A Woman’s Sexual Sovereignty

IMG_4036

I will not cower from people’s opinions and criticisms of my body like it has any bearing at all on how I choose to feel about myself. I will not allow some ridiculously narrow standard of beauty stop me from revelling and celebrating in this incredible vessel I am lucky enough to live in. I will do with my body what I want, when I want and that includes sensual and sexual expression, simply because, it’s my body. I will not feel shame for being a woman and all that that encompasses. I will not shrink, I will not be quiet, sit down and be told how I must act, what I can and can not wear to be respected. I will not be diminished or intimidated by whispers and finger pointing. I am not ashamed of this body, that has allowed me to be a dancer, a lover, a mother of two beautiful boys and a model, despite the worlds desire to make me think it’s not good enough. There is no such thing as beauty flaws. My lines, age spots, cellulite and stretch marks are a map of my physical growth and changing life story. How dare anyone imply they are flaws that I should be embarrassed about, hide or try to repair. I simply don’t accept it, and I am more than willing to be the tip of the arrow head that slices through that old, outdated, oppressive paradigm designed to keep women insecure, fearful and as a result, controllable. I understand that being that spearhead may mean I get battered and bruised by judgement and criticism, but I’d rather be dead than allow this body shaming standard to continue into the next generations. It’s time is up. That story is over, time for a new one and I intend to help write it.

IMG_4046

 It’s true what they say about women in their 40’s. There are only so many fucks to give in any woman’s life until you run out, and often, when women enter their 40’s, they discover there are zero fucks left. It completely unravels you and everything you thought you knew, which is terrifying and at the same time, completely liberating. Every woman has a finite amount of patience to put up with oppressive bullshit and bite their tongue until one day, they wake up and say, it’s not ok anymore, enough is enough. This summer, I turned 40. I was born in 1978, hence the t-shirt in this photoshoot. It is hard to believe that I have been alive for four decades already! As I enter my 40th year upon this earth, within this body, I find myself in an intense time of personal reflection and examination, as often comes with Birthdays, and the change of season. Goodbye to a transformative summer, which was somewhat of a living death for me, and welcome to a new and more empowered chapter. Happy Autumnal Equinox!

IMG_4059

My personal story is about a girl who tried very, very hard to be a good and to be liked. To behave in the way that pleased people. We learn at a very, very young age what behaviours will be met with approval and all the positive attention that will come with it, and what behaviours will be ignored, in hopes it will go away, or with downright disapproval. I learned very quickly that nice girls were modest and reserved and appropriate. To fit in and belong, I learned to place others’ opinions of me above my own. To care what the neighbours and strangers around me thought of me. By 15 years old I had accepted that to fully be myself was a recipe for rejection. I had to hold some of myself back at all times. I knew what people wanted me to be and I knew what behaviour was going to get me approval and belonging. I thought that being approved of was synonymous with being loved, because my behaviour seemed to dictate the amount of positive attention I would receive or not.  I think my story is shared by a lot of women.

It took me a long time before I understood that really loving someone was to accept them as they really are. It is not conditional. It does not depend on behaviour, shared interests or values and it certainly does not rely on accomplishments, conformity or obedience. I began to understand it the first time I fell in love. It became completely clear once I had my own children. I will not withhold my love and affection and support from them when I disagree with or do not understand their behaviour or choices. Once they figure out who they are, with much encouragement from me, I will back them, no matter what. Their personal unfolding and life experience and choices are their own, not mine to control. That’s love.

IMG_3641

When you begin to understand what love is and you start to see the transformative power of it, you begin to understand how important it is to turn that kind of love onto yourself. When I began to do this, I discovered that my love for myself up until that point had indeed been conditional. It wasn’t true love, it was dependant on how I looked, on my performance in life and my accomplishments. It was dependant on how others perceived me and if they approved. That was a very difficult and shattering realization. Interestingly, but not too surprisingly if you know me personally, I realized that the two places in my life that I had had the courage and audacity to fully self express despite obvious disapproval was with dance and attire. From as young as I can remember, I refused to conform about either of these two things. I refused to wear the frilly pink dresses my Grandma tried to get me to wear because it just wasn’t me, and I continued to have a strong opinion about how I would dress through my childhood, which only strengthened and became more adventurous, and bold into my teens, through my 20’s, 30’s and to this day. I understand now, that something like clothing and style may have seemed insignificant or even shallow and vain to others around me, but in truth, it was a deeply empowering gateway to my understanding of who I am and what my true purpose is in this lifetime. Patron of Dreams is not about clothes, it’s about empowering people to be themselves. My style was one place in my life that I didn’t compromised myself to please others. I expect there are others out there like me.

The other place I didn’t compromise was with dance. I recall challenging my Ballet teacher when I was only 7 years old about the politics in the classroom. I expressed that it was unfair and not right that some students got to have significant roles in the performance based on how many other dance classes they were paying for, and not based on skill and commitment to that class. Such defiance! Needless to say, I quit at that school and moved on to another one with more integrity. I danced unabashedly and joyously as a pre-teen at Junior High dances while others awkwardly hovered against the walls. Sometimes I danced all by myself in the middle of a room full of uncomfortable and self-concious people. For whatever reason, I didn’t have a care in the world about what anyone thought of me because of it. I was born to dance. It’s no surprise that I ended up finding true love in the ancient art of Bellydance. I found pure power and presence of self in the most sensual dance style in history. Through my studies of this dance, I learned that it had absolutely nothing to do with the male gaze and it was then that I understood the personal power and sovereignty that lies within our sexuality, and that it has nothing to do with sex. We are sexual beings, when alone or with others. Our sexuality is a full expression of our being. It is our life force and vitality. It is a power source. It is as much about our mind and our spirit as it is our body. In fact, I’d argue that our sexuality has much more to do with our mind and spirit than our body ever will.

IMG_4049IMG_4039

The reality of this limited physical experience we are having here on earth, is that much of what is inside our mind and spirit can only be expressed through our body or outward appearance. It is a terrible misunderstanding and an atrocity to assume someone’s bodily expression is an invitation for sexual advances, for un-invited comment or opinion. To assume you understand someone’s intentions, or what is going on inside someone’s mind and spirit when they express with their body, whether it’s what they wear on it, or how they move it, is quite frankly, to show how little you understand about yourself. It’s a sign you are the victim of the old bullshit programming about women’s sexuality that has seeped into the world’s psyche. The age old “virgin-whore dichotomy”. Every woman’s body is a battleground. Every Man has the right and privilege to assess and openly critique any woman’s body if she’s out in the public eye, like she solely exists as a body to state your opinion on. Like a cow at an auction. She may be a singer, or an actress, or just someone walking down the street, but all anyone is talking about, is her body. Can you even imagine if it was as standard for women to do this to every Man they saw on Netflix or in the street. “Look at the gut on that guy!”, “He might be alright looking  if he wasn’t bald!”, “Hey baby, sweet ass, wanna party?”. It’s ridiculous isn’t it? It’s no less ridiculous when Men do it to women, we’ve just been programmed to expect it and not bother speaking up against it because “that’s just how it is”.  Well, this just in. It’s no longer socially acceptable to publicly critique every female body that crosses your path or your screen. Period.

IMG_4044

Women are expected to be sexy, but not too sexy, modest, but not a prude. Women have been condemned from the beginning of time immemorial for our sexuality. We are supposed to be ashamed and hide everything that makes us women. We hide when we bleed because of the stigma around our period. We stifle our emotions so we are not thought of as hysterical or irrational. We cannot be flirtatious, playful or expressive with our sexuality in public without being called a slut, a tramp, or being accused of “asking for it” when we call out someone for groping at us un-invited. Our sexual expression is not an invitation. If it was, then why would we put on clothes that make us feel sexy and dance in a sexually expressive way when we are alone? New flash, lots and lots of women do this! It’s not an invitation. It’s a celebration of being a woman in all her glory, vitality and power. End of story.

This photoshoot was a playful and personal expression of my sexual sovereignty. It was in celebration of entering my 40’s as a fully realized woman. It was about taking back my own sexuality from the ones who think they get to dictate to me what I can do with my own body, and to show that I don’t adhere to some ludicrous standard of beauty. I don’t fit the mould and I’m not going to feel shame for that or change myself to meet their standard, no matter how hard they try. I have danced on many stages in theatres and under the stars and empowered many woman with this body. I have grown two babies in my womb, birthed them both naturally, and fed them the milk that I produced with this body. I am well aware of my power as a woman, and I am here to tell you that the reason there are so many backwards, corrupted and blatantly untrue ideas out there being spread and perpetuated about women is that the powers that be are well aware of a woman’s power.  They understand that to shame women about their bodies, and throw derogatory slurs at us for being sexual beings,  has worked to control us in the past. They are banking on us being too afraid of public criticism and persecution to continue that behaviour which may have the disastrous effect of empowering other women to do the same. Never forget, it’s the ones who are trying to tear you down, who believe in your power the most.

IMG_4050IMG_4058IMG_4061

I called on two other sovereign and empowered women to help me bring this shoot to life. Joey Senft, the photographer who drew the youthful and playful vixen out of me, and Lori Fast, aka Lady Lorelie who adorned me with the ancient art of henna. Since this photoshoot was in celebration of my Birthday and entering an important decade, I asked Lori to create her version of the Astrological star constellation for Leo down both of my legs. I wanted to embody the playful, fun, bold and courageous attributes of my Astrological star sign. I asked for crescent moons on my shoulders to symbolize femininity and the essence of being a woman. Lori is a gem of a woman and it was an absolute honour to spend the afternoon with her having my henna done. She was a treasure trove of wisdom and amazing life experiences. She put me at ease, did an amazingly professional job and I found myself pouring my soul out to her like I had known her forever. The entire experience was completely cathartic and an exercise in release. I went to her to adorn me and give me that little bit of extra confidence to put myself out there and push my own comfort zones. It worked, to say the least. I highly recommend Lady Lorelie’s magic if you are wanting to embrace and celebrate your body. Henna is a fantastic bridge that allows you to expose your skin without feeling naked. The added bonus for me was that I felt I had placed strong intentions for myself in the henna during the process and as it slowly faded over the next few weeks, it was like my intentions were slowly being released to the universe. It was a wonderfully powerful experience, and I fully recommend it to every woman.

IMG_4052IMG_4040

IMG_4038IMG_4037IMG_4045

IMG_4062

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Joey Senft,

STYLING, HAIR & MAKEUP BY: Tara Cole-McCaffrey, Patron of Dreams

HENNA BY: Lori Fast, Lady Lorelie

FASHION: Absolutely killer velvet bralette and velvet ruffle shorts custom made for me by Solstice Intimates. Socks from American Apparel. Shoes and 78 tee were thrifted. Glasses from Urban Waves.

VINTAGE: Vintage chairs from Atomic Age Vintage

 

The Bitches Are Back

patron_bitchesareback_lp

” Because sometimes f*ck you is synonymous with I am worthy.”

-Tany Markul, Thug Unicorn

I have been processing the rising of an anger and defiance within me that I haven’t felt in full force since I was a rebellious teenager. It has never healed because the patterns remain, but the time has come to channel that anger into a productive change of epic proportions. It’s a deep seeded feeling of absolute rejection of the popular response, “that’s just the way it is!’ Nothing sends my blood pressure to the moon like that apathetic and mindlessly compliant response to injustices and asinine outdated ideas about the world.  This rage that has been building inside of me begins with little girls being taught that they must be “sugar and spice and everything nice” as the nursery rhyme teaches us, and ends somewhere with a guttural animalistic scream unleashing from the depths of female oppression. It is a pendulum and it is swinging hard and fast like a wrecking ball into the patterns of old that have been keeping all the good women down.

Be sweet, be pretty, be gentle and polite. Don’t be loud, don’t attract attention. Don’t take up too much space, and remember to sit with your legs together. Don’t guffaw or snort when you laugh. Don’t do a cartwheel in a dress. Don’t swear, and don’t admit to any bodily functions, lest you reveal that you are indeed an animal. Don’t admit how old you are, and don’t revel in your sexuality if you want to be respected. BE A LADY! Sound familiar?

If you are assertive, they’ll call you aggressive. If your personality and style is big and colourful, they’ll say you are just trying to get attention. If you are ambitious and no nonsense, pursue things with grit and focus, and don’t let anyone stand in your way, they’ll say you’re cold, and bossy and not a team player. If you push back against the things you disagree with, speak out, stand up for yourself and say no to being treated in ways you find unacceptable, they will say you are difficult, selfish and unrealistic. You will be accused of being silly, naive and idealistic about the world because this is just the way it is! If that doesn’t work to shut you up and shut you down, then they’ll tell the world you are an unreasonable bitch. Well, so be it, if they are intent on labeling our defiance. The bitches are back, they’re pissed, and they’re louder than ever! They are taking up all the space they did in the 1980’s except they are armed with more education, more compassion, more resilience and a unity the likes of which the world has not ever seen before. The word of the current times is action! We are tired of asking nicely, being reasonable, defending ourselves and expressing our disagreement politely. We’ve been talked over and belittled one too many times, and it doesn’t matter how small the beast, if they are backed into a corner and feel threatened enough, at some point, peaceful negotiations are no longer called for and survival is all that matters. Even the sweetest creature will bite to save itself.

“Wild Woman teaches women when not to act “nice” about protecting their soulful lives. The wildish nature knows that being “sweet” in these instances only makes the predator smile. When the soulful life is being threatened, it is not only acceptable to draw the line and mean it, it is required. When a woman does this, her life cannot be interferred with for long, for she knows immediately what is wrong amd can push the predator back where it belongs. She is no longer naive. She is no longer a mark or a target. “

-Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

We are up against a deeply engrained patriarchal paradigm that has seeped into the cracks and crevices of the collective psyche. I have experienced just as many women as men trying to curb the wild woman within all women. Why are they all trying so hard to make us behave within such a very narrow ideal? Well, it’s simple really, and an age old tactic. They are trying to control us, and people are deeply afraid of change. Just like any set of rules, they are there to maintain order and control, under the impetus of it being for our own collective good. You want to be liked don’t you? Well, in truth, if I have to stop wearing sequins or leopard print on a Tuesday because it’s too much for you; hide my nipples because you can’t stop sexualizing them; drink my beer in a glass because it’s more lady-like; or put up with sexist jokes and being cat-called in the streets, then no, I don’t give a hot damn about being liked! I like myself, and this funny thing happens when you begin to love yourself and stop requiring external validation. You stop caring what others might think of you for speaking your truth that challenges their accepted paradigm. You realize that their acceptance of you can’t even come close to comparing to the power and significance of your own self acceptance.

We women have been taught that we are too much from the very beginning and that we need to tone it the fuck down so we can be likeable (read; manageable). From the girlie little dresses my Grandmother told me that I refused to wear despite her efforts, to the attitude problem I had as a teen who angrily asked endless questions about why this messed up world is the way it is because I wasn’t buying it. To the modern day Wife and Mother I am today who deeply relates to women in movies set in the 1950’s and 60’s, because sometimes it feels as though nothing really has changed. Well, we can only be told to be quiet, demure, take a back seat, be grateful and settle for less than our potential for so long before the inadequacy of that life creates a deep collective female sorrow that burns and boils and grows into a visceral rage that will eventually blast the patriarchy to smitherines! And you can be damn sure, there will be casualties that are not paying attention and refuse to acknowledge that it’s already in motion. It’s not a matter of if, but when. 

“I’ve been baking pies at home, pies of rage!”

– Debbie Eagan (Liberty Belle), GLOW Season 2, Episode 10

We women, make up 50% of the population on the planet. Wake up beautiful warriors, pay attention to what’s happening! #WomensMarch #TimesUp #WomenSupportingWomen #GirlGang #GirlBoss #BodyPositivity #TheFutureIsFemale. These are global collective movements that are gaining ground every day, not just trendy hashtags. I’m an avid reader and a quick trip to a book store or search on-line will tell the story of what’s growing in the bellies of women, and I don’t mean little bundles of joy.

The She Book, by Tanya Markul

This is For the Women Who Don’t Give a Fuck, by Janne Robinson

Strong is The New Pretty, Kate T. Parker

Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit

In The Company of Women, by Grace Bonney

Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown

Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

The list goes on and on and on! These messages aren’t pretty, they aren’t designed to make you feel comfortable and content with the way it is. These messages are often angry, poingnant, raging, crying, pleading, cajolingly beautiful masterpieces that are imploring you, to turn some of that deep empathic compassion you reserve for the oppressed, the animals, the children and mother earth onto yourself! Women of the world, we must save ourselves and each other. The time is most definitely up, and the time of gentle, quiet nudges towards equality is over. You have a voice, you have power and you have a responsibility to yourself. There’s no need to riot, to retaliate, to be violent or hateful. In fact, these responses are not in line at all with what it is that makes us women. Our strength is in our willingness to love deeply, be compassionate, empathetic, embrace our emotions and live by our intuition. Embracing our womanliness, does not mean rolling over and exposing our bellies in submission, or putting up with bullshit. On the contrary. We must turn toward one another and see that our freedom from these old patterns depend on our unity. That burning in your belly is not yours alone. I feel your fear and your dissappointment and your rage you have been told you are not allowed to express if you want to be loved. I feel you because I am you. And as I get to know you more, I know myself more, and I remember what a beast lies below the surface and what she is capable of. I am called to defend and protect myself and all the women of the world like I would my own sons, because that compassion and fierceness can not just be reserved for them, for who will defend them if I don’t defend myself and the women of the world who will raise them and love them into their manhood? What are they being taught about their Mother, about the women they may partner with some day, about you?

You are not too much, you don’t take up too much space. You don’t have an attitude problem or a difficult personality. You are not a bitch for rolling your eyes at outdated patriarchal bullshit. No one has been tip-toeing around your feelings, when they under pay you, grope you and devalue your contributions to the world, so why are we expected to tiptoe around their feelings when we’ve clearly had enough. We are hurt and angry, and tired of the old patterns and we are allowed to feel that way. In fact, it is to be expected, and typically it’s the the biggest transformational changes that come out of those perceived negative emotions. Sometimes being nice and gentle and sweet doesn’t cut it. Sometimes the dysfunctional societal patterns are too deeply engrained in the human subconcious that you have to stamp and swear and scream that guteral scream, even if it’s only out into the abyss, like I am doing right now. People will hear you, like the unidentifiable wail from a creature in the woods and they will ask “what the heck was that?” and a shiver will climb up their spine and it will wake up their senses. And maybe it will make them afraid, or maybe there will be others who feel that scream to the core of their being and recognize it in themselves. They will not run away, but instead, seek you out in the darkness of the woods and say “I feel you sister”, when they find you. And before you know it, you are walking out of those cold, dark woods, hand in hand with an entourage of women who’ve got each other’s backs. A sisterhood in formation who are not afraid to back down because they are stronger together and determined to make change for the greater good of humanity. Women and Men alike.  These are the new idols, the warriors, the rock stars. These are the ones the next generation of women will look up to and they will know our story of struggle and fear and oppression and how we overcame. We won’t leave the ugly parts out because this is no fairytail of damsels in distress and knights in shining armour, this is the story of women saving themselves and reclaiming their power and potential. This is real life, and sometimes real life is messy and unpredictable. Sometimes before a new order of things can occur, a much bigger mess must be created, like when we undertake to organize a closet. Just like a sling-shot, there is a tension and a tightening and a strain that has to occur before the release that catapaults us into a new paradigm. There is no way to go around the discomfort of this shift, we must go through it, and I for one am ready and willing.

“Good is following the rules, fitting in, ticking things off the list, being liked, keeping it light, and great is making mistakes, going too far, getting messy, standing in your truths, fighting for what you believe in, and it’s finding out what you’re doing here and actioning it with all of your heart.”

-Tanya Markul, Thug Unicorn

patron_80-7767patron_80-7754patron_80-7720patron_80-7688patron_80-7659patron_80-7670patron_80-7540patron_80-7517patron_80-7564patron_80-7548patron_80-7555patron_80-7474patron_80-7505patron_80-7701patron_80-7582patron_80-7524patron_80-7599patron_80-7765

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Michael Sanders, Electric Monk Media

MODELS: Leanne Sanders, Tara Cole-McCaffrey

STYLING, HAIR & MAKEUP: Tara Cole-McCaffrey, Patron of Dreams

THRIFTED FASHION: Faux fur coats, animal print jackets, sequin skirt, shoes, gold belts, black leggings.

NEW FASHION: Gold bodysuit and animal print bathing suit top from American Apparel. Sunglasses from Urban Waves