The Zosia Issue
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
By Daryn Wright.
Daryn is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has appeared in Saveur, Hayo Magazine, and SAD Mag.
About a month ago, I signed up for a ten-class kickboxing package with the intention of changing my life, somehow. It had been a year since my mother died, and only a handful of months since a bigoted despot was voted into the presidency of the country in which I currently reside.
Being a Canadian living in New York, I felt impotent and full of rage; it seemed every day I was reading more depressing news, further adding to my already-festering feelings of anxiety and doubt.
“I realized that my habits were contributing to my feelings of helplessness.”
Being a rather sedentary writer, and a person who has struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, I realized that my habits were contributing to my feelings of helplessness. I was ready to find a solution for these self-perpetuating problems, and kickboxing seemed the perfect option.
For my first class, I arrived to the Amerikick studio — a humid, second-storey walk-up in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighbourhood. A table was covered with t-shirts for sale, boasting slogans like “Keep Calm and Kick On” in bright pink hues. Behind the desk were rows and rows of boxing gloves, printed with obnoxiously large American flags. I bought a pair of gloves and some wraps, which the female instructor helped me layer thickly around my knuckles. I felt indestructible and I hadn’t even stepped onto the mat yet.
As a warm up, we stretched and jumped rope for a few minutes, before starting rounds of push-ups, crunches, and lunges, easing our way into the actual kicking and punching portion of the class. After warming up, we dragged large punching bags into the middle of the floor and proceeded to undercut, left- and right-hook, and kick our way to exhaustion.
I appreciated the instructor’s encouraging words, which emphasized strength and personal fulfillment over completing every move perfectly. If you got tired and needed to pause or take a drink of water, that was totally okay.
It is not an exaggeration to say that my entire body ached for four days afterward. My ass and leg muscles were so sore that I had to slowly lower myself down, holding onto the wall, just to pee.
“My abdominal muscles throbbed every time I laughed. But I was laughing, despite the pain.”
My abdominal muscles throbbed every time I laughed. But I was laughing, despite the pain. For the first time in a long time, I felt in control of something in my life; the aching reminded me that I was still alive.
The punching bag became a symbol for my anxiety: it was the dystopian future I imagined, it was mortality, it was sadness and fear. The class, like the outside world, was physically exhausting, but what got me through every punch and high kick was a deep reservoir of rage that I had been keeping inside for far too long.
Attacking the punching bag wasn’t just about blowing off steam — it felt, in some way, like I was preparing for something, and I had to get it right. In the beginning, my form was way off. I was eviscerating the bag when the instructor came up beside me and corrected my technique:
“No, first you knee him in the penis, then you punch him in the jaw”
Just the words of encouragement I needed.
Nabila Sofia Echadli is a one-woman mosaic, and powerhouse. Born in Morocco and relocated to Montreal at age 10, her upbringing was shaped by dichotomous cultural forces. Her Moroccan father’s family is wealthy, and related to royalty. Her Spanish mother grew up in poverty as one of 13 siblings, and never went to school. From an early age, Sofia was exposed to domestic violence. She talks through those hardships, and why today she’s working her ass off to create a much-needed space for women to connect and thrive with her event series, A New Woman Today.
Babe Rally: What was it like, growing up exposed to such a disparity in socio-economic paradigms?
Nabila Sofia Echadli: It was very hard for me. That’s why I’m very humble and I’ll always stay humble. I think I’m closer to my mom for certain reasons. To see my mom be so happy in a poor environment… they had 13 children. They found joy even though they didn’t have all that beautiful, fancy stuff. For example, in Morocco, cheap toilet paper is light pink. Rich people have it white because it costs more money. The pink one is recycled. I loved my pink toilet paper. In fancy places, like my aunt’s on my dad’s side, there was no pink toilet paper. I remember saying to my dad, “No, I want the pink one!” They were almost ashamed.
“My childhood was around violence. I’m the reason my dad doesn’t beat my sisters.”
BR: Tell us about your early childhood.
NSE: My childhood was around violence. I’m the reason my dad doesn’t beat my sisters. I called the cops on my dad. I remember biting my dad’s ankle when I was seven because he was hitting my mom. I have scars from it. My dad hit me with a phone. A home phone, a hard one. I had to lie at the hospital. When my dad took me, he told me, “You’re going to say that you fell from your bed.” I lied to the doctor so they wouldn’t take me away. My dad was violent till the age of 14. My parents had this dilemma of love and hate for a long time. Then when I was 16, I told my dad if he hit my mom I wouldn’t stand for it.
When I got to the place where I knew it was not okay, I was 10. Me and my mom left the house and went to a secret house without an address, for women. I lived there for two years, in Montreal. I met a lot of kids who went through the same thing as me. My mom met all these women. They tried to teach my mom that it’s not okay, but my mom was always, “It’s fine, it’s okay, it’s what happens in Morocco.” It’s hard to uncondition someone. My mom only knew that. For her, there was nothing else.
BR: How is your relationship with your dad now?
NSE: I decided to stop trying to change him. My dad made me cry recently. I asked him to come to my conference and he said “No, I’m good here.” My mom wanted to come see the setup. She’s 70 and doesn’t drive. He would have to bring her. So I had a meltdown with my staff. I was like, “My mom wants to see and he won’t bring her.” It was a lot of emotion to take in and pretend that nothing’s happening and smile the next day. All my life, I feel like I have to show that everything is alright. I decided to leave it as is, because my mom would also lose it over the fact that he wouldn’t bring her to me. I obviously have daddy issues. I know it. He always told me that I wasn’t good enough. All my life, I was never enough.
“I realized I need to do the work with myself on saying “no” to being treated like that. My standards are getting higher and higher so I don’t get stepped on.”
BR: What do you seek out now in your relationships?
NSE: I think that I reinforce things that are not right for me in my love life, because I don’t know any better. Well, I do know better. But I will accept shitty men. I’ve been treated badly by fuckboys who’ve broken my heart into pieces, stepped onto it, and then I would come back. It comes from that family pattern. That’s why I’ve been single for the past two years. Because I realized I need to do the work with myself on saying “no” to being treated like that. My standards are getting higher and higher so I don’t get stepped on.
BR: What are you currently working to deprogram in your life?
NSE: II’m a bit of a control freak, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like things my way. I’m working on being more open to what life has to show me. Also not caring about other people’s judgement of me, and just doing me. Deprogramming for me is to let go. To not seize control, or be a perfectionist, or try to please, or care too much about what people say or think. And just listening to my inner voice.
“Equality and feminism is as simple as women being able to have the same opportunities to express their voice and being.”
BR: How do you define feminism?
NSE: Feminism is something I have a hard time with. I would love people to understand it better. I think it’s been sadly manipulated and misinterpreted. Equality and feminism is as simple as women being able to have the same opportunities to express their voice and being. Feminism is having equal opportunity, equal salary, equal rights, equal space to speak, and actually giving space to a woman’s wants in life. Not fearing not being listened to. Really finding a place where she can step in, find a vehicle to speak fluidly without thinking, “I’m a woman, I shouldn’t say this thing. I’m a woman, I shouldn’t do this thing.”
BR: How do you rebel?
NSE: Being true to myself. Being this person who has energy, who wants to change things around, who wants to bring impact and change dialogue, talk about things we don’t want to talk about.. Sometimes I’m challenging and make people more attentive. I like true vibes, I like honest vibes, I like attentive people. I have a deep soul…If something goes wrong, I will speak up. And sometimes I pay for it. But especially in injustice and unfairness, I’m someone who likes to protect and be the person who defends that innocent person who cannot have a voice.
BR: How do you enact your activism through your business?
NSE: The next conference in Toronto will speak to subjects that we don’t normally talk about, like objectification. I try to dig around subjects that aren’t comfortable. In the sense of being active with women’s rights, I try to read people’s behaviours, because that tells me who feels uncomfortable, and why. Just saying the word “rape,” you see the nonverbal reaction of people. That really amazes me. Like, rape, rape, rape. It’s happening, dude. You gotta wake up. It’s a word, but it’s more than just a word. It happens.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Zosia Dzierżawska is a Polish illustrator based in Warsaw. She works the full spectrum of the field, from editorial illustrations, to children’s books, to comics. In her own words:
“Drawing always brings me back to my childhood, to this feeling of total, boundless creative freedom you have before you start worrying about other people’s opinions. That’s why I love to work with my hands, just like I did when I was 6 — with coloured pencils, and pens, and bits of paper, up to my elbows in paint. Drawing is also my safe space, a way to express myself. This is why working for Babe Rally was doubly rewarding. I’m really glad I could contribute my drawings to a platform that strives to create a safe, nurturing space in a creative, empowering context.”