Writer Spotlight: Nicole Belanger

Writer Spotlight: Nicole Belanger

As a writer, feminist and creator of this here site, I’m excited every time I come across someone whose mission is all about lifting up other women and whose writing I so admire.

I’m not sure how exactly I came across today’s interviewee, although Twitter was likely involved. Nicole Belanger is a writer and public speaker who talks about feminism, perfectionism and grief with eloquence and candor. Once I began reading about her latest project, Conversations With Her, I knew I wanted to have a conversation with Nicole. Lucky for us all, she agreed, and she has some wise words to share.

Meet Nicole Belanger

Tell us about your latest project, Conversations With Her. Where did the idea come from, and how did you choose your interview subjects?

To be honest, I can’t quite remember how the format came into being, but the idea came to me out of the blue last spring. I was having yet another moment of being brought to my knees with gratitude for all the phenomenal women that I have had the pleasure of knowing so far in my life, and I thought, “I just want to shout from the rooftops about them, I just want everyone else to know how great they are.” So, without much of a plan, I sent a tweet to a woman (Kate McCombs) that I followed on Twitter whose work I had admired from a distance and asked her if she would be open to being the first interview in a series that I’m starting. Thankfully, she was excited about it!

The only criteria I have for choosing a subject (beyond identifying as female) is that I am drawn to her and her work—for whatever reason. Sometimes these are friends or people that I’ve known for a long time. Other times I’m approaching complete strangers on social media!

Why is telling women’s stories is so important? What do you hope will result from the project?

Stories in general have this magical healing quality to them. When we see ourselves reflected in a story, it is a powerful reminder that we are not alone. I want every woman to have that experience. That moment of, “Wow, me too, I guess I’m not the only one.” To do that, we need to collect and share as many narratives about women’s lived experiences as humanly possible.

Another piece of it is that stories have the power to tune us into possibilities within ourselves that we never realized were there. They can be an invitation to imagine new ways of living and being that we didn’t think were possible. That’s really exciting to me.

Who are some of the women and writers (and women writers!) you admire most?

The list is endless, so I’ll give you some favourites women writers of the moment: Lyz Lenz, Stacia L. Brown, Safy-Hallan Farah, Durga Chew-Bose, Alana Massey, to name a few!

Nicole Belanger: Conversations With Her

You call yourself a “recovering overachiever.” How has your definition of success changed since you’ve dropped your overachiever tendencies?

It’s ever-changing, but I’ve let go of titles in a big way, and I’ve also let go of any major “career planning.” Things happen in their own time, and I’ve found that all you ever really need to do is work hard, keep your heart/ears open for the guidance, the “pulls” that will tug you along in the right direction, and then follow them.

You write a lot about grief and have been very open about mourning your mother. Once you allowed yourself to experience the grief of losing her, what steps did you take toward recovering? What was most helpful for you?

Short answer to a long question? Being kind to myself. That was a fucking battle. Allowing myself to be sad and messy and not super fun to be around and slow and needy.

It was a long, gradual process of cracking myself open. Cracking the veneer or perfectionism and logic and intelligence and maturity and control and letting a tender, vulnerable version of myself come through—the self that needed healing and attention. I was so scared to let that self through. I was afraid that she wouldn’t fit into the life I had built for myself, the life that I loved.

So day by day, month by month (and, if we’re being honest, year by year), I cracked myself open. At first, it was through my therapist’s assigned daily 15 minutes of grieving—literally forcing myself to take 15 minutes to sit with my grief, that’s how buttoned up I was. Then it was things like reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and letting that give me feelings. Then it was writing about it. Then it was talking about it with others.

It was such a long, gradual process that I’m not sure I could look back and point to some specific step or strategy that made a big difference, but huge credit goes to my supportive, patient, and understanding circle of loved ones.

Your newsletter Girl Gang Missives is so wonderfully curated. What do you love about the medium and the community you’re growing?

This is my desire to shout from the rooftop about how awesome women are coming through again! Honestly? It’s just fun. It’s exciting for me to learn about what women across industries and walks of life are doing, and it’s really satisfying to amplify their work using my TinyLetter. I love that it’s fun, casual, and informal—like I’m sending an interesting article to my cousin.

Also, it is positively thrilling when a woman sends her work in to me to be featured. We deserve to have our work recognized and celebrated and put in the hands of the biggest possible audience!

Do you have any writing rules, routines, or mantras?

To be totally honest, I don’t. It changes week by week and month by month. It’s really about listening to my body. Last month, I rented an office in a coworking space to grind out the last of the work on my first ebook. This month? I’ve been feeling like a slower pace is in order, so I’ll be working from home to allow myself more flexibility. It’s basically body’s choice.

What advice would you give to your teenage self on writing and pursuing a career?

I recently heard one of the greatest pieces of career advice, and although I’m not sure I would have been able to internalize it as a teenager (or even a few years ago), it would have been helpful:

“If you want to achieve your dreams, you must follow them, and the best way to follow them is not to think about wanting to be very rich, but to think about doing something that you really want to do.” – Jackie Collins

What are you reading right now, or what’s on your to-read list?

On my night table right now is Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting, because that’s something I’m planning to explore this year. I also just wrapped up Rupi Kaur’s utterly breathtaking collection of poems titled milk and honey. Up next? I’d like to read God Help The Child by Toni Morrison, Legacy by Waubgeshig Rice and more of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels.

What work are you most proud of? What kinds of projects would you like to pursue in the future?

Right now, I’m really, really proud of the fact that I’m about to self-publish my first ebook. It’s a special collection of Conversations With Her pieces on the theme of resilience. The seven women featured in the book are remarkable individuals with tremendously powerful stories. I know that they will make a lot of people feel less alone, and I can’t wait to put that love out into the world. It’s going to be amazing.

Now that the book is wrapping up, I definitely have an eye to the future and am spending quite a bit of time thinking about what I’d like to do next. Like I mentioned earlier in the interview, I’m feeling a real pull toward screenwriting, so I’m definitely planning on following that pull to find out what that’s all about. I’m also really feeling guided to create some content around women’s reproductive and sexual health—what exactly that will look like, I’m not sure. But it’s something that I know can make women (myself included) feel awfully alone, and you know by now that I can’t stand for that!

 

Thanks so much to Nicole for such thoughtful and insightful words. (Seriously, how awesome is she?!) If you enjoyed Nicole’s interview, be sure to let her know in the comments and follow her on Twitter. While you’re at it, sign up for the Girl Gang Missives newsletter.

Anna Barnard Wright: Should we encourage plus-sized beauty?

This is a reader-submitted post. Leave some love for the author in the comments or share it!

Plus-Sized Beauty

(Hint: Yes.)

For its August issue, Women’s Running magazine featured a plus-sized model on the front cover. There was overwhelming support from the plus-sized community and other decent humans, yet the story sparked outcry from many. I often get into this debate on Twitter (sigh), and it frustrates me that the argument even has to be discussed: Plus-sized models should be equally represented in the media, without backlash.

But first, let’s talk about the ridiculous definition of “plus-sized.” Despite the UK average for a woman being a size 16, models are classed as plus-sized from a size 12 and up. Being a 10/12 myself, I’m often a “large” in Hollister and a very snug “medium” in Urban Outfitters. By this logic, an average, size-16 girl might be an XXL. How can average be based upon XXL? Not only does this make online shopping difficult, but it has a detrimental effect on girls’ confidence and self-esteem. The media would have you believe that an XS is the only appropriate size for young girls, and while it is normal for some, this is simply not a reflection of most of our society. It’s important for retailers to cater to a more realistic range of bodies and lower the bar.

My second issue is those who condemn plus-sized models for being “unhealthy.” (Unsurprisingly, these people also tend to hate feminism, immigrants, human rights, etc.) There isn’t one definitive image of “healthy,” so it isn’t accurate or fair to judge someone’s health purely by his or her physical appearance. The range of healthy BMI’s is actually pretty wide, and people carry weight differently depending on a number of factors.

You also have to consider that metabolism varies from person to person. It’s quite possible that a smaller person eats more than a larger person, but you wouldn’t know it either way. A truly healthy diet involves balance and variety. Foods containing naturally occurring good fats are far more beneficial to your health than many “diet” products loaded with chemicals. Crash dieting does more damage than maintaining a slightly higher yet stable weight.

It baffles me that so many people are willing to cast aside plus-sized models as unhealthy but accept slimmer models, who are overrepresented (their body types make up just 5 percent of the general population), without second thought. A huge problem affecting many of these size double-zero models is drug addiction and using drugs as a means of radical dieting. Yet the Obese Police don’t consider this to be an unhealthy lifestyle. Who sets the standards? I usually hear the argument, “Fat people are a strain on the government, wasting tax-payers’ money.” Politicians waste much more money—target your abuse at them instead.

Of course being overweight isn’t ideal for many, and there’s no question obesity is a serious problem, but not one we should shame people for. In fact, a study by experts at University College London has shown fat-shaming actually has the opposite effect. Over a four-year period, those subjected to “weight discrimination” gained an average of 0.95kg (or two pounds) compared to the control group who lost an average of 0.71kg (around 1.6 pounds). As well as weight gain, fat-shaming leads to self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia and countless other serious illnesses. These sufferers also need support from the government. A healthy mental attitude and wellbeing have a more positive impact on life. Encouragement beats shame.

Two brilliant role models are YouTubers Louise Pentland (SprinkleofGlitter) and Sarah Rae Vargas (RavingsByRae). They know they’re larger ladies; you don’t need to tell them. However, they focus on promoting self-love, acceptance and embracing what you have. This is especially important for an audience of young girls. They wear what they like and do what they want. They’re happy. Surely this is a healthier lifestyle than constantly feeling ashamed and embarrassed, feeling you’re worth less than anyone else?

No one has the right to punish people for their appearance. Someone else’s weight has nothing to do with you, and it’s not your problem to solve. Weight doesn’t define a person. Plus-sized ladies (and men) have as much right to chase their dreams and feel beautiful as anyone else. It’s not about encouraging obesity—no one sets out with that goal. It’s about encouraging happiness and a healthy mind.

Anna Barnard WrightAnna Barnard Wright is a British sociology student at the University of Durham. She’s an aspiring journalist who writes passive aggressively about beauty, lifestyle and other first world musings on her blog, Collections of Imperfections. Anna is a tea drinking introvert and proudly uncool, though not in the way that’s now considered cool. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 


Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to wittycassiehere@gmail.com.

Photo via Wikimedia CC/Tiffany Bailey

Writer Spotlight: A’Shanti Sanders

Writer Spotlight: A'Shanti Sanders

Since relaunching Witty Title Here, I’ve been blown away not just by the talent of so many young writers (because duh they’re brilliant), but by how they’re building their platforms and marketing themselves and even self-publishing. That’s exactly what 17-year-old A’Shanti Sanders, the first interviewee of the Writer Spotlight series, is doing.

Already, A’Shanti has self-published five books and shows no sign of stopping. She’s hard-working, smart and so sweet, and every writer could learn something from her disciplined and optimistic mindset.

Meet A’Shanti Sanders

Tell us about yourself!

Hello, my name is A’Shanti Sanders, I’m 17 years old, and I write urban street lit books. I have been writing for seven years! I sometimes get the real world and literary world mixed up. I literally write every chance I get, and I mean everywhere. School, the dinner table, in the car—I hear it’s my addiction. I now have five books published on Amazon and Kindle: The Love Homicide series, Trap Queens, and Not Looking for Love.

When and how did you become interested in self-publishing? What made you decide to pursue that route?

I first self-published my books on a great website called Wattpad. I wanted to get my stories out and see how people felt about them. It was really a great place to start.

Describe your writing process. Do you have any routines or habits?

My writing process is simple: Find a seat and get to channeling your feelings, haha. I don’t really have a routine, I can practically write anywhere. With eight siblings you become good at tuning out the world.

What’s the hardest part about writing? The best part?

The hardest part about writing has to be the “writer’s block.” Sometimes you have so many ideas, but you can’t express them how you want. It makes you want to pull your hair out. The best part is getting to be whatever you want when you write. You get to write in the mindset of so many different types of people. It’s amazing.

Tell us about the main characters in your books. Where do you come up with the inspiration for them, and what do you admire about them?

My main characters are always strong and brave individuals who have such a strong voice and great message to teach with their lives. Just like myself. I believe my characters come from the people around me—I come from a very unique background, and it has caused me to meet and imagine very unique people. I admire the strength behind each one of my characters. None of them come from easy lifestyles. They all encounter some very difficult life-or-death situations, but they all handle them in different ways and take them head-on.

Trap Queens by A'Shanti Sanders

What have you learned from self-publishing that might be helpful for others?

I’ve learned that not everyone is going to like your stories, and that it’s a process. You have to take it slow and do a lot of research on the market and what you’re trying to do.

Do you plan to pursue writing as a career? What would you like to be doing in 10 years?

I do plan on a writing career. After two years of self-publishing, I was approached by a great company who signed me, and it has been amazing. In 10 years I see myself as a best-selling author stocked on the shelves of major book stores and doing a lot of great things with my gift of writing. Just like some of my favorite authors.

Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you reading now?

Some of my favorite authors are Talehia McCants, the author of the Paradise and Nightmare series and Joy King, author of the Bitch series. I absolutely adore and look up to those women. Their books are amazing.

Are you working on any projects right now? Can you tell us about them?

Right now I’m working on my Trap Queens series and a few other surprise books for my fans. All I can say is you’re going to go on a roller coaster ride with these dramatic and insane characters. They’ll teach you what life in the ghetto as an American kingpin or queenpin is like.

Any advice for young writers about self-publishing (or writing in general)?

To everyone wanting to self-publish or publish a book period, you can do it! Take your time and research the business. There is a lot to learn. Not everyone is going to like what you write, and you won’t become a best-selling author overnight. Just keep on writing and pushing forward. If you work, I promise you it will be rewarded!

 

Thanks so much for sharing, A’Shanti! Follow A’Shanti on Twitter and check out her books on Amazon.

Feminist to Follow: Seema from The Subtle Hipster

This month’s Feminist to Follow has made feminism and public health her life’s work.

Seema Bhakta is not only a storyteller and photojournalist, but a researcher and advocate for various organizations and nonprofits that support and promote women’s well-being, including MCH in Action, a student organization centered on maternal, childbirth, sexual and reproductive health.

Seema is the blogger behind The Subtle Hipster, where, in addition to highlighting news in feminism, she writes about books, adventure, food and more. Below, she shares a thoughtful essay on why blogging about feminism is important to her. Read on!

Feminist to Follow: Seema from The Subtle Hipster

Blogging about feminism is important to me because I believe the movement is not only about equal opportunities for women, but increasing the support of diversity, reducing stigma and fighting for the rights of everyone discriminated based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Just like everything else, I don’t think feminism is a black or white topic. It’s a spectrum and there are definitely a lot of gray areas. I’ve read articles and tweets from people who say they don’t think of themselves as feminists because they never faced inequalities in life or work. There are also the misguided folks who say, “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men.” Out of respect, we are all entitled to our own opinions but reality is, these stereotypes don’t touch the true meaning of feminism.

As I look back on my life, growing up in a very liberal state but in a more conservative community, I never expressed my own opinions or realized that I even had any. I always thought that these fights are not mine, that I had nothing to worry about. Ignorance, perhaps. I grew up thinking I was not a feminist because like others I never faced (or realized) the discrimination. But now that I am older and wiser, I realize that the challenges women face is universal regardless of whether I have experienced it or not. Even if I feel that I have not had to face unequal opportunities, being a feminist should mean that as a woman, I support other women in their fight for equality.

I read Yes, Please last month and loved this quote from Amy Poehler: “Good for her, not for me.” When I was in graduate school, there would be debates about what is right versus what is wrong for women in childbirth. This really frustrated me. You can give me all the data about healthy birth practices, parenting methods and breastfeeding, but at the end of the day it is the individual’s choice about what is right for them. (I recommend checking this photo campaign out, End the Mommy Wars.)

My maternal and reproductive interests broadened when I read a book in the summer called Golden Boy. It’s about an intersex adolescent who begins to question their sexuality, identity, and how to keep secrets after an incident with a childhood friend. I have always been an LGBT ally, but as the world opens up slowly about being intersex, asexual, and trans, feminism does not just benefit cis women, but anyone who struggles because of their gender and sexual identity.

Not only do gender and sexual identity play a vital role in feminism, but race and ethnicity do, too. Racism is a feminist issue, and so is social justice. Earlier this week, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so I want to end with this quote:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

If you want to read more from Seema, check out her blog, The Subtle Hipster, and follow her on Twitter. Here are some recent highlights from her blog:

Reflection on Sex and Gender | The A-Word, Stigma & Storytelling | No More: Together We Can End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

Check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Do you have any favorite feminist bloggers?

Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current

There’s so much to say about feminism and all the issues women and minorities face, you could start a whole blog about it.

That’s exactly what Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy did in 2012, and now her site—which features multiple contributors—is the most-read feminist blog in Canada. I asked Meghan if she would share her thoughts on the importance of writing about feminism, and she blew me away with her thoughtful and nuanced response. So I’m going to let her take the reigns.

Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current

Blogging about feminism is important to me in large part because feminism is so widely misunderstood and maligned. And not only from misogynists and MRAs, but even from feminists.

The second wave was a hugely successful time for our movement, making huge strides for women in terms of issues like sexual harassment, reproductive rights, employment equity legislation and sexual assault laws. I would argue that the second wave had a bigger impact on women’s lives than any other period during the movement—yet the third wave has pretty thoroughly trashed it.

“Second wavers” is employed as an insult by many younger feminists. It’s upsetting to see women fighting themselves—I mean, do we really just want to reinvent the wheel over and over again? There are so many women and feminist struggles—successes and failures—we can learn from. The history is all there, yet we choose to believe trashing and hearsay, repeating the myth that the second wave was only about white, middle class women, and erasing all the women of colour and working class women who were central to the movement during that time (especially in Canada).

Beyond that, feminism—especially radical feminism—is pretty widely misunderstood by the general public. People either think it’s about women having power over men, like a matriarchy or something, or they think it’s about saying all women are “good” and all men are “bad,” or they think it’s just about women feeling good about themselves—that whole “anything a woman chooses to do counts as feminism” thing.

But it isn’t about any of that. It’s a political movement against patriarchy and violence against women—it’s about women’s human rights and our right to be treated with dignity and respect.

People have described Feminist Current as a kind of bridge between “popular feminism”/popular culture and a deeper feminist analysis, more closely aligned with radical and socialist feminism. I generally try to make feminist ideas and discourse relatable and clear to those who might not have a strong background in radical feminism or who have only been exposed to third wave or liberal feminism. As such, I find myself correcting misconceptions and misrepresentations of feminist ideology and goals a lot. You know, correcting the myth that anyone who opposes or is critical of pornography and prostitution is a prude or a member of the religious right, for example.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop correcting those kinds of misrepresentations because I think it is intentional, which is to say that it is has been a very successful tactic—it has scared women into staying silent on the issue, afraid that if they oppose porn or dare to question the existence of prostitution they will be labeled sex-hating, man-hating, freedom-hating prudes. People know that this tactic works; that’s why they keep doing it. The slander of feminists and the feminist movement, in general, is nothing new—it’s been going on since the first wave.

Feminism isn’t about being perfect, it isn’t about always making the right choices, it isn’t about whether or not you like fucking men or whether or not you wear Spanx—it’s about recognizing that the choices we make and that the way we behave and move around in this world is shaped by the fact that we live in a patriarchy. It’s about understanding that violence against women happens systemically, not accidentally or because there simply happens to be some men who happen to choose to rape or beat women.

We live in a world that sexualizes inequality and domination—I mean, look at the popularity of books like 50 Shades of Grey—BDSM is about domination and subordination and about playing at violence, humiliation, and torture, and we’ve learned this is “sexy.” We can’t pretend as though this isn’t totally attached to the fact that we live in a patriarchy. Acknowledging that isn’t the same as saying you can’t have fantasies or that you can’t do what you like in your bedroom. It is to say: take your blinders off, ask hard questions, don’t take anything at face value.

I blog about feminism because women are raped and beaten and murdered every day, all around the world, by men. Trafficking, prostitution, and porn are huge, multi-billion dollar industries that cause immeasurable harm to women and girls. And we tend, as a society, to think of these things as perfectly normal—as titillating or naughty—not as things that perpetuate damaging stereotypes about women and men and that hurt all women—both physically as well as psychologically and politically.

I am a writer and I am a woman and I am a feminist. I can’t not write about feminism—it’s too important, and if we can’t see why, we really aren’t paying attention.

 

If you want to read more from Meghan (and other feminist writers), follow her on Twitter and make sure to check out Feminist Current. I particularly enjoyed these recent posts:

Hi the media. Do your job. Love, feminism.
Can men be allies in the fight to end violence against women? (podcast)
NOW Magazine takes a stand; will continue to generate revenue through prostitution advertisements

Thanks, Meghan, for sharing your insight. Be sure to check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Who are some of your favorite feminist bloggers?