Welcome to our series BRN GRL WIN. Every Friday, we introduce you to movers and shakers who are KILLING the game. These are women of color we admire and are inspired by, and we want you to be too! (If you know someone who would be great for BRN GRL WIN, let us know!)
ATTIA TAYLOR & AILYN ROBLES
CO-FOUNDERS OF WOMANLY MAGazine
When Attia Taylor and Ailyn Robles first met more than five years ago, they were drawn to each other by their mutual interest in women-centered activism. Fast forward to today, they've turned that interest into a publication powered by a team of twenty with a mission of sharing women's health information through the lens of art.
Taylor and Robles launched Womanly Magazine in September with its first issue "Sex Ed". The issue features art, photography, videos and writing that explores all scopes of female sexuality, from learning to love your body to facing the realities of living with an STD.
Womanly Magazine is all about sparking these conversations offline, too. They've joined forces with Red Dot Campaign to host a comedy night November 4th about women and their periods in hopes of humanizing menstruation and lifting the shame around it.
BRN GRL SPK sat down with Taylor and Robles as they gear up for their second issue "Matters of the Heart", taking a look at heart attacks, heartbreak, and everything in between. (You can submit your work to be a part of the issue!) We talked about what inspired them to create their magazine, why there's so much taboo around women's health in communities of color, and how they practice self-care in today's crazy world.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you two meet and become friends?
Ailyn: We met through an ex. Attia worked with an ex-partner of mine and we liked each other better (LAUGHS).
Attia: I don't know about that (LAUGHS). He was a creative as well and he suggested that I work with Ailyn because she had similar goals of women empowerment in mind. We met up one day and that was it from there. We started working on this project in 2012. It's been awhile. We teetered with the idea for some time and earlier this year, it became a real thing.
Ailyn: Earlier this year, we traveled to Cuba together and decided then and there to pursue this and we started while we were on the trip. We conducted interviews and shoots and, when we came back, we organized and here we are.
What inspired you to create Womanly Magazine in the first place?
Attia: When I moved to New York City I realized, through my personal life, how many health disparities there are for women of color, especially older women. My mom was lacking in education of her own body. That bugged me. I was really upset and then I had this light bulb moment: we need to educate ourselves. There's no way for us to feel empowered and artful through our health. As adults we're discouraged by health issues, but it's time we take it back and embrace ourselves as women and artful people.
Ailyn: We originally acknowledged this need for more information shown in a more digestible way, and we originally thought of this for older women, but then we decided to make it intergenerational. There's so much we can learn from older women just as they can learn from things we're going through as well. It's a way to bridge generations and demographics.
Why do you think a publication like yours matters in today's social and political climate? What kind of impact do you want it to have?
Ailyn: The mission is really to make health information accessible for people and help them have fun learning about their bodies, because they're either afraid or embarrassed to have these conversations. People can share [Womanly Magazine] with someone else and create conversations in households where we historically haven't had them because of stigmas and taboos related to health.
The mission is to make the information accessible to all generations, to women of color, here [in the United States] and internationally. We want to be inclusive of all people who identify as being "womanly", even if they aren't a woman in the way it's traditionally defined. We are trying to make it inclusive and accessible and fun to learn about and to share.
Attia: It's important for us to acknowledge who we are as women now. If you go into a museum and learn about women one hundred years ago, you wouldn't learn much because they didn't have a platform. It's important to document ourselves in this place in time, who we are, how we feel. This magazine is about health information, but it's also highly curated art. Years from now, you can look back and say this is what it means. This is us saying we're going to document who we are and tell our own story.
Why do you think there's so much taboo and stigma surrounding health for women of color?
Ailyn: Women, being the caretakers and providers their families need, put their health last. That has a lot to do with it. There's this idea of feeling your health isn't important enough to talk about or learn about.
Attia: If we're speaking historically, think about religion and how that played a role in sexuality in the household and gender roles, think about where women fall on the economic scale, and have over time. Though these traditions and mindsets have changed over time, we want to keep changing that narrative.
Why did you decide to make your first issue about sex ed?
Attia: When we first started planning it, we wanted a really bold idea, something that would get people's attention. We wanted to make a bold statement: this is what we're doing, this is who we are. We are a woman's magazine and we're going to talk about herpes. Also, no one ever really got a good sex education. So there are a lot of reasons. We're going to teach you about sex and your body in a way that hasn't been done before.
Ailyn: We wanted stories people didn't want to talk about or were embarrassed about, but are [stories] that apply to all of us. We tend to hold on to these stories and not share them and are alone in things we don't have to be alone in.
We also wanted to portray sex in a different way. Most magazines portray it as flirty and fun and show you how to get your man off. It was important for us to give all sorts of sex education and not just a single conversation about how to please someone else.
Are people responding to Womanly Mag the way you hoped? What kind of feedback have you gotten?
Attia: One person reached out and said, "I haven't read a magazine in years. I actually enjoyed it and got something out of what I was reading." We want people to have that reaction. This is what a lot of women have been waiting for. And hopefully as we build our team, we can bring on older women and people from different cultures and genders and sexualities and give readers what they want.
We just want to provide accurate health information and help people live healthy lives in ways that relate to them. I want people to see themselves in this. I want them to feel represented in every way that they haven't before.
Ailyn: A lot of the reaction has been encouraging. We went out of our way to make sure we were including writers and artists who don't have a huge platform. Magazines tend to go after people with followers, but we pulled in artists and people that we know deserve to be heard. It's built a sense of community that's really beautiful.
How do you take care of yourself in this political and social climate? What does self care look like for you?
Attia: The answer is... really, I don't know. This is so new, this magazine, and it's growing so quickly that I'm adjusting as time goes on. I've never been great at taking care of myself, but I'm learning. I check in with Ailyn all the time. We make sure we're talking to each other and being supportive. Personally, I try to be mindful of the amount of time I spend on things, but as this goes on, I'm learning it's becoming harder and harder. It's something I feel like I'm sacrificing my personal self for, but I feel like it's for a greater good.
Ailyn: I second that: the part about taking care of each other. I have to say the same for the team we have. It's really amazing that this is completely run and created by women and the support that comes from it is so unique. It's a really cool way to check in with each other and encourage each other and push each other to grow.
And when we're not feeling [great], we find ways to balance each other out and support each other. It's new, but it's been healthy. We have genuine love for each other that makes any business and partnership a little easier.
What are some other things you're passionate about? Or what inspires you?
Attia: Music is another big part of my life. I've been making music forever so it's pretty amazing to be able to be creative through my art and help other people do that, too. It really pushes me forward.
Ailyn: I would say photography was always really important because there were so many times I felt silenced for one reason or another. I learned quickly that a voice doesn't have to be heard verbally. You can use your voice in a lot of different ways. It's always been a way for me to talk about things when I was afraid to or when I didn't have the words.
What does BRN GRL WIN mean to you?
Ailyn: I had a blog about women in unconventional careers and the idea was similar: highlighting the many ways we can thrive versus thinking there's only one path we can take. BRN GRL WIN is highlighting the many avenues we can take, how we can take something we love and turn it into something we can live off or help other people. BRN GRL WIN is a celebration of those stories.
Check out our past BRN GRL WIN features.