the "she Is" project
All photos by Jillian Zamora Photography
We have become a society that screams our opinions at each other without any regard. We were built on the diversity of people, but somewhere along the way we have become a group that is judgmental, biased, and insensitive to those who are different. How do we expect to teach empathy and understanding to the next generation of young people if we are only modeling self-serving agendas? Being convicted by this question, I started looking inward at how my work could make a statement about the beauty of diversity.
I realized that, although it may be a small start, I needed to stop talking and start listening more. I needed to find a way to use my art to make a statement of strength in diversity. While there is grit in telling my own stories, creating a platform for OTHERS to share their journeys seemed like a much more powerful statement. And just like that, the She Is scarf was born.
I wanted the art to be a symbolic microphone of sorts. A safe haven for whoever was wearing it to share their thoughts, opinions, and stories without fear of judgement and without interruption. The scarf communicates “She Is” in Morse code and allows the wearer to fill in the blank.
An event was set up, and on April 2, 2017 a powerful and diverse group of about 20 women came together to celebrate their uniqueness, tell their story, and to have their portrait taken while wearing the scarf. Each woman was asked to answer four questions. They were encouraged to talk about the most positive and negative moment that shaped them, why they chose their current path and what the best thing about being a woman truly is.
The She Is Experiment celebrates our femininity, but more than that, it seeks to exemplify and amplify the good characteristics that we as a group wish to achieve, regardless of race or gender.
The She Is women are kind and compassionate, awkward and quirky, smart and academic, explorers and companions, pragmatic and dedicated, spiritual and flexible, passionate and resilient, driven but humble. We are thoughtful and creative, nurturing and gentle, courageous and independent. We are First Amendment Avengers, mentors, and advocates for the weak. We are artists and creators, daughters and mothers, wives and friends. We are women, and each of us have our powerful stories to tell.
KRISTEN KENDRICK BIGLEY
Metalsmith, artisan jewelry maker
After college, I started working for a beauty company that was small and relatively unknown. Through the years I was offered opportunities to expand my skills and leadership in ways I didn’t realize I was capable of. Through challenge and change in the organization, I had to consistently adapt and grow in order to stay relevant. This has translated into all other areas of my life.
Growing up I suffered from severe TMJ that required surgical intervention when I was 16. My jaw was cut on both sides, and wired shut for 6 weeks. During this time, I had to stop playing viola and shifted my energy back into the visual arts. I spent my senior year in a vocational commercial arts class with an incredibly generous teacher (George Cadell). That year shaped my path as a I pursued a BFA in sculpture following that experience.
Working full time and raising two children meant there was not much time for creative pursuits. As I considered ways to work on a smaller scale, the natural connection to my love of handmade artisan jewelry seemed like a perfect solution. Four years ago, I started teaching myself basic meta-smithing skills and put together the start of my studio. As my skills developed, I have been able to offer the work as a side business, which has been absolutely wonderful experience.
Growing up I was a total tomboy, and rebelled against what I felt were traditional female roles. It wasn’t important for me to learn to cook, sew, have a family, etc. In college, using materials and processes that were heavy and challenging was a way to prove to myself I was capable of pushing those boundaries, even if it was not something I was aware of at the time. I eventually embraced the power and tenacity of the female spirit; those areas I rebelled against integrated into my life more naturally and are now something I celebrate and appreciate in a completely different way.
Home goods designer, maker, wife, daughter, and friend
When I think of positive experiences that have shaped me, I think of watching my mother-in-law play in the ocean in her 70's. Feeling the warmth of my grandfather's hugs. Watching my brother fiercely love his two daughters. My dad taking time to show me that there is literally nothing I can't do if I set my mind to it. My mom teaching me the power of words, and how to carefully chose them. My grandmother's endless need to create. My husband's ability to see the best in everyone he meets, and how he consistently reminds me that I am enough exactly as I am. I'm privileged to know so many inspiring people, and I only hope to be half the person that they are.
A few years ago, I had a health scare and found myself in the emergency room. I learned that what had started as a very minor infection, had quickly spread. It was hours from reaching my heart, and that would have been it for me. At the time, I was so invested in work and my previous commitments that I didn’t take the time needed to listen to my body. I look back on that time and consider it one of the best things that ever happened to me. What I didn’t realize then was that I was a genuine workaholic and I was incredibly lonely. It taught me to slow down, to create a life that I love outside of my work, and, most importantly, cherish the positive relationships in my life.
Looking back, it feels like everything in my life was pointing to what I'm doing now. My parents were both self-employed and worked in the construction industry. I spent my childhood surrounded by blueprints, and I was constantly making something with whatever was around me. Those were the moments that I started to feel most like myself. When I moved to Denton for college, I felt overwhelmingly inspired by the creative community that I found there. As soon as I realized it was possible to make a creative career on my own terms, I had to give it a shot.
I would argue that the best thing about being a woman is their resiliency.
Stationary designer, illustrator
The creative community I found in Denton has really helped me find my confidence as a maker and an artist. I can say with some certainty that Shawna Smyth Studio wouldn’t exist without the encouragement and advice I’ve received since moving to Denton.
I had a role model when I was a kid. She was several years older than me and had no idea that I looked up to her. When she was in her teens, she began making poor decisions and got herself into a lot of trouble. I watched from a distance, horrified. My childhood hero was suddenly selfish and ignorant, and my pre-teen world was shook. I made a personal vow then, that I’ve based most of my decisions off of ever since, to live as though I were someone else’s role model. To make sure that I’m always making wise decisions, and always being intentional, because you never know who’s watching.
I don’t know that I really chose it at all. It feels like it chose me.
How many opportunities we’re given to discuss our feelings and thoughts with one another.
Retired teacher, active community member, mother of 2 and 4 grandchildren, a lover of the wild and more landscaped outdoors
My love for ideas and communication was fostered by my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher, Margaret Nichols. Reading was one of my earliest-to-bloom passions because of Mrs. Nichols.
When I was 11, my father died suddenly. I have only recently come to realize how lost I was for years. My father loved ideas and never hesitated to answer any question I had in a manner that never spoke down to my sometimes, I realize now, naive and silly questions. Although I can no longer recall the sound of his voice, I do recall how much I enjoyed his reading to me at bedtime. Being a developer and contractor, he was involved in the community and served on several boards, such as the one that created Denton Municipal Airport. The loveliest homes that he built are in Nottingham Woods, also known as Idiot's Hill. I won't leave behind anything as lasting as homes built by W.W. Kremer Construction, but I do try to make a positive impact in Denton. Teaching is most definitely community work, and I am very proud of my total 40 years. During the course of teaching, I found meaning in helping build 2 Habitat for humanity homes, and that led to finding Ruth's Room, a thrift store whose primary founder, Bunny Hodges, was and is a good friend and inspiration. I have also found in the recent years that community activism and promoting the cause of justice both drives and fuels me.
I am certain that I never actively chose teaching; rather, teaching found me and I melded into its demands and rewards. Teaching a love of reading and writing filled my life, and teaching in Denton for over 35 years fostered my love of community and gave meaning and purpose to me.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Women are particularly adept at generative tasks: fostering relationships, creating solutions, and establishing and growing communities. The work historical work of our pioneer is still and always will be necessary.
Art teacher, adventurer, mom, artist
Growing up in the country, travelling, living abroad a sailboat in the Caribbean, becoming a teaching, having kids, opening an art studio are all positive experiences that have helped me become the person I am today.
My art being blown away at a craft fair (literally the whole table was blown away, never to be seen again0 lead me to return to what I love and what Im good at…which is working with people. Job losses in my family lead me to working hard to pursue my dream job.
I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and started my first art biz at the age of 12. I love the adventure of entrepreneurship.
The vulnerability. The capacity to love someone else more than our own life. The opportunity to beauty, to be strong and soft at the same time…
Linocut printmaker, watercolorist, artist
The ongoing support of those around me has most greatly influenced the person that I am today. My parents didn’t bat an eye when I told them that I wanted to study drawing and painting in college. My husband has been my biggest support in my career now, and my friends have always been incredibly encouraging in both my skill and ability to make this work.
Ideas failing. I can look back and think of multiple times when I had a “great idea” that I invested tons of time and money into, and it totally flopped. No one cared. Those experiences end up being stepping stones to something better. I have definitely learned from all of those mistakes and grown from them, too.
I’ve never felt like there was any other path. Although the path has definitely taken turns that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve always felt like my path was very clearly set before me. I’ve been very thankful that I feel so convicted about what I’m doing today when I am inevitably tempted to doubt and question my career. I always come back to feeling like this is clearly where I’m supposed to be.
I love that as a woman, and as a mother in particular. I have the opportunity to model what strength, and determination, and vulnerability look like to my children.
The key most positive experience has been surrendering my will and path of my life to follow Jesus Christ 34 years ago.
The death of my mother when I was 20 years old…34 years ago. Yes, both the positive and negative experiences that most shaped my life happened within a matter of weeks. The positive was the first. These two experiences happening have led me to life by a bible verse in romans (8.28). “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.’
I am not exactly sure I chose this path, but I have definitely followed the path that has led me here, one decision, one step on prayer at a time in pursuit of a creative life that allows me to love and support others.
Having the privilege of bearing life and the honor to love and nurture children and other to their god given passion and purposes.
I know the cliche answer is that becoming a mother helped me become who I am today but there is no other answer for me. I was terrified to have children because I felt too much like a child myself. I also have a mother who seemed to have no maternal instinct and I was afraid that I would be the same. When I thought of motherhood, I thought of nothing but fear for these and several other reasons and yet when I became a mother, something erupted in me that I didn’t know existed. What once seemed like an unstoppable bend toward selfishness became a joyful willingness to sacrifice, where I knew I was impatient, I suddenly had more to give, where I was prone to fear, I let go a little easier. These things of course undulate depending on the day or season but all of the things I needed to be for my children, I seemed to believe I had because I was chosen to raise them and know that no one else is better suited for the job of being their mother. Just like with anything, I grow into my position more and more but certainly see that the best sides of my love have been uncovered and developed in motherhood.
I was raised in a very isolated existence. My mother and father deal with mental illness, substance abuse and depression. I did not have siblings and both of my parents have been absent (either physically or mentally/emotionally) for the majority of my life. This has provided a lot of challenges but it has also given me a resilience and a strength to endure difficulty with stride and a beautifully protected faith that keeps me. In all of the loneliness I felt as a child, I learned to reach outside of myself and make friends with anyone, relate to humans from all over the earth and even ones that don’t speak the same language as I do. I see that, out of desperation for contact, I learned the art of connection. Even today, I have many friendships that have been instrumental in my growth and survival as an adult.
I can't say that I chose the path I am on currently, but rather it chose me. My husband and I married with the goal of moving to a developing country to live permanently in ministry. Instead, we ended up stepping off of the team (for overseas ministry) in our first year of marriage and picking up a farm internship in rural Pennsylvania. While I never planned to be a farmer’s wife, here I am. I don’t claim to be the best at this route, in fact I know my husband wishes I had my hands in the dirt more. However, living on this spot of land that we have has given me an opportunity to use the most gorgeous and fresh ingredients possible which then became a curiosity and eventual love for cooking and baking. I haven’t had time to paint and create in the same ways that I used to before but my canvas has become the very thing that nourishes and sustains my family, my art fills their bellies! Being at home has been hard for me but I see what a gift it is to get to spend the days with my two boys and in the kitchen to provide for them and their Papa. I am learning to love the new pace of motherhood, one day at a time.
I once read a quote by Wendell Berry that describes a woman’s body not as a museum to be admired but as a home to be lived in. Both of my boys have lived inside of that home, my husband has been comforted by it and my babies have been fed through it. My body tells the story of what has been and, as it changes, it bears signs of the gifts it has given. I am thankful that women have this incredible privilege. I love that, built within our very shape is this ability to nurture and provide.
Watercolor artist, mom
Growing up in a community that relied on the land and each other to survive and enrich our lives. I remember my childhood as magical even now as an adult I am aware of the hardships that were around me when I was young. The woods, the river, the ocean, nearby farms and ranches are all characters in the story of my youth. They lived and breathed a steadfastness in me that I think comes from the land you call home.
Losing all of my belongings in New Orleans. Among other things, that loss really showed me what I was made of. I am still dealing with the positive and negative coping mechanisms I created from that situation, however the positive awareness of self and how it can affect all of my relationships is a gift that some people never receive.
I didn’t choose this path; the path chose me. I think I was always on this path and I didn’t realize it. I started college with an eye towards a marine biology degree. Perhaps not by chance I became aware of the up and coming culinary arts and realized that I had already been cooking and really enjoying it my whole life. I dropped out of my courses and packed my belongings and moved in about two weeks to a new town to begin culinary school.
Growing up being conditioned to believe that there are some things a woman can’t do or shouldn’t do; I’ve always enjoyed trying to break those boundaries. There is an element of surprise to it. We may have had to earn the breakaway, but because it wasn’t expected it has made even some of my smallest accomplishments that much more glorious, welcomed, and appreciated. I’ve always thought there was a great advantage to being the underdog in many situations.
Stylist, creative consultant
growing up in Austin, and being nurtured by the most amazing women, artists, and activists I could ever hope to know. There was a very magical mix of growing up next to the river (“secret beach”) in the heart of the city where everything was a bike or bus ride away. The freedom that provided led me to have the most serendipitous encounters- that have led to me finding great mentors and diverse friends. I’ve tried to always carry that with me.
In my formative years, my mom was very unwell. She’s thriving now, but when she was sick, my sister and I were pretty much let to our own devices. Even as an adult when I tell people about it, I often hear “that was a pretty hard life,” and it still doesn’t register to me as “negative.” Being a child care-taker is quite a mixed bag because caring for my mother never felt like a burden, and it is a reason I’ve always felt the need to be tenacious and self-sufficient (great things to be as an artist). Though I do now recognize it as “a hardship.”
I don’t think I chose the current path Im on. Its always felt like what I should do so I’ve just followed my instincts- that gut feeling knows my path better than I could ever hope to. And even though its sometimes been a choice between following my intuition or making enough to have a reasonable amount in the bank, my experiences have proven to me time and again that if I make the choices with my brain, things get stressful and don’t make sense. But if I follow the feeling, and don’t change, work, life, and the world is magical.
I am so expressive with my love for others, so having that freedom in society to care, support and love; though it can sometimes be seen as unpaid emotional labor- feels like the best part of womanhood. That and what I’ve been told is a heightened intuition and ability to see others whether or not its actually a feminine trait, I’m not the one to ask for proof. But it feels like part of womanhood for me.
Mother, Wife, Teacher, Human
There are several but, the thing that really comes to mind is family. I am very fortunate to have a loving and supporting family that is willing to listen and discuss and respect each other. As I have grown up and expanded my family, I am fortunate that the people that have become my family are also loving and respectful.
As a girl and woman, I have always been keenly aware of how I look and how I look to the world. It has really shaped who I am, and I constantly worry about what I am projecting on my children, especially my daughter. I do not look like the societal norm and I have gone through many different phases of hating and loving myself. I am currently working toward health (which I think is a constant) and whatever comes out of this current journey, Now know how exercise helps to regulate all my anxieties and body issues.
Teaching chose me. I have vast interests and did not know what I wanted out of life. I love teaching because it gives me the opportunity to explore all my interests. Family was something that I always knew I wanted. I wanted a quiet and simple life filled with love and that included children. The moment that I found out I was pregnant with my first child, was the moment that really cemented who I was. We were soul mates and I am forever grateful to her for giving me that gift.
For me, being a woman is all about feeling. My emotions rule who I am, which can be bad, but I choose to look at it positively. I live in my gut and emotions and have had to learn how to regulate that. It has served me well through relationship building, teaching, and especially in my family.
Honestly, being raised by the family I was raised in (three awesome siblings and two loving parents) is probably the single most shaping positive experience I can think of. So much of who I am is because of the love they showed me, the lessons they taught me, the priorities they modeled for me, the humor they shared with me and the experiences they so freely gave me.
Perhaps I would say the most recent one of miscarrying my second pregnancy. Talking about it still brings stinging tears to my eyes. But my oh my, how all the more grateful it made me that I get to hold/love/raise my first child, Juniper. It reminds me that I am not owed her. I was not and am not guaranteed her. She is a gift from my gracious and loving Heavenly Father. Pregnancy, getting to carry life within my own body, is a gift. I wish I was pregnant with a thriving 15 week and 2 day old baby in my womb. But instead of spending all my waking hours envisioning the things I lost, I feel all the more emboldened to not take for granted all that I have been so generously given.
Call it cheesy, but I honestly feel more like my path was chosen for me than me choosing it. I’m more of a “come what may” personality versus a vision-caster. I don’t think I ever would have chosen being a wedding photographer as a profession—that’s for people way cooler than I am. And I don’t think I saw myself running a business that brings home the majority of our family income while being a mom to a toddler—not going to lie, I always pictured myself as staying at home while my husband brought home the bacon. I didn’t see myself getting married at 20-years-old—THAT’S PRACTICULLY A BABY. And yet, here I am. My life goal is to honor the lord by submitting my life/plans/finances before Him and then come what may.
Gosh, I don’t even feel equipped to properly answer this question because there are so many “best” things about being a woman. I can tell you my personal favorite thing about being a woman is the privilege of my body both growing life in the womb and then being able to nourish life outside the womb. It will forever astound me.
Fiber Artist, Art Educator, Co-creator of FIN Press Publications
Some of the most positive experiences in my life have had very little to do with the moments themselves, and more to do with the people who shared those experiences with me. My dad encouraged my fierce independence and taught me the importance of hard work and dedication in any endeavor I chose. My mom models for me something even greater. She shows kindness and empathy to everyone she meets and is by far, the greatest listener I’ve ever known. At 19, I met my better half, the person who is daily challenging me to be a better person, artist, teacher. Jake doesn’t just listen to my outrageous plans to take on the world, he helps me brainstorm a plan of action and then holds me accountable to stick with it when I start to get scared and want to back out. He is my equal, my mentor, my partner in crime, my world traveling buddy, and my teammate when raising our girls. They are my positive experience.
A few years ago, Jake and I miscarried with our second child. We had just finished a very successful year and a half of art shows, and we were ready to slow down and expand our family. I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken. I struggled mentally with how little information we were given by our doctors and felt isolated by the whole ordeal. It wasn’t until choosing to open up and be vulnerable that I realized how powerful the female community can be and how common miscarriages actually are. Story after story was given to us exposing the same struggle. Soon my Mama wounds began to heal. I feel as though that sweet babe taught me a lot about what is really urgent and the bittersweet fact that this life is short. We must live fiercely today and not waste a second of it because we are not guaranteed tomorrow.
Teaching the next generation of youth is where I feel I am making the most difference in the world. I love sharing my passion and love of art with teens, but more than that, I love showing them that their voice matters and that their art can make a difference. Teaching while becoming a mom has helped me learn that parenting is just an extension of my role as an educator, but on a much more intimate level. It is mine and Jake’s responsibility to raise our girls to be free thinkers, empathetic and loving to others, and to grow up with enough courage and confidence to take risk and find joy, regardless of what path they chose. And doing all of that while creating art has only made my work that much more authentic and purposeful. I am a better mother and teacher when I get the opportunity to create. My identity is so closely intertwined that I only feel complete when I’m attempting to balance all three.
Because of where we live and all of the women who have come before us, we can be anything we set our minds to. When there is exposed inequality, we are allowed to have a voice and fight for those injustices. On top of that, we have the power to grow and produce and sustain life which makes us, arguably, the most powerful beings on the planet.