Sassy Stories

‘Sitting with Sass’ Featuring Yara Ashkar

Yara describes herself as rather being a jack of all trades than a master of none. Whilst working within the fashion industry as a designer, she has also launched her career as a yoga teacher in Haifa, Israel, one of the first to be leading classes in Arabic. It is also Yara’s knowledge and practice of Ayurvedic treatment has led to her involvement with start projects which aim to promote self-care and wellbeing to women living as refugees in the West Bank.  Yara was kind enough to answer some of my questions I had about the pressures woman living as an Arab Palestinian in Israel feel and the effect their society has had on them.

 

 

 

Bethany : I’ve met a lot of inspiration women here in Haifa, who seem to share in a similar way of thinking. You being one of them. Do you think growing up in this political climate has effected the way you think and act?

Yara: I think we gravitate to people who share our interests, tell us what we want to hear! So yes, the majority of women you’re meeting here in Haifa are from a certain scene. We are girls who left our parent’s home early, around 18 or 19 years old and are fairly likeminded.

 

Is the move away from your parents something that is key for the growth of the likeminded young women we’ve talked about?

It depends. Some of us have good relationships with our parents, some of us don’t and some of us hide parts of our lives in order to be ourselves. I grew up in a very open-minded family but even so, my parents have regrets about the way they raised us because, as adults, we have stepped way further ahead of them in terms of our mental attitude and they can’t catch up. We have experienced a mental shift which is very different from the way their generation thinks. The book, the bible, the holy grail is no longer applicable in our lives and I feel their frustration because, although they appreciate who we’ve become, knowing they’ve done a good job in raising us, we have neglected the book! It doesn’t make them feel at ease, they’re scared and afraid that we will have a tough future doing the things that are not really considered, in their eyes, as “safe”. If I was a doctor then I have a safe known path but I’m stepping into the unknown by teaching yoga and that’s scary for them. It’s the same thing with marriage. I’m 28 and a half now and I’m kind of expired because who will marry me at this age!? This is not the view of my parents specifically but of the community. Society.

 

I grew up in a very open-minded family but even so, my parents have regrets about the way they raised us because, as adults, we have stepped way further ahead of them in terms of our mental attitude and they can’t catch up.

 

The society being the Palestinian Arabic community living in Israel? Because I have seen and heard the way younger women and men have felt the traditions of that culture become a straitjacket around their life and their choices. 

Some days are better than others but I often feel my parent’s frustrations come from external pressures. My grandparents may say something like “Why is Yara not married yet? What is she doing teaching sport? Why did you paid so much money for her to go to university for four years. Why doesn’t she act like the rest of the girls, open a studio and design Bridal gowns?” because that’s the norm, that’s what fashion designers here do. Fashion designers don’t do yoga. It’s stepping into the unknown and that’s what scares them, they’re acting out of fear. They don’t really see the picture as it is. And I know many girls here whose parents have neglected them because of the lifestyle they chose to live.

 

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This is what seems so difficult and sad is that the tie with your family makes the pressure more emotional, it comes with a sense of failing them.

Absolutely. And it’s tough especially when you know you’re not a failure, that you haven’t failed them in any way.  However, they consider you to be lost and that’s where my frustrations come from.

For example, my yoga journey is a very sensitive topic with my parents, I choose not to celebrate my successes with them or be completely open. Not because they don’t believe in me because I know that they do and they appreciate my knowledge, however they can’t disconnect from the fear. In a sense they are failing their parents through the way they’ve raised us as kids. Its hard for me to say this but the day my grandparents will die, or leave this world, will be a relief for my parents because then they won’t have this pressure anymore and maybe they’ll let us thrive, continuing with the paths we have chosen.

 

Although we have moved on and even my grandparents, who lived through it all, they have made peace with the enemy, it boils down to a want to preserve the good lineage of our Arab Palestinian roots.

 

The life that your Grandparents and Parents lived and experiences they went through will affect how they think and feel. However liberal, I think we always know our parents limits of acceptance due to that generational gap. So when you say you don’t always share your success with your parents I understand it as trying to protect them somehow.

Exactly, the fact that we keep information from our parents is partly because we don’t want to cause them pain and agony.

You asked if maybe growing up here made us think and act the way we do. It could be. But talking about how we don’t share certain information with our parents because we may let them down has med me to another thought. It makes me remember the times I heard comments, not from my parents, but from my grandparents, like “Oh! You’re dressing up like a Jew now. Why are you acting like a Jew”. I think this reaction is a response to the conflict and the events that happened here, that the Jews are considered “the enemy”. And although we have moved on and even my grandparents, who lived through it all, they have made peace with the enemy, it boils down to a want to preserve the good lineage of our Arab Palestinian roots. The traditions, the culture, our behaviour and manners. This is important to them because “Jewish people lack manners”, which is somewhat true!

 

It is somewhat true but its a different attitude.

Exactly! For example, in Arab families you don’t call your Uncle in their name. You say Uncle. But Jewish families will just say their name.  And now, I call my Aunties by their names. You see?

 

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It‘s the diluting of a culture which I think people are scared about. There’s a sense of protection over cultural identity that, because of the conflict, has been trimmed awayoppressed and suppressed. A way of rebelling against that is to hold on to traditions, ways of acting, talking, dressing. Ithis setting, living in Haifa, working in Tel Aviv, youre living day to day around different influences, different cultures and diverse people so youre going to share in their lifestyle.

Of course and because we work with these people so it’s the most obvious thing that we will take some of their ideas. And we’re not taking the bad things, we’re taking the freedom. But this, in itself, is an eye opener. You go from feeling isolated by your own society and community to suddenly seeing and experiencing new things.  Things that, within our own culture we don’t want to open up about, e.g sex, living alone, dressing in a certain way, speaking in a certain way, doing things differently. Doing things the way the enemy does!

 

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This for me, as a British woman, has been the most challenging part of your society for me to accept. To hear how so many women lack freedom in their lives. Their choices to move, work and travel are so limited, controlled by the families approval or a dependence on marriage.

It’s because you’re not this generation of people who are correcting things. Someone else took care of that for you.

 

True, probably my grandparents!

And so they’re the ones that went through that, to make the change. I do believe that we sacrifice for the next generations, we are now fighting for our rights to live independently, to have boyfriends and maybe live with our boyfriends (even though it’s still a huge taboo!) or to have sex. To be open and celebrate our sexuality and sensuality as woman and express ourselves and speak our rights. Speak loudly and not just whisper and cook and clean. To have our own careers.

 

I do believe that we sacrifice for the next generations… To be open and celebrate our sexuality and sensuality as woman and express ourselves and speak our rights. Speak loudly and not just whisper and cook and clean. To have our own careers.

 

I think it’s going to progress, and I already have witnessed the changes. I remember growing up in a village as a kid and I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts and go in the street because “you’re not allowed to do that”. Crops tops; HELL NO! What?!! Now, when I go back to my village, what do I see? I see the younger generation and they’re all wearing crop tops and short pants being like ‘whatever!’ I think to myself, Ok, I did my thing. It’s because of me you’re wearing that! Leaders step out of their comfort zone

 

I have met so many women here who are doing just that, stepping out of the norm and leading. And that does and will continue to make an impact of change.

Yes, in a way. But we are stronger when we act together. It is this community that makes us feel strong. One person can’t make much of a difference, but two people can do way more. Three even better. A group, now you’re talking. And this is coming from someone who can’t work as a team! But I do believe in it. On our own we can feel scared or underconfident, but by unifying you can feel a huge sense of power. Sometimes you have to put your ego aside and just make things happen.

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Interview written by Yara Ashkew and Bethany Burgoyne

Artwork by Bethany Burgoyne

Singer Maysa Daw: “If I want to end the unrealistic standards of beauty that we live by, I should start actively changing my own approach instead of just talking about it.”

Maysa Daw is a Palestinian Singer/Songwriter from Haifa. She performs both as a solo artist as well as with the renowned Palestinian rap group DAM (Da Arabian MC’s). We sat down to discuss the sense of responsibility Maysa has as a female Palestinian musician, and the path she is treading to encourage a sense of self love.
I love singing, it the thing I am most grateful for in the world and I think choosing a career in music has given me a responsibility that I very much respect and love to be a part of.   Being born and raised as a Palestinian in Israel, I was immediately put into a place where there are political tensions that you cannot ignore.  I have a voice that potentially can reach a lot of people and I think there are many topics that are important to talk about. You don’t have to agree with me but I want to encourage others to take a small step outside of the box that we are living in, to alter our mindset. For me, it’s not about proving anything to anybody, but to teach ourselves and those around us to say “let’s think differently for a moment”.

 

 ” I have a voice that potentially can reach a lot of people…I want to encourage others to take a small step outside of the box that we are living in”

 

In my solo music, I don’t think I can talk about the political reality of Israel and Palestine as strongly as we do as a band. The three guys behind DAM are all insane lyricists (brothers Tamer and Suhel Nafar, and Mahmood Jrere) who share a point of view. They come from Lod, in central Israel, which is a tough area with a high presence of drug crime and it’s very far from my own reality. In Haifa (an hour and half north of Lod), its chilled, you can go out more freely without feeling the same dominance of political tension. So since joining DAM, I’ve learnt a lot by hearing how they think, work, write and live. Knowing how they make and present their music has helped me think about how I can do what I do and how I want to do it.
The first time I realised what it is to be a Palestinian female singer was when we released the song “Who You Are” in 2015, which talks about patriarchy and women’s rights on a global scale. Before that, I never questioned that being a Palestinian female singer could be different from being a male singer. But after releasing the song, we ran a social media campaign #Who_You_R encouraging fans to send videos of themselves challenging traditional gender roles. In this moment, I realised I may have a role that I hadn’t recognised or thought about; an image that I could do things with. Originally, my main aim was to make music, that was it. But with time I’ve understood more of the responsibilities that I have and also the responsibilities that I can choose to take.
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When making music with DAM it’s more obvious; we have a topic we want to talk about, we work on the feel of the beat, we write the lyrics and we create the track this way. When I make music alone, it’s a different process that becomes less about what I want to say to the world and more about what I want to release from myself in that moment. I feel I have the freedom to explore everything I’m feeling on the inside, into the song. Being with DAM has really given me this courage to make music both as something to say to the world as well as a personal exploration. Sometimes, I want to be Maysa and make music that is more personal, where the lyrics are as confused as my state of mind. So it is by exploring my weaker side, what my privileges are and where my power lies that allows me to try and find a way to use these elements in the best way.

Of course I have moments of doubt, not only in my career but also in my sense of self confidence. We’re all struggling to find peace with ourselves and sometimes we can have low self esteem. But I think the worst thing we can do is critically compare ourselves to others. I catch myself doing it sometimes and I’m like “Maysa, stop it! Don’t do that!”. I think it’s about letting yourself be who you are and letting yourself look the way you look.

 

 “Being with DAM has really given me this courage to make music both as something to say to the world as well as a personal exploration.”

 

I never really liked wearing make-up. If I was going to a wedding, my mum would encourage me to look nice and wear a little bit of mascara, so I would. But at some point, it became an ideology; I don’t want to wear make-up so there’s no question about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s my sister’s wedding (and it was my sister’s wedding and I said no) because I realised that I do have a bigger role right now. If I want to end the unrealistic standards of beauty that we live by, I should start actively changing my own approach instead of just talking about it. So by doing this there’s a tiny hope that it would inspire other girls to feel the same. I think it’s ridiculous that we feel ashamed about things that we all have, like the black bags under our eyes, getting pimples, uneven skin tones. These are things that we all have in common so why should we feel ashamed of it? We should be able to accept it and let it be, that’s beauty.

 

 

One of the biggest inspirations for me has been the Black Women’s movement in the US, campaigning to encourage females to love themselves as they are; their hair, their skin, their body shapes, their individuality. When I was at school, it was the norm for everyone to straighten their hair. When I was 16 I started wearing my hair as it is, big and curly, whilst almost everyone around me had this perfectly smooth straight hair. I revisited the school to pick up my sister recently and when I looked inside I saw that 99% of the girls had big curly hair and funky carefree looks. I’m thinking “Holy fuck, it wasn’t like this when I was at school!”. It really filled me with hope; that 14/15 year old girls are actually loving their natural look and letting it run free and wild.
I think social media brought us to a really dark place of unhealthy comparisons, but it also offered the key to get out of it. We’re always sharing and starting to see beautiful ladies with curly hair going viral, so little girls will start thinking, “Yea, I’ve got curly hair like that, and she’s beautiful, maybe I can be beautiful too”. Each person is very different and when you appreciate each others uniqueness, it gives you inspiration to help acknowledge what makes you special.

 

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I think women everywhere are starting to love themselves more (at least the people around me are so I really hope it’s on a bigger scale!). For me, a big part of loving myself is treating my body right, with love. I look after it, I eat well, I don’t fill it with poison or diseases through processed food or dairy and meats. This awareness of treating my body right was prompted from being diagnosed at 12 years old with Lupus, a disease where your immune system fights itself. I was put on a prescription of two pills per day, which I was to take for the rest of my life. However, at the point of diagnosis, my father would always say “Relax, you don’t really have anything wrong” and I took on this positive mindset. Within two months the disease had gone into sleep mode and since then it doesn’t bother me in my daily life. I have been vegetarian for nearly 8 years now and vegan for 6. I dropped down to taking one pill a day and it was when receiving much better results in my blood test that I saw the benefits of these changes.
For me it was always so obvious that I wanted to do music because I love it, but it’s not the only thing I want to do for the rest of my life. There’s more and more that I’m interested in. This past year I’ve been educating myself about homeopathy and dietaries, continually searching and sourcing new information. I want to learn about healing through sound and vibrations; it amazes and fascinates me! I’m 26 and I’m supposed to be aware of what I want to do. But right now, it feels like it’s just the beginning.

 

Listen to Maysa’s latest album ‘Between City Walls’ here

Interview and artwork by Bethany Burgoyne

The Anomalies by Bethany Burgoyne

On the anniversary of Sassy Stories 1st Birthday, Founder and Artist Bethany Burgoyne has been reflecting on the catalyst for this project’s existence. She leads us through her own story that has unraveled in the last 12 months, and questions why, even though she is advocating the ability for women to speak up, she still finds herself hitting her own mute button.

 

“The act of making art exposes a society to itself… It illuminates us…(and) casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says “see?”.  Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

 

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I obsessively file all of my work. Different folders for different drawings, material choice, paper size, you name it, it’s got its own label. One of these such folders has been titled ANOMALIES in which I hide drawings that I’d rather not confront. It was after reading the above quote that I  decided it was time to try and cast a beam of light into my own darkness. I saw a story take shape within the images that was ugly, sad and hidden in shame. I felt embarrassed that after asking other women to share their experiences on Sassy Stories that I hadn’t been confronting my own. Throughout this article you will see embedded the drawings I have made. I now share with you their explanation. This story is one that involves past sexual experiences that have transpired into a backlog of emotions such as confusion, humiliation and anger.

 

  Three men I’ve had sex with in the last twelve months all told me the same thing when I said we had to use a condom : I don’t like the feel. I don’t experience as much pleasure. Do we have to? After being persistent in my want for protection, this is how the three encounters played out.

 

For the last few months I have been internally panicking about my chances of being pregnant once again (needless to say how much shame I felt over this considering my past). And alongside these worries was the panic that I am now carrying an STI. To put this in context, post pregnancy I was on a very strong contraception that involved injecting myself with hormones once every three months. For more than a year I used these injections and felt their turbulent side effects on my mental health, sex drive and body (stopping my period all together). I decided to come off the medication and I have since been using condoms. But have !?

 

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Three men I’ve had sex with in the last twelve months all told me the same thing when I said we had to use a condom: I don’t like the feel. I don’t experience as much pleasure. Do we have to? After being persistent in my want for protection, this is how the three encounters played out. (A little side note, when a man says he doesn’t experience as much pleasure whilst wearing a condom, I ask the question: Women, are you feeling pleasured every time you have sex?!)

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Man number one ignored my wishes all together. Presuming I was one for surprises, thrust himself into me, no warning, no condom. I was so shocked and slightly scared that I said nothing. I let the man carry on until he pulled out (as a form of contraception!?) and then, after him kindly told me he could lend me his razor so I could shave some of my arm hair, I walked him out of my house. I was left scarred by this moment. Admitting the unpleasant truth to myself; that I wasn’t brave enough to say stop.

 

Man number two was very respectful of my wishes on our first night together. The second night however I received, once again, the gift of a surprise entry. I was then left worrying throughout the night that I may be at risk of catching an STI. A condom is not just for blocking that sperm from impregnation, it is for the safety of your sexual health too, for your peace of mind and ease of enjoyment. As a friend said to me, safety turns her on. I now share her thoughts.

 

Man number three acted in the same manner as man number two. As if using a condom once has meant you’ve passed the test and you can take the L Plates off.  This is far from the truth.

With all three men I let their undressed penises stay inside of me, feeling like I had to sacrifice something for the enjoyment of theirs. Why?! What about my pleasure, my safety, my peace of mind.

If I’m honest, it doesn’t stop at three. I have encountered this attitude since I was 19 and first lost my virginity. I’m now 27. By sharing with a friend about my concerns she advised me in the following way; to question the lack of my own voice. With all three men I let their undressed penises stay inside of me, feeling like I had to sacrifice something for the enjoyment of theirs. Why?! What about my pleasure, my safety, my peace of mind. Where was my voice saying:

“If you don’t want to wear a condom then you don’t have a chance of having sex with me. I am precious. I am a jewel to be treasured and my voice is its gate keeper. I will protect my body from disrespect, abuse and careless actions. You don’t deserve to share my body if you don’t treat it with respect!”.

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There is a myth that condoms are unsexy and old fashioned. That mustering up the courage to ask for a condom mid sexy moment is always going to feel slightly awkward and a mood kill. But why should it not be normal? Do all men assume that a woman is on contraception, and if she’s not it’s fine because they’ll either pull out or, well, there’s the morning after pill. These hormonal aids have huge and quite ugly effects on women. More and more of us are choosing to use apps instead to track our cycle. And pulling out? Well, often, we, the woman, are left to worry about it; counting the days from our last period and then counting with baited breath until our next. These are concerns that, men, they won’t be in the forefront of your mind, am I right?

 There is a myth that condoms are unsexy and old fashioned. That mustering up the courage to ask for a condom mid sexy moment is always going to feel slightly awkward and a mood kill. But why should it not be normal?

By sharing, airing and offloading my shameful stories to my friend, I felt somehow freed. But more than that, she helped me to question myself, learning from my actions and feeling encouraged to talk openly about why, how and what can change in the future. Because this silent acceptance is toxic and threatening. I would like men and women to be respectful of their sexual partners and to be using a condom without question from the start. Like putting toothpaste on your toothbrush before you clean those teeth. To normalise their use once again, to achieve healthier, happier, more pleasurable experiences during and after sex.

This is my opinion; my facts are my own and you may criticise me. But I ask you, can you relate? Have you felt or experienced something similar? And is it ok?

 

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I would like to thank the readers and writers, interviewees and mentors that have walked beside me this year. Telling this story also marks the moment that Sassy takes its next step forward. As a project, the aim is to encourage women to talk so that we can make steps to change the lives we lead, to be happier, healthier and more honest. Sassy will be talking more publicly, focussing on encouraging women and girls to join the conversation and make changes to the way we educate ourselves about our bodies and our sexuality; to benefit the next generation so that they don’t go through the haze of confusion and mistreatment that I have discussed with many women my own age and older.

 

If you are interested in hearing more stories from the Sassy Story Blog (www.sassystories.blog) and taking part in upcoming events and discussions then follow BethanyxSassy on Instagram to get regular updates on the wonderous women’s lives Sassy wiggles its way into.

Maram Kablawi. Empowering Arab girls one step at a time.

A year ago in London, Sassy was introduced to Maram Kablawi, the Director and Founder of Andalus School of Flamenco and Culture in Haifa, Israel. Hearing how passionately Maram spoke of her project and her aim to empower and educate Arab girls through Flamenco, was a catalyst for the recent research trip Sassy has undertaken.

 

Spending two weeks in Andalus observing, documenting and understanding Maram’s vision provoked questions about the culture of Arab Society, it’s affect on women and girls, as well as the challenges faced when living as Palestinian Arabs in Israel. Here, Maram tells us of the changes she wishes to encourage and how she goes about achieving them.

 

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To learn more about Andalus, you can watch their video here

or follow them at Anadlus on Facebook

 

Words by Maram Kablawi

Illustrations and Photos by Bethany Burgoyne

Nancy Mkaabal

Nancy Mkaabal is an Arab Palestinian, brought up and living in Haifa. As a Peace Activist, Nancy uses her music and art to promote the ideas of change. She  has been involved in projects such as the Palestinian Music Expo,  Musalaha, a non profit organisation that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and a Youth Program called Tachles. From Enemy to Friend is a reflection of life growing up as a Palestinian in Israel and the change that Nancy wants to encourage.

Read her story From Enemy to Friend

See and hear more of Nancy’s work  on her Instagram

 

From Enemy to Friend

I never thought I could be friends with my enemy. I never thought I would be able to sit at the same table with someone so different from me and carry on a conversation. I was frightened to open up and let out the feelings I’d been taught to hide to avoid being singled out for retaliation. It was like a mouse becoming a cat’s best friend. Absurd.

Growing up in an environment where I was taught my entire life that the Israeli government had taken my family’s land, which had happened during the occupation in 1948, I had created this perception that all Israelis are my enemies. They had pilfered what was mine, thus, they are all horrible people. I live in a country where there is an occupier and an occupant, in a society that had built these ideas in my mind that the other side is my enemy. Being the ‘underdog’ of the society, I had built barriers I had thought would keep me safe from mixing with the so-called ‘enemy’.

These thoughts began to change after I got the chance to know the other side. It started when I was invited to join a club called Tachles-a commonly used slang word that in both Arabic and Hebrew is used when you are referring straight to the point. Tachles first started as an art center for Palestinian and Israeli youth based in my hometown, Haifa. Haifa is one of the few ethnically diverse cities in Israel where large populations of both Arabs and Jews live together, at least in theory. Unfortunately, these two populations are almost entirely segregated, especially amongst the younger generation. My friend, who was sixteen years old at the time, had founded the club with the goal to establish a platform for urban youth to share skills and knowledge, and to challenge the prevalent segregation by offering, as an alternative, a space of cohabitation. We used art as one medium through which we could have stimulating, engaging dialogue while fostering a community of caring, creative and thoughtful young people.

It was a club consisting of 10 young people. Currently, there are 80 young people coming weekly to the club’s activities and the demand is only growing. We have weekly meetings with Arab and Jewish youth. We do activities together, talk about current events, or just have fun playing games. We have Arabic and Hebrew speakers and bilingual speakers in order to help with translating, that way language isn’t a barrier anymore. It was very important to start this club at a young age because a solid opinion of others hadn’t yet been formed. It’s like a plant. If you plant a tree in a small jar and let it grow big, it’s going to be hard to take it out. But if you try taking it out when it’s still a sprout, most likely, you will be able to do so without causing any damage or having any difficulties.

As an Arab, I harbored many stereotypes against Jews. However, when I went to Tachles, something changed. I realized there wasn’t much difference between us. We watched the same shows. We listened to the same music. We had many mutual interests. The members of the club became good friends and realized that as a diverse group, we can make a difference. Then I thought how ignorant we are because we fear to interact with others who are unlike us. I attribute this to a lack of communication between people, which is the main cause for most conflicts. The reason many of us have stereotypes about certain groups is because we generalize and create stereotypes about that which we are afraid to encounter.

Now, four years after I joined this club, I lead the next generation of teens on the same path that I have traveled. I am a peace activist; I promote peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. I have learned not to judge a whole group by the actions of a few, as well as seeing the impact that a few people can make. Said Margaret Mead, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” I want to be the change.

 

Written by Nancy Mkaabal

Illustrated by Bethany Burgoyne

Searching for Sassy. Chapter 3

 

After spending two months in Romania, travelling through the country and having conversations with locals and foreigners, I can introduce to you the ladies. Four characters inspired by the women and girls who engaged with Sassy and shared their views of female identity within the Romanian society.

Chapter 3 A Sassy Society

 

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Change of Light

 

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GOBBLE THEM UP

 

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Stories written by Bethany Burgoyne

Illustrations by Bethany Burgoyne

 

Suzanne’s Story

 

 * Vulvodynia is a persistent, unexplained chronic pain that effects the vulvar area and occurs without an identifiable cause. It has only recently been recognised by doctors as a real syndrome.*

* Bulimia is an emotional disorder involving distortion of body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, purging, or fasting.*

What is your relationship with your body?
It depends on the day, the hour, what I’m doing and it depends on my underwear. I could look like shit, have the worst breath, haven’t slept but if I’m wearing good lingerie, I can feel like the sexiest woman in the world. It makes me feel very confident
I’ve heard that from a lot of women. I think I feel most confident and sexy when I’m naked! How confident would you feel standing in front of me naked?
I would be confident because I’ve let the idea grow in my mind. I’m at a point in my life were step by step I’m reconnecting with my body and my mind. The thoughts that could stop me would be “I’m not pretty, I’m fat, I haven’t shaved, my skins dry”. However, recently I’ve been a lot more active; Dancing, Long Boarding and Yoga. They’ve all encouraged a sense of letting go. I would approach the idea of try something like Life Modelling with the same mindset. I may have thoughts of insecurity, but I would focus on letting go.
I’ve been life modelling for a year now and I’ve found it’s liberated me, feeling strong in my body.
Yes! I think it does this. I think it’s something we could all benefit from learning to do, to be naked comfortably. When we’re little we’re taught how to walk. At school we learn how to speak, to read. And like anything, if you don’t learn it then you don’t know how to do it. How do we know how to undress and feel good about ourselves if all we’re told is to cover up? It’s indirectly encouraging shame about our bodies.
So do you think this is why people can be so embarrassed and uncomfortable when
naked in front of each other?
There’s many reason, but for me it’s about the way you’re educated and how you grow up as a human being. It’s fine for a dude to be topless because even tho it may be sexy, his upper torso isn’t sexualised. However, for a woman to be topless means showing her
boobs which are recognised as sexual objects, and so to show them becomes a taboo.
Free the nipple! I think this is changing slowly, especially in certain cultural settings. You’ve grown up and gone to school in France. What sort of education do think would have benefited your younger self?
To look at each other, really look at each other. Not to be shy. I wish I was told to look at a man, look at his dick, look at a woman, her lips, her scars, every part of the body because we make a taboo of things we don’t want to see. The things that scare us are the things we’re not used to seeing, they become a taboo. If you see someone walking naked down the street you’re going to think “What the fuck?”, because we’re taught that it’s completely out of the norm. We don’t want to see it so we’re going to teach you not to look. That’s why I liked working in a gym. You saw women with all different types of bodies, comfortably getting dressed and undressed in front of each other in the changing room.
There is something special about that setting! I feel it’s healthy way to embrace and celebrate our bodies, their differences, just by seeing them without a filter, a push up bra, a disguise. What part of your body do you love the most?
My smile because I know it’s true. And my boobs, I adore my boobs! I find them amazing; they’re firm, they’re high, they’re a beautiful shape, they’re soft, they’re not too big, not too small. And I love my ass. Especially as I’m cycling a lot, doing lots of sport and I have developed this beautiful, full, firm ass!
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Have you had a point in your life when you didn’t feel that way?
I’ve have bulimia so yes.  I didn’t feel good about my body for a very long time. I still put a lot of my feelings into my relationship with food. It started when I was 13. My family life was complicated and I had to be the grown up even as a teenager. I was holding on to everything, carrying the weight of many peoples problems but with food I completely let go. Food was my escape. I would eat as much as I could until I got sick. So obviously I didn’t like my body; it was this shape where I would put all my misery.

Food was my escape. I would eat as much as I could until I got sick. So obviously I didn’t like my body; it was this shape where I would put all my misery.

What have you experienced that’s helped your relationship with your eating disorder?

Years of therapy has helped a lot. Falling in love, which reflects the value of who we are.  And my vulvodynia.; even though this has brought me pain and struggle, it’s pushed me to look at my body, to accept it, to care for it, to find ways to make myself feel good. Masturbation has been important in this process. Exploring the love i have for myself and my body

Dancing, yoga, meditation all played a big part. And moving to London. Because when I was in France I wasn’t the kind of woman that people looked at on the street. In London people seem to prefer women who are bit more shapely, a bit more fatty. In France it’s not like that. So when I moved here I suddenly got all this attention from different guys and I was like “What?! You want to undress me?”. Guys would look at me, tell me I was beautiful and that turned my whole world upside down. Because showing yourself to the world is a scary thing. When you’re naked physically, you’re also naked mentally. This is the tough part.
Aged 16, what would you have done differently so as to help yourself?
I would say don’t wait for your mum’s approval and start therapy now. Because I fought with my parents to go therapy. They weren’t against it, they are doctors, they understand and recognise the need for that.But I saw a nutritonist instead because they understood the issue was with my body so they thought, lets fix the body. Now I would say to myself never to go and see a nutrionist when you’re 13 and you don’t know what the fuck is going on with your body, treat your head. I wish that at 13 when I told my parents I wasn’t feeling good, that I needed to talk to someone who’s not family, that they would have said yes. But it took at least 3 or 4 extra years which made it harder and harder.
How do you feel about your body and bulimia now?
I want to keep improving and working on myself, my ideas. I know it’s not finished. One of the reasons I dance is because my body felt achy and I want to free it. It’s the same idea about being naked, embracing and enjoying it. The more I experience new things with my body the more I’m going to feel it’s actually mine. That I know each part of it, that I love each part of it.
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Interview between Suzanne Ventadoux and Bethany Burgoyne
Artwork by Bethany Burgoyne

Searching for Sassy. Chapter 2

 

By taking Sassy up to the North of Romania revealed a dramatic change in mindset from the South. Introducing the people of Maramures; one man, one Swiss, one teen, one inspiring woman!

Chapter 2 Maramures Mentality

 

 

 

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Stories written by Bethany Burgoyne

Illustrated by Bethany Burgoyne

 

Searching for Sassy. Chapter 1.

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In a search to understand how culture effects the identity of a woman, Sassy has taken itself off to do a bit of research in different countries.

Searching for Sassy is a story book of introductions. Welcoming you to meet the people you haven’t seen before and hear the views they have to share.

Made up of fictional characters from different walks of life, each introduction is an impression of the people Sassy met along the way.

Chapter 1 Bucharest (and a little bit beyond).

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