Meet Our Community Manager Val

Hi! My name is Val, and I am Community Manager at Lips. I am also a feminist filmmaker, writer, and graduate of Harvard College Class of 2019.

me 🙂

College can be an extremely high-pressure environment for young adults. Everyone faces pressure to do well in school, look good, stay fit, and, all the while, remain happy. For me, it was hard not to constantly compare myself to others, making it extremely hard to recognize my own worth and feel satisfied in my own body. By the end of freshman year, I found myself struggling to maintain any kind of positive self-image.

My sophomore year rolled around and I decided to enroll in a course that covered many notable works of social and political theory. It was in that course where I first read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which would be one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring books I read in college. After that, I went on to study and write papers on bell hooks, Nancy Fraser, and, one of my favorites, the radical feminist collective that started the influential women’s health guidebook, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Energized by the history of women’s movements and theories of liberation, I began to see how important it was for women to continue to fight for our freedom from patriarchal forces that try to control what we do with our bodies—a fight even more relevant and necessary today.

Courtesy of the NY Times

By the time I reached my senior year, I had embraced an intersectional, sex-positive feminism that really felt like it had changed the way I viewed the world around me. It gave me a newfound confidence as well as a purpose—to help the people around me find that confidence in themselves. When it came time to choose a topic for my senior thesis, I wanted to be bold, so I decided to write about pornography and the feminist ethical debates that have surrounded the industry for decades. As part of my research, I landed a position behind the camera of a queer and feminist porn film. Thus, my scholarly curiosity manifested into an incredibly unique artistic experience, which only further deepened my passion and enthusiasm for the subject. In the library, I studied how feminists had drawn theories of gender inequality from pornography. On set, I got to experience how feminists could use pornography as a site for gender and sexual exploration and, ultimately, shameless celebration.

A still from the first film I worked on, “Luminous Lust.” Photography by Michael Ellsberg.

After my thesis was complete, I went on to produce a second film called “The Way We Are”—which is currently in post-production—and represents my interpretation of one young woman shamelessly celebrating her own sexuality.

For me, feminist theory and erotic film are my beacons of hope. I have experienced firsthand the healing power of surrounding oneself with words, images, and people that make you feel recognized, beautiful, and worthy. That is why I love Lips. I wish that during some of those hard times in college, I could have opened up my Lips app and scrolled through the feed of incredible art, photographs, poems, and words of wisdom that our community members share every day with the intention of freely expressing themselves and uplifting each other. And so, as Community Manager, I am determined to help Lips reach as many people as possible so that we can continue to spread the kind of positivity that can significantly change people’s lives for the better.

<3

Party of One

My name is Holander and I was censored by Instagram. We’ve reached the point where it’s almost as common as hipsters in coffee shops. Us femmes are all bonding over having been censored or targeted on IG for owning our sexuality.

My latest single, Party Of One, is a sex positive song about loving yourself and your body, aimed especially at womxn who might have been made to feel that they shouldn’t be proud to love themselves and their bodies.

We filmed a video with our amazing collaborator @m.haight and it was honestly a dream; a living and breathing visual image of what the song means to me— minus actually climaxing in front of my team lol.

I really let loose, geniunely enjoyed myself, and fully gave myself over to the message. Even as we were filming that day, I began to see how this project being in the world was helping me with my own journey of empowerment with sexuality, and would therefore have an impact on others.

We went to promote the video, as we had done multiple times before with other content, and were denied. I literally had no idea why! I was shocked. After looking into it more, we found out that we were denied for being too sexually explicit.

The point of the song was to de-stigmatize femme ‘self love,’ so it was upsetting to be flagged for trying to start a conversation. And to be totally honest, this is a conversation that I felt vulnerable about to begin with. I have just never really put myself out there in that way, discussing topics related to womxn and sex in a public forum where I was leading the conversation. Let’s just say, I was nervous-excited.

The song’s lyrics are 100% clean with the exception of some sexual innuendos/metaphors here and there. I was very vocal about this during the songwriting process— I love subtlety in art, making the listener work a little harder to understand the lyrics and what a song is actually about, rather than being blunt. The video, along those same lines, is also clean and subtle: it only includes images of dancing, cake eating, and balloon popping. We kept it purposely metaphorical.

We appealed, after calming my fear that the video would be taken down entirely if we did. We sent a message explaining that the content of the song and video was not in any way explicit. We told them that the song is about a party for body positivity, and offered to remove the word “masturbation” from the caption.  Still denied. Our previous visual, by the conservative notions of ‘appropriate,’ would be more worthy of being denied. It featured me in a bodysuit in a baby pool but for some reason, my fully clothed self having a dance party and singing “this is my party please myself I’m so alone but I’m so in love with me” was more offensive. Oh the fun of the patriarchal hypocrisy.

I got an automated denial back; the only acknowledgment being that they didn’t care if it was educational. The denial made me feel as if I had done something wrong, and that I had been overly sexually explicit in some way which a) there is absolutely nothing wrong with and b) truly isn’t the case with this video. But mainstream society, as we have come to see, is afraid of womxn with autonomy and influence. It only goes to show the extent to which this fear has gone; that my first instinct was to feel ashamed for something that had made me feel empowered within my body. I couldn’t believe that wearing a short-sleeved shirt and pink shorts and singing metaphorically about loving my body was too extreme for Instagram! Really though, it’s not even what it means for me on a personal level, but what it means for the world, and those more marginalized, that the fear is ingrained to such an extent that even something as innocent as what I did isn’t supportable. Because there are people out there doing more provocative things that are just as, if not more, educational and de-stigmatizing. Owning your sexuality, whatever that may mean, and having poignancy to offer the world aren’t mutually exclusive; sexy dancing and wanting civil liberties/equality to be protected aren’t mutually exclusive. There is no aspect of sexual autonomy, there is no level of too much or too little clothing, there is no display of ones gender, there is no expression of sex-positivity that negates other aspects of who you are.

By @holandermusic

Phoenix Rising

I have PTSD.

Sometimes it feels like my brain is broken, like shards of glass are poking into my skull.

To say this diagnosis sucks would be an understatement, but I am learning it is mine and mine alone to heal.

I am a survivor of assault and domestic violence, and mine is a story of repeated trauma, something that is common in the survivor trajectory.

If I were to make a timeline of ages when my body and/or soul were violated it would go something like this: 5 years old. 17 years old. 18 years old. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 years old. 26 years old. 28 years old. 29 years old. 31 years old. 32 years old.

27 years of sustained abuse in total.

 Not all of those years are moments of trauma but each of them represents a re-traumatization of sorts, patterns of abuse that I learned and relearned and normalized over the years whether it is was verbal or physical, psychological or spiritual. Boundaries that were crossed by others, or even me because I did not know my worth. Instead I knew I occupied a body that served as a target of objectification, a soul fragmented beyond recognition.

With each of those years I could make a small cross, marking the site as a grave, a way to honor the loss(es) that occurred. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writes about this practice of memoriam in her book, Women Who Run with Wolves, empowering each woman to take a look at their lives and offer Descansofor the losses they experienced. She states that every time a boundary is crossed, or a loss is faced, a part of our soul dies a little death. It is with Descanso that we can offer some healing to those parts of our souls that have died yet not been laid to rest, it can ease the ghostly wondering and feelings of deep hopelessness.

It wasn’t until this past summer that I took my own Descanso, laying out my pathway of tiny crosses through the mountains and valleys of my life. What surprised me was how vividly the memories came flooding back- the first time he hit me, the way it felt when I fell to the cold wooden floor, the sound his fist made when it met my jaw, the ringing in my ear for days after. I also remembered the times I called out for help. The medical center at my university that simply told me to apply ice and sent me on my way, never once making a note in my chart that I was being abused by a fellow student. The police department on my campus looking at my arm- black and blue- from where he last attacked me, only to say it wasn’t part of their jurisdiction and that I should file for a protective order with the city. The calls I made to my housing department, begging for a transfer or at least a police officer to patrol more because my ex-boyfriend was repeatedly violating the protective order and stalking me and my young daughter. I remember dropping to the floor when he was outside my apartment, hoping that he couldn’t hear me breathing and muffling my daughter from talking- “let’s play the quiet game,” I would say, trying to make a game out of it knowing all too well that at any moment he could break in and abuse me or worse. The time I ended a toxic relationship and my safety was once again threatened by a man I thought I could trust- how deep that deception ran as he stood over me and said, “I will ruin you.”

Along my Descanso I could build a mausoleum for the time I sustained nine months in 2011/12 of being stalked by my ex, a then Ph.D. candidate in one of the country’s best public intuitions in the world.  At the time I was an undergraduate single parent on welfare nearing the end of my degree. Dropping out would have been the easier option but I felt a dutiful need to do all that I could to pull my life forward for myself and my daughter. So, I chose to commit a form of soul suicide, internalizing the trauma and abuse, relying on over the counter sleep aids to keep the demons at bay, numbing myself in every way I could so I could simply get through. My abuser was my ex and my neighbor, and he had constant access to me; walking to my car to take my daughter to school or going to the grocery store became a warzone for me. Driving home at night, after my full day of classes and work, with my young daughter in the back of my car, was like setting off a bomb inside my head, the carnage of my trauma and re-traumatization was seeing him watch as my car drove by then praying that he would not come to my door, demanding to be let in. I knew my university would not to help me, I was alone in this battle. Every single day for those nine months I lost a part of myself. At the gates of this mausoleum let it read “Fiat Lux” the motto of my university and hang my honor cords from graduation day over the entrance; a golden symbol marking my academic successes- but also a reminder of how those same cords tied me to a life of trauma.

Put the ghosts to rest, let them find a sanctuary from all this wandering.

As my Descanso comes to an end, the years 2017-2018 can be marked as a mass grave in remembrance to the souls lost, with collective stories sharing a similar narrative of abuse and silencing.

Build on these hollowed grounds a monument that reminds us we suffered together, but we also spoke out together, and we did what we could to shed light on the patterns of abuse.

“#MeToo” could be the marker above the names etched into a cold marble wall, with dates of the abuse honoring when each of our souls died a little.

Lay flowers here, let the space be vibrant with growth and joy, let the tired ghosts find refuge from their aimless wandering, spirits sent adrift for years, with unfinished business. Generations of hurt and sorrow and hiding in the shadows. Rejoice for us. Rejoice in us. But never forget the lessons learned, let this Descansoserve as a beacon of light in the darkness, guiding fragmented souls’ home.

By Melissa Barker – Founder, The Phoenix Project

#ProjectBoobs: Interview with Body Positive Artist, Antonio Páramo

Antonio Páramo is a self-described body positive illustrator from Mallorca, Spain living in Cologne, Germany.  Antonio says that many people who know him only from his art assume that he is female, because unlike many male erotic artists his portraits of nude women don’t objectify or sexualize women. 
His portraits of women show scars, stretch marks and strength, capturing the unique beauty of the hundreds of women who request nude portraits from him regularly.Antonio is a clear example of just why Lips does not require our submitters to be a specific sex or gender. The ability to create art that disrupts mainstream perceptions of sex is open to everyone.
In this interview, we’ll share posts from Antonio’s latest series “#projectboobs”  in which he draws the boobs of different people to demonstrate diversity and to fight against the censorship of female nipples and nudity on social media.
Here’s to sexy men making sexy art🥂

What is a topic you are passionate about?

I’m all about body positivity and specially fat acceptance and my work is very related to it. I really think everybody have the right to feel sexy on their own body, and to achieve that we need to stop judging other people’s bodies and start accepting all bodies as valid and beautiful bodies.

Do you think women need an online space for free expression? 

I think safe spaces for women are sadly necessary nowadays. Some people think I’m a woman when they approach me on social media so I have tried a little bit of both sides and it’s undeniable that being a woman on social media is harder. I think women will be limited on the Internet until men learn who to behave and truly respect women.

What is art to you? What is the philosophy behind your art?

For me creating art is more important than Art itself. I just couldn’t live without creating. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true. I always thought my life had no purpose until I started being and artist.

Is art therapeutic for you? 

I like to think that my art is therapeutic both for me and for my followers and clients. I help them feeling better with their own body and learning to love it a bit more, and they help me giving me inspiration to keep creating. I also find it very relaxing and I spend a lot of hours everyday.

Could you share a story about your creative process? 

I used to get inspired by plus size models, now I’m still amazed by them but I’m getting more inspired by just normal people out there. They all have different bodies and that’s so cool. I have drawn hundreds of people and I still haven’t found two that look the same.

What are some under-the-radar female artists you admire?

On instagram: @munrou_, @lachicaimperdible, @kinkykarrot

Do you have a personal story you can share with us about your own sexuality? 

When I was single I met a beautiful woman on Tinder for a one night stand. When we were on the bed she took a Nintendo DS and asked me if I wanted to play. Turns out she was the most amazing Super Mario player I have ever met in my life and we end up playing until dawn.

However you express yourself, we want you to share it with the world. You can submit images or text posts directly to our site via this link or email us at lipswebzine@gmail.com

The O Project: Exploring Female Sexuality Through Art

Why is the exploration of female sexuality important? Well, for starters – it makes up 50% of sexual experiences on the planet. Additionally, honest discussions of female sexuality helps to disrupt mainstream sexualization of women.

According to a 2007 report from the American Psychological Association (APA), Sexualization occurs when a “person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making,” Sexualization of girls and women takes place in such moments as when we imbue a child with adult sexuality or we set unattainable definitions of sexiness.

During Lips’ Sex Positive Art Pop-Up Gallery, we were introduced to “The O Project” –  a photography series produced by Smile Makers in collaboration with photographer Marcos Alberti. In the series, over 20 women are photographed before, during, and after self-pleasure while using a vibrator made by Smile Makers. All four frames of each woman were shot from the neck up, leaving everything below the waist hidden from view – even from the photographer.

Projects like these help us to understand the difference between sex-positive and sexualization. In the O Project, women are not sexual objects – they are in charge of their sexuality, demonstrating personality and pleasure.

Smile Makers took some time to chat with us about this project and their work to promote women’s sexual health.

Could you talk a bit about the O Project and Smile Makers?

Smile Makers is on a mission to normalize the perception of female sexuality. We accomplish that in two ways: first, we offer our 100% body-safe vibrators and lubricants exclusively in fashion, beauty & health stores, including Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Goop. Second, we conduct social impact work on a global scale through educational initiatives, charitable donations, and medical partnerships. 

What was the inspiration for this project?

Driven by our mission, we wanted to bring the conversation about female sexuality and pleasure out into the open in a tangible way. At this time, we came across Marcos’ 2016 “3 Glasses” project which normalized drinking in moderation. We were inspired by his similar methodology and goal to destigmatize a behavior that is largely criticized in the public and reached out to him.

After we explained our mission to him, he was more than happy to partner with us, and we’re so glad that he did. The final images he shot are fun and provocative, but also empowering, for both the viewer and the women photographed. Through seeing the final frame of each woman grinning into the camera and after speaking with the women afterwards, we discovered that they felt more confident in their bodies and sexuality after participating. We hoped to get the same positive reception from those viewing the project.

Why does Smile Makers support erotic art as part of it’s educational work?

We believe in the transformative power of art, how it can spark dialogue and incite change. Art, especially of an erotic nature, can depict and inspire new ideas on controversial topics. Through their work, artists can parcel their thoughts in a tangible package that can be easily shared, commented on, and liked.

For instance, “The O Project” was covered by over 300 publications in 40 countries, and this massive reach was caused by pure interest – we didn’t spend a dime on media investment. Seeing as conversations around sex are often fraught with anxiety, we were thrilled to see that our photographs could transcend boundaries and spark dialogue, increase awareness, and educate. 

Who are a few artists you would recommend to our readers? 

We’re particularly smitten with a couple artists who paint in watercolor, including Noomi (@eroticwatercolor) and Tina Maria Elena (tinamariaelena.com). Our interviews with both of them can be found on our blog here and here.

Could you talk a bit about your pleasure workshops and sex education classes you provide to rural communities?

We know that sexual well-being is an essential part of overall health. However, many people around the world don’t have access to correct information on the subject. We thus make it part of our mission to equip those on the frontlines of patient care with the knowledge to best assist underserved communities in sexual health matters.

This involves us travelling to a rural family planning clinic in Malaysia to demystify female pleasure and sexual pleasure products to 60-year-old nurses so that they in turn are more informed to provide marital counselling to patients. We also conduct talks on female sexual pleasure at hospitals and universities, including the International Islamic University Malaysia.

There, we worked with religious authorities to address public concerns on the intersection of faith and sexuality. By being on the ground and partnering with health professionals, we push the needle even further about sexual health. More information about our social impact work can be found at wearesmilemakers.org

What are some upcoming projects?

We are underway with a new art project in collaboration with artist Anne-Laure Herrezuelo and Asia’s first sexual wellness festival, SPARK Fest. Without spilling too many details, I can say that the project does involve interviewing a range of men and women about sex, such as how they perceive it and what prior sex education they received. At the same time, we are hoping to bring The O Project to as many gallery exhibitions as we can. Most recently, the photos were on display at the Lips x Future of Sex pop-up in New York.

On the social impact front, we are continuing to conduct our sexual pleasure workshops with one of Malaysia’s largest family planning organizations. In addition, we are forming long-term partnerships with multinational NGOs with the ultimate goal to normalize the perception of female sexuality around the globe.

Lips is a digital platform and community art project that encourages readers to express their sexuality (whatever it may be) openly. Our goal is to start discussions that empower female-identified and marginalize individuals to express themselves and to inspire others to listen.

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