Growing up, my mother always told me how special it is to be a woman. I would listen, absorbing every detail she told me about loving myself and my body, and it sunk in so deeply that I didn't even realize how completely it had permeated my psyche. I grew into a confident, happy adult and, in my ignorant bliss, I had assumed that most women also felt this way about themselves. It wasn't until I was well into my adulthood that I realized not all women were taught to love and respect their bodies.
I was taken aback when I heard my friends tell me about things that depleted their self confidence--both in and out of the bedroom. It made me so sad to hear women who were clearly gorgeous doubt their beauty because their sizes didn't fit a certain paradigm. Most of all, it struck me that the conversation about women, body image and sexual health and practice were ones that women were embarrassed to have. These conversations had been commonplace in own home, after all.
By this time, I was a couple of years into my writing career. I began to focus my energy on opening a conversation about self confidence and women. I wanted to foster a whole discussion--from body image to sex and everything in between. In order to do this, though, I first had to face some of own fears. The only way to fight shame is with honesty and the only place to start is with yourself.
That was when I had finished my first novella, A Moment With Each of My Lovers--a completely honest work detailing my sex life from high school to marriage. I was proud to have finished the project and emailed it to a cousin of mine. She emailed me back and to my utter shock she slammed my book. She called it "un-relatable"--she made me feel like a sexual deviant. I put the project away--full of shame--and forgot about it for nearly a year.
During that year, I did a lot of soul searching. I continued writing pieces with a focus on women. I wrote about loving your body, I wrote about my breakdown in a dressing room when my pants didn't fit, and I wrote about not judging other women. But my mind kept wandering back to my long-stuffed-away project, A Moment With Each of My Lovers. I kept thinking that perhaps my cousin was wrong. Could my experiences really fall that outside of the norm as to make them "un-relatable?!"
I decided that if I wanted to tell other women to be bold, I had to take the leap and do it for myself. I had to be unafraid and stand proud. I published my book in January 2013. I was terrified, but I was resolved. Within the first week, other women started writing me telling me how much they loved the book. They began relating their experiences to me--they began opening a new conversation about sex. Women emailed me about how they wanted to be more open about sex when it came to themselves and even their children.
The journey to publish my book taught me that the power of shame is pervasive in our culture. While men certainly have their part to play, I often find the harshest critics of women can be other women. While there will be times when we are knocked down by the things that other women say or do, we have to continue to have faith and rise above these things. Truly, the only way to lead is by example. By starting a dialogue, admitting to our own shortcomings and cataloging our journeys, and sharing openly and honestly without the fear of judgement, we can begin to bridge the gap.
Empowering other women is part of my mission as a writer. Sometimes this mission will be misinterpreted, as in the case with my cousin, but the point is that empowerment may look a little different to everyone. To me, it's putting myself out there in the hope that others can relate.