The Aimee Issue
The Chain Letter
Vol. 1 The Aimee Issue
By Devon Brooks
It’s exhausting to feel as if you have to live within a framework.
Having been victimized twice — once at 18 when I was raped by a friend, and again a few years later when I was attacked at knifepoint in my home by a former boyfriend — I have experienced firsthand how limited thinking stifles us. I only added to this confusion when at 21 I became a successful business person, co-founding a concept that would go on to ignite a new beauty market category. I would be interviewed about those achievements and when I would share my traumas I would get this look of shock and awe. Sometimes actual gasps, but not the “I’m terribly sorry that happened to you” kind. The ones that are followed by a comment like, “But you seem so strong and outgoing?”
What? A rape victim can’t be a fucking powerhouse business person too? ’Cause I for one know a few of us.
Ultimately, if we want to see more woman taking the helm of their lives, in corporations, in government, and in the world, we need to stand in full view of what we face along the way. Take inventory of what shapes us and impacts our sense of worth. Consider what deteriorates and enhances our relationship with our inner voice. Because that kind of information and intuition make us a force to be reckoned with. It’s an inner rally that nourishes our collective confidence.
While we’re waiting for the full Babe Rally site to launch this Fall (mamacitas, good things take time), it is with great pleasure that we bring you The Chain Letter: a weekly periodical seeding consideration around our own conditioning and breaking the victim archetype one issue at a time. We’re in this for a high-culture, high-art meditation on the landscape of women, sexual trauma, and everything that trauma touches. Every week we give the floor to an artist to design works illustrating the themes we’re dealing with. In honour of that artistic interpretation, each issue is named after the featured artist.
Now, throw on some Beyoncé, grab your favourite crystals and fire up the sage — unless you are at the office, then probably don’t do that. Week 1, vol. 1: “The Aimee Issue,” has arrived.
I’m someone who is in my head, a lot.
After struggling with an eating disorder through my adolescence and spending a great deal of time in the therapist’s chair over the last 12 years, I’ve developed a strong personal sense of emotional intelligence.
Even with a high EQ, it was only this past year that I had a profound realization. There is a harsh disconnect between my body and my mind. Not long after gaining this awareness I was able to attend a class, aptly named Feelosophy.
Feelosophy creator Ashley Brodeur joins restorative yoga, massage, and good tunes to create a unique sensory experience. Classes are necessarily small and intimate, with Ashley and an assistant giving massage to each participant throughout the practice. Ashley’s ability to create safety through offering up her authentic self is evident within the first few minutes of getting on the mat. Opening our session, she explained in an eloquent, light-hearted fashion that her words over the next 75 minutes may not resonate with you, but the experience of the music might be what lands instead.
As we took our initial positions on the mats, legs up against the wall, we lay still. Eyes closed. That’s when my mind began racing. Shocker.
“What did I sign up for? Wait, I didn’t even read the website.”
“How long will I be in this position?”
“Am I going to have closed eyes for this entire thing?”
With eyes closed, I feel hands on me.The foreign fingertips started on my head. My initial, visceral reaction was to tense up.
I do practice yoga. I’m no newbie. For me, yoga has been a saving grace, a space of release over the last few years. Normally it takes me away from my head but at Feelosophy, lying in a simple restorative pose, with yogic mantras playing through my mind, I felt like couldn’t just lie there.
With eyes closed, I feel hands on me.The foreign fingertips started on my head. My initial, visceral reaction was to tense up. Which is not exactly what you look for in a relaxing and restorative class.
Then hands move from scalp, to temples, to jaw. This is where the shift happened for me. I grind my teeth, bite my nails, and clench my jaw. Having someone else tend to a neglected area of my body that holds so much of my negativity was transformative.
With my eyes still closed, not knowing if I was being touched by Ashley’s hands or her peer’s, I had a visualization. It was a woman, facing the light, leading me by the hand, though I was moving of my own accord.
Throughout the class, each position got ever so slightly deeper, and progressed at a pace that aligned with the current needs of my soul. Eyes stayed closed. Hands connected with my body when I least expected it but, then the class ended, I wished for it to continue for hours. We collectively opened our eyes to a card on each of our sacred mats.
“Ground down into your truth then rise up into remembering just how strong you are.”
I don’t know my full truth yet. I don’t know if I completely understand my trauma and its impacts, but I’m ready to explore. I’m ready to feel.
I flip the card: “You make us feel.”
Jessie Askinazi is a photographer, artist, and activist currently based in Florida. She’s worked extensively with the East Los Angeles Women’s Centre, activating her art and community to support their cause. Last year, she organized the #YesAllWomen benefit art show and fundraiser, hosted by Rose McGowan. We caught up with Jessie to talk early influences, creepy love, and how she’s currently rebelling against the status quo.
Babe Rally: What inspired you, growing up?
Jessie Askinazi: I’m really inspired by fashion and fashion design, and always have been. I always felt like fashion and presentation is performance. Like Mama Ru would say, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” I love that quote because it’s true for women, too. It’s all your performance. And I was a very performative, dramatic person. I’m just a super flamboyant girl from Long Island, you know? I didn’t normally look at fashion as a way to be pretty. I looked at fashion as a way to communicate and a way to tell stories. Everything is about telling stories.
BR: In your early lifecycle, what was happening around you in your important relationships?
JA: My father and I have had a very tumultuous relationship. He had a lot of anger. He had, from his own upbringing, some trauma from his own family dynamic. That was very repressed, so he had a lot of anger. He had an intimidating demeanor, and was also very closed off in certain ways. Perhaps there were certain things I picked up on as a kid.
BR: How have you witnessed this showing up in your adulthood?
JA: Every person that I’ve personally pursued, they’ve been unattainable, they’ve been people who don’t show up, they’ve been people who have been abusive, they’ve been people who have been toxic. I’ve also been attracted to what my friends would consider sort of creepy guys. Maybe that’s part of the unattainable thing, it’s not a person that most people would look to for partnership. Maybe there’s comfort in that subconsciously for me. The people I would be attracted to, I would soon find out they were really only interested in me for my physicality. Just purely as a sexual entity. But I would be very invested in these people as human beings. That was a very repetitive pattern for me.
“We hide the vulnerable parts, or the messy parts. It’s not always so easy to open up and share those because we also live in a society that really is keen on programming us to be a flat surface.”
BR: How do you define intimacy?
JA: I would define it as an acceptance of truth in all of its colours. I think we’re all so appearance conscious and self conscious, that we often hide the ugly sides of ourselves. We hide the vulnerable parts, or the messy parts. It’s not always so easy to open up and share those because we also live in a society that really is keen on programming us to be a flat surface. They want us to be Kardashians, or doll like, and not have messy insides. Can you imagine if that programming didn’t exist? The potential for humanity and what we could achieve, especially as women?
BR: What are you working on unprogramming at this point in your life?
JA: The idea that I have to fit into some kind of a box. Corporate America working world wants us to fit into a box. I recently went to an interesting career workshop and this one woman said to me “I feel like I can’t really put you in a box, and that’s the problem I’m having.” And I’m like, “That’s not a problem for me.” I’ve done a lot. I want to continue experiencing. I feel like that programming in the world tells us the opposite, that we have can only do one thing.
BR: What does it mean to be a feminist, to you?
JA: It means living your life for your ultimate truth, despite circumstances and oppression and institutions telling you otherwise, and so desperately trying to shape you in a way that is pleasing for them, for some other entity. That’s what it is to me. Authenticity and again, truth in all of its colours. All of the things, not just the beautiful moments, and not being so aware of yourself all the time, and having to exist in a way that it’s just framework without the guts inside. I often feel like there’s so much dumbing down, and lashing out at us from the time we’re little girls, so that we’re not bigger and better and more intelligent.
BR: Tell us about the art project you’re working on with Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.
JA: I met Nadya at an artist dinner. Nadya was at the dinner and she and I completely hit it off. I told her that I work with the East Los Angeles Women’s Centre and she said that was a goal of hers. She also said she’d love to do something artistic, too. We hit it off and kept in touch. I did a research project for the women’s centre, because they were celebrating their 40th year last year. I did this project called “40 Years, 40 Stories” and I interview 40 people affiliated with the women’s centre since they first began, and that included many survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, HIV. I interviewed the detective of homicide, and now child violence, for LAPD. It was a really intense time of my life. I still have all these interviews recorded and I wanted to do more with them. I told Nadya I thought it would be really interesting if she and I were these sort of performance art vessels expressing quotes and excerpts from these different survivor of violence stories.
“I’m feeling very empowered when I’m working on a project of any kind that I really care about, especially when it’s artistic and especially when it’s related to activism, when it has meaning.”
BR: What are you doing when you feel the most empowered?
JA: Eating a calzone. No, just kidding. I would say following impulses, which is essentially what performing arts is. And it’s believing and trusting in an idea that I have. For example, this video project, I’m like, “how did I even get here?” What? The other day I was reading court testimonials from Pussy Riot and now I’ve somehow attracted this into my community and my experience. I’m working with a team of dream artists who are able to deliver a message through all the various mediums of expression. I’m feeling very empowered when I’m working on a project of any kind that I really care about, especially when it’s artistic and especially when it’s related to activism, when it has meaning.
BR: What is most sacred for your right now?
JA: Taking care of myself. That’s something I haven’t been very good at, in all ways. Whether it be in relationships, my health, pushing myself out of comfort zones. Taking care of myself before expecting anyone else to, whether it’s family, or friends, or lovers. Setting boundaries for myself, too. To know what’s acceptable and what’s not. And that can mean losing friendships, and losing relationships. I’m more comfortable with the idea of telling myself what’s acceptable for my own life, not having that dictated to me. Rebellion, for me, is gentle.
*Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Aimee Chang is a 26 year old illustrator, animator, and designer, raised in Taipei and now based in New York City. Her work has recently appeared in Vogue and The New York Times. Aimee uses her strong abstract style to confront social issues. In her own words:
“As an artist, the intention is not only to create something good looking, but also to convey my thoughts to the world. Most of my inspiration comes from anger against injustice, or hatred toward the unpleasant things happening in the world. What I’ve been trying to do is to convert these thoughts into stories, and trying to utilize an abstract approach to tell that story. Art is a way to spread out words, and to let more people notice what is wrong. I’m not sure if I’m able to affect anything at this stage, but I do believe someday I will.”
Sexual trauma is an experience that tethers so many of us. This sisterhood is a secret no more. We’re transcribing the lives of women through art, illustrating the multiplicity of our realities pre- and post- crisis. Ready to share your story?