HOW TO NOT BE AFRAID OF EVERYTHING

By: Jane Wong

How to not punch everyone in the face.

How to not protect everyone’s eyes from

my own punch. I have been practicing

my punch for years, loosening my limbs.

My jaw unhinged creates a felony I refuse

to go to court for. The fat of spam pools

in the sun, reminding me of my true feelings.

My feelings leak from my ear like a bad cold

in a bad storm. Stars huddle in a corner,

little radiators sweating out their fear.

A possum reaches his arm up from a porch.

I hold onto his arm for a little while, for

a little warmth. At night, my subterranean eye

begins to rove. Song of the underground,

song of the rat tribe. I see my mother in

an apron splattered with viscera I will eat

for dinner. To gut her work out, to work

her guts out. Can we talk about privilege?

Can I say I always look behind me? I always

look behind me. I always take a step forward

like I’m about to save myself from toppling

over. The bare bones of it: some of us know

that spoiled meat still counts as protein.

That a horse’s neck snaps from the weight

of what it carries, from the weight of what

we give it to carry. I bundle up a sack of

clouds, empty of rain and fear and lightning.

Demolition Day

By: Jane Wong

I saw a crane lift a train. It took the wheels

in its teeth and shook it like a rug.

Truth be told, my failure has been causing me

a lot of grief lately. Just yesterday, a man

bumped into me on purpose. He said,

I’m sorry, did I bump into you?

Conversation is the beginning of all disaster.

How I wish I had a haystack to disappear into then,

a whole hill slumped before me. My legs over

the precipice, becoming a plant to crawl upon.

Or a ring of water at the bottom of a vase,

expanding infinitely—a monsterhead

of lilac perfume. I grow lonelier by the day,

the day lowers in another part of town,

in train cars converted into restaurants,

clinking through the empty night.

Nude

By: Melissa Messer

I painted this Wednesday morning and every time I looked at her I projected onto her all of my emotions. This was extra easy to do because she is my art doppelgänger. People regularly think images of her are of me. Me a few yards away in the parking lot, her. 

As I wrote in the post, that raw Wednesday morning was the first time I saw her not as nude but now naked. And her nakedness felt like mine, I ached with the shame of both vulnerability and failure. And the burden of this new consciousness felt like a biblical punishment.  Cast out of the Eden of my naïveté. 

I paint from live nude models every morning. It's classical, academic, a celebration of our form, an investigation into humanity. Only this week have I seen the female body and wanted to protect it. Only now does she appear naked.

Around the dinner table one night, discussing a former relationship, these two gave me the best advice:

Mom: Don’t ever, ever let a guy tell you what to do, how to dress, or make you feel bad for any reason.

Dad: And don’t get married. Well, at least, don’t get married just because you feel like you have to. 

I was lucky enough to be raised by people that ensured I could take care of myself first and foremost, which I still believe to be a critical trait before entering into a relationship. It is empowering, because I always knew that I could lean on my other strong female (and sometimes male) friends before resigning myself to a relationship just because it was convenient or timely. 

But, it feels like America just ripped that, and so many other progressive traits, away from females. The crazy thing is that so many women voted for this monster. A demagogue. Mussolini reincarnated. But, I take solace in knowing that I will never be one of those people who yearns for false ideals of the nuclear family and quietly accepts the patriarchy just because it’s easier to do so. And, I am so very very glad that I know so many like-minded trail blazers, whether they be female, male, trans or queer. 

By: Lindsay Brandon

My Body

By: Genevieve Pierson

Confessions of a Lingerie Fitter 

Written By: Ellen Donbeck 

I began my career as a bra fitter at one of the lingerie world’s most well-known Manhattan boutiques. At the time I started, I was fresh out of college and applied because of superficial reasons. A sexy lingerie shop was exciting to me and frankly I thought my partner at the time would really like that I worked there too.  After my first day I realized this job was going to be more than playing in lace and silk all day.  I was going to be working up close and personal with women, women that were naked, often vulnerable and relying on me to make them feel beautiful and comfortable. This was when I realized, if I was going to work here, I needed to know my shit.

Working in that fast paced environment in the heart of the city with strong opinionated female co-workers quickly pushed me to learn everything I could about fit and designers.  After following other fitters in the shop and assisting them with clients for several weeks, I finally starting taking fitting appointments on my own. 

One of my first solo fittings was with a woman who had recently had a double mastectomy.  Breast cancer was not something women in my family had ever gone through, I didn't know what to expect and I was afraid - no, I was terrified. I can remember shaking her hand and telling her my name as I led her to the fitting room.  I opened the curtain and told her I would bring her a bra to start and we would go from there.  I walked towards the bra drawers and immediately regretted telling her I would bring her a bra because I wasn't sure she could even wear one and I thought about how I didn't even know what size I should get. I was panicked.  I walked back to her fitting room with a bra and a measuring tape in hand wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.  I opened the curtain to find a woman shirtless, hands stretch out in celebration with a huge smile on her face, "I want something pretty!" she said. Her beautiful smile immediately put me at ease and I said, "We can do that!"  

I walked out with the boring flesh toned bra that was meant to be "invisible" and brought her lace and silk sets, nightgowns and robes in every gorgeous color I could. I loved watching her ooo and ahhh with so much excitement every time I showed her something she liked. In the end she settled on a silk pale pink bralette and panty set with overlapping magenta lace.  It was beautiful, but she made it even more beautiful. As she left, she thanked me with a big hug and I knew that moment my job was really special.  I got on the subway that night after work and thought of her and just cried, tears flooding down my face thinking about her strength, her bravery and her beauty. I am so grateful she allowed me and trusted me to be in her life at such an intimate moment. That woman was the beginning of it all for me.  It was the beginning of understanding what it means to feel beautiful and grateful.  

I continued my career as a fitter and passed up many opportunities in lingerie production just simply because I didn't want to miss out on being on the floor and meeting the clients and hearing their stories. I wanted to help these women see the beauty in themselves and the chance at continuing to learn from them too. 

I first got into this industry simply because I thought it would be fun.  I didn't realize at the time how much it would change me. In the last decade I have done 30,000+ fittings. I never thought I would meet so many ladies and how fortunate I would be to be part of their lives in such an intimate way.  I see a lot of women struggle to love their bodies. Actress Sophia Loren once said "nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful."  I think that beauty she is describing is not limited to our bodies.  Kindness, wisdom, bravery and empathy are just a few of the things that make us so damn gorgeous and that should be celebrated along with having a body that is totally unique because there is only ONE of each of us! I have seen enough naked women to KNOW that.  Everyone is truly one of a kind.

 I have watched my customers go through intense body changes, breakups, new babies, illness and sometimes loving your body through all of those experiences is not the easiest. Everyday I see women that wish that they had somebody else's body and it makes me sad.  I try to gently encourage them to be grateful just as all the women I have been lucky enough to meet have reminded me of why I am grateful to be alive and breathing and moving and able to give back for as long as I can.

When I look at all the beautiful lingerie about me everyday I think about the stories I have yet to hear. I will maybe never be able to thank that customer that changed it all for me the way I really want to.  All I can do is continue her message that life is precious and our bodies may not always look the way we want them to but we should continue to love them anyway because THAT is beautiful. I will always think of her and will be forever grateful for the incredible gift she gave me.  

Follow Ellen Donbeck on Instagram: @slidingdrawers

This feature is the first of November's blog theme of BODY. If you're interested in submitting a post (it can be a photo series, a video, a poem, an article, you name it!), check out our submission guidelines. Can't wait to hear from you. 


Your First Nude Photo Shoot: What to Know Before You Go 

Written By: Kristen Lem

I recently did an artistic nude photo shoot with a talented photographer and now friend of mine.  At the end of it, he asked me what was most surprising about the experience.  I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but as I thought about it more, I discovered it was the profound realization that beauty really is only skin deep.  I came away with a greater appreciation for my body and truly have never looked or felt more beautiful.  This, however, was accompanied with the uncomfortable truth that physical beauty is simply that.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It is a visual depiction of what a certain group of humans have deemed appealing.  It represents only a tiny aspect of a person and has very little bearing on self-worth and confidence.  This was both a relief and a disappointment.  I expected to awaken every morning thereafter like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus from her giant clamshell.  But I didn’t.  I woke up every morning wishing I was still sleeping, as per usual.  It was comforting though because the next time I’m criticized for my looks, I’ll know it’s a reprimand for like 0.0001% of who I am on something that doesn’t even really matter.  That being said, it was a fantastic experience that I look forward to doing again.  If it’s something you too are considering, here are some things to know before you go:

1) Get rest.  Drink water.

Contrary to what you might think, these two imperatives are immensely more important than working out and dieting.  Your photographer wants the photos to look good just as much as you do so he or she will choose flattering poses and enhance your assets during the editing process. Energy level and expression cannot be Photoshopped, so that’s why it’s important to be well-rested and hydrated.  Minding your weight is more of a mental tool in this situation, so if that helps you feel more confident and photo-ready, then by all means do it.

2) Do your research.

Sadly, there are lots of dudes with cameras who just want to take pictures of naked girls. They call themselves photographers, and well, you know the deal. Google your photographer and look at his or her past work and reviews. If this person is not your friend and has no portfolio, move on.

3) Correspond before your shoot.  Meet in person if possible.

The photographer should always have your comfort in mind.  He or she should let you know prior what sort of shots you’ll be taking and how many.  You should have multiple emails and/or phone calls about hair, makeup, and what you need to bring.  And to repeat: the photographer should always have your comfort in mind.  This trust is not only needed to ensure good photos, but is the mark of a professional.          

4) Know what you want to look like down there.

Brazilian, bejeweled, bush.  Do whatever you need to get done the day before so your skin is not irritated.  Do not wing this.

5) Bring a light robe.

You’ll start out a little shy at the idea of being naked. Then you’ll LOVE being naked and contemplate walking to town naked for sushi.  Then you’ll be like, “OK I’m done being naked.”  A light robe is here to see you through all of these phases.  Plus, you’ll likely take breaks and look at some of your photos mid-shoot, in which case a robe would be comfortable without leaving any red clothing marks on your skin.

6) Make a pseudonym.

Because, the Internet.

7) Get your agreement in writing.

Work out with your photographer what the compensation will be.  Are you getting paid to model?  If so, it’s OK to ask if you’ll be getting any of the images, but do not expect it.  That is like getting money plus goods and services.  If you are paying the photographer, then you should agree on how many final (edited) images you’ll receive, plus how many raw images.  For a collaboration or trade agreement, you’ll be exchanging your modeling services for photos of yourself.  Decide together if your face is to be used, and understand that both of you can publish these anywhere online and in print.  Make sure the paperwork uses your pseudonym and get everything signed.

8) It is way more clinical than you’d expect.

“Jack, I want you to paint me like one of your French girls.”  No.  It’s more like: “Arch your back. Point your toes. Look up. Relax your forehead.” There is a huge divide between what feels natural and what looks good on camera. A good photographer combines the two by studying your mannerisms and incorporating them into the poses.

9) Do not plan anything afterwards.

You will be tired.  As fuck.  Modeling is really hard work.  It requires an awareness of every hair, movement, muscle – known and unknown – in your face, body, elbow, everywhere that most of us just do not have.  Go home afterwards and bask in the knowledge of your most flattering angles.  

10) Relax, you’re still you.

After my first nude shoot, I thought I’d be walking around like Beyoncé.  Even after I got my super sexy pics, I still felt like the same old goofball I always was.  But now I was a goofball with a little bit of Jessica Rabbit in my back pocket … of my bootylicious jeans … that contain my hot ass. 

 

Follow Kristen Lem on Instagram: @kristenlem_

This feature is the first of November's blog theme of BODY. If you're interested in submitting a post (it can be a photo series, a video, a poem, an article, you name it!), check out our submission guidelines. Can't wait to hear from you. 


It's Not Your Fault

Written By: Anonymous

I never thought I would be telling this story. I actually didn’t realize it was a story to tell. I believed what happened was my fault and that if people knew they would think less of me.

I’ve always thought of myself as brave and unbelievably strong. When a girl friend of mine got raped and she didn’t report it, I was angry. How could she not stand up for herself? What if the guy did it again? That would never be me.

Five months ago I was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend.

There, I said it. The hard part is over, right?

I am an intelligent and independent woman who only just realized what happened was wrong.

For these past five months I have been living in shame. What happened was my fault...it could have been worse...I hurt the guy’s feelings… what would my parent’s think?

It was the first of the year. I had only recently reconnected with this ex against thes of friends and family. He was certain he loved me and we were meant to be. I was a hopeless romantic and charmed by his confidence and good hair.

It started as a game night with his roommate and moved to kissing in his bedroom. He knew me and he knew what my boundaries were when it came to sexual intimacy. As the kissing got more intense and the clothes came off I reminded him, and he told me that those were his boundaries too.

It was only a few minutes later that he crossed it. I could see that he was testing the waters to see if I was serious. I put my hands on his chest and said “No. Stop.” I know he heard me because he looked me in the eye and said he was sorry.

Not even a minute later, he pushed even further. It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening. I am going to be honest with you, I hesitated. I was conflicted. He could be “the one." I craved intimacy. Had I asked for it?

I didn’t. I had just clearly said no.

With all of my strength I pushed him off of me and ran out the door with all of my things. I remember him chasing after me begging me to stop.

I didn’t look back and went straight to my car. I cried the entire drive home.

The next day I confided in only a single friend.

A few weeks later I got tested for STDs. My doctor knew my history and was concerned. I made a joke about reading too much WebMD, and articles about STD epidemics.

A day after that I started birth control. When my family found out I said it was to help normalize my period.

Exactly four months after I apologized to that ex for what happened that evening. For running away and hurting his feelings. I think I actually said something like, “I know that I contributed...”

One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

I never thought I would be telling this story, let alone writing it for Project Girl Crush. It wasn’t until I read the incredibly brave testimony in the Stanford assault case that her letter put a voice to my shame. When the boy said she asked for it because she rubbed his back I remembered my moment of hesitation that night and the texts I got after I ran out that said “I didn’t do anything you didn’t want.”

I have lived in the shame of believing that what happened was my fault. That if anyone found out, they would be disappointed in me. That I should have known better. That maybe deep down I wanted it.

My story could have been worse. Your story may very well be. My hope is that you take control of your shame and be braver than I was. What happened is not your fault. You did not ask for it nor deserve it. You are worthy of love and belonging.

A Mother's Hands

Photos and Words by: Jamie Pearl

I've always had an obsession with photographing skin. As my mom held the baby girl that she watches a couple of days a week, I noticed the interesting juxtaposition of her hands, which, no offense to my lovely mom, are a bit more wrinkled, and the baby's hands, which are smooth and soft. The baby's mother's (Lauren, who is also in some of the photos) hands are somewhere in between the her daughter's smooth soft hand with a few wrinkles like my own mom's, creating a satisfying spectrum of hand-age.

The wrinkles on my mom's hands seem like some sort of token of all the hard work that she has put in to my sister's life and my life. That being said, I of course don't mean to offend my mother and women with wrinkles, but my mom's wrinkles are living proof of all the time I've put her through stress and she's calmed me, of all the times she has gripped the steering wheel as she drove to pick me up from school, and of all the times she's slaved over making dinner for me so that I wouldn't have an empty stomach. 

In other words, the way I see it is that you are born with smooth, wrinkle-less hands. But as you grow, and as you begin to put a lot of your energy into providing for someone else, you "earn" a visual representation of that energy in the form of wrinkles. Proof of all a mother has been through. 

As I prepare to move away from college I can only imagine how much I'm going to miss my mom. But, as surprising as it may be, if you had told me I would say this five or six years ago, I wouldn't have believed you. My momma and I went through a difficult phase when I was a preteen. We fought so much that I began to close myself off to her and spend more time in my room at home, rather than in the kitchen or living room where she usually was. After a few years of calm after the storm I learned to appreciate and love my mom more. But it wasn't until the beginning of my senior year that my love for my mom hit an all time high. I began to understand the daunting fact that my mom and I would not be living together when I went off to college. It devastated me. It scared me. I got so pre-nostalgic at the thought of leaving her that I started declining invites to hang out with my friends just so I could spend time with my mom, even if all she was doing was sitting on the couch and watching TV.

I love my mom dearly because she has the biggest heart, which shows in many facets of her life and my life. One of the most admirable outcomes of her having a big heart is evident whenever we're in public. She constantly makes chit chat with strangers and my dad and I always joke that she can't leave somewhere without making a friend or two. She is always friendly to everyone-- the old lady working in her garden, the little boy kicking her seat on the airplane, and even (and especially) the grumpy waiter who can't wait for his shift to end. She can't not be nice (double negative, I know, but really!). 

Her big heart also shows through whenever she sees a baby. My mom is nuts for babies. One time she even changed her airplane seat back to a middle seat because she saw a woman with a baby would have been sitting next to her. This is why she watches a young baby girl (pictured in my photographs) a couple of days a week-- we say it satisfies her "baby fix". I guess her matronly instincts can't keep her from gravitating towards babies. 

My third and final example of my mom's big heart is more personally related. My mom is always there to tell me it's going to be okay. Even when I FaceTime her while she's on vacation at 11 p.m. crying about how I don't want to leave her for college, or when my homework is so stressful that all I can do is breakdown and complain to her as we sit in her bed and watch Friends. My mom is always rooting for me, even if she has to piece me back together in order for me to thrive. 

So, I know this seems like a massive rant by a girl who really loves her mommy... and... it is. But it ties into my photographs, I swear; I've wrote about this whole theme of loving my mom and being sad to leave her next year and how she is a natural mother at heart to not only me, but other (sometimes random, sometimes not) babies. The photographs I took depict hands, one of which in particular is my mother's. Through my work I hope to convey the concept of one of the happiest, safest, most loving states in the world that I can think of: when I'm in my mother's embrace, arms around me, her hands, the hands that fed me, comforted me, and supported me, gently patting my neck. 

 

On Pins and Needles

Created By: Jenna Pike

For me, the process of trying to get pregnant was so lonely and awful. It was like a dark cloud over my life during those years. But it involved all these weird experiences and black humor - things you just have to laugh at or else you'd be crying.

It was an intense and emotional 3 years, but it ended abruptly when I got pregnant. Then having a baby is such a busy time, and I also moved and changed jobs, and infertility wasn't in my life anymore. I had a second baby pretty easily, and having two small kids is an even busier time. So I really didn't have the space or perspective to deal with my feelings about my infertility until recently.

I was in NYC a few months ago and was reminded of my bike ride to the clinic to be artificially inseminated, carrying a cup of my husband's cum in my bag. I pictured myself as sort of a comic book action heroine racing up 8th Avenue. Obviously, that is not a normal part of conception! Taken as isolated events, so many of my experiences and attempts to get pregnant were surreal and strange. I started writing down my memories to capture the weirdness and loneliness. I'm not great at drawing, so I trace and alter photographs from the internet to illustrate my stories and make me the action figure in these events.  

There are so many women who have a hard time getting pregnant. It's so personal, and lots of people don't talk about it, or know how to talk about it. It was painful and lonely, but I don't want to forget that it was funny too. 

 

Women are All of It: Growing Up with My Mother

Written By: Kathleen Tarrant

May’s theme is Motherhood. We are so excited to share so many gorgeous posts, including essays, illustrations, and photos from new voices. To start off, I wanted to take a moment to write about my own views on motherhood, which, not surprisingly, were formed by my own mother.

I came early. Two weeks early.

My mom, Debbie, was 38 and preparing for a conference call. When her water broke, she called my dad, let him know what was happening, and hopped in the car to drive herself to the hospital. She walked in, asked for an epidural, was told she was too far along in the process, and about an hour later I was in the world, pink and screaming. My parents cried as they first held me, my father’s first child and my mother’s second, and named me Kathleen.

But my mom was 38. I may have hurried up our meeting by a couple weeks, but she had a whole life before me. She had my brother at 30. Which means for 30 years before she was a mom, she was Debbie Clifford. She was the first in her family to go to college. She hopped in a car in 1969 for the fall and winter to live in Colorado and take time off of college. She did mescaline (or LSD, she can’t remember) in a cabin and spiders crawled out of the walls. She did not do drugs again. She graduated. She saw the Beatles in St. Louis in 1967. She took care of her siblings. She fought with her own mom. She took photos of the TV when Paul McCartney was on Ed Sullivan. She rode a bike, she crashed a car into the garage.

She dated, she got married, she got divorced. She became an activist. She joined a sorority. She found she loved working, and worked her way up the corporate ladder. She became an amazing cook, and amazing tailor.

And after my brother and I were born, she still had all that.

My mom was still Debbie Clifford after she had us. She left me with my dad when I was 3 to go to Washington and march to support Roe v Wade. She still goes on road trips with her sorority sisters. She kept her job, but she supported women who stayed home. She told me she personally would go crazy without a job, but her biggest anger was women who judged each other for their choices.

She took care of me when I was sick. Frankly, she still does. She flew me out to Colorado last week, the week before mother’s day, to take care of me as I figure out a long standing illness. She made me toast and her and my dad moved the coffee table ever nearer to me, as though I would get better if I didn’t have to reach as far.

She baked me cookies. She made all my Halloween costumes. She believes in dessert first, and always has. Not once when I was growing up did I worry about my mom reading my journals because she so deeply believed in privacy. She picked up photography in her 50s, and hasn’t put down the camera yet. She knows so many types of birds, and the best way to make chicken stock. She can do anyone’s taxes, and budget a whole year out of 5 dollars.

But Mom isn’t just my mom. She’s Debbie Clifford (now Tarrant). You see, I know I want to be a mom. I don’t know when, and I’m fast approaching 30. But Mom taught me one thing by example – a woman isn’t defined by one thing. Motherhood didn’t define my mom. Neither did her childless years. Neither did her job. Or her first husband, or my dad.

Women put too much pressure on ourselves and each other to have one thing define us. One thing complete us. But the more I see, the more I believe that never happens.

Debbie Clifford defined Debbie Clifford. And that, more than anything, is what motherhood means to me. I don’t think I totally understood that when I was a kid, and my mom went to work and took trips with her college friends. When her jobs moved us to California and Colorado. I don’t think I saw how deliberately she was giving herself freedom, and in turn giving the same to me. I never once wondered if she was tired both taking care of us and herself. But she didn’t entertain the question, “how do you do it all?” Because women, in their natural state, are all of it. And we shouldn’t have to explain it.

It’s why I want to experience it. Motherhood is just one more thing we as women get to choose for ourselves, and let shape us in so many ways that we can neither predict nor control. I’ve softened my mom, and she’s made me tougher. We take care of each other now. And while those first 38 years without me were important for her, it makes sense that I came out early – I wanted to meet her as soon as possible.

 Debbie Clifford in 1968, age 18

Debbie Clifford in 1968, age 18