Writers and feminist activists Attiya Taylor and Ailyn Robles started Womanly Magazine in 2012 as a way to circulate women’s health information and resources through the lens of art.
Since its inception, the magazine has evolved to include 20 women working in various roles to build and expand this innovative online platform. They define their mission as “to bridge the gaps between generations, cultures, economic statuses, borders, and any barrier that society tells us should set us apart.”
The first issue is on sex ed and features an incredible array of video, visual art, memoir, and more, addressing topics from female sexuality in Cuba to vaginal health.
For this week’s Feministing Five, I had the pleasure of catching up with Attiya and Ailyn about the creation of the magazine, their own journeys in health awareness, why it’s so important for women of color to educate ourselves about our bodies, and more! Check out the magazine and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @WomanlyMag!
Senti Sojwal: What inspired you to marry the worlds of art and women’s health in Womanly Magazine? What is your hope for how exploring these two issue areas in an intersectional way can empower readers?
Attia Taylor: I have been working in the nonprofit world for over 10 years, and my work has been primarily focused on the empowerment of girls and women. I also have a degree in communication, and love researching the ways that people consume information and connect with each other through modern media. When I moved to New York in 2012, I landed an internship with PAPER magazine, and quickly learned during that time that there were many facets of that career track that didn’t work for me, and my passion to serve. However, I still considered print media to be this classic and historic vehicle for the consumption of information. So, after working at Planned Parenthood, I thought about how to take the accurate and valuable preventative health information provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood, and put it before the eyes of women with limited education and access to that information. The end result of that thought process is Womanly Mag. Our goal is to make learning about health and our bodies fun, and digestible for adults. We are currently seeking out ways to make sure women not only learn this information for themselves, but share it with future generations.
Ailyn Robles: I grew up the daughter of an immigrant single mother who very rarely talked about her own health issues, and who was not exposed to the sorts of conversations we aim to create with the content in Womanly. Conversations revolving around sexuality, mental health, and reproductive health were very taboo in my home, despite how much my mother believed she was doing a better job at it than her own mother. Having had to pull words out of her for most of my life, I quickly realized how necessary it was to create intergenerational opportunities where we could learn from each other. Our hope is to continue creating and highlighting captivating artwork that will spark enough attention to make someone say “Hey, Mom,” or ”Hey, Tia, can I show you something?” Being both a visual artist and visual learner taught me the importance of digesting information in different ways. One of our goals is to make the magazine as accessible as possible as we grow, including translating content, as well as adding more visual and audio components.
Senti Sojwal: Issue 1 deals with Sex Ed and features visual art, memoir, video, and more. Can you each discuss one of the pieces featured in this issue and how/why it spoke to you in particular on this issue area?
Attia Taylor: The piece that affirms this work and the magazine for me is, Birth Announcement For Those Who Will And Will Never Be by a close friend and artist, Emily Carris. When we started discussing and researching sex education, we had a discussion around how limited past and present education is in relation to gender, sex, and sexuality. Emily’s piece brought a history of sexual education that is much less acknowledged in these conversations. She challenges us to think of slavery and sex through the lens of Black women, and their choices in history. I love that I can represent a magazine that changes narratives, and tells the stories that never get told.
Ailyn Robles: The Things They Carried drawn by one our art residents, Singha Hon, is one of the most representative pieces of the magazine for me. It’s impactful, inclusive, and insightful, yet simple. Singha’s piece brought to life what women look like to me – being both women with penises, as well as women who carry the weight of the world.
Senti Sojwal: What were your own early experiences in learning about your health and bodies, and how has that inspired you to women’s health activism?
Attia Taylor: I grew up with little to no discussion on sex education, or my body and my growth. In seventh grade, I had my mom order a book for me called Deal With It: A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life because I was naturally curious as to what was happening to my body. In school, we had very limited to no education on our bodies and health. It was the gym teacher teaching us about STDs in one or two classes. I believe that my lack of education kept my curiosity very fresh. I went on to take college courses on these issues, and spent a lot of my personal time learning about these new developments. I was a very shy and anxious kid, so I didn’t know how to ask questions about sex or women’s health at a very young age. I think my curiosity and knowledge and the disparity of education on these topics have married to create my love for women’s health activism.
Ailyn Robles: My mom would probably enjoy telling you about all the times I made her feel uncomfortable with all the questions I had growing up. I couldn’t understand why these questions were considered inappropriate, and why no one wanted to answer them clearly. I was a very curious and sexual teenager, but at the age of sixteen, our family began attending a church where I was guilted and shamed for having lost my virginity. There, I was told that women were responsible for the sins of men, and that I should not hug people because I was not aware of the sexual influence I could have over them. I had already bore witness to similar mentalities in families where young girls were blamed for the abuse by the men in their lives and so, at the age of 18 I left church, and promised myself to advocate for women in any way I could for the rest of my life.
Senti Sojwal: What are your hopes for the future of Womanly Magazine? How would you love to see it grow and evolve?
Attia Taylor: We have big plans for Womanly! There is a significant need and desire for women who look like me and my friends (and our mothers and grandmothers) to take control, learn, and educate themselves and their children on all aspects of women’s health. We will hopefully be able to reach a global audience through travel, research, and localization, and are joining an already growing community of wonderful people and organizations working to give women the opportunity to thrive and succeed in this world. Personally, I would love to have a large summit in the near future, to help forge this community, develop ideas, and come together to further our reach to those who need it most.
Ailyn Robles: We’re an ambitious bunch and know the importance of representation. Because we grew up without being able to see ourselves represented, our goal is to continue making the magazine as inclusive as possible. We also understand the strength that lies in community, and want to create more opportunities to broaden what this looks like. We want to hold workshops that are accessible to people of all backgrounds and incomes. We want to hold events where we celebrate different definitions of womanhood. And we want to continue handing over the pen to people who have historically been silenced, so that we can share the stories that so many women and people can relate to.
Senti Sojwal: Can you each share a feminist artist that you love and why?
Attia Taylor: We’ve had three Womanly Instagram “takeovers” so far, and because I curate the page, I was able to select the artists for each takeover. One of these artists was Sara Gulamali. She is a mixed media visual artist from London, whose work centers around being Muslim, Asian, and British in today’s society. I was so blown away by her takeover, and her work all-together, because she is only 19 years old, and is fearlessly making some of the most groundbreaking and thought provoking art.
Ailyn Robles: Yesika Salgado. The way she expresses not only the experience of being a first generation Latinx navigating two cultures, but also the experience of a self-made creative, I find so relatable. To be brave enough to follow what is in our hearts, and what speaks to us from a higher place is so challenging, and so admirable. She inspires me to continue inspiring myself.
Photo courtesy of Jorge Salinas