Self initiated

Objects of self

It’s International Women’s Day 2021 and the theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge. Sail choose to explore this by reaching out to friends, family, collaborators and our community to creatively challenge them to think deeply about their own unique identities. We simply asked the question ‘What object reflects your identity as a woman?’

What it means to be a woman is an ever changing concept, a fluid idea defined by society and culture. Gender roles are influenced by many complex factors, both external and internal. Unrealistic expectations can shape and distort a woman’s public and private self. In order to create real change and fight gender inequalities, we must challenge this and allow women to self identify. How often do woman really reflect upon who they truly are away from societal expectations?

The response to our question was amazing, it opened up unexpected conversations, debates and shared experiences around themes of body image, sexuality, tradition and personal ideals. The objects chosen were unique and each tell a story what being a woman means to each individual on a very personal level.

The images of the objects and written responses all reflect the importance and beauty of looking inward. Challenging the way we view ourselves as women enables us to be more expressive in the way we wish to be defined.

Thank you to all of the amazing woman who shared their chosen object with us.

Happy International Women’s day to you all.

Jules: my identity as a woman is disputed, scrutinised, denied. My identity as a woman is deficient, malformed, undernourished. My identity as a woman struggles to exist, my identity as a woman is impossible to extinguish. 
Cake tin
Cath: I've picked this old cake tin to represent me because it's colourful and fun but also strong and a survivor, it's from the 1950s and older than me, but represents my love of vintage and delving into the past. It should also survive longer than me and I like to think of one day when my son might keep a cake in it too. I love that it has a traditional high street scene printed on it, i love nothing more than visiting quaint towns, rummaging in charity shops on the high street, the local bakery churning out treats and making the town smell like heaven. It's also really useful and can keep precious treasures or cake inside of it if you are lucky enough to be able to prise open the battered and bruised lid.
Meg: I think this jumpsuit encapsulates my identity as a woman. I adore everything second hand and vintage and the moment I saw this I fell in love with it. It represents how far I have come as a woman, to not follow trends, to buy the size that actually fits my body, to be bold and the truest version of myself even if that doesn’t fit in with societal norms. I feel a million dollars in it and authentically me. I think fashion plays an important role in expressing who I am.
Marie: Who am I. I’m someones wife, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, someone’s mum, the supervisor, that woman, the lady who lives at number 90. I am invisible, no longer noticed. I am me. Nanny Me, Aunty Me. That's who I am.
Laura: this is Rita. She has to be many things, sometimes she is a contradiction. 
Climbing shoes
Danielle: climbing is the first time I found exercise that I love, and my gender and height never mattered. Everyone’s equal on the wall, we all have our own strengths.
Sequin shorts
Dasha: these shorts represent my personality - glittery, outgoing and in-your-face. I am not shy of attention and love wearing these out dancing. Some women shy away from attention for fear of attracting the wrong kind, but I wear my clothing with confidence.
Lucy: my whole life is in here, keeps me sane and organised. Writing my lists to clear my mind when I’m struggling and overwhelmed with the daily struggles of life.
A photo of a compass
Kate: when I started pondering the question, a compass came to mind almost immediately as an object that identified me as a “person", mostly due to my love of travelling, languages and cultures. However, when I began to consider it as an object that represented me as a woman, I thought that what it symbolises might be more relevant. As in, the way we navigate through the world and how we should never lose sight of our north, however lost we may feel. This has been fundamental to me, in an otherwise very male world.
NHS lanyard
Becky: my biggest achievement, my motivator and reason why I can love the life I live. It’s more than a job, it is something I am proud to do and be a part of.
Aimee: I have chosen my pantry as a place that represents an important part of me - I enjoy cooking every day and am looking forward to when I can cook something for the whole family again - I think that a meal at the end of the day with people that you care for around a table where anything can be talked over or argued over sustains and feeds not only hungry bellies but loving relationships. It’s a loving gesture you can make daily.
Jules: for most of my life, my hair was kept short and my identity as a woman was repressed. This scrunchie represents me taking control of my hair and my identity, by nurturing them, loving them and letting them grow.
Sam: this record sums up everything that I love and celebrate - music, pop culture, icons, beauty, female empowerment, boundary pushers, don’t-give-a-fuckers and bleach blondes. 
Mandy: my camera taught me to see with curiosity, compassion and humility - it was the start of my creative journey and queer self.
Christie: these are my diaries that I’ve kept from 2012 up to now. I’ve always romanticised the idea of having a place to keep thoughts, a place to make my inner monologue tangible. But it’s in retrospect that I realised that this whole time I was actually recording proof of my identity. It just completely solidified my sense of self. I can pin point exact moments I’ve learned and grown from, times I’ve struggled and loved and lost and came out the other side, and that brings with it hope for the future.
Jodie: I’ve been a big old postie since I was 22. I like the irony of the fact the it’s a Postman Pat van. Most people are like I know ‘Jodie the postie’ if they don’t know my second name. The amount of time I’ve been misgendered is unreal (it seems it’s still the one job where people automatically say postman) but nope, I’m not a bonnie lad I’m just a lesbian in a cap doing a “mans” job ... some times better too.
Jo: my running shoes: they represent freedom, friendship, fitness and fun to me. I’ve been running with a group of women for nearly 20 years now. We call ourselves the Femmes Fitales. We run every week in the Peak District. During the pandemic we’ve kept going - running solo, in pairs, groups of 6 - can’t wait until all 20 of us can run together again.
Record player
Sarah: my record player lets me express myself and my moods through the LPs I choose to play. Like a soundtrack to my life when I’m at home (and that’s been pretty much all of the time this last year!)
St Brigids Cross
Carly: St. Brigid's Cross in my home is a reminder of my ancestry and where I come from and a reminder that knowing history and being curious, empowers you to think about the future, fight injustice and ensure terrible history never repeats itself. 
Crochet hook
Julie: I love to crochet and give gifts to family and friends, It makes me feel I have created something that will last and people can enjoy. ❤️
Nyomi: I chose a record because music is the soundtrack to my life. When I’m happy or sad, or any emotion in between I turn to music. I have to listen to good music every day or I’ll get down. The right song can completely turn my mood around and when I find a song or band I love I’ll play them over and over. One of the toughest things for me the past year has been missing gigs and festivals and the community around music. Speaking to someone who likes the same bands and songs as you is always so affirming. I can’t wait to be in a field dancing and singing with both friends and strangers to my favourite bands again.
Michelle: I always have at least one notebook/sketchbook on the go. This is one of 3 at the minute. It’s usually notes, ideas, reminders, sketches of things. This is an ideas one, it’s lined pages so a mixture of ideas and scribbles. Someone I used to go to school with gave me it at my 50th birthday party, with a bottle of fizz. I have one for work, things to make, fabrics I have, working out prices. I have about 40 sketchbooks/notebooks that I’ve kept over the years. I usually have one in my handbag so I like little A6 ones too.
Colette: I put them on and the adventure begins... 
Clay foot
Charlotte: a cast of Evan’s baby foot. It’s one of my most favourite objects in the world-it represents me as a mum and also my role working with children.
Kaffir tree
Natasha: after the daily highs and lows of running a start-up, I love nothing more than to cook. Thai is my favourite cuisine, mainly to the flavour of these little leaves- Kaffir lime!
Helen: growing up in the 70’s I loved comics and Wonder Woman was the only female super hero who wasn’t superhuman. She was an ordinary woman but with amazing powers (in the comics anyway, the tv show not so much-it was pretty sexist)! She held down a day job as well as saving the world in her own time-both practical and cool (and not just saving for the glory!)
Ski helmet
Jackie: There’s nothing I like more than escaping to the magic of the mountains. Snowboarding always pushes me to my limits, it makes me challenge myself and feel liberated.
Dr Martens
Danni: if there was ever an object that had the power to make me feel comfortable in my own skin its a pair Doc Marten boots. They of course hurt like hell at first, but then they mould to me, become a part of me, my identity and my gender expression. Being a designer I also love their history, the fact that they are synonymous with non conformity, music, rebellion, self-expression, hybridity and fluidity. They feel like me.
Helena: moving through the world, often unseen, willing to help but otherwise busy with their own concerns, with a ready smile - or a cheesy grin.
Zoe: this is my Nana's pearls alongside my great grandma's wedgewood necklace and a similar necklace I received from my Mum for my 18th birthday. They remind me I come from line of fierce and determined women who have always walked the line between bold and driven and soft and nurturing. The campness of the arrangement is a reflection of my queer femme identity and recognising strength and power in femininity.
Meg: I thought of an orchid, I like the idea that flowers aren't always in bloom-there isn't always the expectation to be perfect and meet all the standards women have in a stereotypical society-being perfect, slim and beautiful. Orchids also often look like they are dying which is a reflection of depression; and a reminder that if you look after them, they come back.
Kat: <1840 60% of women were illiterate. <1900 women were excluded from art academies. <1948 many universities excluded women from study. I'm a woman. I'm mildly a tortured artist, I'm degree educated and literate. I am not a rarity, I am the norm of many women in 2021. Books have helped shape my knowledge, my craft, have been my mentors, my inspiration, my friends and have helped me gain experience beyond my years. To all the women who have fought for our rights and education, thank you, you have made the woman I am today.
Moonlight card
Lulu: I’ve been caring for my best friend recently – she’s trans and has been undergoing various gender actualisation treatments for the past few years, the most recent of which was surgery two weeks ago. We spoke about the traits of femininity on the way home such as care and how inequality can make them seem negative in society; but actually, care can be a radical act! She got me this badge as a thank-you, which she said made her think of me and how I’m “soft-but-strong” and “fierce in caring for others”, which I loved. It now sits in pride of place on my desk and makes me smile every time I look at it.
Lucy: I believe everything to be connected and my identity is inextricably linked to the natural world. I feel a strong emotional affinity to nature and therefore I have chosen a pine cone. For me trees represent strength, growth and the cycle of life.
Clay model
Alex: the object that probably best represents me is a ceramic ornament titled ‘grumpy camel’ by Laura Carlin, one of my favourite illustrators and the reason I make ceramics today. I love the naivety, playfulness and simplicity as well as of course the grumpy expression which I think probably encapsulates a few of my personal traits!
Jess: as a woman, much like plants we live, change, grow, adapt, thrive and mature.
Feminism necklace
Alex: intersectional feminism is a huge part of my identity as a woman and this necklace is the perfect reminder.
Andrea: I’m like a lighthouse weathering the storms of life. I might need my bulbs changing and a bit of paint and plaster at times but I’m there to shine a light for those who need it.
Clay feet
Sarah: children’s feet have always being a wonder.
Claire: my workouts are my freedom, giving me strength physically and clarity mentally.
St Brigids Cross
Ellie: my object is a St Brigid's Cross, in Irish culture it is thought to keep evil, fire and hunger from the home – I see that as my role too.
Emily: my bike represents my freedom to move around independently, to explore the world around me and travel without spending money. It keeps my mind and body fit and healthy.
Laura: this is my most treasured place. For me it’s calm, it’s home, it’s connection and it’s a place where I can just…be. It represents challenge, strength and reality.
Fay: my headphones represent me. They are a gateway to music which is a massive part of my life. I struggle with talking about my feelings but music always helps me express myself. If I'm feeling sad, angry, happy, in love, been through a break up, losing a family member, excited, getting ready for a night out, going on a walk, hitting the gym, my headphones have been there ready with music to listen to. This last year they have helped so much. I really got into walking and these made me walk more, for longer and faster, which in turn helped me be happier and healthier. I love my headphones and what they represent. I'd be lost without them.
Photo of boys
Hayley: my three boys are my world. They keep me going on dark days and give me purpose. It’s not always easy but they are my whole life and they give me so much happiness and love, without them I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Lisa: ‘A stone, a leaf, an unfound door' — never thought I’d live in a house with stairs. Even now the weight of the past isn’t far away. And maybe this is how it should be.
Helen: My HRT tablets are the only thing holding me together as a woman at the minute.
Coffee cup
Clare: coffee to fuel me at work every day; often doing social work "grabbing a coffee" can be an opportunity to step back from the chaos and remind myself "Keep Going, Queen!" Also a subtle reference to nature which guides everything ❤️🐝
Jo: the thing I kept coming back to was about balancing. I think that is one of my defining words. I try to balance different opinions, I balance my feminism with my married status and domesticity, I (have to) balance being a Mum, work, civic responsibilities and 'just' being me.  I like things that have a balance of beauty and function.
Chest of drawers
Kate: from the bottom to the top, lots of different parts make the women. And I'm a collector....
Kirsten: the goat. Slow and steady up the hill. My sun sign minus the mystical fishes tail. It had a broken foot but you can’t tell by looking.
Kirsty: to aspire to be a constant confidant and companion to those I love.
Lisa: I am a wife, and a mum of 3 (hence the kitchen clock 😂) with a dog, a cat, a part time job and a business to run, I’m often battling against time with very little spare to myself. A clock to me also represents my gratitude for life, and even at the age of 11 when allowed to chose an item of my nanas after she passed, I chose a small mantel clock, to remind me how important every second is.
Game controller
Laura: video games have always been a big part of my life. They give me a lot of pleasure and help me in periods of poor mental health. Being a woman in the gaming community can attract derision so it is a part of myself that I often keep hidden. Despite that I know the games themselves will always welcome me with open arms.
Lui: woven headphones to encapsulate large sounds and quiet isolation. They encapsulate the philosophy of learning through listening. The tangled nature of them express my thoughts and hair!
Melanie: a compass, because it’s so often been about finding my own way as a woman, conforming sometimes, diverging sometimes; but there’s something exciting about the finding, part of me that just loves losing the route in order to find it.
Jemima: for me, these - like women everywhere - are practical, resilient, move fast across the world, and we are all, in our own unique and brilliant ways, shining gold as we go. 
Megan: from a woman perspective the thing I'm concerned about is fertility and time. I'm not even sure if I want children but feel as though there is already the burden of finding someone and having a child in your 30s. There is infertility in my family on my mums side so it is the unknown too.
Rebecca: my bookshelf of plays. Drama is in my blood as are my books. This one shelf carries so many experiences and so much learning, all of which have made me, me.
Sarah: not to withstand the test of time. But to embrace it.
Tiff: on the outside 0.5g fat (haha), no artificial flavourings or preservatives which is clearly a lie like my yellow hair, and on the inside are all my thoughts/moods..good and bad. Good like pineapple, bad like kiwi!
A book
Suzanne: mine is a book – the image has double meaning. The cross on the front represents my faith – an integral part of who I am. The book itself reflects my love of reading.
Nicky: for all the meals I have prepared.
Chloe: I've chosen my best fancy scissors to present me as making things has always been part of my life - I love spending time off my computer crafting. I really like their bird shape - the natural world is an endless source of inspiration.
A photo of a wetsuit
Keaton: my wetsuit hugs to every inch of my womanly curves and nothing makes me feel stronger, sexier and more myself than running into the sea, which this piece of kit allows me to do, even in -2°C!!
A photo of a craft room
Angela: crafting has given me real focus in lockdown. I have always been creative, and I can now use this skill to make things for my loved ones.
A photo of a baby
Kelly: Marcie taught me that time, and life is precious. Not to take anything for granted. Things aren’t always what they seem (thinking my pregnancy was normal with nothing detected on scans) the strength and power of love - and grief. Be grateful and cherish what you have.
Caitlin: It’s like putting on your favourite pair of jeans or heels. My hair is my confidence my comfort blanket. I don’t feel me without my hair this colour. Nice and loud (bit like me).
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