Jill Pickering and Kate Rapier (Photo courtesy Jill & Kate)

This spring, Nashville duo Jill and Kate were on tour as back-up singers for a male country artist when a friend snapped a goofy picture of Kate and texted it to a group. It was all in good fun until one tour crew member (who was unaware Kate was on the text chain) sent back a message calling her a “#huge” singer.

Kate immediately recognized it was a jab at how she looked in the photo; naturally, she was upset. Kate posted a blog entry about the incident on the duo’s website, using it as a jumping-off point to slam the all-too-common concept of “body-shaming.”

A couple days later, Jill and Kate were asked to delete the post because it could “reflect poorly” on the artist with whom they were touring. Though they hadn’t named names, Jill and Kate removed the post. The following week, they say, they were let go from the tour.

(Photo courtesy Jill & Kate) (Photo courtesy Jill & Kate)

The official reasoning? Jill and Kate were told the tour no longer needed female singers. But shortly after their departure, a new female back-up singer was hired. (While Jill and Kate declined to confirm who they were touring with, their original blog post was written in spring 2015 when they were back-up singers for longtime country singer Trace Adkins. A representative for Adkins had no comment.)

Though changing up background vocalists isn’t unusual, it was hard not to note the timing. A major cultural conversation of 2015 focused on the particular challenges women have in the male-dominated music and entertainment industry. Jill and Kate’s takeaway from this year is more than just promoting a body-positive message – to them, it’s also the danger of women being afraid they’ll be deemed “troublemakers” if they speak out.

 [One industry expert has a plan to help country radio: Fewer songs by women]

“We aren’t trying to badmouth anyone. We aren’t trying to start trouble,” they recently wrote, re-posting Kate’s original blog and going public for the first time about being dropped from the tour. “This is not a post to bash men, it is simply to stand up as women, with women and for women to not let fear silence us from telling our stories, so that all of us together can make a change.”

In an interview, Jill Pickering and Kate Rapier say they have no desire to call anyone out. Rather, they feel compelled to let their fans to know why they kept so quiet this year. They also want to use their platform to raise awareness about the negative effects of weight-shaming, and hope they can empower other women when they encounter similar tough situations.

“If we have a mission out of all of this, it’s to share this experience and encourage other women to be strong and brave and share their experiences, too,” Kate said. “That’s the way that these types of issues will be brought to light, and people will have courage to stand up when they need to.”

Jill and Kate met in 2003 during a music program in college and soon became a songwriting and performing duo. They moved to Los Angeles after graduation, eventually becoming back-up singers for pop star Kelly Clarkson. After working with Clarkson for six years, they decided to focus on their own career in Nashville. In summer 2014, they landed a gig as back-up singers for Adkins, whose hits include “You’re Gonna Miss This”; “Hillbilly Bone”; and “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”; he also hosts a weekly SiriusXM country radio show.

Jill and Kate say they went through a range of emotions after leaving the tour. Eventually, they regrouped, and are determined to focus on the positive: They booked some new gigs — even opening for Luke Bryan at a music festival in Wisconsin — and had time to record an album called “Lullabies,” inspired by a project for a friend’s baby.

In the days since they re-posted Kate’s original blog entry (titled “When Someone Calls You Huge”), they have received lots of support, along with “heartbreaking” stories from girls with similar anecdotes. They hope it’s comforting to see that everyone goes through these negative situations: “If we’re only shedding light on the amazing experiences that we get to have by doing this job, I don’t think that’s fair to our fans,” Kate said.

As for their second post about being dropped from the tour, they say it’s hard not to worry about potential backlash. But if this year has taught them anything, it’s that they would rather take control of their own narrative than operate out of fear.

“We want to encourage people not to be afraid to tell their stories,” Jill said. “Even if it costs them something. But for us, it cost us our job. That’s scary. It’s a scary thing.  But if people aren’t doing it, things will never change.”

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