The Most Feminist Disney Princess: Jasmine

This is a topic that I thoroughly enjoy debating with people: who is the most feminist Disney Princess from the era of Snow White to Jasmine?  Of all of the Disney Princesses, between Snow White (1937) through Jasmine (1992), it’s truly clear to me that Jasmine is the most feminist of them all.  That also makes sense given that she is the most “modern.” Between these Princesses, there is Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (1959), Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989), Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Jasmine in Aladdin (1992).  A set of the Princesses are from Walt Disney’s lifetime (Snow White: Walt’s deepest love that he put his life savings to developing her into film, Cinderella, and then Aurora). The other set of Princesses is post-Walt Disney’s life and were created in the 80’s and 90’s (Ariel, Belle, Jasmine) as part of the Disney Renaissance, a period of time between 1989-1999 where Disney produced critically and commercially successful animated films.

The more contemporary Princesses had scores notably created by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Howard wrote the lyrics and Alan composed the music and together they were part of the Renaissance of Disney Animation. It was in 1988 that Ashman pitched the idea of Aladdin to Disney. Ashman, essentially on his deathbed with an HIV diagnosis, wanted to focus his efforts on Aladdin, but was requested to focus his efforts on Beauty and the Beast instead. Mr. Ashman passed away from complications of AIDS in 1991, just months before the release of Beauty and the Beast. He would not live to see Belle or Jasmine on screen, which is tragic. Some of his songs after his death were incorporated into Aladdin. I look at Princess Jasmine in particular as a special character considering how Howard Ashman would have perceived her character in Aladdin… with the hope that he sees Jasmine the same as I do. It’s also worth noting that Jasmine is the first Princess of non-European descent, which introduced the Princesses to racial diversity. Voiced by Linda Larkin, Jasmine is the first Princess character to be voiced by two different women: Linda Larkin provides Jasmine’s speaking voice, while Lea Salonga provided her singing voice. Howard Ashman had a great interest in working to develop a film that he was not able to. I think Jasmine would surpass all expectations.


For my generation, I think it’s clear that Jasmine is the most feminist and here’s why:

  • Jasmine’s character is quite literally of the royal life: she is part of a royal court most clearly throughout Aladdin. In comparison, Snow White does not really live out her “royal life,” nor does Cinderella, nor Aurora (she is only made aware later that she is a Princess by her fairy godmothers who have been raising Aurora in hiding).  This is significant because Jasmine has a belief system that is rooted in civil rights and an abolishment of the class systems.  To Jasmine, love is equal, and has no class. The other Princesses do not explore that topic as vividly as Jasmine, if at all. Cinderella is an early predecessor to this concept, though. Cinderella represents an early image of social mobility – she goes from being a servant to a Princess. Ariel and Jasmine are the only Disney Princesses in that era which are “living out” life in a royal court. Belle, on the other hand, becomes a Princess later, but all the while she is trapped in a castle with her abuser, she basically suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. Truly, Belle’s convictions are sincere, but a Beast who locks you up in a castle and never apologizes for his actions? That’s not a comforting tale to me. Ariel, on the other hand, shares a similar desire as Jasmine to leave the comforts of the royal court, and in Ariel’s case, she hopes to become human, giving up her magical powers of being a mermaid. Ariel, naively, believes that being human is a better scenario than being a mermaid. It’s romantic though to see that her love of Eric overcomes her so much that she is willing to convert her physical being to be with him. This is, however, a troubling message to young girls: women should not have to seriously adapt themselves to be with the one that they love and young girls should be taught this very early on. Ariel’s transformation into being a human and staying a human is an ironic twist for a Disney plot, since it erases the spiritual narrative in the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The original story outlines the importance of spiritual life, whereas Ariel’s spiritual life is becoming mortal, which somewhat defeats the point of the original story. The Little Mermaid is nonetheless a joyful film. Ariel and Jasmine do share the most in common of all of these Princesses and this is significant when examining the feminist undertones.
  • Jasmine recognizes her sexual power and uses it accordingly.  When Jafar needs to be distracted, Jasmine kisses him.  Many would say that this ‘sends the wrong message’ to young girls. This comes from personal experience: all girls will eventually realize that their value is much more than their sexuality, and it would be a gross understatement to simplify Jasmine’s character as seeing “only value in your sexuality.”  That is categorically untrue, and people know that. You would be assuming the population is dumb if they didn’t.  Women knowing that there is power in their sexuality can be liberating and empowering, which has nothing to do with sexual objectification. Jasmine, being a Princess trapped into marrying a suitor who is only wealthy would be objectifying.  She rails against that.
  • Jasmine has no qualms with speaking truth to power. When she finds out that Aladdin has been detained, she fearlessly approaches Jafar and inquires why this is. Jafar lies to her and tells her that Aladdin has been executed at his direction for being a thief. Jasmine mourns Aladdin until they meet again.
  • Jasmine wants independence and happiness above all else, which is part of the Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit Happiness. This is an American ideal outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Jasmine has a pet tiger because she values the wild side of life. Originally, the complementary character to Jasmine’s court was going to be a hand maiden, and not a pet tiger! The doting hand maiden character was replaced by Rajah, the pet tiger. This is worth noting because Jasmine is considered a “supporting character” as Aladdin is a “high comedy” (she is not a central character like Ariel or Belle in their respective films), therefore, producers wanted to put more focus on Jasmine when she did have her scenes.

It’s remarkable how much material there is to deconstruct all of the Disney Princesses during the time period of 1937-1992, but the deeper I have considered each narrative, the more it’s worth highlighting just as how much Jasmine stands as a feminist character in comparison to her peers. She should continuing being elevated as such.

Rosy Conversation with Misty Ahmadi

As we continue celebrating Women’s History Month, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Misty Ahmadi, a young marketing professional based in San Francisco.  Misty is the Director of Social Media, SEO, and Product Management for Hearst Bay Area. She leads the Social Media Productization for the San Francisco Chronicle. Misty and I met serendipitously last year while at Create & Cultivate in San Francisco.  It seems only right that two young ambitious women would meet through a women’s conference such as Create & Cultivate. 

Misty discussed her career in Marketing, her experiences being a young professional in the Bay Area, and some of the “hot topics” in the marketing field which includes SEO and brand management. She highlights the need for brands to always keep their customers at the forefront of their business. Misty has her own marketing LLC that she runs on the side, Hey There Marketing, which she launched last year as a side business to her full time role at Hearst Media. Misty is  a graduate of UC Berkeley and Texas A&M. I am pleased to share our conversation on Rosy BVM. 

xx Bianca 

Our Conversation

Bianca: You are currently the Director of Social Media, SEO, and Product at Hearst Media. What do you find most energizing about your role in this capacity? It sounds like you are a conduit between many entities. 

Misty: This role is one of the most unique ones I’ve taken on! It’s a hybrid between strategy, product, corporate planning, management, and sales education, so no two days are alike. 

I love helping others succeed, this comes from my background as a teacher. And I can do this no matter whom I’m working with – clients, strategists, sellers, or other corporate teams. The path to success isn’t always clear, so helping my team come up with innovative strategies for our clients and how to combat push back from them helps my team become better at their roles and gain skills they can continue to leverage… even if it takes extra time on their end! I also help other social teams grow across Hearst and the cross collaboration from those opportunities is unbelievable. I love when we get to learn from one another because we’ve created a safe space to ask questions, test, and learn. 

Bianca: SEO, otherwise known as search engine optimization, is such a huge topic of discussion for people these days across all sectors. What are your thoughts about it? 

Misty: Every good marketer should have a basic understanding of SEO. It helps make your writing and content planning so much more powerful and measurable. I think it’s a topic people are scared about because it takes time to do well and the progress and impact isn’t always linear. So if you want to stand out and be more well rounded, learn SEO. 

If you want to learn about SEO, start out with Moz. Try it out when building your own website too! 

Bianca: You received your undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and your Master’s in Marketing from Texas A&M! What drove you to pursue a Master’s in Marketing? 

Misty: While I pursued my undergraduate degree in psychology and education at UC Berkeley, I also was interested in taking marketing classes as well. Since my original intention was to be a teacher, the marketing classes were my “fun” subject classes. After teaching in Japan for a couple of years, I realized that I could see more of a career, long term, in marketing. I started to research courses, certificates, and jobs in marketing and decided that for me, the best option would be to get a masters degree in order to catch me up on the subject of marketing and offer the opportunity for marketing-related internships. I also looked at the cost of getting a masters and my earning potential upon completion of the program. Getting scholarships, paid positions on campus, and picking a university in a low cost of living area really helped keep my graduate program costs low and allowed me to get what I thought was a good ROI on my education investment! 

Bianca: I love to see  when other young women pursue a “side hustle.” How long have you been working to develop your LLC, Hey There Marketing? What do you hope to do with it in the future? 

Misty: I made my LLC less than a year ago when an opportunity arose to do a short term consulting gig. The gig ended up falling through, but it pushed me to think about how I’d brand myself as a marketing consultant and to start to seriously think about the type of work I’d like to take on. 

In the future I’d like to be able to take on more clients looking to ensure that their content and social media strategies are truly customer-centric. 

Bianca: Being a young female professional in the Bay Area has its own set of challenges, what inspires you to continue boldly doing the work that you do? 

Misty: I like to use my personal social media time for positivity and inspiration. By following accounts like Create & Cultivate, Ladies Get Paid, and Makers Women, I love to see stories of other women rising above and taking ownership of their space. 

I also hope to one day have children of my own and I want them to be raised in a world where someone can take on any role they want – visible representation matters so much. 

Bianca: Since your work is at the intersection of multi-channel social management, content creation, and brand management, what would you say is the most important part to maintaining consistent messaging for a brand? 

Misty: I would say the most important part to maintaining consistent messaging for a brand is to ensure that you’re keeping your customer at the top of your mind. For someone new to branding, is it easy to understand what you’re talking about? Is it relatable content to both new and old customers? It’s a lot to handle, but firm brand guidelines can help make it possible. 

Bianca: What is your favorite part about living in the Bay Area?

Misty: I love how it’s possible to find your community, no matter your interest. And of course I have to say my CALIFORNIA Golden Bears! 

Thank you, Misty, it’s been a pleasure learning about your experiences in marketing and how women can work to support other women! 

Samantha Parkington: The American Girl Doll That Shaped My Politics

In continuation of celebrating Women’s History Month, I am celebrating Samantha Parkington, the American Girl doll that shaped my politics. When I was 8 years old and in 3rd grade, I learned about Samantha Parkington, the American Girl doll whose story is set in 1904 Victorian era New York. Her story is rooted in progressivism and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. I read about her in school and dreamed of receiving the American Girl doll for Christmas, which is somewhat ironic because one of the storylines in one of the books about Samantha I was reading was about how she dreamed about receiving a very special doll for Christmas. It was like a little girl’s doll dream inception.

I did receive Samantha for Christmas at my complete and utter elation (see photo below). That year I was in 3rd grade was also the year of 9/11, it was a tumultuous time for the world filled with much uncertainty, which made receiving Samantha for Christmas even more comforting. Samantha inspired me in so many ways – her story was compelling in a number of unique ways. Despite being raised comfortably upper class in Bedford, New York, Samantha’s character dealt with real life suffering: her parents passed away in a tragic boating accident and therefore left Samantha orphaned. Her story helped shape my conceptions of empathy.

Her Uncle Gard, who serves as a father figure of sorts to Samantha marries a suffragist, who becomes Samantha’s aunt, Cornelia. Cornelia is one of the first women to join in the protests in New York City for women’s rights to vote. I learned about the Women’s Suffrage Movement this way.

Women gained the right to vote in 1920 in America.

Samantha’s stories has layers of justice orientation to it, which is wonderful for young girls and boys to learn about. While she was raised comfortably in high society, Samantha experienced an emotional suffering that made her a multi-dimensional character. Furthermore, a significant part of the plot of her story is how she befriends the maid servants of a neighboring house, Nelly and her sisters (girls who are her age) and teaches them how to read. This opened my eyes to the horrors of child labor at an early age.

Since Samantha and her story captured my heart, I wanted to share this with the author of her story, Valerie Tripp as a 3rd grader. I wrote a letter to Valerie about how much I learned from Samantha’s stories and how much this doll meant to be as I was learning more about progressive causes. I also included a drawing of Samantha. I received a letter back that expressed her happiness. I learned at a young age that speaking up for what is right can have a positive impact on the world and Samantha’s story helped shape this understanding at a very young age.

When I was a student in community college, I took a public speaking course. One of the prompts was to share a story from your youth that meant a lot to you and how that experience shaped you. Naturally, I chose Samantha for how she was the catalyst for my political views to come; at the least, she helped me understand the need for civic engagement in society in all facets of life. I brought the doll along to my college class and I nervously remember how that would be received. The class ended up loving the speech that I made about Samantha (to my relief) and I received an A in the class.

To my chagrin a couple years ago, Mattel, now American Girl’s parent company pulled Samantha from their doll line (for reasons beyond my understanding) and at the outrage of many fans of Samantha, she was finally brought back a couple years later. It still astonishes me that a toy executive could be that callous in removing a character which represents so much goodness. Thankfully, Samantha’s tale did not end there. She is still available to my heart’s content.

Teacher, rule breaker, and speech maker are all descriptions of Samantha

My speech was centered in the idea that stories can help shape our outlooks in life and learning this at an early age helped to shape much of my values today. In Samantha’s case and what I learned from her story, these values are rooted in compassion, generosity, women’s rights, and an awareness in the pursuit of a more fair and just world. I think we can all agree that she serves as a wonderful role model for young girls. Thank you, Samantha.

The film adaptation was produced by Julia Roberts in 2004 and starred AnnaSophia Robb.
This was Christmas 2001 and I was elated to receive Samantha.

A Brief History of Lingerie and Women’s Empowerment Through It

Bettie Page helped to mainstream lingerie in the 50’s.

Historically, women’s lingerie has been dominated by male run business structures, including the design of it. For example, the infamous Victoria’s Secret brand is most well known in mainstream America for having shaped the conception and mental image of modern day notions of female sexuality as a concept based on a certain body type and style that was being sold to women who did not fit this prototype. Thankfully, this image of a prototype of the idealized female body is being reassessed as being unfit and irrelevant to women’s experiences of their sexuality.

Moreover, Victoria’s Secret has unfortunately not been the only brand to have a male-run business model for lingerie. La Perla, the Italian lingerie house, was run only up until a couple of years ago entirely by men. The creative direction and stylization was entirely run by men as well, which makes no sense to produce a product that is fundamentally not understood by its creator…

How can you know how comfortable a bra is going to be if you’re not wearing it? It’s absurdity in product design for sure. When I was a college student, I did a project for a sociology class at UC Davis about how skeptical I was about Victoria’s Secret as a brand. I studied how they kept women interested by offering certain sales and memberships, kept a steady supply chain of consumers through their younger “PINK” collection oriented towards college women who would then “graduate” into their adult collection, and studied how they were an example of “affective consumption.” Victoria’s Secret had entered into the psyche of the American male and female and played with the emotional connection people have to their sexuality. This is not even to mention the accusations that their cotton was sourced by child labor in Burkina Faso. If there is anything positive to note about the brand, they were one of the first brands to be part of the cross-pollination of mainstream product to enter into high end fashion because of their illustrious fashion shows, which had a kind of Carnevale theme to it. Besides that, the brand has done significant damage to glorifying fabricated and untrue ideals of women’s sexuality.

The project that I did about how Victoria’s Secret uses affective persuasion to sell its brand for a sociology class at UC Davis.

For a time, Americans heard the word “sexy,” and one of the first things that they may have thought of was Victoria’s Secret. That’s the effect of affective consumption and that needs to unequivocally be undone especially when you are considering the mental health implications for young women, which could potentially lead to eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Consumers are leaning into the idea now that they don’t have to buy into that image of “sexy.” You define your own sense of sexuality and there are also historical paradigms which help shape the times that we are in, but ultimately, you define your sense of sexy, nobody else.

I’ve always shucked the concept of someone telling me anything to take their word for it unless there is a logical reason to back their word. It’s healthy to be a skeptic, especially when you think there is something off and I wondered when I was younger why I felt like the VS brand did not even come close to encompassing the entirety of feminine sexuality. I understood quickly that the image Victoria’s Secret was selling to me was not entirely accurate.

In my opinion, lingerie should be delicate and comfortable: there is no reason to compromise on either of those standards. Recognizing that those ideals are an attainable standard for the mainstream consumer without lingerie feeling like it’s part of an exclusively luxury market is part of a cultural renaissance currently happening where women continue to take control of their own bodies as well as find the ideals that help them to express their personal style.

The fact is that women for a long time have craved a deeper connectedness to their femininity when they want to be feminine (it began with Cleopatra), and there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. What is wrong in society are the systems which are in place that have historically shamed women for wanting to share their sexuality. Ultimately, that’s tied to women feeling more empowered and a fundamental part of the oppression of women is to take that power away from them.

Different strains of feminist discourse have also confused women throughout history. For example, Gloria Steinem’s investigation of the Playboy brand at the Playboy Club when she went undercover as a Playboy bunny in 1963 brought about a new critical angle for the time. However, it was only just in the 1950’s that the brand emerged and Steinem’s undercover work was noble, but it also created a tension between two different topics: women who were not being treated right because of their objectification as employees of the brand versus women who are willing to engage in their own objectification for the sake of their own autonomy. These are two distinctly different topics, but it became apparent that a feminist prototype would begin to emerge as a result, which was not ideal for the plight of feminism.

This unfortunately has also played into the layers of complexity surrounding the feminist plight at large: women’s empowerment is as simple as fairness. Feminism is about fairness. What does that entail? In the case for how women express their sexuality, it means that women will always be respected regardless of what they choose to put on their body or how they express their sexuality.

Gloria Steinem undercover as a Playboy bunny.

Looking sexy has nothing to do with your intelligence level, which sadly still needs to be said. Historically, women have even been physically oppressed by their undergarments: the corset is the example how “evolved” we have become. Though, with the revival of neo-burlesque, it’s not uncommon for women to want to wear corsets by their own choosing for the sake of performance, but they certainly are not for everyday wear given their restrictive nature for breathing and the body.

The corset culture has been revived through the concept of the “Waist Trainer,” which, to me, is just an absurd modern variation of the corset. The same goes about how I do not believe in shapewear… In my opinion, the shapewear industry is just another way to tell women how their body needs to be artificially enhanced. I want my body to be celebrated as it is, my skin to breathe without being covered with a lot of fabric, and I am going to continue to share that message with others.

Ultimately, women are in charge of what they like to put on their bodies, but it’s also fair to say that women have been manipulated into thinking what is best to put on their bodies for the sake of male approval in society. Women continuing to realize and having the confidence to do what best suits them in how they choose to share their femininity and sexuality is an important part in alleviating women’s suffering, reducing societal pressures, supporting other women’s choices, and ensuring we are continuing to support women’s empowerment.

A corset from 1899
A wedding night chemise from the 1920s indicated a dramatic change from corsetry.
The first advertisement denoting cup size in 1944.
A clever Palmers advertisement in reference to Playboy.
Frederick’s of Hollywood helped to glamorize lingerie.

Here are a handful of brands, high end and mid-tier, that encompass wonderful lingerie ideals:

Palmers

Honey Birdette

Avec Amour

Bluebella

Bordelle

Maison Close

La Perla

Agent Provacateur

Yandy

Felina Intimates

Dita von Teese Lingerie

Trashy Lingerie

Harness Brazaar

Jayne Mansfield: The First Reality Star

Jayne Mansfield lived an enormous life in just 34 years. Today, she is most well known by people for the infamous photo of Sophia Loren glaring at Jayne’s robust cleavage while Jayne is smiling joyously. She is perhaps best known for these types of “stunts,” she was well known for publicity stunts in the 1950s that elevated her status, and she became extremely well known during the time. Sadly, Jayne also had to live in the shadow of Marilyn Monroe, which did affect her, ultimately driving her towards alcoholism and drug abuse. Jayne was never given “big roles” to act in, because large studios viewed Jayne as a type of “insurance” to back up Marilyn, though Jayne did win a Golden Globe.

Jayne was incredibly talented and also incredibly underrated. Both Marilyn and Jayne were originally brunettes who were dyed platinum blonde and turned into film studio bombshells and fulfilled the “dumb blonde” archetype, which they were anything but. They also shared in the history of being two of the first Playboy Playmates alongside Bettie Page, which was revolutionary for the sexually oppressed 1950s. These were clever women, and in Jayne’s case, she orchestrated reality TV style publicity stunts before reality TV existed. Jayne was the first version of a reality persona. She also carried around a chihuahua, as Paris Hilton is known for doing.

The infamous photo of Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield
Jayne was naturally a brunette

Jayne Mansfield was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Pennsylvania on April 19, 1933. Jayne was married and divorced three times and had five children. Her great love was likely with her second husband, Mickey Hargitay. She had her daughter, Mariska Hargitay, the well known actress, with Mickey. Mariska followed in her mother’s footsteps. Mickey clearly loved Jayne endlessly and put up with a lot of stunts that she pulled, which were not always family oriented; he stayed with her even when she was taking risks with sharing her sexuality.

Jayne led a complex life: she pursued fame despite knowing that she was in the shadows of Marilyn. Jayne was also known for relationships with both JFK and RFK. She was certainly a woman who was ahead of her time in how she managed her life. Jayne had an ambitious vision for the star that she wanted to be and she made strategic decisions that impacted this vision. Jayne’s home in Los Angeles was even infamously dubbed the “Pink Palace” for having a pink theme and being painted pink. The grandeur that she lived in reflected the glamorous vision that she had for her life. Jayne’s life would end too early in tragedy.

Jayne performed in Mississippi during her last days in 1967, where she passed tragically in a car accident late in the night with her companion at the time, her lawyer, Sam Brody as they were going to New Orleans for another show. The vehicle Jayne was in crashed into the rear end of a tractor trailer that was behind a truck that had suddenly slowed down because it was spraying mosquito spray. Jayne’s children survived with minor injuries in the back seat.

After Jayne’s tragic passing, policy was passed to recommend that tractor trailers use an underride guard, though the trucking industry was slow to adopt the change. It’s sometimes referred to as the Mansfield Bar due to Jayne’s passing. Mickey, in despair, ended up marrying the flight attendant who accompanied him when he flew from Los Angeles to New Orleans after Jayne’s tragic passing in 1967. Mickey’s love for Jayne was so evident in how he allowed her to pursue her dreams. Jayne’s legacy is her ambition and her love.

Jayne and Mickey were married in a ceremony in 1958 that was open to the press: an early version of a reality show.
Jayne with her husband Mickey and her three children with him.

Middle of Nowhere: The Forgotten Heartland and Mythology of Kansas

Kansas is in a compromised state: there is a deeply concerning economic stagnation happening in America’s heartland. Part of it has to do with an aggressive type of neoliberal realpolitik that has shredded the governance structures from having the programs needed to help bolster the state’s vibrance. The lack of taxes being paid by its population and the shredding of government agencies has had an opposite effect than intended initially to spur growth for the state through an experimental budget for the state which wreaked financial havoc (ideologically, the idea is that less taxes would spur growth). In the case for Kansas, the tax cuts were an extreme kind of neoliberalism that has caused the state real harm. The state is currently trying to manage this disrepair.

This is not just a red and blue issue, the heartland is in dire straights and there is no clear path to spur growth, but shredding taxes and government agencies is also not the answer. At this point, the state of Kansas needs a large philanthropic donation to help subsidize lack of government programs, spur economic development, and bring more vibrance back to this state.

The state of the nation depends on the vibrance of all states.

For the first time in years, Kansas has a Democratic Governor. Why is that? The realization that the course that this state is on as it previously had been as a staunchly “red state” is no longer working out. That’s a fact. Join me as I explore how Kansas is an economic thermometer for America. Furthermore, this state has its own mythology as part of American culture:

  • Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz is from Kansas
  • Superman is from “Smallville,” Kansas
  • Little House on the Prairie is in Kansas

How many people can say that they appreciate Kansas? Likely a huge number of Americans can tell you that’s what they know about Kansas from popular culture which includes the above films and books, which is great, but do they know what’s really been happening there in current times? It’s not been doing well.

The reality is, the state has had a decline in population size for the last 80 years. As a result, the state has taken drastic measures to improve population growth which is not limited to aggressively cutting government agencies in order to offer up to $15,000 for people to help pay their student loans in exchange to move to certain counties that need larger population sizes. This is a program that was created in clear desperation because people have been fleeing Kansas, mostly because there is a lack of opportunity. There is hope though.

The current Democratic Governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly, has taken steps to ensure that there are policy changes. For example, the experimental Kansas budget led by former Governor Sam Brownback led to cuts in schools, roads, and public safety. Governor Kelly is working to reverse those changes currently. They should be reversed with swift action.

A few other actions that Governor Kelly has worked toward is improving the pay for educators, thus improving the education system by attracting talented educators to the heartland.

She is also currently working to expand Medicaid to ensure that more people have access to healthcare. She also worked to reinstate LGBTQ equal workers rights. The policies being presented by Governor Kelly are sensible and in the interest for the economic wellbeing of the state. Clearly, states need some basic infrastructure to help spur economic growth, not aggressively cutting government services.

Marketing for the heartland of this nation has always been a challenge. Early into its history, the marketing message made to be appealing was FREE LAND. This was initially to draw in farmers. Now, one of the pulls was the following: “We will pay for some of your student loans if you come live in one of our counties.” Is that a sustainable offer? Likely not, as the program needed to be subsidized and there is no guarantee or expectation that people will stay for the long haul: this experimental budget led to serious infrastructure cuts which caused damage to the state.

Kansas may not be getting the structural attention that it deserves, but my eye is on Kansas as the pulse of economics in America, as it can be on the upswing when sensible policies and fiscal priorities are in place.

Tom Welling portraying Clark Kent (Superman).
In the long run, the yellow brick road is sensible fiscal policies which sustain government programs. Ideally, philanthropy can also help bolster the state’s economic wellbeing. Furthermore, all states should have a similar outlook in its policy management.

Aphrodite, Gilda, and the Violets

Love is the purest form of a soul at peace. 🕊

The birth flower for February is the violet. The month of February is also characterized by love as Valentine’s Day is also in February. The Greek Goddess Aphrodite is connected to such symbols as the rose, the violet, the dove, the swan, and the scallop shell to name a few.

There is an interesting intersection of meaning for the violet though. The meaning behind violets is the following: Violets symbolize modesty. According to Greek mythology, violets were created when one of Artemis’ nymphs, who had all sworn to stay maidens, was being pursued by her twin brother, Apollo. To protect her nymph, Artemis transformed her into a violet, which in turn led the violet to become a symbol of modesty. The violet also has roots in Christianity and represents the modesty of the Virgin Mary. The violet also represents spiritual wisdom, faithfulness and humility which are meanings that can be seen depicted in religious works of art.

Because the violet has an intersecting identity of modesty and has a connection to the spirit of love represented by Aphrodite, there is significant overlap between the qualities of purity by the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) and the more hedonistic identity of Aphrodite. The establishment of the violet in February allows us to consider how these intersecting meanings all lead into one concept: the power of love.

There are continued images of Aphrodite and violets in popular culture as well. For example, the actress Rita Hayworth was nicknamed “The Love Goddess,” at the peak of her career; her pinup image was also the most widely seen of WWII. As a mythological figure, Rita Hayworth certainly represents a more modern day image of Aphrodite. Directors like Martin Scorsese have also provided extensive input on how her acting set a bar that had not yet been achieved especially in her iconic role as Gilda.

Furthermore, it’s widely known that Rita unfortunately suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for more than 20 years which may have been brought out earlier in her life due to some of the traumatic experiences she endured. Rita became the first public face of Alzheimer’s. Due to her high profile, there has been a dramatic increase in Alzheimer’s research funding and every year in her honor, the Alzheimer’s Association holds a gala in her honor. In 2019, the gala raised $1 million for Alzheimer’s research.

The gala continues to raise awareness and honors the life of Rita Hayworth in tandem. The official designated color for Alzheimer’s awareness is purple (violet), which is no surprise to me because of how violets are connected to meaning of love. However, this color was designated for political reasons: red + blue = purple, because this disease should never be politicized as it affects anyone regardless of their political affiliation.

In so many ways, the connections between Rita’s pinup role as America’s “Love Goddess” in WWII and her experience suffering from Alzheimer’s, Rita was a great unifier. Lack of unity and agreement… isn’t this all part of the great paradox of the political issues that we all face and let ego disavow us from shared agreement? The real answer is peace and love, regardless of which side you think you are on.

“She had an unusual combination of an innocence and an experience… a power and a vulnerability.” – Martin Scorsese

Rita Hayworth as Gilda

Rosy Conversation with Tommaso Protti

Tommaso by Gabriel Bianchini for Vogue Italia

It’s with great pleasure that I share my interview with award winning Italian photojournalist, Tommaso Protti.  He has been documenting the deforestation of the Amazon as well as the humanitarian crisis associated with it. Our conversation spanned a number of topics, including his introduction to his career in photography, some of the crises that he has documented in the Middle East, as well as the themes that appear in his work.  In 2019, he was awarded the esteemed Carmigniac Award in photojournalism, which allowed him to continue documenting the crisis in the Amazon. 

The images that he has documented include deforestation as well as images of the Indigienous Guajajara people, now known as the “Guardians of the Forest,” who have increasingly been driven off their land.  They have resorted to self-arming themselves in order to fight back against illegal loggers to protect their land.  This is happening in the impoverished state of Maranhão, Brazil, where illegal logging has sharply risen in the last couple of years under a particular political climate.  

Tommaso’s work in documenting these stories should embolden the global community to consider how we are at a precipice both within the climate crisis and also work to ensure that the Guajajara people are supported in protecting their land, which in turn protects the future of the Amazon. 
If you are in Paris right now, Tommaso’s photography is currently on display at the MEP in a solo exhibition entitled, “Life and Death in the Brazilian Amazon” until February 16.  Please follow Tommaso on Instagram @tomprotti.

Tommaso captured this image of a member of the Guajajara forest guard in a moment of of sad silence at the sight of a toppled tree cut down by suspected illegal loggers on the Araribóia indigenous reserve in Maranhão state.
Tommaso captured this image of the vast deforestation that has been occurring at an accelerated rate in the last couple of years.
Junior poses with his gun for a portrait in the periphery of Manaus. He is a member of Família do Norte – The Northern Family or FDN –. The Northern Family is considered the strongest gang in Amazonas state. It controls local drug sales, trafficking routes and prisons. The gang formed in 2006 to ward off the advance of criminal gangs from Brazil’s south. In 2017, leaders commanded a bloody Manaus prison uprising when 56 people were killed; many beheaded, gutted or burned. In 2019, at least 40 prisoners were killed in an internal gang dispute.

Our Conversation

Bianca: Your photography has been featured in major publications including National Geographic and The Washington Post.  What prompted your passion for photography? 

Tommaso: I started in photography because of my studies. I studied Political Science and International Relations at the University in Rome. My first project related to geopolitics was regarding the flows of water in the Middle East. I went to the region and that was the first step where I started taking pictures with the intent as a profession.  That’s really where everything came from.  

I started with a project concerning the construction of dams in Turkey and the photography project was about the environmental and social impacts of these dams and how Turkey is using this project in strategic ways.  The sources of the rivers are in Turkey, but the majority of the water flows are in Iraq and Syria, which enables Turkey to have a powerful tool. I started with this story and I translated these geopolitical issues and started to explore the region and further continue documenting the conflicts of the Kurds.  The last time I went there was in 2015, there were PKK guerilla fighters and then the Turkish state started to impose curfews on people. (The PKK, otherwise known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party have been involved in an armed conflict with the Turkish government since 1984 with the initial aim of becoming an independent Kurdish state.)

Bianca: You are originally from Italy, when did you move to Brazil and how long have you lived there? 

Tommaso: I moved here for family reasons. The first time I came here was in 2014, I got an assignment to do photography, and I like São Paulo and decided to stay, which is why I have been living here. 

Bianca: Your photographs tend to be in black and white, is there a reason for this stylization? To me, I interpret your B&W photos as highlighting the devastation happening to the Amazon because it adds such a haunting quality to them.

Tommaso: Black and white is the way that I prefer in photography to express myself. It allows me to put a variety of issues together while maintaining coherence within my visual style.  

Bianca: Congratulations on receiving the 2019 Carmignac Photojournalism award!  What is the history of this award? 

Tommaso: The Carmignac Photojournalism Award supports photographers in the field. It funds annually the production of an investigative photo reportage on human rights violations and geostrategic issues in the world. Selected by an international jury, the laureate receives a €50,000 grant, enabling them to carry out an in-depth research in the field, with logistical support from Fondation Carmignac. The 10th edition of the grant was dedicated to the Amazon and the issues related to its deforestation and I was chosen as the winner. The award allowed me to produce an in-depth investigation around the region last year.

Bianca: Your photography has depicted haunting images of the Amazon’s deforestation, which has also accelerated since last year as the world has now seen with images of catastrophic fires.  Are there ways for the global community to intervene? If so, how? 

Tommaso: The global community should intervene.  The scientists are saying the forest is reaching a tipping point and we should be aware of that.  We should also value our choices… the problems of the Amazon are complex, but they are the results of consumerism and other interests.  My point of view is to make people curious and intrigue people as each of us should do for our own work. I am documenting the crisis. 

Bianca: You have put your life in danger while capturing these photographs, what makes you go back?  Is it a sense of justice for all of the impunity that is happening? Or is it as simple as feeling more alive? 

Tommaso: I don’t look at it as putting my life in danger.  The Amazon is a dangerous place. As a photographer, I do my best in taking the least risks as possible.  It’s a long term project and I always like to go back to the Amazon and there is always something new to discover and document. The risk that I am taking is part of the job and I am not driven by adrenaline.  I am driven to document these crises. 

Bianca: After President Jair Bolsonaro’s election, Amazon deforestation in Brazil has sharply risen. He has scaled back on efforts to fight illegal logging which has facilitated further destruction.  The Amazon rainforest lost an area about 12 times the size of New York City from August 2018 to July 2019. This is not acceptable. How can the public hold him more accountable?  

Tommaso: Yes, this is a process that has happened years ago and there are many drivers of this deforestation: there is greed, violence, and self interests.  More than anything, there is impunity.  It’s lawless like a new Wild West. The lack of justice is the main problem for the Amazon and you have all of these criminal groups and the statistics have increased of a presence of criminal groups in the Amazon. His message has been that the Amazon is open to business again, which has legitimized many people in the general exploitation of the forest.  He has moved to reduce the indigenious reserve and he is not exactly environmentally friendly. 

Bianca: How can the global community understand these complex issues and then take action? How can we support the Indigenous Guardians of the Forest?

Tommaso: I am not an activist per se, the governments need to work together on these issues.  I am mainly trying to share these stories with the world. Another theme that I focus on in my photography is about violence. It’s my intention to continue doing this work and exploring other regions of the world as part of a long term photography project.  I also do commercial and advertising work as with photojournalism, it’s not always possible to share the stories that you want to share.

This image is of a group of Gujajara who are beating a man suspected of illegal logging.  A couple of days later, the group was shot at by illegal loggers in retaliation for this beating.
Indigenious Guajajara leader, Paulo Paulino, was tragically murdered in the Amazon in November 2019.  Tommaso followed him and became friends with him, capturing the image of him above. Paulo was killed in an ambush by illegal loggers.

Thank you, Tommaso! Your work is noble and needs to continue being shared with the world.

Nina’s of Paris: Marie Antoinette’s Tea

What if Marie Antoinette’s tea still existed? Well, it does, and you can find her tea at Nina’s Tea House in Paris. My favorite Austrian Queen drank tea that had a fruitful flavor to it, which is not surprising given the heavenly sensory experience that her lifestyle was infamously known for. To this day, the tea is still cultivated with fresh fruits from le Potager du Roi of Versailles. Her legacy lives on through this lovely tea house in Paris and given her life’s tragic outcome, I think her legacy being experienced through delicious tea is a wonderful way to honor her memory.

Marie Antoinette was a multi-faceted individual, just a young girl, when she was sent from Austria to marry Louis and become the Queen of France. She was forced to navigate a political landscape that most world leaders would be perplexed by today, let alone did she seek out that life. In many ways, the economic realities that she faced were not much different than the ones we face today. It’s unfortunate that her legacy as a villainous character that said, “Let them eat cake!” (which is a myth) is how she would be characterized in the French Revolution. However, Sofia Coppola’s multi-dimensional approach in depicting her in her film about Marie Antoinette is historically accurate: the film is based off of historian Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, which has been lauded by historians.

Few also know that her Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine were her solace, a small palace and a cottage nearby made for her on Versailles that was intended to be environments that were simple and pure, and likely the way she had wished the world could be and perhaps a type of homesickness that she had to Austria… Honoring Marie Antoinette’s legacy by drinking the same tea that she did is a wonderful way to learn more about her life with a simple pleasure while continuing a historic legacy of tea.

A portrait of Marie Antoinette by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783
Hameau de la Rein (The Queen’s Hamlet) was Marie Antoinette’s cottage which served as a private meeting place for her closest friends and place for leisure.
The Petit Trianon
Interior of The Petit Trianon

Selene: Goddess of the Moon

Images of femininity and nature are wondrous to me and I think they also have an allegorical function for society at large (when used in literature or mythology for example). There is just so much to learn from Mother Nature, we must listen to her. I recently came across the Greek Goddess, Selene, Goddess of the Moon and learned about her myths and meaning. Her Roman equivalent is Luna.

Spiritual rituals related to honoring the Moon Goddess are magical and so meaningful to me, and I also love to learn about the stories of all of the Greek goddesses. Some of Selene’s lovers included Zeus, Pan, and the mortal Endymion. Endymion is most famously known as her lover as he was a mortal man who was either an astronomer or a shepherd (his role being someone who is under the moon frequently) and he caught Selene’s eye.

In the case of Selene’s greatest love… the name Endymion means “Diver.” When considering the process of the sun setting and (diving into the sea), Selene as the moon can be interpreted as embracing her diver when she (the moon) rises… The convergence of the two lovers leads to their embrace through this union of nature. Endymion is a mortal, but he remains ageless and deathless, which allows for Selene to have him.

In Selene’s case, she teaches us more broadly about maintaining balance in life: she balances light and darkness all at once with her representation of the moon. The moon is a wonderful reminder that we must find balance in our everyday lives. Her light is also calming and mystical to us and we should do our part to be in tune with her and appreciate the tranquility she brings us. I will always believe in the powers of the moon…

The “moon pool” on the hit Australian TV show H2O: Just Add Water is representative of the magical powers of the moon.
Claudia Cardinale wearing a moon headpiece in the 1960 film Austerlitz.
Selene and Endymion by Victor Florence Pollet (mid-19th century).
Selene and Endymion by Erasmus Quellin (1897).
Selene and Endymion by Filippo Lauri (1650).