International Women's Day

It's International Women's Day and what better way to celebrate than by sitting with a dear friend of ours; Byron Bay-local and long-time Thrills friend, Sophie Marsh. You might recognise this pretty face through her dreamy Instagram feed or frolicking around Byron Bay, but underneath it all lies much more. What you might not know about Soph is that she runs a thriving and influential community, inspiring young women in Byron Bay and around the world called 'Diary of Femme'. Like the name suggests, the 'Diary' is an open blog where both Soph and best-friend, Quinika Davis share their real-life experiences to help young girls learn, love and overcome in their lives. We were so inspired and HAD to sit down with Soph and find out more about this project and how it's helping with equality and diversity for young women. Read on to find out more.

Tell us a little bit about Diary of Femme

Diary of Femme is my heart and my experience brought into a public arena to be witnessed. It's a space that has two tenets to it - The online aspect with our website and socials, which are always growing in their ability to connect with people, and the physical sharing circles we run weekly in Byron Bay. It's very much a community of openness, warmth and safety that has allowed both myself and those who have come into contact with it to illuminate parts of ourselves as women, and as humans to heal one another through listening and heart-full sharing.

How did DoF start? Tell us a little bit about how it came to be:

Diary of Femme was thought into existence by Quinika Davis, a dear friend of mine. She approached myself and a handful of other writers in her circles and we began documenting every aspect of our inner and outer lives. Over time, we found a creative direction that felt natural for us all and, as part of that, some of the other girls who were initially involved had to part ways. It left Quin and I with a more concentrated focus on overhauling our shitty (but cute) Wordpress website and to really maximise our reach - Quin being the Kanye West of the whole thing and me being more of a Carol Brady. After an early team meeting we had realised the power of open-handed sharing in terms of our growth patterns and pain cycles, so we decided to open our meetings to the community with a weekly time slot on Wednesdays at 6PM. As under 20's who felt incredibly under-qualified to be running anything like that  and no idea as to what we were taking on in terms of our own vulnerabilities, we simply called it 6PM so as to avoid expectations of attendees. 6PM has quickly become something that is so bizarrely sacred and represents a greater collective commitment to self-love. 

We later were taken under the wings of a local women's charity called Future Dreamers that has supported us in every aspect of what we do. We use their clubhouse to hold 6PM and I actually work for them now too in community engagement which is an absolute dream job I never knew I had wanted. Leah Rettenmaier of Future Dreamers is especially someone that we owe a lot to and who has inspired a lot of what we have sought to know about women supporting women.

How did you become involved in this kind of work? Was it a passion project that developed into something more? Or was it always on the cards?

This kind of work really just found me the more I wanted to understand myself and my deteriorating mental health in my late teenage years. The passion project initially for me was putting myself back together after being sexually assaulted at 16, and being kicked out of home at 17. As someone that's always had an affinity for writing, I managed to document my experiences brushing with adulthood, elusive happiness, drugs, alcohol and unhealthy interactions with males.

A year ago when Quin asked me if I wanted to write some pieces here and there on a shared blog, I felt like what I had to share in terms of my experience could potentially help someone else, and it felt good to let go of my messes in a way that gave them some structure. Now I know that part of the paradox of who I am is that I have both an intense need to "give back" and feel second to others, but also to be seen and validated. Greater community connection had been part of my identity for years growing up in church communities and having been to Uganda on mission. I think my run-ins with mental illness made me understand the importance of developing this at far closer reaches though. I really do believe you have to start with yourself in the end.

What is your biggest influence/inspiration for DoF?

Quin and I have very different influences and inspirations, but for me, the biggest forerunners are women like Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou and Patti Smith (who's writing I don't necessarily love), as they all brought a magnifying glass to womanhood and demanded space for themselves. There's some incredible work being done online by people like Eileen Kelly with Birds and the Bees blog but it's a pretty untapped space surprisingly.

As someone that fell into the modelling industry and social media realms, I was aware that I needed more for my life than to just be told that I look nice in photos - that I wanted to be working for my contents rather than my packaging. I realised that so many women out there were on the receiving end of the same messages I was both suffering from and helping spread. It made me realise how important it is to preserve uniqueness and vulnerability, particularly when dealing with shame- something that holds many women back. I know men experience this too in ways I don't fully understand, and I hope that the kind of discussions we are having are empowering them to ask the same questions we did. 

How is DoF helping to achieve women’s equality and diversity?

I think what we represent is the idea that women are worthy of being heard. Giving a woman space to really talk about herself and her emotions and her connection to her body is something so freeing, it almost can't be measured. We want people to actually tune-in to themselves, not necessarily relate to us directly. We aren't trying to be gurus in that we don't lead discussions with answers. Our approach is very much one of: "This is what I experienced in my life, and this is where I am now compared to where I want to be, and this is what I did to get here. Tell me about you." It's a process that empowers women to think of themselves in the driver's seat, to accept their messes as chapters and to believe that they are capable of great love and success because they always have been. It's like handing someone a mirror and helping them to see themselves realistically, and to help them learn that life is so beautiful when you feel at home within the shell you've been given. I've seen it all over the world and felt it within myself: when you raise a woman up to her power, she will reach down and do the same to those around her, often unconsciously. 

Do you see a way to close the gap?

For me, closing the gap is just the elephant in the room that causes too much shame to recognise in its entirety from both sides of the gender coin. Some people still genuinely don't believe that there's any gap at all, and given my own propensity for experiential learning, I can almost understand how they can't see it. There would definitely be a bliss to the ignorance. It's not my job to tell anyone they're wrong for wearing different lenses to me. But, I think the crucial part of the process is reclaiming the power that is available to you.

For women, that looks like women trusting other women, women trusting themselves and women demanding trust in their relationships with men. For men, that could look like seeking to understand what the women around you are going through and opening dialogue back and forth. Listening to one another selflessly is something our world could benefit from developing as a skill set. 

Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women this International Women’s Day?

That's a tricky one, but I think my biggest piece of practical advice based on recurrent themes in the lives of my girlfriends, is not to put up with negative self-talk around this International Women's Day (or ever). Try and catch yourself in the act of insulting or rejecting compliments other people give you, calling yourself an idiot/stupid/ugly/dumb/retarded/crazy, or judging yourself harshly. That voice isn't yours and it definitely doesn't have to be yours. You literally have to tell yourself the exact positively charged opposite of whatever questionable loops we have on air in our brains. Saying "I am beautiful and worthy of love" as many times as you tell yourself "I'm a fucking idiot" definitely has a profound effect on your behaviour and outlook on life. It also changes what you believe you're deserving of when you call on different language to rule your mind. It's simple stuff that takes a lot of discomfort and push/pull but reaps high rewards, so try being aware for the next week and check in with yourself afterwards.

What’s next for DoF?

As Quin lives in London now, I am working on launching an International 6PM platform that will allow us to run sharing circles online through video conference calls. We are also about to open up our Instagram for themed submissions each week of follower's diary entries in raw form photos, either anonymously or with their identities attached. It's very scary but also incredibly beautiful having snippets of our consciousness, especially when they reflect something we thought to be inescapable but prove in time to be otherwise. We definitely want to get more women writing and whole-heartedly involved in shaping our online space. We are also tentatively hoping to take Diary of Femme on tour over the next year or so, up and down the East Coast but then also overseas eventually. Also there's a podcast in the works which is absolutely crazy. Other than that, the only next thing for me is a holiday of some sort as frankly, I'm bloody exhausted- in the best kind of way of course.

Want to find out more about Diary of Femme? Check out their website here.

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