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SPARK Artists: The death and life of self-love

by Montgomery Jones

I don’t have a lick of artistic blood in my body, so I am entranced with my SPARK sister Jazmin Martinez’s art exhibit “The Body Collage Project,” which incorporates heavy topics, cultural celebration, and beautiful creations.  She talks about self- love, feminism, self esteem, Day of the Dead, and community.  Jazmin is one of those rare people who can articulate her meaning through all mediums of her work, whether it’s writing or art. Learn about what what into this interactive presentation, and become inspired to create your own body collage project!  #CVSelflove

This is whole exhibit is breathtaking! Why did you decide to center this on sexualization of women? What’s the correlation between that and Dia de los Muertos ? 

[The exhibit] was for a Day Of The Dead community held event in Coachella, California by an youth led organization called Raices Cultura. They were giving out small grants to local artists who wanted to be a part of their event by making altars. We had to pitch them an idea for an altar [that was] interactive and about an issue community members could learn from.

Now, about my community: I grew up in the Eastern Coachella Valley, in a border town called Mecca…it’s very rural and unincorporated. The population is mostly Latino low-income families. Immigrant agricultural workers are the main labor force. When I say immigrant I mean they migrated here from Mexico or El Salvador, and still migrate during summer seasons because the Coachella Valley is a desert and during the summer there isn’t much work here because it gets unbearably hot, so people move away to like Bakersfield, CA (my parents and I do the same sometimes.)

The reason why I chose to make our altar on the topic of body image and sexualization was because growing up here I always noticed that women like my mother, grandmother, friends, the moms of my friends struggled with self-love, because we/they didn’t fit into the mainstream media idea of what an ideal beautiful women looked like. I also grew up thinking being sexy was a way to get a guy’s attention – not that women feeling sexy is bad, when it’s on their own terms – but reggaeton and rap, which was popular with in my community, taught me that being sexy meant being, dancing, dressing like a video girl …as a prop for men. As I got into feminism I started to learn the language to express my frustrations with what I saw around me in my community, and that’s how I felt comfortable making an altar about such topic and why I thought it was important. The correlation is that the holiday is about the dead and we have lost many of our sisters to anorexia, or under the knife of plastic surgery, or not via death but [because some girls have] lost their spirit, because they’re trying to fit into this fake mold to feel validated…it’s a sort of death also.

[Also] I say “our altar” because my friend Isabel and I both worked on it. I came up with the concepts and art pieces, and she pushed me to make it happen. She told me about the grant in the first place,  but [I didn't know I got the grant until] a week before the event when I had applied 2 months before. I had given up on the idea, but Isabel really pushed and kept calling our work important. She drove to go cash the check and buy the supplies and we used her car to move the stuff around. The fabric was from her parents furniture factory and she owned most of the posters. It was totally a collective effort between both of us at the end.

You said you don’t consider yourself an artist, but this is an amazing exhibit of art! Have you done pieces like this before or was this your first time?

This was my first time ever. I don’t consider myself an artist mostly because I’ve always considered myself a fan of art,, rather than being on the other side. The things I did for the altar were total co-optations of art pieces I had been invited to participate in or had seen at museums. We also had zines people could take on the altar, and those were just photo copies of zines I had received from other women in my life. The point was for people who encountered our altar to take as much away as possible…literally a piece of candy with a powerful message attached or a photo to remember or a zine to read at home!

“I dream of love” is so powerful, is that a quote from something? What does it mean?

The cloth with “Sueño de amor” engraved is one of the things Isabel contributed to the altar. I am not sure if it’s a quote from something but it totally does summarize the message of the art. We wanted to encourage people to self–actualization and love, but also acknowledge that it’s a processes and that we’re all at different points with it, but it’s the dream to get there and stay there.

In the first paragraph of the description titled “Death and Life of Self-love” you take a stab at the corruptness of capitalism. Why don’t we as the buyers see how manipulative these industries are in their endless pursuit to collect all of our money, confidence, and general happiness?

Yes! It totally was a stab at the corruptness of capitalism. It might have not been very well explained by me in the manifesto, but to be honest I wrote it 30 minutes before the event while listening to Patti Smith and having just re-watched The Story of Stuff video by Annie Leonard. She says in her video “we have become a nation of consumers” and that “the primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we consume” and I think it’s true. At least that’s what the media is constantly telling us, to buy all the new things to be cool or “in” even through the music we listen to because musicians themselves endorse products to sell to us. And here in this nation run by capitalism we have seen the very movements that fought these industries be co-opted by the very same industries, like feminism being co-opted to sell empowering tampons or makeup by the beauty industry with “girl power” slogans. It’s always a “you can be this IF you buy THIS from us!” kinda thing, and at the end of it all we still feel crappy about ourselves.

I love how you describe self love as a “journey.” People often make self love sound like you have it or you don’t. What is about self love that keeps us from obtaining it infinitely?

I don’t want to speak for anyone, but at least when Isabel and I were talking about it and when I have discussed it with my feminist mentors, we discuss the constant process of coming to self-love, self-acceptance, and self-actualization. It’s a constant process because we live in a highly mediated culture. Even if you were to throw out your TV and laptop and phone…you still see ads everywhere on buses and billboards and benches, and ads alone are filled with photoshopped, usually sexualized images of already skinny/white/tall/ women. It’s a processes of having to constantly check in with yourself and reminding yourself that those images aren’t realistic and the real world is diverse and that you (we) are all beautiful, and that those ads are just trying to make us feel crappy about ourselves to make us buy unnecessary stuff.

This stuff might also be influencing the people around you negatively and so maybe if your mom or boyfriend or a stranger tells you to “lose weight” or another horrible thing…I’d say, yes those type of people keeps you from self love, but who’s influencing these people to such behavior and judgment? The media! So it comes back to our highly mediated culture.

I think the most powerful part of this “Death and Life of Self-love” is your dedication to our sisters, as you call them, “who we have lost trying to obtain this unrealistic beauty standard and to the lives that continue to fight and resist these capitalistic driven messages that we women must fit into the mold of unrealistic beauty standard in order to feel validated by the world….”

Thank you! It’s still so upsetting to even think about the women we have lost who didn’t think they were enough.

Why was it important for you to include that emotional dedication?

Apart from that message being connected to Day of the Dead, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that these harmful messages about what women should look/act like are a real killing threat in real time. I didn’t want the piece to be lighthearted at all. I wanted to make it clear that this kills. I used the word “sisters” because I wanted community members who came across this to know they had people who saw their pain and were willing to talk about it even if they didn’t speak English (the manifesto was also written in Spanish).



Sorry, but I actually have nothing to apologize for

by Ajaita Saini

“Sorry” has probably become one of the most common words in my dictionary. Despite the fact that I cringe every time I hear this word, I find myself saying it over and over again. The word has become a replacement for transitions in conversations, where we start off sentences with “sorry, but…” and it seems like it’s become an accepted way for girls to speak (and supposedly how we should speak). It’s habit to apologize after we say something too, like it doesn’t matter what we were saying, just the fact that we’re profusely apologizing should make up for hearing our voices.

I once apologized to a teacher because he submitted a blatantly incorrect grade in my report card. Obviously, it was a mistake on his part and not mine, and yet I was the one who ended up apologizing. Did I need to say sorry? Absolutely not. Yet it felt like it was my responsibility and be “courteous.”

Recently, a Pantene ad questioned why women say sorry more often than men. The ad showed many examples of women who say sorry, including when opening doors, speaking at the same time as her male friend, handing her husband a child, and even when a man knocks her elbow off an armrest.

Wondering how truthful the ad was, I decided to try counting how many times I said sorry the next day. At first, it didn’t seem like I would utter the word that often—I assumed that I would be able to control my impulse. But I realized that I was practically saying sorry every few seconds, whether it be when I raised my hand, asked for help, or when someone else bumped into me in the hall. And each time I said sorry, I felt like I was subconsciously training my brain to make the same mistake again. Eventually, I realized that I kept saying sorry because I was self conscious if I didn’t. I felt like a bad person by not doing so.

It’s frustrating hearing yourself make the same mistake over and over again, but not doing anything about it because it’s considered “polite.” Part of the reason women apologize more than men is because we’re expected to keep our opinions and identities as humble as possible. That two syllable word ends up detracting from the rest of what we’re saying, making it sound less valuable. Girls are accepted when we conform and defer, especially to men. Many times if we approach a situation in a different manner than is expected, not apologizing makes it seem like we’re rude, stupid, and moreover, bossy. Saying sorry acts as a way to disarm people before sharing our thoughts. It softens and blurs our statements, and we use it to justify an action, even one as simple as asking a question.

As idealistic as it sounds, the only way to stop this epidemic of “sorries” is by being confident in what you’re saying and understanding that your opinion is as equally valid as anyone else’s. Expressing your opinions and feelings isn’t wrong in any way, and absolutely nothing to apologize for. You don’t need to say sorry for every encounter you have with another human being.

Try counting how many times you say sorry in a day. It may surprise you, but chances are majority of the time the apology has no significance to the context. You won’t be bossy if you don’t say sorry. You won’t be considered rude, vain, or obnoxious. And even if it may feel that way at first, you’ll end off being more confident and more happy with who you are by eradicating this one word from your daily interactions.

Apologize if you mess up. But don’t apologize for having a voice.

Research Blog: Hallelujah! Feminist activism sets me free

by Jenn Chmielewski

Okay, so I’ll admit it. Post-Turkey day and just a couple weeks off from my family’s Christmas dinner (and my awesome candy cane cookies) I’ve started to think a little too much about how this holiday season might be putting a few pounds on me. When it’s just me with a mirror, sometimes I can be a little hard on myself, especially if I’ve had the inescapable pleasure of seeing…oh, any commercial really, or the covers of the magazines I always read while I wait in line to buy my Stephen Colbert Americone Dream ice cream from the little market across the street. Just yesterday it was Cosmopolitan’s headlines telling me how to have the best holiday sex ever, followed by tips on how to “find my sparkle” and lose weight for the holidays. As I sat munching away at my ice cream later that night, I grew more and more frustrated that I was left feeling guilty about the fact that I haven’t lost 20 pounds and that I most certainly will be enjoying my holiday meals for the next month without giving a thought to dieting. I was mad at the magazines for making me feel bad about how I looked, but I was also a little annoyed at myself for not figuring out a way to eat less of that delicious ice cream… What’s a girl to do?

photo by Sarah Bures

Well, what this girl did was talk to her friends for support and read a few feminist blogs online to snap back into reality. I found a feminist guide to surviving the holidays on Feministing and caught up on the latest SPARK blogs, which reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my frustrations with the world, and that enjoying ice cream is totally normal. Our SPARK research blogs have reported on research that shows how the objectification of women in the media is so bad for us, decreasing our self-esteem, ability to think, and making us believe our bodies are worth more than our brains and feelings. But we aren’t helpless against these vicious ideas and can actually fight back and change them, SPARK is a total testament to that. Not only is girl-inspired and created activism creating real change in the world and media, but I also feel good about myself when I am connected to other young women (online and in-person) who are passionate about these issues like I am. When I stop looking at myself in the mirror and start surrounding myself by the positive energy of other feminist activists, I remember all that I have to offer myself and other people.

And it turns out that now there’s some research to show that other girls feel the same way about their activism and feminist blogging. Researcher Jessalynn Marie Keller talked with eight teen girl feminist bloggers to find out about their experiences with feminist blogging and activism.[1] She asked these young writers questions about what feminism meant to them, how feminists support each other online, what kinds of blogging and activism they engaged in, and how they felt their engagement with feminism had influenced their perspectives of media representations of teenage girls.[2]

I’m sure you savvy SPARK readers won’t be surprised by what she found: participating in feminist blogging was really important for girls to build a sense of feminist community, identity, and empowerment. When we are young, it can be kind of difficult to connect to other feminists. So much seems to be geared towards adult women, and it feels like teens are being talked about but aren’t doing the talking. Keller found that online feminist blogging is a great way to create spaces where young feminists can write and connect to other teens and young women – it’s a new way to think about activism and what a feminist community can be. And the girls she interviewed talked about the importance of this community for a ton of reasons: forming friendships (very important!), getting and sharing information and education about politics and feminist issues, and feeling empowered by ‘talking back,’ expressing their ideas and having their voices heard.

So not only are the girls in the study working on massively cool feminist projects (just like the SPARK team and SPARK Action Squad) in a media world otherwise saturated with sexism, but they also developed empowered activist identities in the process of connecting with other girls online. Even though we are inundated everywhere we turn with the sexualization of girls and women in really messed up ways, we aren’t passive victims. I know, I know, it might sound really corny, but together, we really do have the power to change things and ourselves. If we can imagine a feminist world, we can create it together.

The moral of this story is that this holiday season, I am thankful to all of you. I am thankful to you for creating this space where we can learn, share, be angry at the injustices we see in the media, and come together to do something about it. So while I enjoy delicious food and ring in the New Year, I will have my laptop close by, ready to check in whenever I need some support. And ready to vent when I see those sexy Santa costumes that just won’t go away. *facepalm* Happy holidays!


[1] Keller, J. M. (2012). Virtual feminisms: Girls blogging communities, feminist activism, and         participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society, 15, 429-447.

[2] Keller, J. M. (2013). “Still alive and kicking”: Girl bloggers and feminist politics in a       postfeminist age. Unpublished dissertation, University of Texas, Austin


Girls and women don’t owe you our smiles

by Sam Holmes

I like to think that I share similarities with Malia and Sasha Obama. After all, the three of us are intelligent, fashionable, widely-loved girls of color, right? Okay, I’m exaggerating. I’m entirely unfamiliar with the burden of having an unbelievably powerful parent, dining with diplomats has never been an item on my agenda, and I do not have to worry about navigating my teenage years with a crew of Secret Service agents surveying my every move. Our lives are different. But I feel some solidarity with them this week after the media attacked them for their appearance during the Presidential turkey pardon. Their crime?  The two first daughters were guilty of hiding their pearly whites. They committed a grievous transgression by not being visibly enthusiastic as their father stood next to the chosen turkey. I can relate to the Obama daughters. I, too, have been guilty of NSWW (Not Smiling While Woman).

I noticed NSWW  early on. When I delivered a presentation in elementary school, my teacher’s largest critique was my lack of a smile. I was giving a presentation on the Civil Rights Movement and how segregation had affected the black community as a whole. And yet, I was still expected to be bubbly, enthusiastic, and approachable as I stood in front of my peers. I committed NSWW again last year, when I gave another presentation about gender equity and social movements. I described issues such as wage gaps, difference in confidence levels between genders, and society’s expectations for women. I was impassioned, but not necessarily excited as I led the audience through my observations of sexism. When the time arrived for the audience to ask questions, one man’s hand shot up and he said, “Let’s have a smile out of you!”

As I am sure Sasha and Malia could agree, there are times and places to smile. However, these smile-provoking situations are not the same for everyone. We may discover out pockets of happiness in different places. In the case of the Sasha and Malia Obama, their feelings of content did not occur on national television. The national media captured their NSWW moment, and unsolicited judges decided to contribute their unwarranted opinions. Some social media users made memes out of the duo, and others questioned whether their facial expressions signified a gaping lack of patriotism on their part. People threw labels at them like disrespectful or classless. Their father’s job title has given them heightened expectations to be effusive figureheads at every hour of the day. This expectation is neither fair, nor realistic.

But this issue extends beyond the Obama girls or myself. There is a culture of infallible friendliness in which women are forced to participate. Everyone from Beyoncé to countless friends of mine have expressed the pressure to be perpetually perky. This is a stark contrast to the criticism that women are too open with their emotions. We are deemed weak when we reveal our feelings, but we are also disparaged for not displaying enough excitement. Whether we are working, driving, studying, exercising, struggling, eating, or simply existing, we are not fulfilling our duties as females unless we seal it with a smile. These pressures are dehumanizing; as they dictate women feign a certain emotion in order to appease others. No matter how we are feeling, women are expected to be approachable. The needs of other people supersede our own as peers, colleagues, and even complete strangers want to feel as if they can always come up to us and strike up an entertaining conversation.

This expectation for women manifests itself in street harassment. There are countless accounts of women who have been told to smile by leering men as they go about their daily routines. While some people may try to downplay these interactions, I can attest to the fact that they can make women feel judged and unsafe. As women participate in a range of tasks, they are subjected to the opinion of others. The pressure to smile is not a burden that women should have to add to the list. Men are not expected to go through life with a smile plastered across their faces at all times. It is an unfair, unrealistic, and unyielding demand that impacts women from all walks of life. Women have a right to their feelings, whether they reveal excitement or discontent. If we smile it should be genuine, organic, and our own decision. Because, at the moment, these fake smiles aren’t making us happy.

Black Women Create: 7 films to watch for

by Joneka Percentie

It’s December, which means Oscar predictions are starting and there’s an unsettling and undeniable trend. Some top contenders include Wild (white woman in the wilderness), Exodus: God and Kings (white men and women as Egyptian royalty), Interstellar (white astronauts in space), Gone Girl (psycho white people), Birdman (white people in a play), and The Imitation Game (white people breaking codes), just to name a few.

Fortunately, not everywhere in the film world is quite so white. We were so excited when Dear White People, one of the most anticipated releases for the fall, had such a successful opening weekend in the box office–we knew it was a film to look out for when we chatted with producer Lena Waithe last year. Thankfully, there’s more where that came from. Here are seven films directed by  or starring Black women and girls to keep on your radar.

Beyond the Lights

Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees (thank you so much), presents the musical romance Beyond the Lights. Noni, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who amazed us in Belle earlier this year, is an international popstar  struggling with the demands of the music industry when she meets police officer Kaz. Prince-Bythewood’s journey to make the film reveals just a glimpse of the obstacles that Black directors face when convincing studios to support their work. If you’re a sucker for romance films, especially ones with Black couples, definitely make your way to see Beyond the Lights, in theaters now.


Quevenzhané Wallis will continue to steal our hearts when she stars as the lead in Annie this winter. The story of Annie began as an 1885 poem turned comic strip, which was then adapted into a radio show, two feature films, and a musical. This winter’s reboot will have noticeable changes, with Wallis as Annie, Jamie Foxx as William Stacks, and lyric references to orphans and orphanages changed to foster children and foster homes. With a revamped version of the classic “Hard Knock Life” and production by Will and Jada Smith, Annie is sure to be a feel-good film for all ages. We only have to wait until Christmas to see Wallis as the lovable title role, and in the meantime, we can watch this adorable trailer over and over again.


Selma, a new Martin Luther King Jr. biopic directed by Ava DuVernay, could not be left off of the list. The film stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, as well as Common, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Tom Wilkinson, and Omar J. Dorsey and follows the height of tension in the civil rights movement of the 60’s.  Before culminating with the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama the film explores the relationships MLK Jr. had with the president, his wife, and friends. In light of recent events surrounding police brutality against Black lives in the United States, the trailer stirs up a lot of feelings and the film is sure to do the same. Selma premieres in NYC and LA on Christmas day, and nationwide January 9th.

Girlhood (Bandes de Filles)

French writer and director Celine Sciamma premiered Girlhood (Bandes de Filles), her third feature film, at Cannes Film Festival this spring. Girlhood follows 16 year-old Marieme and the girl-gang she joins in the banlieues of Paris. In the tough outer, ethnically mixed, and economically disadvantaged underclass suburbs, Marieme fights to find her identity through major points in her life until finally discovering herself and her own convictions. Girlhood was recently acquired by buyers in the U.K., Portugal, Sweden, Norway, picked up for US distribution, and we can’t wait until it’s in major cities around the world.


Dreamwork is set to release Home, its first animation with a Black female lead, in March of 2015. Home is based on the 2007 book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Oh is from the planet Boov, and Tip is a witty, no-nonsense girl that manages to avoid capture by the Boov when they decide to make Earth their new home. Together, Boov and Tip take a roadtrip of a lifetime as they flee from Boov enemies that are headed their way to Earth. Along with the voice role of Tip, singer Rihanna will release a concept album for the film, and if that doesn’t give you enough reason to see this movie, check out the trailer!


CeCe McDonald is a 25 year old transgender African-American woman that was sentenced to 19 months in a men’s prison after being attacked in 2011. Upon McDonald’s release this year, actress and transgender rights activist Laverne Cox has documented interviews with her along with investigation of the transmisogyny and violence against trans women of color in the criminal justice system. We can’t speak enough to the importance of highlighting the experiences of transgender women of color, and in regards to FREE CeCe, we are especially excited. The documentary is set for completion in 2016.


Dancers, co-producers, and sisters Kiera Brinkley and Uriah Boyd, give much more than graceful dance performances in SOAR Documentary. Kiera, a quadruple amputee, and Uriah, born only a month after her older sister was diagnosed with pneumococcal sepsis, embody sisterhood, laughter, and a passion for dance in the film.

According to director and producer Susan Hess Logeais, SOAR “film celebrates the extraordinary ways that Kiera has learned to adapt—as a dancer, choreographer, medical assistant, and recently a driver.” The film also focuses on the sisters’ relationship, following the sibling pair in their home life, to rehearsals, and finally culminating in a collaborative dance concert for the community. The trailer alone is incredibly moving, and the final documentary will be released once it has funding for post-production and home video distribution.

Meet Kiera and Uriah – SOAR Documentary from Susan Hess Logeais on Vimeo.

Being a feminist face in an “un-feminist” space

by Julia Bluhm

I’ve been a feminist ever since I knew what a feminist was. Being a feminist seemed like common sense to me. I felt like, naturally, I was a feminist in everything I did. I’m a feminist as I work with a team of inspiring, motivated women in SPARK to create change. I’m a feminist when I write, to make my voice- the voice of a teenage girl- be heard and recognized as it should be. I’m a feminist when I wear skirts and bows in my hair, and I’m a feminist when I wear sweatpants or jeans. I’m still a feminist when I’m wearing a leotard and tights, tying the ribbons on my peach-colored pointe shoes, or being lifted in the air by my partner, the Nutcracker Prince. Ballet is just one example of a profession or activity that is often deemed “un-feminist” for countless reasons. I know that the ballet world is very flawed, and there are many aspects of it that make me really angry. I also know, however, that I’m not ever going to stop dancing. And similarly, I’m never going to stop identifying as a feminist. You can be a feminist in nearly any setting, job, or activity as long as you acknowledge the problems, support changes, and bring your empowerment with you wherever you go.

We all know that ignoring a problem won’t help it to disappear, but recognizing the problem could. This is why it’s important to talk about the issues you see in your field, and not get defensive when others talk about them as well. I’m often asked about my thoughts on body image in ballet, and the pressures to be thin. When I was younger, I’d always say “there is no pressure to be thin at my ballet school, I always take care of my body, my teachers and friends are really supportive,” etc. That’s all true, but does it stand true for the ballet world as a whole? No. If I was not recognizing the larger problems, that there is still pressure to be thin in the ballet world as a whole and that many ballet students experience disordered eating habits, how would these things ever change?

At the same time, many so-called “un-feminist” fields such as ballet, modeling, acting and fashion are taking beginning steps towards a positive change. There are ad campaigns that use models with a greater variety of colors and sizes, and movies that feature strong, female leads such as Brave and Frozen. Misty Copeland made waves with her “I Will What I Want” commercial and American Ballet Theatre recently launched “Project Plié” to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet. As a feminist in one of these fields, it is important to celebrate these changes and share them in a positive light. If the beginnings of a change receive a good response, the change will probably continue.

I know ballet does not seem particularly empowering for women. Ballerinas are known for being graceful and soft, and for dancing on the tips of their toes, while male dancers are known for powerful lifting, jumps and turns. Ballet is much more than that, however. For me, dancing is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. I feel incredibly powerful in that I can use my body to do remarkable things, to create art that, in a way, defies human nature. And when I dance with a partner I don’t feel weak or any less powerful than him. We are a team, and we help each other. As feminists, we all find empowerment in different ways, even if that empowerment doesn’t initially make sense to everyone else. We should bring our feminism wherever we go, whether that is at the United Nations, watching the Superbowl, or dancing onstage in a delicate tutu.