Menstruation Series: Part I

Hey everyone!

A couple of months ago, my partner and I were invited to serve in the Peace Corps. Super exciting! While we are still waiting for medical clearance (fingers crossed), this possible adventure got me thinking a lot about periods. Where we were going, there is very little electricity, and no running water, not to mention strict views on gender. What’s more, the more I read about being a woman in a developing country, the more I learned that traditional pads and tampons simply aren’t available due to lacking resources and heavy menstruation taboos. What is a Peace Corps volunteer-hopeful gotta do?

Turns out, there are a couple of ways female volunteers deal with periods out in the field–the Peace Corps supplies all women with menstrual cups. However, I became more interested in how locals deal with menstruation, and of other ways to period both back home and in the developing world. This Menstruation Series will be divided into four parts, each discussing a different period product that is both more environmentally friendly, developing nation friendly, and tested out my yours truly. For part I, I want to share a couple of things I have learned about what it is like to menstruate for girls and women living in the developing world.

Girls miss school.

Yep, you read that right. Millions of girls miss school because of their period–and eventually drop out. This is a problem both where I might be going with the Peace Corps, and worldwide. The infographic above from Her Turn is a great visual of the problems present. Many girls report lacking resources to deal with periods. In rural areas, there are usually no bathrooms, garbage disposal, or running water in schools. Many girls end up using old rags and clothing in place of a pad to get through the few days of their period.

Girls who stay in school longer grow their country’s GDP, have more economic opportunity, less children, marry later in life, and if they do have a family, their kids are more likely to live past the age of 5. Education lifts up everyone, and girls make up half the world. Let’s not keep them back.

There are tons of organizations trying to alleviate the problem sustainably, such as AFRIpads–check them out here.

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Another big factor affecting girls and women who are menstruating are the heavy taboos placed upon it. Because there is little education or understanding of female health and hygiene, many people view periods as unnatural and unclean. Sometimes women and girls have to live apart from their communities during their period because of this. And, if a girl bleeds through her clothes at school, she faces extreme embarrassment from community members. If you thought it was hard talking about periods in the United States, think again.

There are programs like WASH by UNICEF that are trying to change this, at least in terms of hygiene for not just girls, but all children. There is also the Thinx Foundation, whose goal is to educate and empower girls around the world, particularly regarding periods.

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That’s all for this week! I encourage you to do further research, because this is an issue we can fight and put an end to. I hope that I am able to dedicate my life to service around the world, and if not that, we can work together to improve the lives of those in our own communities.

Until next time,

Marta

Menstruation Series: Part I

Stay Gold

Hey Everyone!

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As I’m sure most of you know, graduation season is well underway. Seeing my friend’s and family’s graduation pictures has made me think about my own graduation and how I have grown in the years since. It all started a few weeks ago when my classmates told me about about a conversation they had with one of our teachers. According to them, somewhere in the conversation my teacher said something to the effect of “Gianna is a damn good actress. She should quit her job and start acting in some plays.” It kind of blew my mind to hear that, because it brought me back to my original plans for my life once I graduated high school.

I ended my high school year thinking that I was going to move to LA and start auditioning, learning about acting, and working as an actress as soon as possible. But then life happened and I ended up getting a job as a cashier at Whole Foods after a few months and I have been there ever since. During those years, my passions had to take a backseat. That was okay for a while it turned out, because moving to LA was huge culture shock. Having some sort of stability helped me to gain some confidence again. But now, after three years I feel that my life needs to take a new direction.

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I think there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to try and decide if their dreams and goals are worth risking it all for. What I have decided for myself is that I would much rather “fail” at the thing I am most passionate about, than to be safe and “successful” at something that I hate doing. Life is too short to not live it to the best of your ability.

At my school, we get many opportunities to speak to actors, directors, agents managers etc, who are very successful in the industry. It’s a great opportunity to hear these people speak, and I always feel lifted and a little smarter once I leave. A common theme that I have noticed in all of these talks is this: The only difference between people who “make it” and people who don’t is the level of commitment. It truly does not matter what you look like, where you come from, what gender you are, how tall you are etc etc. All that matters is how much work you are going to put into it everyday. If you want it more than anything else, it can and will be yours. This isn’t just true for acting, it’s the truth for any and every goal set by everyone.

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As you move forward into the next stage of your life, whether you just graduated from high school, college or you’re still in school, remember to stay true to your passion and dreams. Be the person who goes after their goals regardless of how bumpy the road looks ahead. You matter, and your dreams are important no matter how big or small they are.

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If you leave this blog post learning only one thing, let it be this: Graduation is a time of celebration and new beginnings. It may seem confusing and scary at first, but know that everything you want can be yours if you work hard enough and you believe. It will take a lot of dedication and hard work, but everything that is worth having is worth working for. You owe it to yourself to be courageous and to keep pushing your own personal envelope because you never know what treasures are waiting just beyond your comfort zone. This is how I am choosing to live my life from now on, and I hope to inspire you all to do the same.

Stay Fabulous.

-Gianna

Stay Gold

Living Radically: Starting My Own Business!

Hey everyone!

Last time, I talked about my (possibly) crazy decision to cancel my phone plan. You can read it here. This week, I will be talking about why I started my own business!

I had been working a new job for about a month when one week they took me off the schedule and sent an ominous email to call them when I was available. And then… well, for the first time in my entire life, I was fired. I had already gone through three jobs in less than eight months, and the world of employment was beginning to look bleak. The thought of going through yet another pile of applications to work was soul-crushing. I then decided that I was done with it. I was going to pursue a bucket list item: start my own business.

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I have always been quite crafty, and love creating artistic products. I decided to combine my skills in crochet with my passion for creating stuff, and came up with Crochet All May. In one evening, I made a crop top, and the next day I posted it on social media. I wasn’t sure what to expect–Would people be willing to buy my stuff? Things I made myself?

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The response was astounding. People loved it! I took in four orders in less than three days, and was crocheting every spare minute I had. The next week, I created a new design: a bikini top. Crochet is trending, and so many people were interested in this. Now I am working on designs for bikini bottoms, clutches, beach bags, headbands, and any other bohemian item I can think of.

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Being in charge of my income is especially empowering. Being in charge of a very small business is incredible. I have pride in what I create, and connect with my very own clients. I am even fulfilling a long-time dream: being an entrepreneur. All I had to do was get fired (check), create something of value to others (check-check), and go for it (triple check). I get to challenge myself everyday, apply my business education, and do something I love for hours on end.

My end game here is this: if you are thinking of starting a business on your own, go for it. Put yourself out there, because you will never know if it will work if you never try. So far, I have found my own little success, and I am enjoying every second of this new project.

Living radically,

-Marta

P.S. If you need some motivation, read/watch Girlboss. The main character, Sophia, becomes 10x more relatable when you start doing your own thang. 😃

 

Living Radically: Starting My Own Business!

Tuesday Spotlight: Gianna Salazar

Gianna Salazar is a writer here on Feminine Boutique, as well as actress extraordinaire, environmental advocate, and bookworm. She studies Acting for Film at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. When she isn’t working at Whole Foods and Guess, she spends her time dancing, playing guitar (electric, specifically), hiking, learning languages, and swimming. Without further ado… I give you the fabulous Gianna!

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You never know what the day is going to hold for you… if you wake up and you get ready and you open yourself up, something amazing can show itself.

Gianna is the second in a mini Tuesday Spotlight series on the women that make Feminine Boutique shine. A close friend of mine since high school, she is a constant inspiration to me to keep doing amazing things and let nothing hold me back. She writes about everything from hair care routines to environmentally friendly shopping. This is your go-to gal for candid conversations and fun adventures.

Gianna exudes good vibes. Every day at 7AM, she hits the ground running with the notion that something she does today will matter. “There’s always a possibility for learning and growth in every day,” she explains. She finds these opportunities is everything she does, whether it’s at school, work, and even in the things she does for fun.

A large part of Gianna’s motivation is that she loves what she gets to do every single day. Most of her time is spent on acting and film (her greatest passions), so she is constantly growing and improving her skills in this area. “When I was in high school… I would dream of the day when I would get up and just act.” She follows this with saying that she really is realizing her dream—she wakes up, and she goes acting, dancing, singing. Now her dream is to get up and go to set, and have that be her career.

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When you’re doing something that you’re passionate about and that you are meant to do, the feeling that you get when you are doing it is… indescribable.

Passion is at the center of everything Gianna does, whether it be in what she does every day, or what she hopes to do in the future. When she is acting, she says, “I feel like every cell in my body is celebrating like, ‘yes, go Gianna!’” This is what inspires her to keep trekking down the path she is on. She loves every second, and every ounce of work it takes to get to the next phase in her plans to take the performing world by storm is worth it.

Her future plans and dreams are multi-faceted. “When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be a performer… but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there are so many other things I want to do.” Through her studies, Gianna found that she loves being in front of the camera as much as behind it. Dancing and singing are also central to her career goals. Self-sufficiency is key to her plans; as an actress, she wants to be in charge of some portion of everything she creates.

Another piece to her future is being able to make a true impact on the world. “I want to be able to inspire people through my art.” She wants to make a difference in terms of how people view the planet, themselves, and others. Our society tends to close its mind to the things it does not want to hear, namely knowing the effects of what we do on a daily basis to our environment. “I think that artists especially have a duty to raise awareness and… enlighten people.”

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If you’re gonna watch me, if you are going to see what I do, you’re going to see something that’s important. You are going to see who I am and what I believe in.

“I think that the biggest challenge I have faced so far as a woman… I think is realizing how much misogyny really runs deep in this society.” Gianna grew up thinking that being a woman is the greatest thing ever; she was lucky to come from a family of strong, empowered women. While she still feels this way, she has also become aware that the world we live in tends to demonize femininity.

Having gotten into the dating scene, these patriarchal tendencies come through quite clearly. “I think that if I brought this up to a lot of [guys], they wouldn’t even think that what they are doing is wrong.” The depth at which being female is considered bad, and being male is considered powerful and good, is shocking. “That just proves that [misogyny] runs so deep.”

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Everybody comes from a woman. If you deny feminine qualities… then what do we think of ourselves?

Gianna knows that while the intention to put women down is not always there, the expectation that women will step down is. “They get mad at you for speaking your mind, or they want you to just shut up and just be pretty.” She has even experienced that while men might compliment your intellect and personality, as soon as a woman begins to talk, their voice is drowned out in misogyny. Women shouldn’t be ‘that smart’ or ‘too sure of themselves’.

On top of this, Gianna says that as people, we need to be honest with ourselves, no matter who or what we are dealing with. “I’m gonna be polite to myself and speak my mind.” Being polite doesn’t equate to disregarding your own feelings. No matter what kind of relationship you are in, honesty is key. “I’m not going to sit down. I’m not going to do something that I am uncomfortable with simply because I’m a woman and I shouldn’t say anything.”

She delves into how women have always been a force in history—it is when we speak up that amazing things can happen. “There have always been women that have said, ‘Eff the status quo, I’m going to do what I want to do because this is what I was called to do as a human being.’” She then demonstrates what she referred to as ‘hater-blocking’. Just swat away the bad vibes!

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Be a badass ‘cause you are a badass!

Gianna likes to encourage other women to keep growing and to push for their dreams against any odds. She makes a good case for the kind of people to keep in your life, stating, “If someone is in your life and they’re not supporting you and they’re not trying to help you grow… it’s not worth it.” No matter what path (or paths) you choose to take in life, those surrounding you should be cheering you on, not bringing you down.

Adding to this, being empowered does not mean being the next big ‘thing’ in any industry. “Where do you feel like you shine?” Whether it’s homemaking, or science, or business, go and do that thing that makes waking up in the morning the most exciting part of your day. Wake up, and go do the things you love. Most importantly, don’t let anyone, or anything hold you back. “If you feel it in here,” she says, gesturing to her heart, “you’re supposed to do it.”

There is something spectacular inside of you that is trying to get out, and I think the most spectacular thing someone can be is themselves.

Tuesday Spotlight: Gianna Salazar

Tuesday Spotlight: Alondra Rodriguez

Alondra Rodriguez is in her final year of undergrad at Manhattanville College. She keeps herself busy working as an office assistant in two offices on campus, and is always looking for new opportunities to learn and grow. Her hobbies include food (primarily eating it), reading, spending time with friends, and dancing with her team! She graduates in May, and is excited to see where life will take her next.

I need to be honest… Alondra is one of my closest friends, and being able to share her story and life perspective is an honor (especially on Valentine’s Day)! While I might be totally biased, this lady is the coolest person in town. She carries herself with a confidence that takes you by surprise, and is up for just about any adventure you propose. Her story inspires me, and I am sure they inspire young women everywhere, too.

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The recent events in our society has taught me the value of education and how important it is to continue learning even if it’s the opposite perspective.

Nothing motivates anyone to get out of bed more than good food, but for Alondra, food is everything. Granted, that food comes with a hefty side of gratitude. “What gets me out of bed is the fact that I’ll be learning something new that day, that I am gaining more than I had the day before.” Being able to attend class (and battling senioritis every step of the way) is a gift, something this lady remembers every day.

Of course, school is not the only thing on Alondra’s plate. “I am constantly getting involved in all kinds of activities and fields, in hope that I will find something that I am truly passionate about.” The arts, theatre, communication, finance, international business… the list goes on. You name it, she’s tried it. It wasn’t until recently that she came upon a line of work that fulfills her need for purpose and helps others: nonprofits.

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 My goal is to one day run my own non-profit and expand it into third world countries. I want to focus on girls and help them receive a well-rounded education.

Right now, Alondra works at a nonprofit called Lifting Up Westchester. They work to aid the homeless in in her college’s area. She hopes to continuing working with nonprofits to grow her knowledge of the trade, and use it for later endeavors. One day, she hopes to be running her own nonprofit at an international level. Before she gets there, though, she may pursue further education on nonprofit management.

Among her challenges is finding value in herself. “I have been bullied all throughout my life… which took a toll on my self-esteem.” After years of seeking approval from others, Alondra figured it out: her unhappiness came from never finding that peace within. It was then and there that she learned to take life by the reins, find joy within herself, and never measure her worth by someone else’s scales.

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There was a time that I was constantly working for the approval of others but not myself. And then one day I asked myself why I was so unhappy and it was because I was not living for myself but for others.

A big part of finding this inner happiness and self-worth came from loving her skin. “Growing up I have always struggled with my brownness, especially coming from a family who has lighter skin than I do.” She was always compared to her mother, who has the lighter skin prized in much of the world. However, she’s been inspired by other women of color over time—and has decided that she’s too fabulous to wait for society’s approval. In her words: “I think I am AMAZING!”

When I ask for her advice to other young women out there, it’s simple: stay confident! “You are a goddess and you are women and there is always power in that.” Know your value, and never let another soul tell you otherwise. That is a trick to finding that true happiness—finding a joy in being you every single day.

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Throughout the years I have meet many wonderful women who embraced their melanin fearlessly and they taught me to love my brown skin and to always know that there is no shame in that.

Finally, I always ask my ladies… How many times do you hurt yourself trying to dance in the shower? Alondra’s response: “That is a daily dilemma!”

Thank you for being a part of this series, and sharing your story alongside the stories of all the badass women out there.

Tuesday Spotlight: Alondra Rodriguez

Tuesday Spotlight: Kate O’Phalen

Kate O’Phalen is an actor, producer, and activist living in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, Dan and 13-month toddler, Scarlett. Among her accomplishments are producing a new play about Anne Boleyn, creating a short film about the choices we face as women, and making the Lady Plays Podcast, which gives female playwrights a platform to put on radio plays. In addition to creative awesomeness, she is the youngest National Council member at the Actors’ Equity Association, a freelance blogger and social media guru, and works every day to achieve social equality for women and people of color.

I was excited to interview Kate as part of the Tuesday Spotlight—she is a powerhouse of a woman! Talking to her showcases her intelligence and spunk, and it is easy to see how she has done as much as she has to make the world a better place. Through her work and her daily life, she pushes for a more egalitarian world, and keeps her head up when times get tough.

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My toddler wakes up at the crack of dawn, my husband brings me a cup of coffee in bed, and I chug it until I manage to hoist myself out of bed and get the day rolling.

While her toddler literally gets her out of bed every day, Kate is motivated by things creative, political, and global. Besides killing it in the theatre scene as a producer and actor, she finds looks for ways to create beauty through crafty projects. Whether its painting, sewing, or learning a new creative skill (glass blowing!), she is finding new creative venues when she can. Glitter is also a favored medium.

Kate also loves sharing ideas with others and putting together ways to create positive change, building diverse and peaceful communities, and traveling the world to experience new things. To top it all off, “Teaching my daughter new skills that she needs to blossom and thrive and smash the patriarchy” motivates Kate to get out of bed and keep being fabulous.

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I make flippant jokey comments about how I want to “burn it all down” a lot lately, but the truth is that the big dream is a world that looks a lot different than that one we currently move in.

I asked Kate what her big dreams were, and the list was long. In one sentence, she best describes this dream to be this: “A world where our stages and our board rooms and our research labs and our congress look just like the rest of America looks — feminine and colorful and in all different shapes and sizes!” Her main concerns are building a world where the color of one’s skin or their gender do not dictate the course of a life.

In her line of work, she felt that issues surrounding young women had been left on the backburner, and ran for the Actors’ Equity Association’s National Council (she is the youngest member!) to change things in her acting community. Where there are voices, there is change. Just before giving birth to Scarlett, Kate started a mommy meetup group in order to connect with other soon-to-be mothers. “It’s totally possible to create these spaces for yourself if you’re bummed that they don’t already exist.”

Kate uses her role as a parent to raise her child to be tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people. “We… visited Santa this year at Macy’s in Herald Square and made sure to intentionally request black Santa (ask for “Mr. Claus”!) because why the hell can’t Santa be black?” She ensures that the books she reads to Scarlett have diverse characters and families, using every opportunity as a teaching tool. While change is a slow process, every little daily action contributes to the future of our world.

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“…Being pregnant… really crystalized some of my feelings about how we treat women and women’s bodies and the sovereignty therein.”

As women, we face many challenges and moments where our strength is tested—both in the physical and emotional senses. For Kate, this was Scarlett’s birth. “During my pregnancy, I read and read and read about feminism and motherhood and birthing and the feminine power wrapped up in all of it.” She decided on a drug-free birth with as little intervention as possible. Unsure she had the physical strength the labor at home, she decided to deliver Scarlett at a hospital.

This is when Kate began to understand the lengths to which women’s bodies are disrespected, even in childbirth. The OB pushed for unnecessary medical interventions and ignored Kate’s wishes for as natural a birth as possible. “It eventually concluded with Scarlett making her entrance via a C-section that I believe was completely medically unnecessary. And I have the ugly scar to prove it.” The loss of autonomy for an event that need only be welcoming a new face to the world was traumatic.

Her strength may have been tested, but Kate came out of it with a healthy baby and some lessons for the road ahead. “I learned a lot about how strong I am (29 hours of labor without pain medication!) and about how deeply we disrespect women and their bodies, even when they are at their most miraculous.” She says that one of her goals this year is to “turn my broken heart into Art”, as advised once by Carrie Fisher and Meryl Streep.

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Feminism means you have the choice to “do you,” so go ahead and do what makes you happy and don’t waste another second feeling “less than” for it.

On advice to other women, Kate has it simply put: “Feminism means what YOU want it to mean.” There is no one way to be a feminist. The word itself begs the individual woman to carve out their own path, and really make it our own. Women can have careers, families, reproductive control, and all because of our predecessors. Women can step back or lean in, stay at home or go to work. Most importantly: “Also: don’t marry a dude who isn’t proud to call himself a feminist ;)”

To wrap up this interview, I asked Kate how many times she hurts herself trying to dance in the shower. The response is golden: “I save all of my best dancing for making my little one giggle in the living room, so no shower incidents to speak of, though I have literally injured myself trying to get a good chuckle out of her! And that’s not even counting my pride.”

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Tuesday Spotlight: Kate O’Phalen