31. 3. 2021

English version | To love (oneself) is allowed

by Ana Murcho

 

The conditions underlying what was considered to be femininity, imposed, at the same time as a definition, a limitation. They created boundaries in what it means to be a woman, assuming prohibitions on everything that did not fit in the imaginary of what would be the female figure. The woman has always been a goddess (and still is), but a goddess with Botticelli's Venus lines. Modern times have tried - or are trying - to expand the stereotype. A woman who is a woman in this century is one who feels like a woman - with two, one or no breasts, trans or not, with any type of body, skin tone or haircut. Being feminine does not allow prohibitions as to its appearance. And the following pages full of (new) Botticelli's Venus reconstruct the notion of femininity and scream that, in addition to not being forbidden, it is allowed to love yourself as a woman - whatever your wrapping.

Jeffer Salas,

27 years old, model, fashion student, non-binary.

In Portugal, April is a month when we celebrate freedom. How would you define freedom? How important is it for you to feel free?

Freedom, for me, is being able to express yourself fully, either physically or mentally. Wearing or creating, but above all loving. I think it is very important because having that power gives me a lot of peace. 

Your story is a journey of overcoming obstacles. Was there a specific moment in your life when you suddenly thought, "I'm going to win this, I'm going to get over it, I'm going to survive and I'm going to get out of this stronger"?

 Yes, there were two, two specific moments, the first (I never told it publicly, only to a few friends) was in a bar in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, inside the men's bathroom. Two men cornered me and said, "This is not your bathroom, your bathroom is that of women!" To which I replied: "It is not your problem!" That’s when they slapped me, on my face and on my body. They basically attacked me because of my femininity. The day after the attack, all I wanted to do was forget about it and let the blows and swelling go away. I went on with my life. The second and last moment was last February, when my friend Berta, who at the time was Alberto, said to me: “Aunty, aunty, what if we dress like super pretty girls, with a wig and heels?”. For some it may seem ridiculous, but for me it was an incredible moment to discover that I had spent my entire life wishing for a friend to ask me that question. These two situations undoubtedly propelled me to strengthen my natural femininity, which I have always tried to hide or camouflage. 

During those times, did you feel that your freedom was, in a way, limited? 

Definitely, yes, when they attacked me. And often by society, there are countless attacks on trans girls, mostly for racial reasons.

Do you believe that your personal victories can be a source of inspiration for other women and help them to overcome similar situations? 

Yes, absolutely, because when I was going through a difficult time in that black hole of pain and anger, seeing other trans artists like ARCA, SOPHIE or Alex DelaCroix, embracing their femininity through their music and visual arts, made me feel that I was not alone. And since I decided to be myself, my friends confessed to me that seeing me flourish gave them the strength to decide to accept themselves as well. This is the most beautiful thing they have ever told me.

What does the word femininity mean to you? Do you agree that it can be something that empowers women?

For me it means to be myself, even though I was born Jefferson Enrique, since I remember that I always wanted to be like my mother, a strong woman, a fighter, who always tries to give us joy, who doesn't let anyone turn off her light. Of course, since I was a little girl, I always wondered why seriousness is more valuable if it is male, why can't female seriousness be so valid? It is so unfair. 

When do you feel most feminine - or most empowered?

To be honest, right now, at all times, when I put on the clothes I always wanted to wear, or my favorite piece, which are very high heels. And, of course, I hope that soon, the hair will be very long. But getting to this point was not easy because, even though I accepted my natural femininity, in silence I hated myself when I saw some very masculine parts of my body. I thank a friend I love, Diego. Talking about it with him and expressing myself about it gave me the peace of mind necessary to realize, myself, that I don't have to seek perfect femininity, nor do I reject my male parts. Simply being human is enough.

 

Kiala Kanzi,

26, jewelry designer, artist.

In Portugal, April is a month when we celebrate freedom. How would you define freedom? How important is it for you to feel free?

Freedom = express yourself as you are. Be exactly who you are, unapologetically.

Your story is a journey of overcoming obstacles. Was there a specific moment in your life when you suddenly thought, "I'm going to win this, I'm going to get over it, I'm going to survive and I'm going to get out of this stronger"?

I think there were moments that made me feel uncomfortable with who I am, and how I look, especially with people's perception of what is beautiful and what is not, and I’m referring to friends and family, and just little comments. But they stay. For me, personally, it was very unconscious, and with aging and growth, moving from being a girl to being a woman, you are able to leave things behind and care less about others and more about yourself. Shaving my hair was one of the big steps to getting back to myself. This peaked when I heard I was pregnant. External perception seems less important when everything revolves around you. I am me, and that other person that grows inside me. And I will be strong for us. I will not let any bad energy come near us. 

During those times, did you feel that your freedom was, in a way, limited?

I don't think my freedom was limited because with small changes - covering my eyebrows, shaving my "mustache" or straightening my hair was "acceptable", but I think I lost self-esteem, which is strange because with clothes, for example, I did what I wanted and nobody could say anything. I think it was also a trend of the time ... the thinner the eyebrows, the better. Only now do we like them fuller, but "clean".

Do you believe that your personal victories can be a source of inspiration for other women and help them to overcome similar situations?

I think the most important thing is that we, as human beings, no matter what we have been through, always look for ways to grow. And never forget that we can learn every day. And that includes learning about ourselves. I think that getting to know yourself more and more makes you who you are. But how are you going to find out who you are if you're not looking for that? I think that self-reflection is the most important thing. Check yourself, look in the mirror and get to know you.

What does the word femininity mean to you? Do you agree that it can be something that empowers women? 

I don't like that word, it has many interpretations. A woman is empowered by creating / finding / being in a space where she can be herself – be it feminine or not.

 

Isa Fontbona,

33 years old, bodybuilder, performance artist, activist. 

In Portugal, April is a month in which freedom is celebrated. How would you define freedom? How important is it for you to feel free?

I think that freedom can be seen in many ways, each look can draw it with different nuances. Recently, a person I appreciate very much shared something with me that, from my point of view, reflects very well what I also feel when I think about walking my own path freely. “The path is made by people. If there is no path for us, we must build ours.” In my opinion, being free should be in sync with being able to think and act consistently according to what you feel, with respect, but without fear of being punished or penalized, or discriminated or marginalized for anything you are, think or do. Being free sometimes requires taking a step in fear ... but it is also true that sometimes courage and strength are born when you move forward with insecurity. For me, freedom is a necessary space to think, live and feel. I always try to find this space everywhere. Society itself often restricts us, cuts off our wings and wants us to be silenced according to certain ideas, certain rhythms, ways of doing things, leading us to create false needs. Even in those moments it is necessary to find escapes, to listen and to be honest with yourself (although it is sometimes frightening to refuse some things, or even refuse to perform with mirages of what is expected of us).

Your story is a journey of overcoming obstacles. Was there a specific moment in your life when you suddenly thought, "I'm going to win this, I'm going to get over it, I'm going to survive and I'm going to get out of this stronger"?

From my perspective, we have all gone through moments in life that create a rupture, a before and an after, a decisive moment that gives us the impetus to make radical changes in what we are used to. This break with our comfort zone is one of the best decisions you can make, although it is not easy to get started. In my case, one of those moments was when after spending three to four years training to compete professionally in bodybuilding, also working as a personal trainer at a gym, I decided to go back to university. When I finished both courses (Philosophy and Art History) I focused on the sport area, leaving university, I needed some time to disconnect from the crazy rhythm in which I was immersed. So I started working at a gym as a trainer, a gym where I was also preparing to compete. It was a very good experience, but when I finished the season and had the trophy in my hand (second place in Europe in my first international competition) I felt empty and found no sense in what I was doing, I didn't know where to trace my life path. I was completely lost.

I suddenly found meaning when I returned to university, it was the right time. From another perspective, with new experiences, knowing more about myself, I took a master's degree in Humanities while I was still working and competing, and this led me to start my doctoral research (in which I am currently working). I never imagined that I could live what I am experiencing these past years. I felt lost, did not know where to direct my life and visualized the worst of the ways just by imagining climbing the mountain to study again (although I always liked it). I felt a certain fear or insecurity of breaking with the dynamics and rhythms of work that I had until then. Nowadays, when I look at this period of my life, I am very happy to have taken that step. I am doing research on topics that interest me personally, I give lectures and seminars, conferences and collaborations at international level, [contribute to] publications. And I went beyond what is expected of an academic path, by leading it and also linking it to my sporting career as a natural bodybuilding competitor, as well as a performance artist. [...] As I mentioned before, we sometimes lack referents and that makes us make some decisions based on fear and insecurity. But it is usually necessary that, even in fear, you have to roll the dice and see what happens.

Do you believe that your personal victories can be a source of inspiration for other women and help them to overcome similar situations? 

I think that sharing experiences brings us closer to each other and can offer us references that we often don't have. There are people who have faced very difficult life experiences, but have not had the chance to share them, which is a pity. Sharing and being transparent is a very beautiful gesture and I think it is very honest, it can help to empower the person who expresses him or herself, and inspire the person who is listening to the shared experience. I think weaving alliances in this direction, sharing, and even more so in modern times, is absolutely necessary and a great way to move on.

What does the word femininity mean to you? Do you agree that it can be something that empowers women?

It is hard to talk about femininity ... I have to say that, personally, I am still trying to understand that. I think that because I don't feel it is something so superficial, that idea that accompanied many of us, an idea with which we were educated and with which we grew up. Femininity is also something with multiple nuances. I don't like being associated with a specific prototype of a woman, an ornamentation, an attitude, a specific gesture, all constructed in comparison with its opposite, masculinity. I don't like to believe in a reality woven by opposites and I don't include femininity in it. Femininity is built by everyone through the way they experience it. Femininity is open and on the move. There is as much or more femininity in the boxer's sweat, in the dust on the worker's forehead, as in the scars of the woman who lost her breast to cancer. Femininity is not being an object or a compliment. It is not being, but becoming, doing. And yes, definitely a way to empower ourselves, it is through action and not through passivity and acceptance of roles and stereotypes.

When do you feel most feminine - or most empowered?

I think I feel more empowered, and perhaps more feminine, when I feel more connected with myself. Doing what I feel I want to do, making decisions without paying too much attention to fear, trusting myself and moving on. With the lived experiences and the passing of the years the fears lose strength, and the confidence ends up impelling the blood in your veins to act with determination and make your own voice felt, positioning yourself. 

 

Jihane Benassar,

25, model, actress.

In Portugal, April is a month when we celebrate freedom. How would you define freedom? How important is it for you to feel free?

I would define freedom as being able to be yourself, living in your own way, without anyone stopping you. Do not pay attention to the comments of others, as long as they are not constructive criticisms. It is very important for me to feel free, although even today I am still stuck and afraid to show who I am ... I believe that freedom of expression is one of the foundations of happiness, being able to share what you have inside your heart and your thoughts. 

Your story is a journey of overcoming obstacles. Was there a specific moment in your life when you suddenly thought, "I'm going to win this, I'm going to get over it, I'm going to survive and I'm going to get out of this stronger"?

One day, when I woke up, I wondered if I was really living to make myself happy, or society, and I thought: “Why am I hiding my identity for fear of being judged if tomorrow I might not be alive, why did I waste my time not being myself because I feel different from other women?” It is the only opportunity I have to enjoy life and I cannot waste it not being who I am. If I died tomorrow, at least I would have lived being myself and happy ... That's what I told myself before taking off my wig in front of everyone, when only my family had seen me without it. 

During those times, did you feel that your freedom was, in a way, limited? 

Totally, for years I've been hiding my alopecia under a wig, I didn't have the courage or the freedom to be myself, I compared myself and associated femininity with hair. Hiding and buying a hair prosthesis was the way to feel integrated with other women and leave what I really am, making my alopecia a secret.

Do you believe that your personal victories can be a source of inspiration for other women and help them to overcome similar situations?

When I was younger I looked for references, women with alopecia, and I didn't find them. I thought I was just another girl with alopecia who was hiding under a wig, I needed those references to be able to let go of my fear and my wig, but I never found them. Until the day came when I questioned my happiness and thought that removing the wig would put an end to my fears, especially if I did it publicly, exposing my photos without a wig on social media. It was there that I connected with many women with alopecia and I realized that I became the reference I was looking for.

What does the word femininity mean to you? Do you agree that it can be something that empowers women? 

It means a form of expression or attitude, regardless of sexual orientation. It took me a while to understand its meaning when I was younger, I didn't feel feminine because I didn't have hair. Until I realized that it had nothing to do with the aesthetics or the appearance you have, and that you can be feminine in many ways. And it strengthens us, totally, through our attitude and our strength.

When do you feel most feminine - or more empowered? 

The day when I feel more feminine is when I wake up active, with strength and security, willing to face what life has in store for me with sweetness, delicacy and a wide smile on my face.

 

Mina Serrano,

23, perfomer, activist and model.

In Portugal, April is a month when we celebrate freedom. How would you define freedom? How important is it for you to feel free?

For me, freedom is the ability to embody your reality, to choose your family, to let yourself be surprised by yourself, by the decisions you make, by the changes you are going through. Freedom is walking alongside your loved ones and letting them make their own way. 

Your story is a journey of overcoming obstacles. Was there a specific moment in your life when you suddenly thought, "I'm going to win this, I'm going to get over it, I'm going to survive and I'm going to get out of this stronger"?

Being trans, I have gone through several moments like this, each of them redefines my identity, I think I am the result of all the decisions I made while being in these dark places. I always felt that I was creating my own path while walking, I couldn't see a clear ending, but the other option was darker, so I had to continue. This made me perceive identity more as a transition than as a solid state.

During those times, did you feel that your freedom was, in a way, limited? 

Yes, because it is difficult to find another option, an escape from that reality. Many of us have the ability to be free, but that ability is hidden from us, and our job is to seek it at all costs, to know our value and that we can be excellent. We have the ability to free other people if we show our own freedom with pride.

Do you believe that your personal victories can be a source of inspiration for other women and help them to overcome similar situations?

I think most of us don't think we can achieve anything until we see someone who looks like us, someone with whom we can relate to, doing what we thought we couldn't do. Last week I was talking to a friend who wanted to be an actress, but she didn't think she could do it because she hadn't seen anyone who looked like her in any film and, in a way, I felt the same way, but the truth is that we are daughters, we are friends, we work, things happen to us every day; and that's what movies are about, we can tell stories like anyone else. It is essential to see our victories collectively and stop categorizing individuals, we are in the same boat and we are fighting for the same reason, we will support each other's successes. 

What does the word femininity mean to you? Do you agree that it can be something that empowers women? 

For me, femininity is the energy that unites my community, it is the celebration of our identities. As a trans person, femininity has been denied to me, and now I am in this beautiful process of developing my own [femininity] and nurturing it to make it stronger, and that is definitely empowering. I think that empowerment comes from not conforming to other people's standards. Femininity has as many forms as there are female individuals. 

When do you feel most feminine - or more empowered?

I feel extremely feminine when I'm acting, dressed as a beautiful monster, a medieval witch or a wolf. I also feel very feminine and empowered when I am vulnerable, so I am beginning to realize that showing my vulnerability is one of the most empowering things you can do. In my case, femininity and empowerment come together.

 

Noelia, aka Anna Bonny,

48 years old, designer, author of The Mastectomy Patch project. 

Freedom for me is being able to choose, act, manage or write your story. With, or despite, fear. My aunt Emma once told me that we grew up as trees. And that trees don't grow straight. They take root, but they grow, their branches twist and break, but they grow, they lose leaves, but they grow and their leaves are born and bloom and grow ... That's how I see myself. I would not know how to detect a specific moment of inflection. Things happen to me, but I grow up. It was difficult to find professionals along the way who would involve me in decision making. They assume that we are all driven by the same forces. But they exist, you have to be attentive and choose who stands by your side. The Anna Bonny project responds only to my need to share my experience. I just want to say out loud that living with only one breast is not that terrible. That there is a different beauty and many ways to find it. And what really makes us sexy is freedom. Femininity is the certainty and the joy of being a woman. And I also believe that femininity is not physical. It doesn't know about bodies or attributes. I always feel feminine. I can't help being. And if I have to choose a moment of full expression, I would say that it is between four walls with Matthias.