Julia Jansch Reclaims the Female Gaze – On and Off The Screen

Independent filmmaker & director Julia Jansch explores the misconception about our shadow sides, the trouble with the male gaze, and the shifting cultural tide towards women who are authentic & free. 
Julia Jansch Reclaims the Female Gaze – On and Off The Screen

“As women, we all go through our fires. We find ourselves, then lose ourselves and then find ourselves again. I’ve definitely integrated a lot of my own personal growth moments – with my body and my femininity – into my films and into my female characters. I believe that, after epochs of male-dominance, the scales are shifting and the egalitarian (female) values of connection, empathy, compassion are in the zeitgeist. It’s women’s time.”


Julia Jansch is a South African writer, director, and producer whose films seek to unearth and reveal the hidden sides of ourselves. After a long career in development at Fremantlemedia and Radicalmedia, Julia has spent the past two years stepping into the world of independent filmmaking and breathing life into characters who are riding the cultural tide towards freedom and authenticity.

“I’ve recently been introduced to this concept of your shadow side. People think your shadow side is something bad, but it isn’t. We try to keep our shadow sides hidden, but they are often the part of ourselves that we are desperately trying to access.”

“My own shadow side is totally wild, totally free, totally raw and naked. It doesn’t watch what I say. It’s not in my head. It’s in my body. It’s the primal fierce side. It’s the wild woman within. That’s what I’m hoping to channel through my writing and through my characters; to inspire others to access that side they think they have to hide, when they actually need to access it.”


“My first [narrative] short Far From the Castle explores this idea of the authentic self. It’s a coming of age story, set during a harsh drought, about a young female water diviner who has a sexual experience… gone wrong. I won’t give it all away, but in one of the scenes, the lead Eliza is looking at herself in the mirror, misting her breath on to it. She’s so caught up in the moment that she forgets she’s left the precious water running in the basin below. She’s too preoccupied with imagining the way that the boy in the film is going to see her and experience her that she neglects that which is most important to her – the preservation of water. I really wanted to make a nod towards the male gaze in this scene. I wanted to symbolize how one can forget about one’s most authentic self when one is thinking about how the male sees us.”

“When women view themselves through their own gaze, they see the essence of who they truly are. This is very often quite different to the way we try to project ourselves in anticipation of how we think men (or the world) want to see us.”

Today, Julia cites Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ books Women Who Run With the Wolves as her bible, rising each day with the intention to live authentically – and to tell stories that encourage other women to do the same. But this freedom to be herself didn’t always come so easily to Julia, who spent years modeling and molding herself to unrealistic expectations.

“I have such a love/hate relationship with my past. It’s almost like a former life. I modeled for over a decade, starting very, very young. After high school, I took a year off and traveled the world. I was 17. The love/hate relationship is because my past is why I’m sitting in this room. [Modelling] was a ticket overseas. I became worldly and streetwise. I earned five different university degrees, making the [tuition] money by modeling on June-July break. It was the golden ticket, but, at the same time, it gave me a lot of psychological challenges I had to overcome with body image.”


“In modeling, every casting and every shoot is defined by this idea of how the client wants to see you. You are constantly molding yourself to that image. At such a young age, you have an enormous focus on the body, at the expense of your other assets. There is an unhealthy focus on how you look – and how you think you are supposed to look, which is the real problem.”

“Growing up in the casting room, you look around and make such strong comparisons. I’m 36 and grew up in a generation where it was all about the Victoria Secret models. I remember being in university and hearing murmurings that if you had perfect boobs you could slip a pencil under your breasts and it would just stay there.”

“I [tried it] and – lo and behold – not only could I fit one pencil under my breasts, I could fit a couple of pens and pencils under my breasts. They would just stay there. That experiment horrified me. I [also] remember being in my mid-twenties, kind of making out with men and literally lying in bed with my arms up above my head because I thought this was what would make my breasts look the way they are meant to look: where the pencil doesn’t fall out.”


Like many of the characters in her film, Julia experienced her own transition from this stifling mindset. A Eureka moment that allowed her to step into her own authenticity.

“I had been constantly trying to squeeze myself into tiny little silhouettes that I thought the world, specifically men, wanted to see me in. All my life I had stood in certain ways to create optical illusions of my hips; I would lie in bed a certain way to make my breasts look just right; I was horrified of the pencil experiment and concerned my breasts were saggier than others. You find yourself doing these things – and then one day you wake up and decide to stand the way you like to stand and lie the way you like to lie. And you’re OK with it.

“I think what’s happening in the media, with BodyTalk and CUUP, and in the types of films I want to make. We are being re-educated. We are seeing images of beautiful women – and they are loose and fresh and gorgeous. It’s a re-education of what is beautiful, and what is supposed to be beautiful.”

“The world is crying out for authenticity. There has been so much fake everything. In the age of social media, influencers, fake filters, fake identities, fake likes, there is a hunger for what’s real. People are preconceiving their identities, instead of just being. You see the pendulum desperate to swing in the other direction. There is this big difference between acting and being. People are hungry for the being; for the authenticity.”


“I was self-conscious at the beginning of the CUUP shoot. I was nearly a month and a half pregnant [at the time] and a little bloated. I used to model swimwear and lingerie, but I haven’t done a modeling shoot in 15 years. I thought, I don’t know if I should be doing this shoot. I don’t know if I should be sitting in this position. But it was the most amazing experience. The lens that Stephanie was holding up was my own gaze. She wanted me to be comfortable. It was not about the client. It was all about me and how I felt. It was about authenticity.”

“These kinds of messages are incredibly inspiring and incredibly needed. I wish this was the mainstream message when I was growing up. It definitely wasn’t. It would have been a fringe message. Our silhouettes were Barbie dolls. Not beautiful, voluptuous, natural women. I’ve seen gorgeous women and models I know in other BodyTalk shoots in relaxed positions, with a little bit of a tummy crease. It’s so much more beautiful and so much more sexy. It’s a reeducation.”

The natural beauty of pregnancy is not lost on Julia. It is yet another chapter in her own narrative, bringing her closer to the raw, naked, physically strong self she thought to be a shadow for so long.


“Falling pregnant, for me, has been the most relaxing and most refreshing experience ever. When you are prioritizing someone other than yourself, it’s like taking a weight off your shoulders. My body is changing for this other being. My body will look different because of this other being. The body is becoming a vessel for the giver of life. If you don’t fight that, it’s a really beautiful thing. I think that I needed to do a lot of maturing to get to this point. Because I definitely would have fought it earlier on when I was so body-conscious.”

Raising a child gives Julia a new storytelling project: what narratives will she tell this new human about identity, expectations and the authentic self? Freedom is the theme she keeps returning to.

“The documentary I just [wrapped] is all about a young girl who is the daughter of a South African dancer. The dancer helps all the kids in the town “find their superpower” while dancing African electronic dance music. While he can help all these other kids in the town, he has trouble getting his own daughter to break free. He tells her, ‘Everybody can have freedom. It just depends on if you want to be free or not.’ It sounds so simple, but it’s so profound, because at the end of the day, it’s a decision, and we don’t always realize we have that decision.”


“I didn’t know, for a very, very long time, that I could decide to feel free in this bodysuit that I’ve been given. I don’t have to feel constrained in any way. I can be free. Everyone can be. It’s just whether you want to be. With a child arriving into the world, and the female characters I am [constantly] giving birth to in my stories, freedom is a theme that is incredibly near to my heart.”

Interview by Kate Mack. Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam

Tags: bodytalk , sensuality

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