go to the people that make you feel safe. For me it was knowing that when I was going home I was going to be around people who were gonna call me out on my shit but lovingly and non-judgmentally. When I went home it was my way of finding out “is this all in my head?” and to find out my family members recollections since everyone’s experience is different. My experience and my point of view is going to be different from those around me. Me going home was my way of checking myself. So, yes check in with those who love you but again be sure you’re not with the wrong people.
9.) Any advice to a woman considering a breast reduction?
Think long and hard about it. Most women get it done because of the physical pain that they are in and then some do it when they’re young but then later regret it. You’d be surprised how many women wish they would’ve done it sooner and didn’t because of what someone said. It isn’t about anybody else but you! If you are uncomfortable, we live in an age where you can change that. Find a good surgeon, do your research, and take back your power.
10.) In your film you mention feeling visible. How do we get to that point when we feel visible?
I think some people automatically feel more visible than others. Some people have a great foundation and they are taught that they are worthy as a result of their upbringing, but sadly that’s kind of the minority. Most of us don’t get that as children. I had confidence as a teenager because I just created this person, and I knew that I needed to have confidence in myself even though it went away when I got the breasts.
11.) Did that confidence then go away when you became more concerned with the opinions of others?
Totally. Before my breasts I never cared about what anybody thought. I wasn’t the center of attention or some freak that everyone was staring at. When someone does that you carry that with you by going along with jokes, becoming a character, or hiding, for me I did all those things. Again we have the power to choose how to present ourselves to the world. Unfortunately, the world sometimes decides whether your visible or not but if you feel worthy of the world’s time and effort then you are worthy!
12.) How would you say the female body is viewed differently in the United States versus in Europe?
It’s viewed differently everywhere. Switzerland is different than Italy. Europe in general is much more open. In Germany they have naked saunas while in Italy you turn heads like crazy, versus in the states as a middle-aged woman you can sometimes feel invisible. It’s really a cultural thing.