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We’re Inspired By… Sara Benincasa

We’re turning the spotlight on our community to share their stories and flaunt our styles — after all, who would we rather see than the women who really wear them? Watch this space for more incredible style and stories. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming installment of “We’re Inspired By…”, submit your unique story!

For this edition, we’re shaking off our winter blues and heading to perpetually sunny L.A. to feature Sara Benincasa, a comedian, author, and expert tweeter. Sara talks to us about what makes her laugh, her response to internet trolls, and embracing her comfy, yet sexy style. For those reasons, and many more, we’re inspired by… Sara Benincasa!

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1. Tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I’m an author, a comedian, an editor and an actress. I’ve written a few books and I created a weekly zine called The Stories. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a publication that shares a few good stories each week. The only rule is that they should be well-told and that they should be true.

But I got bit by the comedy bug in grad school when my friend Caroline said she thought I should try stand-up comedy. She had just left her own job at Comedy Central to enter the teaching program at TC (Teachers College).

I started doing stand-up. I got paid for my first gig, which led me to think that would happy every time. Ummmmm nope, as it turns out. I took a sketch writing class at the People’s Improv Theater in NYC with Kevin Allison, who today hosts and produces this wildly popular storytelling podcast called RISK!, which gets over two million downloads a month.

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Anyway, fast-forward ten years, from NYC to Los Angeles to NYC and now back to Los Angeles, and here we are. I’ve gotten to do comedy all over this country as well as in Canada, Norway and Germany. I’ve published five books and I’m working on a screenplay adaptation of a novel, DC TRIP, with some great producers. I also edit, consult, and teach.

I’m trying to focus more on taking care of myself, on slowing down, on breathing, on teaching myself to cook, on exercising, on paying down all that debt I accrued living in New York City in my twenties, and on having fun. A doctor told me I need to have more fun and work less. I figure you should listen when your doctor says that. Also my parents say this and every single friend I have, too. I relaxed for 36 hours last month on a trip and it was weird. I think I might do it again.

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2. What inspired you to become a Gwynnie Bee member? Tell us a bit about your Gwynnie Bee experience so far!
I tried Gwynnie Bee out a couple years ago because I needed what the conventional manufacturers call plus size clothing and I didn’t know where in my neighborhood to go to try stuff I actually liked. Plus I work all the time and didn’t want to make the time to go to a shop. With Gwynnie Bee, I was definitely attracted to the convenience of getting to try before I buy.

I’ve used Gwynnie Bee on and off when it fits my budget. It’s a lot of fun. And as an artist, my income fluctuates. So I like that I can customize my experience to fit my budget as well as my taste.

One thing I’d say for anybody who tries Gwynnie Bee is to give it three rounds of trying stuff on, whether you get three pieces in each round or a single piece. I got discouraged the first couple times because it turned out I hadn’t measured myself correctly. But by the third time I got a batch of clothes in my initial experience with Gwynnie Bee, I nailed it. And then you find the clothing lines you love. I figure out which size works for me and I just keep going with it.

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3. How would you describe your personal sense of style?
I’d say comfortable and sexy. If I’m not comfortable in the outfit, I’m not wearing it.

I have to dress for and around my bust. Large-busted girls often say to me that it’s a blessing and a burden. I enjoy having large breasts but I don’t enjoy back pain, the investment a truly excellent bra requires when my paycheck is light that month, or the fact that I have to safety pin so many of my clothes.

The other day a man said to me, “You love showing them off.” I said, “Yeah, because I look good. And also, what is the other choice, sir?” Where am I supposed to put them, exactly? I’m going to embrace what I have to the best of my ability.

I’m 36 years old. I’m done apologizing for the amount of space any part of me takes up. That includes my personality. Some people will say you’re too big or too small in your body, mind and spirit. I do not have time for it.

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4. You’re an author and (in our opinion) a very funny comedian – what makes you laugh?
I love absurdity and pointed anger cloaked in something that has mass appeal. That’s why I love what Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have done over and over again together and separately. People spit laugh lines and catchphrases from their stuff all the time, and rightly so. But, for example, “Talladega Nights” is a wonderful send-up of materialism and celebrity culture. It’s so smart.

I saw a stage show they did, Will Ferrell’s show as George W. Bush back in, I think, 2009. I had a radio show at Sirius XM at the time and their show was right across the street. It was marvelous.

To take a show with a well-known actor and a well-known impression and put it on a live stage in front of tons of paying people, some of whom just showed up to see the famous guy who makes them laugh, and to challenge the audience in the way that McKay and Ferrell did there, really left me with a strong impression. I was in my twenties and figuring so much stuff out and in that moment, something clicked for me.

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A the time I didn’t have a book deal. I had been doing stand-up for three years. I’d had some videos go megaviral, for what that meant at the time, and I’d been on TV a few times doing talking head stuff for a minute or two. I was trying things out and figuring my voice out. I think that show was one of the things that moved me to really focus on the one-woman show I was workshopping. It was called “Agorafabulous” and I started doing it at the PIT, where I’d taken that first class with Kevin Allison. I was so inspired by Margaret Cho and John Leguizamo and their one-person shows, which for John are so much in the tradition of the late, great Spalding Gray. But I think Ferrell and McKay’s show must’ve made me kick it in gear more.

That stage show, Agorafabulous, led to my memoir about mental health. And that led to me getting to adapt it as a pilot with Diablo Cody. And that pilot got me into the writers union. And that led to health insurance and more work, and more acting and more books and so on and so forth.

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5. You wrote a viral essay called “Why Am I So Fat?”, a very humorous take on body positivity. Can you tell us more about what body positivity means to you and your journey to becoming body positive?
Body positive is a loaded term. So is fat positive. It’s easy for many of us to walk around in bodies that may be larger than what you see in typical fashion magazines and yet still enjoy enormous privilege due to race, class, and what my friend the author Thomas McBee calls “pretty privilege.” And in our culture there is a very distinct mainstream, accepted idea of what is “pretty” and what is not. It is not inclusive of true beauty. It is not inclusive of diversity.

I didn’t write that essay as a body positivity warrior. I wrote it because I got a shitty email, and I get those sometimes, but in this case I was tired and I was all the way over it. I wrote the first draft in about ten minutes. I figured it’d make my readers laugh so I put it on Medium, where my blog lives and where, now, The Stories lives. But it took off, and I’m glad it did, and became something bigger than what I wrote or intended. I’m grateful for that. That’s art. You do it, you put it into the world and then it’s not yours anymore. Sometimes it sucks but usually it’s an enormous gift to have art do that.

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I don’t know if I should call myself body positive, fat positive, woman positive, or what. I know I’m positive that whatever the hell you want to call yourself is 100% fine by me. I call myself an intersectional feminist and I’m very happy with that label. It encompasses many things and one of them is the idea that fat phobia and body shaming are negative forces in this world that affect different women from different groups very differently.

My hope is that women love themselves as they are in the bodies they have. And that they engage in self-care in the ways they need that make sense for them in their lives.

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6. What’s some advice that you follow when you want to feel like the best version of yourself?
Listen. Pause. Breathe. Then react. I’m at my best when I follow that. Some of my reactions may appear to be entirely off-the-cuff and instantaneous. That’s rare. I’ve usually followed that recipe. Not always. My natural inclination is to be entertaining and somewhat disruptive in, hopefully, a benevolent fashion. I mess up and when I do, I try to apologize and learn and do better in future. It’s an ongoing process of figuring out how to be in the world.

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7. Who are the women who inspire you?
Okay, in no particular order, and with no further explanation: Michelle Obama, Tammy Duckworth, Margaret Cho, Selene Luna, Leslie Jones, Kamala Harris, Amy Sedaris, Roxane Gay, Marcella Arguello, Diablo Cody, Joanne the Scammer (who is really a character by the comedian Branden Miller, a gentleman who inspires me as well), Amy Poehler, the women of Emily’s List, Cyndi Lauper, Constance Wu, Melissa McCarthy, Elena on Billy Eichner’s show, Jackie Kashian, Mo Gaffney, Kathy Najimy, Jenny Yang, Laurie Kilmartin, Liz Gilbert, Cecily Strong, Liz Phair, Maria Bamford, Rhea Butcher, Cameron Esposito, Kulap Vilaysack, my mom, my aunt Reenie Francis who does job placement for adults with developmental disabilities, my friend Lien Ta who just opened this great restaurant called Here’s Looking At You in Los Angeles, my friends Alex and Katherine and Gert and Ashley, and my late, great all-time career hero, Molly Ivins.

And that’s seriously just over the course of this evening. I could go on. Women are fantastic.

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Want more Sara? Her latest audiobook, DC Trip, is available for pre-order now. Also, be sure to follow her blog on Medium and her twitter for jokes, stories, and stories with jokes. 

If you would like to be considered for an upcoming installment of “We’re Inspired By…”, submit your unique story!

Photography: Kelly Elaine Photography
Makeup: Val of Mohawk Makeup

  • http://curvilyfashion.com/ Curvily NYC

    Love this interview!