About a year and a half ago,
I wrote a post about the heart behind this project.
I wrote it after my first three interviews for the blog, as I just wanted to give a little introduction to
why I was interviewing women and taking their pictures and posting it on the internet and was really not a creep, I swear!
I wrote about the women in my life that I wanted to encourage, and about why I think the world needs to rally around women more often.
Today, I want to write a follow up or a part two, so to speak, to share some of the things I have learned thus far on this journey.
I think we live in a world of quick fixes. Everyone is our “best friend,” and we show appreciation for people by double tapping their social media photos. We read captions and ingest people in 140 characters or less. We sit around with our friends, snapchatting our food and reading about other people’s daily highlights on Facebook or Instagram. We perceive things as being #goals, whether it be a couple, a family or a career. Social media, blogging, and technology are all things I enjoy and use regularly, but I have always wanted to find a way to use them with more purpose.
What if I could engage my culture by using popular platforms to go deeper? What if I could sit across from someone with no distractions and just ask them to share themselves with me? What if I asked all of the questions social media doesn’t ask or care to hear the answer to? Maybe a picture of your kids smiling and eating ice cream cones will get 75 likes on Instagram, but what about all of the moments that you wanted to break down during the day because you struggle with mental illness? What about the divorce, the illness, the grief, the triumphs, the overcoming, the soul behind the filtered photos?
Here is an example: I post a lot of cute, posed pictures of my daughters on Instagram. I even have a custom hashtag that is a play on words with their names, and I love looking through it and watching their relationship grow. BUT I also remember that I bribed the hell out of them to pose sometimes, that some days, taking pictures of them was the only thing that made me smile because I was feeling really depressed, or that they both started crying right after the photos were taken. None of you witness my actual life on Instagram - just the moments I choose to share, with words I choose to put out in to the world about my life and family. We call people our friends and claim to know them, even if we only follow them on social media. And that is okay, but that’s not what I wanted when I started Simply Sisterhood. I wanted to create a community of women who allowed themselves to be known on a deeper level, to be accepted as they are, even if they are scuffed up and rough around the edges.
I wanted to love people as they are and believe in them and support them on their journey.
Some of my favorite moments during this journey thus far have been crying with women as they detail their struggles; whether it be a divorce, an illness, or a loss, or watching them cry tears of joys as they relive their favorite, most meaningful moments. And the coolest thing? All of those moments connect and make the beautiful women you see on our blog.
These women all inspire me with their strength and true beauty. They are doctors, teachers, fighters, mothers, writers, mountain climbers, seekers, healers, artists, and scientists. They are you and they are me. I have interviewed people who view the world in utterly different ways than I do. I have interviewed women who have stories I can relate to on such deep levels. I have cried over abuse, bullies and loss with women I am meeting for the first time. It is a beautiful process, just sitting with someone and letting her be herself. I wish we did that more often - just sat with people in their joy or their pain. We are so quick to dole out advice or little patronizing words of wisdom - and while advice and wise words have a place, when was the last time you just sat with someone and loved them as they talked about themselves? When was the last time you didn’t shy away from letting someone feel their emotions and instead just listened and let them wash over you?
This project is for other women.
Or at least that is what I thought when I started it in 2016. But it is so much for me, too. I come home feeling energized and alive after a really good shoot or an interview. You women give me life. Getting to tell your stories is such a gift to me - the fact that you trust me to share you with the world is such a responsibility and a treasure. I am so honored to get to write about all of you and share your words with others.
So thank you, for this first year and a half of sisterhood.
Photo: Jessica Nail Photography
We have only just begun!
Two powerful words, and likely a sentence you have uttered countless times. But are you really sorry?
I work as an acupuncturist, and I often see people on their worst days: suffering yet another failed attempt at IVF, suffering the loss of a partner- or parent, or even desperately pulling straws for a treatment that will finally alleviate their chronic pain. I also see people on their best days: finally getting the positive pregnancy test, landing that new job, or getting their offer approved on a new house in the far-too-popular area of town.
I see people from all walks of life, both sexes, over a wide range of age.
Most of the time, I see women. Here’s a frequent scenario:
Me: “I’m just gonna move this pant leg a little higher here, just up to your knee so I can get a point on your leg”
Her: “Oh, sure!” (helps move the pant leg to a comfortable spot just above the knee)
Me: (finding point)
Her: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t shave… I’m a little prickly.”
You know who also is hairy? And unapologetically so? The (hypothetical) man in the hallway.
Now, this isn’t going to be a lecture about how “we need to grow out our leg hair, and armpit hair- oh, and by the way- dye your armpit hair a fabulous shade of pink, and while you’re at it, stop shaving that bikini line, as well!”. No.
However, if that is what makes your sweet heart happy, you certainly don’t need my permission! And newsflash- your acupuncturist, massage therapist, OB/GYN could care LESS what you do/don’t do with your body hair. It’s a part of your healthy body, and our jobs exist to make your body function as optimally as possible. And that includes having a non-judgmental attitude toward how our patients decide to adorn, or groom themselves (just please groom yourself; it’s healthy to be hygenic!). And as a healthcare provider, I apologize for the fact that the society we live in has decided to pick, poke, and prod at women’s bodies in such a way that we actually apologize for being who we are in our doctor’s office.
What do you apologize for? Go ahead, make a list. In fact, I’ll give you mine.
Things I have apologized for: Not plucking my eyebrows, not wearing makeup, not shaving my legs, having the audacity to have my body touch someone else’s when they bump into me in a crowded aisle, not liking a pattern or outfit my mom (with best intentions) holds up for me in the store (“but mom, I’m not gonna wear it. Just being honest. Sorry.”), having bare nails, having dry skin, being on time but my host isn’t ready, having dietary restrictions, having cold hands, reminding someone of a missed appointment (“sorry for the inconvenience…”), having a differing opinion than someone, how someone else feels (“I’m sorry you feel that way”), the list goes on. Now look at your list. How many of those really deserve an apology? Did you cause harm to someone (physically or emotionally) when you did that? Did you make a mistake, or even simple faux pas where you do know better, but still did wrong or caused offense (regardless of intent to do so)? I’d be willing to bet that the majority of your list wouldn’t include such apology-worthy actions. So, what are we apologizing for?
Here’s a hint: existing.
The audacity that we exist as human beings on this planet! What an outrage!
I hope you read the sarcasm.
When I was in elementary school, I remember a theme for the school one year was "celebrating diversity”. We were taught that it is diversity that makes the world beautiful, that makes life fun. After all, life would be quite boring if we were all the same. As kids, we all agreed. By 14, most of us disagreed. Obviously, part of that is the process of growing up, and not all elementary-age students appreciate people that are different. We can blame the media, or narrow-minded family members, what have you. But the question still stands: what is it about being different that brings out such embarrassment? That being different places a target on your back for the bullies on the playground or the trolls of the internet?
Perhaps it is the simple explanation that anything that is outside the norm, going outside of social convention, attracts attention.
As women, many of us are taught by society to put effort into our appearance, but not too much. God forbid anyone thinks we’re high maintenance! We need to act like a lady (i.e. be polite and submissive), but not be a doormat. We need to smile, but not too much. You don’t want those awful crow’s feet, right? Keep those legs together (even if you’re wearing pants)- don’t be an open invitation. Ask an employer for more money, but don’t make a stink if you don’t get it. Nothing is more unattractive than a protesting woman. Smile at men, but not too much. You don’t want them to think you’re easy, do you? Go out with the guys, keep up with them drink for drink and burger for burger, but never forget to watch that girlish figure!
Give a chuckle with the guy friends and proudly proclaim, “I’m not like those girls; I’m more of a dude!”.
They want us to be the girl-next-door and the pinup in the centerfold. In perfect balance.
And we wonder why it is so hard to be ourselves.
What do you want? Who do you want to be? What sets your soul on fire and makes your eyes dance like flickering Christmas lights? What passions have you suppressed for the appeasement of others? I’ll tell you another story: When I was a girl, I had the privilege of doing after-school activities, and thankfully I was given the choice of what I wanted to do. I did ballet, karate, ice skating, horseback riding, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, etc… I remember being a kid, and being happy in my body and how I could make it move on the ice or on stage. I remember coveting the pointe shoes, and reapplying my stage recital makeup so many times my appearance was reminiscent of a poorly painted porcelain doll up close. But I felt so grown up! I remember begging my mom to let me wear makeup (“why do I have to wait until I’m fourteen?! It’s so unfair! I’m the only one at school who can’t!”). I also remember avidly collecting bugs, dissecting plants from the backyard (and subsequently getting terribly itchy hairs ALL OVER my body), digging for snakes, chasing blue-tail lizards, having no problem mucking the horses’ stalls, not showering for a long weekend after backpacking in West Virginia, and declaring black as my favorite color at the tender age of nine (much to my mom’s horror). I also remember somewhere along the line seeking approval from family and friends and setting aside my dream of pointe shoes in lieu of horseback riding (I really wished I could’ve done both… but I was about ten, and horses won out). I remember hiding my love for makeup and pretty shoes. Watching episodes of Gilmore Girls and The Hills in secret. Feeling embarrassed that I liked getting my nails done for a dance, and even embarrassed when I started menstruating (not that that is a “love” of my life, ha!).
But then a lightbulb went off. Sadly, this lightbulb went off in my late twenties; I didn’t have the self-confidence as a young teen, and went the way of people-pleaser. Those loves, all of them, are what make me, me. From makeup and high heels, to digging in the dirt and playing with the worms. I am no less a woman for embracing it all. What have you suppressed in your life for fear of standing out, of being ostracized, of being unacceptable? I know it’s practically cliché now, but we are all different, and it is those differences that make us beautiful. Similarities unite us, but differences keep things interesting. And I’ve come to find one thing is true: someone who only loves you when you’re looking/acting/speaking a certain way- doesn’t love you. And we all deserve to be loved and accepted for who we are. Unapologetically. Without anyone’s permission.
So, in typical health provider fashion, I’m gonna give you some homework, dear reader. I want you to peer into yourself- the parts you actively celebrate, and dig for the parts you try to hide. Then ask yourself what would happen- what calamity would really ensue if you decided to love those parts? Those hairy-leg parts? Would the sky fall down if you decided not to wear makeup to work, or if you decided to take up something profoundly “girly”, like covering all of your bathroom surfaces in glittering tile? I can tell you one thing. The sky won’t fall. The market won’t crash. Your kids will still love you and say you’re the best mommy ever.
And it’s true.
You are beautiful. You are strong. You are smart. You are worthy. You are all-woman.
All of you. All of your parts.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Feminism is sometimes seen as a dirty word, not only in the subculture I grew up in (evangelical Christianity), but also in our culture as a whole. Feminists are painted as “shrill” or “whiney” or “aggressive.” People perceive people who call themselves feminists as men-hating and ruthless. Some even fear that they are trying to disrupt the natural order of things -- the creative order of things. I, myself, almost saw the fact that my now-husband went to a church where a woman was ordained as a deal breaker for our relationship. In college, when I was a youth leader at my church, I struggled with the appropriateness of leading a small group that included high school boys. Was it okay for me, as a woman, to be any kind of spiritual guide for young men? I understand these struggles. I understand wanting so badly to think and be and do the right things. But in recent years, especially since my studies and experience as a doula, my ideas about what it means to be a woman, what women are “allowed” to do, and how women are and ought to be valued have really grown.
I fear making strong statements like, “I am a feminist” because I realize my own ignorance. I know that I don’t know the history of the movement. I know that I don’t know all the nuances of the movement. And I know that there are certainly different kinds of feminist ideologies. I know that I disagree with many people who call themselves feminists on certain things. For example, I am pro-life. I also know that some feminists are not happy with women who choose to take on more traditional roles. For instance, there are some, but certainly not all, who have all but abandoned advocating for the rights of birthing women, perhaps because this isn’t the image of a feminist they want to promote. I don’t believe we should be trying to be more like men or that there is something undesirable or weak about being feminine or taking on traditional roles. That feels like the opposite of empowerment. But here’s what I do believe. I believe that we need feminism.
We need feminism, even in America where we are admittedly privileged. We need it because in 2017, when a woman goes to her doctor complaining of pain, she is less likely to be taken seriously than a man is. She is told she is hysterical -- a word which literally means “wandering uterus”, meaning your womanhood is making you crazy. Women of color are given even less credibility by the medical community. We need feminism because our culture sees childbirth as something that ruins your body -- because, of course, women’s bodies are only useful as far as they are sexually desirable by men. Not to mention the fact that we are conditioned to believe the false idea that the changes that pregnancy and childbirth can make in our bodies make us undesirable. We need feminism because women with pelvic floor injuries related to childbirth shouldn’t be told “well, that’s what happens with you have kids” any more than athletes should be told “that’s what happens” when they tear a meniscus. We need it because we actually have representatives who think reproductive health and maternity care shouldn’t be covered in every healthcare plan because “why would a man want to pay for that?” We need it because pregnancy is now considered a pre-existing condition. We need it because we have a disgustingly high maternal mortality and morbidity rate in this country, and few people seem to know or care. We need it because informed consent and refusal sometimes goes out the window when you’re pregnant or giving birth. We need feminism because birth rights are women’s rights are human rights.
Our daughters need feminism because girls are taught from a young age not to trust or appreciate their bodies. They are given ridiculous standards of beauty. They are told that they have to control how their bodies look, how they grow, and how they appeal to others. They are taught about menstruation as a burden -- something that is painful and messy and the best you can do is clean it up and keep it hidden -- instead of something that is one of the greatest instructors about the health of their bodies. Our daughters need feminism because too many people don’t know the difference between a vagina and a vulva, and until recently some college biology textbooks didn’t even have full illustrations of a vulva. Our daughters need it because I feel nervous and embarrassed about typing those words, and it shouldn’t be any different than typing the word “elbow”.
Our sons need feminism because they deserve more respect than for people to assume they will turn into out-of-control animals when they see a girl with a bare midriff. Our sons need feminism because they are strong enough for the responsibility of respecting a woman’s body, mind, and spirit. Our sons need it because they should know that it’s okay to dance or to be artistic or to cry when they’re sad. Our children need feminism because they all deserve to live in a world where consent means something.
We need feminism because rape survivors need to stop being subjected to questions about what they were wearing and how much they had to drink, while authorities worry about the future of the rapists’ careers. We need it because we still have to worry about where we park at night and whether or not we have our keys strategically placed in our fists. We need it because our daughters should learn to dress in ways that reflect respect and pride in their bodies, instead of reflecting fear about how their bodies might cause others to stumble or even put themselves in danger.
We need feminism because Christian women are told they will probably not enjoy sex, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. We need it because sometimes Christian women are shamed because they do enjoy sex, even if it’s in the context of marriage. We need it because Christian women are taught to be always sexually available to their husbands “to guard them against temptation” -- if you’re not available or desirable, it’s your fault if they cheat. We need it because we somehow forget that Song of Solomon exists and it’s not told just from the perspective of the man.
We need feminism because the Bible says, “there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, jew nor greek” and yet women are still being told that they cannot teach men in spiritual matters just because of their gender. We need it because if my daughter decides she wants to become a pastor, I don’t want her salvation or worth to be called into question.
Finally, I need feminism because I catch myself treating my daughter in misogynistic ways. I don’t always take her feelings or pain seriously. I’m more likely to feel like she should “get over it” than I am to feel that way about my sons. I have told her, when her brother hits her, to “just stay away from him”, thereby putting the responsibility on her instead of him. Yes, of course, I talk to my sons about being kind and respectful and treating people with dignity. But I do see myself being just a little bit more dismissive of her, and I realize this is something I need to fix in my own home before I can do something about it in the country and the world.
I believe we need feminism because if we are not able to see the worth in ourselves, it will be harder to fight for the worth of others.
I’m not sure that I ever gave much thought to the concept of womanhood until I got married. I don't believe that any conversation I had, any sermon I heard or any class I ever took ever really spoke much to my identity as a woman.
But suddenly, married at the ripe age of twenty years old, everyone had input on what it was that made a good wife. Isn’t that interesting? I never learned anything about being a woman until I was legally bound to a man. I think that describes so much of my life before coming of age and getting married. Thankfully I am married to a wonderful feminist man who sees me as much more than his property, but the focus of this writing is not on my relationship to him and rather on my relationship with myself.
When I was a child, I wanted to be a librarian, an archeologist, a writer, an adventurer. I spent my elementary school years being homeschooled on five and a half acres of mountain land. I got dirty, I climbed trees, I fell into a cactus, I ran from wild animals. I was free. I was secure in myself. I didn’t wonder about being liked or fear rejection - I just played and dreamed and believed that anything was possible, that I could read every book in the giant library my mother built, that the world was my oyster.
I think we learn at a surprisingly young age to be ashamed of our femininity, however it may display itself. The side glances and chuckles as an aunt loudly exclaims that you’ve grown breasts at a family party, the mortifying (to your young adolescent mind) realization that you’ve “become a woman” in the most literal sense and the embarrassment of talking to your parents about menstruation, the constant chiding from uncles about whether or not you have a boyfriend (that you can’t help but notice is never directed at your male cousins). All of these small experiences and the general insecurities of puberty combined to make me fearful of my feminine nature at a relatively young age. I feared being too loud, talking too much, taking up too much space, getting too fat, being too smart, being too dumb, being liked by boys, not being liked by boys, etc. I just wanted to be NORMAL, whatever that meant on any passing day.
I don’t remember the exact moment where I lost that beautiful notion that the world was my canvas, that I alone held the paint, and that I decided what picture my life would create. I lost it somewhere in the fluid, empty space between childhood and adulthood and I suddenly found myself swirling in an ambiguous world, where the ultimate goal was being liked. I was a smart kid, always reading, filling journals with my deepest thoughts and dreams. But suddenly, smart wasn't a currency anymore, or if it was, it was a wrinkled one dollar bill crumpled up and left behind in favor of the crisp twenty called PRETTY.
This notion of beauty being this black and white concept in my mind was furthered by a relationship I entered into near the end of high school. Pretty became the all-encompassing ideal. Pretty became a mantra I repeated every time I made myself throw up after a meal, every time I deprived myself of nourishment in favor of a smaller pant size. Pretty was the only thing tying him to me. And then pretty wasn’t enough anymore and he began to degrade and abuse me in ways I can’t recount without free flowing tears. Pretty became the weapon he used as an excuse to berate me, to hurt me, to diminish me until I was no longer myself, but only the extension of him that he had created. There was always room for improvement: pluck your eyebrows, lose five pounds, dress sexier, be more athletic, put more effort into your looks. This false idea of beauty was the tool that caused my temporary downfall, masterminded by a narcissist who either didn’t realize he was breaking me or enjoyed every minute of it.
I could tell you that my husband was the man who swooped in and fixed everything, but he wasn’t. No man swooped and no man put me back together. Because this isn’t a fairytale and women aren’t one-dimensional. While he has contributed in many ways to teaching me to love myself, the moment that changed it all was the moment my daughter was born, and the next moment nineteen months later when her baby sister was born. These little women have made me look into what womanhood truly means, what I want to teach them about being female, and what it means to build a tribe of women who support each other. I don’t want to be the mom who blinks at the scale and wishes herself away. I won’t be the mom that hates myself without makeup. I refuse to be the mom speaking hate about my body in front of my daughters - or ever. I will be the mom who loves her Frida Kahlo eyebrows and other perceived flaws. I will be the mom who embraces my daughters for their brains, for their beauty, for their bravery, for their shyness, for their kindness and for their wills of steel. I’m twenty seven years old at this moment and here are the things I want to teach my daughters about womanhood:
There is no shame in the way your body curves or the space it takes up. There is no need to apologize for being yourself, for speaking up, for being boisterous. Men and women alike will tell you to simultaneously be more and also less at points in your life: talk less, need less, cause less of a ruckus, stay in your place, don’t question boundaries, be more like ____, be more driven, but demand less than equal compensation, have a traditionally beautiful body, but be less offended when men catcall you, etc. I’m here to tell you that YOU DON’T OWE THEM ANYTHING. You are made of magic, gun powder, brain power and glitter. Your body has the capability to grow human life, break glass ceilings, feed the hungry, run a marathon and probably even fly if you try hard enough. Your mind has the capability to cure cancer, write a hit song, write legislation, and not give a shit what anyone thinks of you. There is strength and softness within you and you get to decide how to use each of them.
I am young in my journey of womanhood.
One day I will have long silver hair and lines on my face that serve as memories of every strain, every laugh, every happy thought that I used to fly.
One day I will have more ideas, new ideas of what it is to be a woman. BUT I don’t think any of us really ever truly arrive and know the answers to this question of being female.
We have already arrived and are always arriving.
Let us walk side by side, as sisters.
What is Simply Sisterhood?
A campaign to end