The WANT Women: Jessie Kahnweiler On Being Loud, Honest, And Here

The WANT Women: Jessie Kahnweiler On Being Loud, Honest, And Here

Body WANT Women

To those of us who have struggled with eating disorders, disordered tendencies, whatever you want to call them – many times the portrayal of eating disorders on tv and in film can hit closer to fiction than reality. They’re shown as what people think they’re like instead of what they’re actually like. They’re danced around and treated like cardinal sins, when in the moment a, say, binging episode, feels less like a stop-the-presses plot moment and more like a reaction akin to laughing or crying. Hell, from the outside, it can even look humorous.

Jessie Kahnweiler is at the front of the pack when it comes to the marriage of brutal honesty and brazen humor – a brilliant juxtaposition giving a voice to women’s experiences and issues normally pushed under the table.

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In her Sundance-acclaimed short series The Skinny, Jessie plays herself, telling her own story of a fledgling YouTube star suffering from bulemia. Written and directed by Jessie herself (plus produced by Transparent/Six Feet Under’s Jill Soloway and Refinery29, where the entire series is available…nbd to all), The Skinny is darkly comedic and brutally honest.

As someone who’s struggled with eating issues, it’s like a deep, refreshing exhale to see them portrayed as a “normal” part of someone’s life (although in reality it’s anything but) instead of one uber-dramatic scene/plot point after the other. Lord knows when I was restricting, binging, portioning off 1/2-cup bags of All-Bran in my dorm room, etc, none of it felt like a dramatic climax. It felt like a routine part of my life. And eventually, like I life I realized I so desperately wanted to break free from.

And that’s what Jessie does: she depicts the life of a woman whose “normal” has gone so awry, it’s started to affect who she is out in the world. 

I am terrified to fail, but I do it anyway - on a daily basis. - @jesskahnweiler Click To Tweet

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Some parts of The Skinny are hard to stomach – no pun intended – but strangely enough (or not?), most of them aren’t the ED parts. They’re the parts when she’s dealing with her mother who knows needs mothering herself, when she’s getting torn apart by potential brand partners for being “too real” or being side-eye’dly told how “out there” her work is, when she’s hoping to be accepted and loved and it goes downhill fast. Because these feelings of self-consciousness and longing to be loved are universal: it’s just that someone with an eating disorder like bulemia deals with them differently.

What I love about Jessie is that she is somehow able to do the undoable. She is able to infuse wisdom and humor into tough topics without tearing down others or shutting people out in the meantime. She walks that fine line between self aware, self righteous, self sacrificing, and ever-so-slightly self deprecating so incredibly well, making her sketches and short films able to resonate on a level that sticks with you for the long haul. She tells her stories with humor – because as she noted in this awesome interview with Indiewire, her reality 100% includes humor.

Three words to describe me: Loud. Honest. HERE. - @jesskahnweiler Click To Tweet

She does not discount the seriousness of the issues at hand – rather, she brings a reality to them that might, in other hands, seem more like an over-dramatization. What Jessie does as a filmmaker and feminist is the exact opposite of over-dramatization: she uses humor as a gateway to shine the spotlight on issues we usually, as a culture, dance around. She’s telling the story not of her suffering, but ultimately of her road to recovery. And yes – humor played a part in that.

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The more of us willing to be bold and tell our stories without giving into the temptation of shame, the better off we are as a whole. Girls. Transparent. Heck, most of us forget that even Sex And The City was shocking at the time! Some of these stories might not be easy to watch or easy to understand – but the point is not for it to be EASY to understand. The point is that these are stories of real women – women who differ from the mainstream media image of what a woman is, who most all of us are not but most all of us at some point think we should be.

These are women whose stories we’re all better off for hearing – and ultimately, with the help of women like Jessie opening the door to the work of radical empathy, better off for really, truly, deeply understanding.

WANT JESSIE.
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Name: Jessie Kahnweiler


How you’d know me: Filmmaker, Feminist, that loud chick you sat behind in Hebrew school.


What I love about myself (and why): That I’m not afraid to fail. Well…I am terrified to fail, but I do it anyway – on a daily basis.


What is your definition of “positivity?” Self-acceptance. Keeping it real with yourself and giving yourself a break.


When did you start to love yourself – did you have a self-love “turning point?” When I got into recovery for my eating disorder and realized that I am not the center of the universe and that perfection is not human.


How/where negative talk shows up in my life: When I feel overwhelmed with work and boys. When I don’t get enough alone time.


When I talk negatively about myself, it’s usually… Telling myself that I am not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, sexy enough, chill enough – ENOUGH.

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When others talk negatively about themselves… It’s frustrating because it hits close to home. Does not make me want to go on a second date.


It baffles me that women still… Blame our bodies for everything.


I wish that more women… were running D.C.


The coolest thing about women is… Our collective spirit – the divine feminine energy that effortlessly pours from us.


My favorite way to shift a negative into a positive: Write the shit out of it.


My top female role models: My Grandmothers Ruth and Lucille, Eleanor Roosevelt, and my older sister Lindsey – who is a nurse practitioner, mother, wife, runner, and totally rocked a belly button ring before it was cool.


Men can help women crush their negative talk patterns by… Giving us space to feel. To just be.

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Favorite negativity-busting activity: Asking ANYONE besides myself “How are you doing?”


Fave self-love ritual: Bubble bath. Masturbate. Netflix.


Favorite feel-good food(s): Beer!


Favorie movie or TV show to watch when I’m feeling down: Love and Basketball; Center Stage


Favorite empowering book(s): Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters – A tough important read that rocked me to my core.

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My feel-good playlist: A little Kendrick Lamar and a lot of Drake


Advice I would give my…
…4 year old self: Take advantage of nap time
…14 year-old self: Don’t rush to have sex
…24 year old self: Don’t fake orgasms – it helps no one!


5 Things, personal or professional, on my bucket list: Marry Drake. Create my own television show. Create foundation for young women to make movies about whatever they want. Be half as cool as my Grandma.


My best tip on self love: Breathe. Show up for your feelings. All of them.

Breathe. Show up for your feelings. All of them. - @jesskahnweiler Click To Tweet

When I truly love all of myself… I am connected spiritually to what’s beyond me.


Right now, I am most excited about… The great unknown.


My body is: A gift that keeps on giving.


Three words to describe me: Loud. Honest. HERE.


Current mantra: It’s impossible for you to fuck it up.

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WANT more Jessie?
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The Skinny on Refinery29

Photo credits: Patrick Gookin

The WANT Women: Sascha Alexander On Pole Dancing, Boundary Pushing, and Coming Clean

The WANT Women: Sascha Alexander On Pole Dancing, Boundary Pushing, and Coming Clean

Body Community WANT Women

I’ve always been intrigued by pole dancing. Maybe it’s the yogi in me, but I’m in awe of the athleticism and strength it takes to spin, twist, and balance your body around a simple piece of metal. It’s like an extreme sport. But I’m aware that not everyone thinks the way I do. Despite having a moment in the fitness sphere as well as popping up in pop culture here and there (mostly reality TV), there’s a misconception about pole dancing and what it should or should not be; the “kinds of women” who pole dance and who they should or should not be.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, this documentary is about to blow your mind. Why I Dance is a film that, in short, reclaims female power and sexiness as something that belongs to women themselves, and themselves alone. It’s seven minutes of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds completely owning every single inch of themselves and loving it all in the process.

It’s been featured on Refinery29, GQ, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and a slew of other news outlets – which is pretty damn cool. It means the world is listening. The world – maybe, just maybe – is ready.

Why I Dance breaks apart stereotypes by showcasing women of all ages, professions, and lifestyles celebrating just how wonderful it can feel to love who you are – all of you. And today’s Woman Against Negative Talk is one of the brilliant women behind this documentary that’s now gone viral: actress, dancer, and producer Sascha Alexander.

Ok. So before we get going, I’m gonna suggest you stop whatever you’re doing and watch Why I Dance. Maybe get a few tissues. I needed them.


Right???

You can’t help but smile when you come face to face with Sascha. An activist for all things having to do with women’s empowerment and equality, Sascha is truly the change we wish to see in the world. From her 2011 two-woman show, Naked and Crazy – an all-encompassing love letter to her own personal ups and downs, which went to the New York International Fringe Festival the following year – to her writings on Jezebel and Funny Or Die, to her personal blog entitled Searching Starving Stripping, Sascha is a a fierce believer in courageous vulnerability and the power that women hold as leaders of their own lives. And she does this all with the loveliest attitude, the most all-inclusive heart.

Sascha Alexander is a woman making waves. Her interview below had me sweeping my jaw off the floor more times than I could count. From her advice for men looking to help the women in their lives to her three-line mantra, Sascha’s WANT wisdom is off the charts. I can’t wait for you to meet her.

WANT Sascha

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Name: Sascha Alexander


How you’d know me: Actress, Producer of “Why I Dance,” a Dance Film for Sexual Empowerment, and creator of “Naked and Crazy” a two woman show about body acceptance.


What I love about myself: Oh my goodness what a wonderful question! The first thing that comes to mind is my big, bright, shiny heart that just wants to love and hold the entire world and really believes it has space and room for everyone. My tenacity and determination. My self-awareness; my drive to understand myself and through that, to understand the world. My bendy, STRONG, incredible body that expresses with every fibre of her muscle and heart the second I let her. My big big lungs that take big big breaths. And my yearning to lift myself and others higher, spiritually, artistically, and emotionally.


What is your definition of “positivity?” Mmmm. I’m gonna say seeing the value in every experience. Understanding that there is always hope, even in the darkest places. Choosing to believe that “good” and “bad” don’t really apply when it comes to our lives, in which we are never in control of outcomes. Choosing to see that all of it can be right if we let it – that’s positivity. Cherishing what is here, not coveting what isn’t.


When did you start to love yourself – did you have a self-love “turning point?” Mmmm! Love this! I started to love myself in dance class, the second I saw what was really inside me. Or to be specific, the second the other women in my class started to tell me what they saw inside me, that I was too trapped and afraid to see myself. I believe above ALL, in the power of loving communities, and people who have the courage to be clear mirrors for one another, which is such a big and scary thing to do in a world that is caught up in scarcity. It takes massive self-esteem to show up in honest praise of another person, especially a person who is shining brightly. I think there are so few of these communities available to us, right now. S-Factor was a paradigm shift for me. The more I let myself be seen there, the more I was praised and told I was “beautiful”…. which I literally couldn’t believe at first because I felt so mediocre at the time – so middle of the road, so… nothing special. Oof! It hurts me to even write those things. I was so confused!

There were so many incredible moments that first year at S-Factor, but the one that stands out right now is lying on my mat in a sideways leg lift and realizing how unbelievably strong and powerful my legs were and my stomach was, and how on fire I was in that moment, just spiritually, and emotionally and physically. I had so goddamn much to say – it was living inside me. Mine. Already within my grip. Fierce and alive and perfect. Later in class, we began moving to a really emotional beautiful ballad and my teacher screamed “No more armor!” at us and I just let myself tumble and express and yearn and I was suddenly like, divinely, aware of how deeply beautiful I was because of what I held inside me ….which was TRUTH.

Women are truth-tellers. We are so often just not given permission to be that big and that important. I could never have imagined how much I had to contribute just with my honesty. I realized my importance, my depth, and my fierce beauty in that moment. That was the spark that I have been fanning into a self-esteem flame throughout my 20s.


How/where negative talk shows up in my life: Oh goodness. Usually it’s around “faster, faster, faster, why don’t you have this yet?” or “how have you STILL not gotten this? What’s wrong with you?” I can get into big-time sexual shame too, like most women I know can: “no one wants to see you post another picture of yourself” “you shouldn’t have slept with that guy, now he doesn’t respect you” “You won’t be safe if you write about that” “your vagina is really gross and he’s probably totally grossed out now” “How dare you cancel your gym membership, who do you think you are?”


When I talk negatively about myself, it’s usually… Fear. I’m pushing a boundary and the boundary is pushing back.


When others talk negatively about themselves… Sometimes there is a part of me that is comforted. I think humility is a powerful tool in connection, so when someone speaks authentically about their insecurities or fears, I just LOVE THEM. I instantly feel more at ease and more connected, conflict melts away… I actually think we could all use a lot more of this when it’s done in an honest, accepting way.

BUT when people really speak negatively about themselves from a destructive and punitive place, in an all or nothing “I’m bad” way…I just want to hold them. I recognize it so much within myself – we are all afraid, we all think if we were somehow “doing this better” we would suffer less, have fewer conflicts, and more success. This is a lie. There is no future/other point where we handle things flawlessly, for ANY of us. All any of us have is who we are today, so ….we are all always doing it right, even if “right” doesn’t look like we imagined it would.

For me negative talk is a tool I use to mitigate disappointment, so I feel as though I can be in control and save myself from pain next time – human, but also not true. So I try to recognize it for what it is, soothe myself and do something loving and simple. When I hear someone speaking negatively about themselves, I try to do the same for them – often I am honored they asked me to be a witness. I try to unwind those false beliefs for them and set them on a more loving path.
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It baffles me that women still… Hesitate to call themselves feminists.


I wish that more women… Openly praised one another, and owned up when they felt threatened by each other, so they could reconnect and breathe a sigh of relief that they are simply recognizing each other’s power. Admiration doesn’t have to be competition.


The coolest thing about women is… Our cockiness when someone gives us permission to own it.


My favorite way to shift a negative into a positive: Put a question mark at the end of a negative thought I’m having. “is it possible I didn’t fuck up that audition?” “Is it possible that person doesn’t dislike me?” “Is it possible my boss actually really does respect me?” “Is it possible my friend admires me for this honesty?” Our negative thoughts scream so loudly when they are triggered, that we think they MUST be speaking the truth, but really they are just telling us stories in an effort to protect us from the unknown. We know so very little about what’s going on inside the head of another and I have been shown time and time again that I have more credit out in the world than I give myself. My brain tends to see rejection every time my praises aren’t being shouted from the rooftops, so is it possible there’s another story going on there? Absolutely. Just opening up my perspective that little tiny crack can work wonders.


My top female role models: Brene Brown, Malala Yousafzai, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amber Krysz, my teachers at S, and ALL THE WOMEN in this video.


Men can help women crush their negative talk patterns by… LOVE THIS QUESTION. Listening, and mirroring back to them what YOU see instead of what’s running around in their heads. In fact – men are kind of brilliant at this already, in my experience. I don’t know how I would’ve survived my early 20s if it wasn’t for the ready praise of the men who wanted to touch me, date me, and sleep with me. Thank you men – you’re awesome at this.

This one is big, though: If I could tell men to do one thing, it would be to create environment in which the women in their lives feel safe to speak their needs. Then, to respect those needs without jokes, without malice, and without a pause. In this world, it is so, so difficult, for women to feel as though their needs and true opinions are valid and worth respecting. It is a massive journey for most of us, and one that some of us never even begin to walk down because the entire world is telling us to shut up and do what we’re told.

If your girlfriend, sister, wife, Mom finds the courage, the courage, seriously, to say “no” or “I want to do this instead” or “I need some time to myself” or “I’d really like to make it to yoga today” or “I’d like to see this movie, wanna come?” or “I don’t want to drink tonight” just…support her. Say “great” say “of course” and give her what she’s asking for. Women have feelings, that doesn’t make them crazy. Women have opinions, that doesn’t make them a pain in the ass. Women need to take care of themselves, that doesn’t make them absent. I passionately look forward to a day when we do not see women’s needs as a burden or an offense, but simply as a reality. You can and MUST help us here, men. We need your love, to give us the courage to begin to speak. I believe that will move us all towards equality – and equality feels good. It really does.


Favorite negativity-busting activity: Writing without censorship. Calling a friend, and coming clean. Dancing.
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Fave self-love ritual: S-Factor.


Favorite feel-good food(s): Great coffee. Arugala salads with goodies in them. Lara bars. Anything from Cafe Gratitude. (this response makes me look like a vegetarian. haha! I’m nothing close. So. Also… big steaks)


Favorite movie(s) to watch when I’m feeling down: I often watch my own work from the past that I’m really proud of. I’ll watch my reels, or watch myself dance, or look at a brilliant photo, and remind myself of who I really am in the world.


Favorite empowering book(s): Mindset. The Gifts of Imperfection. When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies. 12-Step Literature.


My feel-good playlist:
Steal My Girl – One Direction
Right Thru Me – Nicki Minaj
Brokenhearted – Karmin
Jump – Rihanna
Burial – Pusha T and Yogi
Elastic Heart – Sia
Handle Me – Robyn
Mirror – Kat Dahlia
My Party – Icona Pop ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Use Somebody – Tyrone Wells
What Now – Rihanna
Wide Awake – Katy Perry
Roar – Katy Perry
Turn Down for What – DJ Snake
Latch – Disclosure
Latch (Acoustic) – Sam Smith
Cowboy – Kid Rock
Who You Are – Jessie J
Wait for Me – Kings of Leon
That list made me SO HAPPY JUST NOW.


Advice I would give my…
Ohhhh this is the sweetest question! I love Little Sascha!!

…4 year old self: You’re safe.
…14 year-old self: You are so, so beautiful.
…24 year old self: I will never, ever leave you.


5 Things, personal or professional, on my bucket list:
Go to the Oscars.
Sell and star in my pole movie.
Book a TV series
Publish a book of my blog posts.
Paint something.
Consistently eat Paleo (my body loves it, but it’s so hard to stay disciplined!)
Meet the love of my life and treat him like the Prince he is.
Throw the best fucking wedding ever.


My best tip on self love: Take it one day at a time. You won’t have all the answers right away. Even asking the question, you’ve already won.


When I truly love all of myself… Nothing is wrong, no one is threatening, and everything is possible.


Right now, I am most excited about… My career. My health. My growing self-esteem.


My body is: beautiful, profound, powerful, restless, and alive.


Three words to describe me: Vivacious, playful, deep


Current mantra:
Listen.
Stillness.
Nothing is wrong.
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For more Sascha and Why I Dance, visit www.saschaalexander.com. and Why I Dance. Say what-up to Sascha on Twitter and YouTube, and catch Why I Dance on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

WANT YOURSELF:
What piece of advice or part of Sascha’s journey resonates with you most?

 


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