Attia Taylor is the founder and Editor in Chief of Womanly Magazine, a publication that provides accessible health information to women and non-binary people through visual and literary art. This week on SupportSystem, we asked Attia about her path to creating a new kind of magazine, the healing power of stories, and the ways she is reclaiming how we all learn about our bodies.
What experiences led you to create Womanly?
When I first got to New York, I interned at Paper Mag. Fashion is fun, but I quickly realized I wanted my work to relate more closely to my passions of women’s health and reproductive care. I landed a role at Planned Parenthood’s Digital Products Lab, where I started to take note of the way people respond to learning about their bodies.
Planned Parenthood does such great work communicating ideas, but there is still so much to be done. The medical world can be so wealthy, white, and thin, that it’s hard for women of color to see ourselves reflected back in this space. Sex-ed isn’t super comprehensive in schools these days and our parents don’t always know how to talk to us. So, I decided to make a magazine and platform to help people who look like me see themselves in these experiences. To help us learn about their bodies and to advocate for ourselves in a medical world where doctors aren’t always going to.
What does sensuality mean to you? How does it influence Womanly?
I grew up in a world where we weren’t allowed to feel sexual or sensual. A lot of hiding, a lot of holding secrets. I think that really blocked my development as a kid. Now, as an adult, I’m relearning how to be sensual; how to be in touch with my body. That’s what sensuality is to me: getting in touch with the things that make you feel the most pleasured and joyful in your own skin. It’s a process of curiosity and learning.
When most people hear the name Womanly, they think of a sensual, traditionally feminine person. That’s not what it means to me. Instead, Womanly asks: How am I understanding or learning to be my own kind of woman? It’s a redefining of that word – for people like me; for anyone who has ever struggled with feeling feminine; for anyone who has ever wanted to feel womanly, but on their own terms. That can be a man, a non-binary person, a trans person. That can be whoever wants to feel womanly today. And they don't have to feel womanly tomorrow. Womanly is a feeling, not a fixed identity.
How can storytelling help to re-shape the medical world?
I firmly believe that the best way to help others learn is to meet them where they are. Economic status, education level, and ability all lead to different ways of learning and retaining information.
The power of a story to make you feel connected is an ancient truth. Everyone loves a good story. And when it comes to learning new information, storytelling is like putting the medicine in the food. You can really enjoy a personal story, and that same story can be incredibly educational.
I come from a line of storytellers in my family. That's how we learned about our history as Black people. Our history has oftentimes been erased or attempted to be erased. Most of what I learned about my own history, including my medical history, has been orally passed on. There’s power in writing it down and sharing it with others.
What is ‘preventative healthcare’ and why do we need more of it?
Healthcare, as we know it today, primarily focuses on solutions that help you feel better, once you are already hurting. Preventative healthcare takes a step back and provides people with the information and tools they need to stay healthy – and to understand when they need to seek further care. Preventative can be anything from ‘how many times a day to brush your teeth’ to ‘how to prevent long-term disease.’
Therapy is a big example of a form of preventative healthcare that not enough people talk about and more people deserve access to. Our fifth issue of Womanly was on ‘stress’ and I interviewed a therapist. We talked about the solution – how to find a therapist, how to get started – but we also took a look at the barriers, as you must do with any solution. Many people don’t have the time or money or don’t feel empowered to go. Yet it’s so important that we find ways to talk to other people about the things we are going through. It doesn’t always have to be professional. Having community and a safe space to have these conversations is part of staying healthy. We are not alone.
How is Womanly reclaiming self-gaze through personal stories?
You can read about childhood complications on a sterile medical website, but that will never hold the same nuance, pain, or compassion that comes from a personal story of a Black woman going into labor and experiencing complications at the hospital. Expressing and sharing your experience – in a real, raw, uncensored way – not only helps other readers feel less alone but also helps the storyteller heal some of that pain.
A few years ago, before I started Womanly, I was told that I had a nine-centimeter ovarian teratoma cyst, and the surgery to remove it cost me my right ovary. I was shocked. As I worked to heal from losing something so sacred to me, I realized how important it is to have spaces to share honest, vulnerable stories about these experiences, without judgment or shame.
We’ve had a lot of meaningful reactions from readers, but one stands out. A woman from the Bronx was reading Womanly as she was waiting on an abortion (we donate our latest issues to low-income communities and all the Planned Parenthoods in NYC) and she wrote to us to say how ‘seen’ she felt in that moment. It made me so happy that Womanly could be with her during such a personal, intimate time. That she was able to know she was not alone.
Attia Taylor is a Brooklyn based writer, psych-pop musician, and content producer. She is the founder of Womanly - an initiative and magazine that holds space for women and non-binary individuals to take charge of their health through art and creative experiences. Her work is rooted in social justice and health advocacy to bring inclusive and culturally relevant content to print and digital media. She is passionate about building and cultivating communities through journalism, music, storytelling, and research.
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