Words can hurt, but even more hurtful is the silence that surrounds them. We are too hard on ourselves, too ashamed of our scars, too determined to be unbreakable; so we have a good cry and internalize and  become victims of an emotionally oppressive society.

By giving voice and validation to women and their stories Jamie Oliveira's new project (More Than) Dust aims to help heal broken hearts. The campaign began after the response Oliveira got when she posted a photograph of herself on Facebook and Tumblr with a list of all the hurtful things an ex had said during their emotionally abusive relationship.

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From there, the project  grew into a collection of photos featuring 20 female-identifying people, naked, vulnerable, and paired with hurtful words that had been hurled at them in the past. Oliveira's Kickstarter campaign was meant to make this powerful series into a book that would ultimately empower and liberate people from their pain.

We were able to talk to visual artist, writer, and general badass Jamie Oliveira about the project. Needless to say, we’re a little in love.  

 

What inspired you to end your own silence as well as share other women's stories?

I realized that by censoring myself from sharing my own experiences with an emotionally abusive relationship, I was succumbing to the paradigm of an emotionally oppressive society. Part of the power dynamic between an oppressor and the oppressed is silencing the voices of those with less power, and I no longer wished to endure those triumphs and tribulations silently.

After an intense post-breakup period of reflection earlier last year, I felt a strong sensation of heaviness in my heart arise and the sensation lifted and expanded in my head until I began to cry. The act of crying itself was not so foreign to me, however, the breakthrough came when I realized that I was free to feel all of my feelings, and I became overwhelmed with liberation. Sharing these experiences have been an huge part of my healing process and emotional growth.

I was acknowledging the hurt that came from my relationship and reclaiming my own identity in the aftermath. A friend encouraged me to expand this idea into a series that would include others, and after asking if others would be interested, people began reaching out and sharing their own experiences with me, eventually evolving into this book!

How do you feel sharing these experiences will help other women heal?

In sharing our experiences, we are able to hold each other in compassion and solidarity. Not only are we able to look at the experiences of another and say, “I can relate to that,” but we can expand our understanding of those whose experiences differ from our own. While we are unified in our experiences as female-identifying people, we all have varying upbringings, privileges, and identities that contribute to the types of invalidation and abuse that we face. By speaking up together, we are in a sense processing our experiences together, releasing our emotions together, and healing together. We are telling each other that there is strength in being sensitive, that there is strength in being vulnerable, and that there is strength in standing up for ourselves.

Were there any women's stories that changed your perspective in any way, or were especially significant to you?

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When many women shared their experiences with me, I had to learn to navigate supporting each person without giving in to the compulsion of saying, “I understand, I’ve been there.” While I have had my own set of hard experiences, there were some traumatic experiences that I haven’t been through, and as a cis, straight, racially-ambiguous person there are just some forms of dehumanization that I will never experience first-hand. Simply witnessing another in their vulnerability can be more powerful than attempting to mirror another. Sometimes, all we can do is hold space for another and offer love.

Are there communities you could suggest, online or otherwise, that help to support women through their healing processes?  

I recommend finding what workshops, women’s centers, and healing groups are available in one’s local communities. There are intentional communities that will resonate with each person’s individual experience, whether they are centered around trauma, mental illness, feminism, and/or spirituality. These kinds of groups with an emphasis on deep connection and personal work have felt the most transformative for me personally.

Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Break the Cycle is a comprehensive, free online tool that emphasizes healing psychological wounds and becoming our most authentic self.

  • The University of Illinois has great, digestible resources here that highlights the signs of emotional abuse and our basic rights in a relationship.

  • Facebook has many private support groups that serve as safe spaces for sharing.

  • There is an abundance of blogs written by and for women. I recommend reading what feels the most resonant and empowering for you! 

Have you gotten any negative feedback to (More Than) Dust? How did you respond?

Shortly after I launched the Kickstarter, I woke up to a vague tweet linking me to a video. The video was a hate-filled reaction by iDubbbzTV to the “(more than) dust.” project. In response to the video, one of the participants from “(more than) dust.” published this powerful article that highlights the silencing of women and the emotional processing that came from sharing their experiences for the project. We are so much bigger than the smallness we are so often shrunk to. We are standing up. We are speaking up. We are calling attention to the treatment we don’t deserve and we should not be expected to tolerate this anymore.

What would you say is your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal is that this book will spread awareness about the effects of hurtful communication, and with that encourage more gentleness, compassion, and respect in the ways we communicate to one another.

Photos c/o Jamie Oliveira