Monday, December 20, 2010

Safe Space

I completed my senior project several days ago. My project was a series of stories developed from interviews with relative strangers about how they feel about their bodies. A lot of you volunteered to talk to me, and in the end I spoke with 10 different and totally inspiring people. A few weeks ago, I had to do a presentation in class about it, and the Q&A session afterward prompted me to do a lot of thinking about what I'm going to post about today.

"How do you think the idea of safe spaces plays into your project?"

I wasn't sure at first what she meant. I asked.

"Like, how does having a safe forum to talk about issues and to discover yourself play into body image?"

I hadn't really thought about it before, but this girl had seen one of the themes in my project that I now feel may have been very subtle at times, but is crucial to where I feel that I-- we-- have to go from here.

Nearly every person I interviewed spoke to the idea of a safe space in some way. For some, it was a physical location that allowed them to feel comfortable with themselves and begin embracing their identity. For instance, when one woman went Hawaii for college, she found it found that the existence of an actual Hapa culture helped her truly love her racial identity. Another woman had a body image epiphany in a massage parlor. Two of the women addressed this idea in a way that was a bit more tangential by telling me something that was amazingly touching: that I was one of the only people who they had had the courage to share their story with. As a relative stranger, that was incredibly touching to hear. Some people saw this project as a safe space, a venue through which to share their struggles with other people and perhaps to enjoy the catharsis of saying it out loud. These two women had very personal, painful stories, and the idea that they had wanted to share them with me in order to help others is truly astounding. Hearing the way they felt about my project became, in a sense, the real reason I did what I did. And now it will continue to be the reason I strive to continue doing these things for others.

It's no shock to me-- and probably not to any of you-- that we live in a world where we can feel isolated by our problems. In the past year or so, I have started thinking of this blog as a place to talk about the things that are hard to talk about. At one point I termed it "an exercise in vulnerability," and I think now more than ever I feel that venues that function as such are extremely, extremely important, not just for the person who is doing most of the writing, but for the people reading. I like to think of this blog as a safe space not just for me but for all of you. I like to think that when I open up about something that's troubled me or that I'm secretly proud or that hurts me deeply it helps other people feel more welcome and accepted in this world. This may sound self-aggrandizing, but I like to think that what I do here by laying myself bare, by speaking my mind, is creating one of those safe spaces for you. I hope you know, really and truly, I read all my e-mail and all my comments and the way many of you have been willing to be vulnerable with me and the readers here makes coming here and writing worth it. If it weren't for your participation and the way many of you feel about this blog, I'm not sure it would be quite so rewarding.

What I want as a journalist, as someone who is going to be placed in a position of power to talk about other people's experiences, is to cultivate safe spaces. I want to tell stories that don't get told so often. I want to tell stories that help other people come to terms with their struggles and their losses and celebrate publicly their victories. We all deserve to feel as if we can share. We all deserve to be able to sing out our hearts and minds. When you do that, when you open yourself to others, you are able in turn to provide them the confidence to do the same-- or at the very least, help them not feel so alone. I get e-mails and comments from people thanking me for talking about very personal things-- for instance, my OCD-- and how my willingness to use this forum to say the things we're afraid even to whisper to ourselves in the middle of the night, no less in public, gives people a sense of community. Many would argue that the Internet is further isolating people from one another, but I'm often not so sure about that. The Internet gives people the opportunity to find people with the same secret fears and challenges, and with that comes a beautiful potential to help those who feel alone flourish and come into their own.

In the mass media and sometimes even in our personal lives, we don't often get the chance to feel emotionally secure. And if that's the case, we must work hard not only to find safe spaces in which to thrive, but to create them for others. People often bemoan the things that society is lacking, but we must come to realize that if all we do is sit around wondering why certain support systems, these safe spaces, that are so essential to our happiness and well-being don't exist in huge numbers they will never exist at all. We have to make them.

Have you discovered your own safe space? How will you work on creating safe spaces?


Anonymous said...

I have to say that being part of this project was definitely a safe space for me. I'd read your blog for a while, and knew I wouldn't be judged, and when you spoke with me, I was able to just be like: "I can say what I want about my body. She won't judge me. It's all right."

D. said...

I agree with you about Internet connecting people - it may be impersonal, but it's important to know you're not all alone. I applaud you for this project and your mission in journalism - you're kind of my professional hero at this point.

Kelly said...

I think you have absolutely created a safe space here in Chicken Soup for the Dorky Soul. Thank you!

Vanessa said...

Oh, gosh, I can't even... You're all amazing. And, D., that may be the best compliment I've received to date :)


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