Living as a woman in today’s fast paced world means being constantly bombarded by messages telling you how to identify, sexualize and beautify yourself. You probably are told you are doing it wrong, and you are told so via social media, peers, and other forms of pop culture.
With such a high rate of brand content, memes, and fast culture trends at our fingertips, we are taking in a large range of messages — whether positive or negative, real or fake. Too often women are questioning their beliefs based on what others tell them to be or do, and too often are stuck feeling like they need to adjust their own happiness based on someone else’s expectations. With this constant stream of consciousness culture, being more selective in our own lives with what we take is so important and I do not think I am the only one who is feeling it. We should all take more time to take a step back to focus on mental health and bonding in real ways with the people we surround ourselves with.
I have been exploring this idea and have been searching for more realness in my own life. I have been lucky to form strong connections with the women I have shot throughout my photography career, and they have let me see a vulnerable side of them, something I admire and want to talk more about. Vulnerability and sensitivity have for a long time been seen as a weakness, but I think of them as a strength. The bonds of sisterhood should also be celebrated, and with this series, I want to highlight people who are doing positive work in their own communities and who try to be as real as possible. Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you like the series! :)
Interview #1: Karina Mireles
Karina Mireles, 22, is a photographer, musician and student currently residing in East Lansing, MI. Originally from Brownsville, a small border city located in the southernmost tip of Texas, Karina’s photography is heavily inspired by her childhood, focusing on issues such as religion, unconventional beauty, mental health and self-love.
What is it like to be a woman? How would you define yourself as a woman?
I believe that in this day and age, it is very difficult to live as a woman. With my personal experiences and what I have gone through, this idea that it is a man’s world is super prevalent in my head. I don’t think that people realize what women go through, they just expect us to go through pain and struggle for the betterment of others.
In one of my classes in school, I was taught about layers of privilege that someone has based on race and sexuality. This world is seen as black and white – What you are given is this pyramid cut horizontally where the top is white and the bottom is black and I believe that that is a good representation of privilege today. As you see white and black there is no space for others - that is Brown people. I think that that can be said for me. Because there is no space for someone like me AND because i am a woman, I have to create for myself this type of third space. There, is where i get to claim who I am and where I come from. Besides that, I believe that women, especially women of color are not validated if they are not feminine enough or have certain features that links them to femininity. I believe that because of that we are always putting ourselves up against each other which adds to the list of who is against us. I think the world is out to get women because we are honestly so powerful but we don’t believe that in ourselves, that we have everyone keeping us at a distance with certain standards that we have to have; if we don’t we can’t get into the club and I think that’s why women are so mean to each other; we just want to fit in that we’re willing to change for validation.
What is “Women’s Empowerment?” Is this about gender equality, or is it more than that?
I think that women empowerment is a little bit of both. I believe that it’s about gender equality and having the same access of resources that men have be given to women. I believe that women empowerment can be achieved through the same support system that men have. It’s about bringing our voices to the table and being held at an equal standard to that of men.
What are the qualities of an empowered woman?
Someone that I have been following so closely that exemplifies an empowered woman is Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. They are both two young bright women who aren’t afraid of the naysayers and the people who are currently in power. They aren’t afraid to fight for their rights and give people a piece of their mind. They are doing everything to push equality to others even if their own team wants the worst outcome for them. They’re doing all this and at the same time uplifting each others and those around them and I really do believe that that is the ultimate embodiment of an empowered woman.
Thoughts about the Me Too Movement?
I feel conflicted when it comes to the “Me Too” movement because one: I’m glad that women are being brave enough to come together and talk about the injustices that they have faced in a collective manner, but two: it makes me sad that it had to take thousands of women to stand up and talk about their gruesome experiences for men to be held accountable and for people to take notice and actually do something about it.
What can we, everyone as a society, do better?
We have to break this image that people have of us being invincible and say “Me Too,” and I think to people that was frightening. Everyone was so shaken up about it. Every single woman and man that stepped up and said “Me Too,” myself included, just added to the noise that was used to shake people out of their fairytale that everyone is pure. I think it was definitely a hard pill to swallow for a lot of us. I think that we as a society should first: give solidarity and understanding to those affected. People are being hurt and the only thing someone can do is be there for them and give them space to add their experiences to the table. We have to be more empathetic to one another and to the world. Second: we have to push topics such as these, uncomfortable ones, into the spotlight. Because if people don’t know, how will they educate themselves? People are less likely to learn something if they hear it from a third party and more likely to learn if they witness a close person to them talk about it. We all have to be open to hearing gut wrenching topics because it only adds to our education and will open our minds.
I feel like with media and growing up as a girl, we know what we want to be but we don’t actually feel like be that version. Describe your influences that developed your mindset growing up and how its changed over time.
I grew up in a very religious, Mexican household so women were always held at a higher standard than men. We had to learn to not speak unless spoken to, we had to learn how to be the perfect housewife so we could be ready for marriage at 18. With the media being added to my pre-teen years that kind of worsened my mental health. I had all these pressures from home and now the media on what type of woman I had to be. In addition to that, I was bullied a lot in middle school for being the tallest or being the curviest of the women there. I found myself being depressed and thinking I was not good enough and thinking that I’ll never have somebody or find a partner because of all my defects that people were telling me I had.
During that period of my struggle, I really found myself falling back on music. I really focused myself to be really good at a certain instrument and I felt like i had so much more opportunities outside of where I was living. I focused on school and music and found myself excelling in that. I pushed away all the negative energy that was clouding my mind and sought something better. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship for college and that was my awakening. It was a wake up call that I was deserving of something else. For me, it gave me a chance to reinvent myself and leave the bubble that I was stuck in and follow something different. It really was pushing away all the negativity and looking for something that I liked for me to be the person that I am today. Surrounding myself with supportive people that love me for who I am and aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m wrong instead of pushing me down. I believe that that made a huge difference in my flourish.
This is an interesting perspective you have because often I hear women being taught to make a career before love, and in your household, it was the opposite. Can you tell me more about your culture in that sense, and how you decided to change your life?
Well, when it comes to Mexican culture the man is considered the bread winner and everyone should accommodate him. A woman has to bend and be someone obedient in order for the household to be fully functioning. The man has the say in everything: finances, kids, all that. We weren’t considered women if we didn’t know how to do certain things that pertain to the household: cook, clean keep everyone happy. We basically were raised to be these submissive machines and I didn’t want that. I hate being told what to do especially by a man. I basically rejected all those ideas, I mean don’t get me wrong, I love cooking but everything else was not pertinent to who i was. I rejected all those ideas and told my mom, if you don’t like my decisions then you aren’t respecting me then i don’t need that from you.
Where did you learn to be strong? What does strength mean to you?
Honestly, I half learned from my mom and half had to acquire it on my own. When i was nine, my father passed away and it was just such a hard time for us in general. My mom took the news the hardest to the point where she locked herself up in her room for a week without any contact to the outside world at all. During that week i had to figure everything out, I had to figure out funeral inquiries and at the same time had to go to school and take care of my younger sister. When that week was over, my mother came out of her room and went on with life like nothing happened. She resisted to show weakness towards us and kept moving along. I feel like that experience changed us both.
How are you making space for yourself today, how did you start to reclaim yourself from then to now?
When i got to Michigan from Texas, I was very unsure of who I was holistically. I was very confused with everything that was ingrained in my brain of who I was according to people or who i was supposed to be. I started to find things that interested me, film, music, politics and just started to put myself out there and meet new people with the same interests as me. I started to make a space where I was welcomed and where my experiences could be shared with these people and with my art.
Why is it important to have a support system, whether that is family, friends, creatives, etc.? Do you share a sense of sisterhood with any of them?
I think it is so important to have a support system whatever it may be. Family, friends anything can help you flourish to whatever you want to be. I believe I share a sense of sisterhood with other creatives such as myself, I feel so open and comfortable because I know that I can be myself and I can be crazy and wont be judged for it.
Tell em about a time where you faced adversity and a lesson you learned from it…
My freshman year of college, I entered through this program specifically for low income, first gen hispanics such as me. I had this initial idea that I would be safe here, I would be able to be my best self here. However, I soon realized that that was not the case. I started getting bullied and being looked down on because I didn’t fit this certain stigma of what a Mexican is supposed to look like or act like. I didn’t feel at all my best self. It came to the point where by the end of the year, I had no friends, I developed anxiety and depression, worse than what I had in middle school, I had a eating disorder and i almost killed myself. I decided to transfer to a school closer to home and there I met new people who actually supported me and pushed me to be my better self. After that semester there I transferred back to MSU, and just focused on my self and my studies and found people on my own. I learned that no one is going to know you by you and you shouldn’t hold people accountable for your own happiness.
Let’s talk about what you do. Along with being a student, you are a photographer and a musician?
I am both. I’ve been playing saxophone for four years and bassoon for 7 years. I personally collect vinyl. I am obsessed with music. I also do photography because I am intrigued in getting something interesting out of people. I like to take photos that will show others just how beautiful humans are and maybe even have them question the type of art that I put out.
How does what you do also share how you are? Such as how photography is a part of who I am, it’s not just a job. Does yourself reflect in all that you do with your work, and what is your mission within that?
For me, I believe photography is a reflection of what I grew up with and what I want to be or what I want people to know about me. It’s always a story with photography for me. I grew up very religious and I want to show others how I view religion. I also have this fascination with the human body and how ultimately, bodies are beautiful no matter what shape or size or skin color. I like to push the envelope and put out stuff that makes people think and makes them question what really goes on. I also like to put out this idea through my art that we are all good enough. Specifically with women of color, I have this series that I have not put out yet that deals with sexuality as a form of self expression. Men are always holding women to be these sex objects and in this series that I did, it negates men altogether and makes women to be these life forms where they don’t need men to feel sexy or confident. They can feel validated by their own means, and that brings power to them.
What do you think about social media and how does it affect our day to day?
I think that social media adds to our need for validation, myself included. I think that it’s slowly deteriorating our minds, especially women. I think that people need to look a certain way or live a certain lifestyle to be validated for likes. It reminds me a lot of this episode on black mirror called Nosedive. It really reflects what would happen if social media takes over how we live our lives which I think were close to getting there. Whenever we see people with so many likes like, for instance the Kardashians, because they have so many likes. For living a certain lifestyle or wearing certain things people want to imitate the same and be held at a pedestal like them and that can be very detrimental to our minds.
Why is it important to develop a sense of self?
I think that everyone is sad or mad or crazy in this world. There isn’t enough love to be put out there. I believe that once you know who you are and what you want out of the world then things will fall into place.
What is the relationship you see between women and peace?
I think that right now were living in dark times. With women being treated as animals and not taking our stories into account with politics specifically, I think there needs to be room for change. I truly believe that women are the answer to peace. I think that women should be held at a higher standard when it comes to respect. We have gone through so much and are still going through it and we still get treated like we’re nothing. You see women making history in politics and people still aren’t satisfied with what we can do. I believe that once people hear women and their abilities and open up doors for them then maybe we would be a step closer to achieving peace.
How do you help inform others?
Outside of what I like to do, I just try to be a decent human being. I was always taught to give people what they need even if it’s the shirt off your back. I try to be a helping hand to others whether that’s being someone that’s there to listen to them or give advice. I’m always open to hearing people with whatever they need. I feel like because I didn’t have anyone to fall back on, I should be there to prevent that from happening to someone else. If I can help people figure out who they are and what they love doing, then that would be an accomplishment within itself.
Anything else you want to say?
Growing up in a small town, I have faced so many things in my life that would make you think this would break a person. My dad passed away when I was nine and my brother recently passed away May of last year. Growing up money was so tight, and I’m able to call myself fortunate enough to be given a full ride scholarship to go to any school. I can say that I got that because of my hard work, your destiny does not define who you are. You have to break out of the barrier and make your own destiny and make your own life. Don’t think that whatever circumstance you’re in you’re gonna be there forever. Whatever you have to do to achieve the dream, do it. And don’t let anything put you down because I’ve been at rock bottom, I’ve been way way way below rock bottom dealing with all these things and I can say that there’s always a silver lining.
Woman Crush Wednesday is a fashion portrait photography series by Emily Nagle to showcase and empower strong women. This is the first photoshoot of the series.