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what it means to be a woman | photography

Elsa: “I think my first experience with mental health or the one time I can really see it clearly was after my dad passed away. I don't know, I was never clinically depressed like clinically diagnosed during this period. So I can't really say anything, but I have been diagnosed now and have worked with the psychologists and stuff. So I can definitely see patterns in the past. After my dad passed away, I don't think I slept. First of all, I've always had a really difficult time with sleeping when I've been sad. And I, and now I know kind of why I do it. But back then, I didn't. And I also have very vivid dreams. I think a lot of that builds in anxiety and in my subconscious. I remember getting these dreams after my dad passed away, for the next three months, and I pretty much thought it was just noise and it was everything in my head that was wrong. All of it coming out and the dreams, I literally couldn't handle it. I'd wake up screaming, I don't even know why, like freaking out, and I would throw up, and this is when I lived in boarding school. This is particularly difficult, you know with my roommate, my friends. Still, I also remember not telling anyone. I don't think many people in high school knew because I didn't even know what was going on. I didn't understand what was wrong with me or why I felt that way. And this changed when I met my boyfriend in high school. I think that gave me a lot of peace and comfort, and safety. And I remember being able to sleep for the first time and not having those dreams or them going away kind of a thing. Before then, I think I just felt really alone at that time.”

"‘What it means to be a woman,' is a series featuring some of my best gal pals, women I rate and love, mostly importantly look up to so much, talking about our lives and what it means to be a woman today. Its conversations about mental health struggles, body image issues, and just growing up in different cultures. I feel like we talk about women and women's issues but don't really listen or bother to delve too deeply. We're considered to be complex beings but I think the media depicts that quite superficially. I wanted to create an intimate moment with my friends and wanted to create a series where women didn't feel alone and didn't feel like they had no one to talk to. I think talking about really deep experiences in front of a camera requires a certain amount of courage and bravery - and I thought that this was no better way to show what a woman can be. Truly brave and unflinchingly honest."

Maryam: “In general, there's definitely a discrepancy with being a woman. Take my cultural upbringing and my ethnic background out of it. Just being a female in general, in a lot of like points in my life be it personal be at work be it like educational as a woman going into science, you know people tend to be a little bit of a dickhead to you. And the thing is, you wouldn’t understand it until you experience it as a girl. It literally affects you in every single aspect of your life from upbringing to how people perceive the way you act in a different way than they would if you were a man.⁣

My parents, they were waiting for a boy again and again. So when it came to me and I was the last child between three sisters, my father was like ‘Cool. This one's mine. This one is the one that I will be a boy with.’ I was brought up very tomboyish. My dad made me do sports. My dad made me do martial arts. But then on the flip side, like toys wise, and like things I liked as a kid. If it wasn't girly, it was strange for it to not be girly. Growing up, I really wanted science gimmicks. I've always liked science, I wanted toy microscopes and like shit like that. I love that stuff. But, my mom and dad would be say ‘No, you get to pick from the girls toys, dolls only.’ On the contrary, I would be the kid who would help my dad fixing things around the house. And I would help with like the DIY and the handyman work and shit like that. I think a lot of my relationship with my dad very much kind of centres a lot around him and his culture as someone who was born and raised in Iran, which is an Islamic State. He was raised really religiously. In that kind of culture, talking about emotions and feelings and stuff wasn’t really accepted. So when, you know growing up and with me becoming more me and less whatever my parents wanted me to be, there was a lot of - Oh, this is a letdown.”

‘What advice would you have for girls your age or younger?’

Kimmy: “Just say how it is? Just say it. I think it's hard. I feel like we've just been programmed to just shut up and listen and go with the wind. But you know, nothing you want will get done. If you don't speak up. Like it could be about like, I want to buy a fucking pancake. It could be as small as that. I've always struggled with speaking out. Definitely like try not to be a people pleaser. Try to please yourself. Please, please yourself. Pleasure yourself, know what I mean?

Speak it, you know, tell. Tell them. Oh, you know, what’s a good one? Boundaries. Word of the day: boundaries. If you're not happy with something, speak your mind. Even if it's your friend. Yeah. Because if they are your friends, they will respect that. And if they don't, they're not your friend. You shouldn't be afraid of disappointing them because at the end of the day, if you're concerned about disappointing them. You ruin your happiness, and at what cost?

Don't worry about relationships. Just don’t. Just prioritise your relationship with yourself first and have that sorted. Self love. Because then if all your other relationships, crumble and go to shit. At least you've got that one that you can always rely on. Love yourself. Self care to the gods. Treat yourself. Happy Taurus season baby. Make sure you eat today and drink water. I love you and I’ll leave you with that.”

Vaishnavi Pandey is a visual artist, writer and, photographer based in London. Originally born and raised in Bombay, her work constantly allows her to explore the realms of culture and identity through a broader lens. Her work seeks to explore the meaning of being a woman, especially a person of colour in a non-native space. She is the Editor of Unsettled Magazine, an independent and print publication based in London.

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