Q&A with BeYou-ty Pageant panelists
by Rachel Rippetoe | On April 9, UP’s first ever BeYou-ty Pageant was held in Shiley 301. Seniors Britta Geisler and Irene Sutton organized the event, in which four women change-makers from the Portland area came together to share their experiences.
Cheryl Green is a media artist who created Storyminders, a media outlet focused on people with disabilities.
Can you tell me a little bit about StoryMinders? What do you ultimately want to achieve with it?
StoryMinders is really about centering and elevating disability culture through creating media. Not just consuming it, because we are all very good at consuming media. The disability community is one that consumes more than it creates. Disabled people are not encouraged to go into media or performance, StoryMinders is a place that makes media and encourages people to make media. A big thing that I do is I make other people’s media accessible. I do closed captioning. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the auto captions on YouTube. The automatic speech recognition on YouTube is terrible. It’s gibberish!
What inspired you to get started on this?
It was kind of a joke actually. I was in this group storytelling performance project for deaf and disabled people called “No One Wants to See the Wires.” And I made a short film for my piece kind of as a joke, but a lot of other people with traumatic brain injuries came up and were like “That was me on the screen! I’ve never seen me on a screen. I’ve never met anybody that even believes that my problems are real. Everybody tells me I’m faking it.” To have people with disabilities or brain injuries say, “I’ve never seen myself on the screen before. You did that,” that was it. I was an unstoppable train at that point.
How do you think your work may be changing that abstract concept of beauty?
I engage in flaunting. One of my biggest collaborators is my best friend in the world, Caitlin Wood, who uses a power wheelchair, which frankly a lot of people find frightening and don’t want to look at her. The thing is, Caitlin kind of looks like a pin-up model. But you put her in that power wheelchair and it’s very alienating and isolating. It’s just a wheelchair! What is this barrier about? So Caitlin and I flaunt.
What made you decide to get involved with the BeYou-ty Pageant panel?
Most everything I do is in the disability community. I almost never do anything that doesn’t involve a disability focus. I love that, but then I’m isolating. How am I supposed to get nondisabled people to pay attention if I’m not there? It was exciting for me to get to do something that’s non-disability related.
Lynn Le is 2011 UP graduate, former E-scholar and the founder of Society Nine, a company that makes equipment for women who fight in MMA.
Could you tell me a little bit more about Society Nine?
The inspiration came from my experience being a kickboxing instructor as well as a krav maga brown belt. I got really frustrated with all the pink crap that was in the market for women who fight. Especially because it was typically the low quality men’s stuff turned pink. I decided to do something about it because I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
What’s it like being a young woman kick-starting a business?
It’s hard. It’s terrifying. It’s exciting. There’s a lot of adrenaline every day in different ways. It’s hard to keep up with everything. I probably work about typically 10 to 12 hour days and if things get really crazy like 14 to 16 hours a day. It’s good and it’s bad, but it’s just a trade off of the experience, you know?
Since this whole thing is about beauty, what would you say your definition of beauty is?
Beauty and femininity to me is pure resilience and unbridled strength. For me, as a female fighter, that’s how I find beauty for myself. I have insecurities just like any other girl, body image issues or feeling like I had to keep up with a certain kind of look or whatever, or oh my gosh I’m 4’11”, I need to weigh this amount. I’m a victim of all that stuff too. Society Nine is my way of saying, “Well, I’m done.” I hope that Society Nine can help other women be like, “Yep, I’m done too. I’m just gonna do me. I know I work my ass off, and yeah, I am a badass woman. I fight for a lot.”
Why did you decide to get involved in the panel?
I’m a University of Portland alum, so it’s my way of giving back for sure, especially because I can’t buy a building yet. I told Dean Anderson the other day, “Just give me a couple years and I’m going to buy that conference room.” It’s my way of paying back my dues or giving back. I remember being that student who would always raise their hand and would always introduce themselves to the speakers. It was those speakers, whoever it was that I networked with, who also helped coach me to this place. If I can now be that person and inspire one person to hustle or get after it, then I know that I have fulfilled a purpose.
Danielle Knott is a 2014 UP graduate, former E-scholar and the executive director of Render: Feminist Food & Culture Quarterly.
How did you get started working with Render?
A friend of mine, who knew I was passionate about female-focused media, put me in contact with Gaby, who is the founder of Render.It started with her developing and battling an eating disorder when she got to college in which she started having a more complex relationship with food...I got involved with the magazine. We started talking about a business plan. I presented the plan at the E-Scholars Venture Competition. After we both graduated, we wanted to continue to work on the magazine, because we had a lot of support and people were really excited about it.
What brought you to food? Why was food your choice of entrepreneurship?
The history of the relationship that women have had with food is very intriguing. The way that mainstream media today talks about women and food is something that we’re trying to push against with Render, this idea that it’s always about eating less or eating a certain way. We don’t want there to be any shame involved. I think that food for me is a really great way to combine politics and feminism.
What’s it like having a food magazine in Portland where there are so many people who are really into food and specific types of food. What’s the response?
In Portland I think it’s especially obvious that the foodie culture is only really available or marketed to a certain privileged class of people. I think the misconception that all these hot cool new restaurants are what make Portland a “foodie town” is false. It might be a mecca for people who are looking to live out this glossy high-fashioned food experience, but there’s also a lot of great urban farming happening here and political activism around food.
What’s your definition of beauty?
I think for me, beauty is confidence. I’m always struck by people who are in control of themselves, of their bodies and of their minds...Sometimes that’s an outward display of beauty like them wearing something they feel confident in. You can kind of just feel that in their presence. I also think it’s beautiful when someone stands up for their rights and has the confidence to speak their mind.
Rachel Rippetoe is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org