Reporter Natasha Stoynoff fights Trump's sexist attitude with new body confidence book
How a Canadian reporter from People Magazine found the strength to let demeaning comments slide off.
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Canadian Journalist Natasha Stoynoff is an author and a veteran reporter who has worked for People Magazine and the Toronto Star. Her latest project is as an editor and contributor for Curvy and Confident, a Chicken Soup for the Soul book that collects women’s personal stories about making peace with their bodies.
If Stoynoff's name is ringing a bell, that's because she's the same People magazine reporter who, in October, publicly stated – with six people backing her up – that Donald Trump forced his tongue down her throat without consent in 2005. We asked her about her book, and how she’s feeling as her alleged assailant is about to be sworn in as president.
Among so many submissions, what made a story stand out and tell you it needed to be included in the book?
There were so many great stories. So many times, I wanted to just call up the contributor and tell them “I loved your story, I want to cry with you, I want to laugh with you.” I felt so personally connected. When you read all those stories all at once, it leaves a big impact on you. So many of the stories were starting out with struggle and pain and it really (made me) realize how much women punish themselves and hate their bodies, no matter what shape or size or weight.
You know, this is awful. We have to do something about it. Instead of watching the numbers on the scale, we could be working towards becoming president or prime minister. It’s like a conspiracy to make women feel insecure so we don’t get anything done.
We wanted a to include stories of different ways to approach how one can be curvy and confident and what that means. I was very grateful when I came across stories that made me laugh. It was such a relief.
I can’t help but notice the dissonance between the message of this book and your experience in the spotlight. Donald Trump responded to your allegations by saying “Look at her, I don’t think so.”
It was crazy. (The People piece was published) when we were in the last week of the book. I had just gone through all these stories about women baring their souls and being afraid of what people say about how they look.
Then the (Access Hollywood) tape came out, and a couple days later I saw what he said at the debate (that the tape was “locker room talk”). And I was just so upset at what he was saying. Working on the book actually gave me the strength to write about it.
When you’re a woman it’s a struggle anyway to feel confident about how you look. Like every other woman, I have ups and downs with my level of curviness and my level of confidence. And so it was very jarring to have the president-elect refer to my looks on international television. Strangely, it didn’t hurt me too much. I think I’d been strengthened by the book. I felt like his words were more damaging to himself than me. One would think.
Tell me about election night for you. What was that like?
Like most Americans, I was shocked. I went to sleep before it was over. I couldn’t watch anymore. And I woke up at like five in the morning to check the Internet. I went back to sleep and had a dream I was on the Titanic heading for the iceberg.
Did you feel any anger towards the women who elected Trump? He said those incredibly misogynistic things about you. And then women, particularly white women, came out for him.
My answer is complicated, because I’ve thought about this a lot. I think a lot of people may not have believed the women who came forward. And then the ones who did (believe them) don’t hold that sort of thing as a priority for their president. They hold other things as a higher priority. I can only think it’s one or the other. Also, I know that when my relatives or friends told people they know that I was one of the women who talked about (being assaulted by Trump), they asked “Oh! Is it true?”
There’s some great saying about a lion being in a cage. Then you take the bars away but they still circle the parameters of the cage. I think (some) women aren’t comfortable yet with a woman in power. I would like to talk to them and find out.
People Magazine gave you a platform to tell your story and backed you up. And then after the election they come out with this somewhat fluffy, flattering Donald Trump cover. Did you have a reaction to that?
I understand the decision. It was probably something thrown together so fast. I bet the People editors were as surprised as everybody else. When I read the story inside, it seemed pretty straightforward. I wasn’t as upset as everybody else, but the cover was a bit surprising. The thing is, they put the new president on the cover after every election. It was new territory for them. I think they were trying to do what a journalist would do.
Is there a story in this book that has a special place in your heart?
We had so many bathing suit stories. There's one where a mom with her little kid at a pool party, and the kid kept saying “Mom come in!” and she wasn’t going to go in. And finally she decided “This is ridiculous. It’s a hot day, I have a child who wants to be with me in the pool. And she just took off her shorts and jumped in, and lived life. Because life is short.
It illustrated the theme that so many women don’t live moments of their lives because they’re covering their bodies. You don’t go to a function because you don’t have the right dress or because you feel like you gained weight. You don’t go to the beach or wear a bathing suit in public – I’m guilty of that.
These stories are not as sweet as some chicken soup books. They’re a bit raw. There’s a bit of trouble and sadness in them.
Yeah, I know. We touch on some serious things like anorexia and bulimia. And some of that, not all, stems from how we’re taught to think about our bodies. I just think we’ve got to stop this now, don’t you? I just want the next generation to be healthier.
My hope would be that girls who are 14 or 15 or even younger would read this book. That’s why I put this story in about the letter to my 12-year-old self. While I was working on this book, the very last week, my cousin sent me that letter that I wrote to her. In 1977 or whatever year it was. And I looked at it, and thought “Oh my god, my first diet.” I was 12. I did not need a diet.
What do you want readers to take from this book?
I just want women to love themselves more, not punish themselves. We’re not saying don’t take care of yourself. We’re saying that women are born with different body types.
Right now, in the next few weeks, women will be enjoying life with their families, getting together, cooking the turkeys and pies, and then will come January where the punishing begins. And guilt. And, “I gained two pounds. I just want to stress that you not do that to yourself. Make a New Year’s resolution that you’re going to continue being a healthy person and enjoy family moments.
In Focus: Richard Crouse