THIS IS TORRIE.
I met Torrie a few years back at a wedding I was shooting. We hit it off during our time together on the day and stayed in contact on social media over the years, encouraging one another as friends from a distance and watching one another grow and flourish. After a time of mostly online friendship, we managed to carve out time to get together over wine and chat. We got to know one another well and build our friendship into something tangible and strong. With that build up came understanding. With that understanding came trust. With trust came the development of a project that Torrie and I feel wildly passionate about working on together and sharing through Katherine Elyse Photography.
The story presented here is all Torrie’s. As her friend and photographer, I hope the images act as a vessel for her to share her experience in a way that is safe and accurate. I’m using her words, taken directly from an interview my good friend David N. Sachs conducted the day of her shoot, with a few back end tweaks by Torrie to round everything out.
THIS IS HER BATTLE STORY.
“This is the story of my journey into loving myself and body acceptance, into feeling comfortable in my own skin.”
“In 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Cervical Cancer. Before that, I had had a number of different cervical changes related to HPV, which is pretty common nowadays. But in 2005, it was less common and all I knew about HPV was that it was one letter off from HIV- which meant that it had no cure and that it was sexually transmitted- and that it could either cause warts or cervical cancer. And the warts never came.
I had HPV prior to the cancer diagnosis. I actually found out that I had HPV from a clinical trial at the hospital when I was 12 years old– after I had been sexually assaulted.”
“As a religious kid, having a sexually transmitted disease is a good way to be looked down upon, no matter how you got it. Especially when you are 12 years old. I had to start making up stories about my life and my body so that I felt accepted in my own skin and so that I wouldn’t be shunned from the community.
It didn’t really work.
I was still shunned from my community and felt a lot of shame about who I was and felt mostly like it was my fault that I had been assaulted.”
“I was diagnosed with cancer at 19. I had just gotten married and I felt like I earned it- that it was my fault that I had cancer and, therefore, really just needed to do anything that I was told. I didn’t ask any questions about what was supposed to happen to me or if I had a choice in anything concerning my care. And so over a period of three years I was led through my care without having asked any questions at all. I didn’t have time.
At the end of that three years I had had seven surgeries that completely mangled my body (especially my sexual organs) and ruined my marriage with my husband because I couldn’t have kids, which was an important thing to him. And, let’s face it: being young and married to someone with cancer is really scary. I didn’t know that I couldn’t have kids until after treatment ended because I didn’t stop to ask any questions; I didn’t care about myself or about my body enough to actually do something about it to take control or to even feel like I had a choice in my decisions.”
“I started out having an unhealthy relationship with myself in relation to others before I actually even knew who I was or what I wanted. I spent 20 years believing that it was my fault and that I was being punished for something that was outside of my control.”
“But I have a different relationship with my body and myself because I had cervical cancer.”
“I learned more about myself in the process of having cancer than anything that I had gone through beforehand. I learned that I wanted to give back to the healthcare system to help make sure that people, especially people going through an illness, know what their choices are, and are educated about how to sit across the table from a doctor who they often feel has more power and knowledge than they do. I was really interested in figuring out how we do that, how we slow down the process of decision making in healthcare. I ended up going to school for public health, focusing specifically on people who are vulnerable- poor populations, minorities, people who don’t have a lot of education or power. Because I went through this process of needing to understand my resources more than anybody else. I wanted to give power to other people and a voice to other people.”
“When you are cancer free for 5 years, you are supposed to have a party, and I was not going to have cancer again– until I did.”
And this was a completely different situation than last time. The tumor was outside my body, and it was going to change the way that the outside of my body appeared; and I didn’t have the ability to control how I shared it. Also, it was close to my clitoris, and I really liked my clitoris. I didn’t find that out until my late 20’s, in between my two bouts of cancer. I had discovered this magical thing that could give me sexual pleasure and made me feel powerful, and now it was just going to be taken away from me.”
This time, though, I wasn’t going to just be led through my treatment without asking any questions.
I was almost immediately offered a complete vulvectomy, which is basically “we’re just going to remove everything on the outside, including your clitoris.” I made sure to ask that question. But my oncologist had already scheduled the surgery for me, without even asking if I wanted it or not.
So immediately this became a different situation then my first bout with cancer. During my first bout, it was a big deal but I was at least pretty confident that I was going to live. This time, it was a later stage of cancer and a lot more serious, so I knew that I needed to make some decisions. But I was ill-equipped to make them.”
“I still didn’t really like myself, and I still held this view that I deserved it or I was being punished for somehow not figuring out how to get out of that situation from when I was 12. I had to learn that my body was worth fighting for. That my dignity was worth fighting for.
So I had a consultation with a social worker in palliative care who asked me what my goals were in life. What mattered to me. She told me that I actually had a very good prognosis. I was likely to live through this circumstance. And so we started talking about what was important to me in life going forward.
And I had three goals:
The first goal was that I wanted to maintain sexual function. I knew that I couldn’t have children and so having sex was really important to me. I had just learned about my clitoris. I was going to keep my relationship with it.”
“The second is that I’m a cyclist, so I wanted to be able to cycle. It’s the place where I clear my mind. With that surgery, I actually wouldn’t have been able to ride a bicycle ever again.”
“The third was that I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and not feel mangled. It had nothing to do with the relationship that I had with somebody else or having sex with somebody else and not wanting them to look at me in a different light. It had everything to do with being able to look in the mirror myself and feel like a whole person.”
“It was really empowering to make the decision to do what was best for my body. For me. It’s only been recently that I can say that I never needed to be forgiven for something that happened to me that wasn’t my fault. I’ve learned a lot about the fact that the mindset being carried on throughout my life kept me, in a lot of ways, the same age I was when I was assaulted.
And I feel like the moment that I let go of all of the shame that I had about my body, about things that happened to me, I realized that I’m not a girl, I’m a warrior.
I realized that I don’t need to be pushed around, that I have no interest in being pushed around and that I deserve everything that I want. I’m learning that I’m worth loving. That i’m worth fighting for. And I want to help others, especially those going through the healthcare system, believe the same.”
All images are copyright of Katherine Elyse Photography. Images are owned by Katherine Elyse Cohen of Katherine Elyse Photography. For image use requests, please email email@example.com.
For Laurel and Mike’s unique engagement session, we decided to mix Chinese tradition and modern SF culture to create some epic shots that celebrate San Fran city culture along side Laurel’s Chinese heritage. These bought me empanadas, taught me Chinese, and flashed they style all over SF with reckless abandon. (Basically my photoshoot dream!) We went from the San Francisco Ferry Building to Chinatown to Russian Hill and back down again. I could do celebratory multicultural shoots like this every day!
Sometimes life throws us curveballs we struggle to understand. Karen was diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy with her son. This was her third and final baby and she was shocked to find out she would have to give up breastfeeding early and instead begin chemo. She underwent treatment after soon he was born and, thankfully, has made a miraculous full recovery. She’s currently in remission and soaking up all the time she can with her wonderful family before heading back to teaching in the Fall.
This session was a Give Back Session for the Magic Hour Foundation.
One day this past Spring I was working on some editing when my friend Julia texted me to tell me she was EXTRA excited because her friend Sarah had just told her she was pregnant. And even more exciting and flabbergasting? Sarah’s twin sister Julia had just told her that she was, in fact, pregnant as well. No planning. No attempt at synchrony. Just good old fashioned co-twin-cidence! 😉
I was ecstatic for them both! My fiancé had known these two girls for a long while and over the years we had become friends as well. I was elated when they reached out to set up a maternity session with me! I made sure to schedule their sessions at overlapping times so we could get some pics of both mama’s to be in one setting. As you can imagine, the session did NOT disappoint!
JULIA AND NEIL
First up were Julia and Neil. They got hitched a little less than a year ago and jumped right into building their sweet family. These two bond over beer (non-alcoholic right now) and punk music and there really is no shortage of love and fun between them!
SARAH AND DUSTIN
Sarah and Dustin have been together for over 10 years (married for 2) and are adorably and madly in love. We talked dogs, expectant parenthood, and a whole lot of nerd stuff while we walked around the park before and during the golden hour for our photos!
Of course, seeing as their due dates are so close (only two days apart, actually) I couldn’t resist getting some shots of these two inseparable twin sisters together! Even though they won’t QUITE be twins, I have a feelings these two boys are going to be thick as thieves. 🙂
Huge hugs to both these families, I can’t wait to meet these boys! ❤
In honor of this gorgeous mama-to-be surpassing her due date by a FULL WEEK, I wanted to get this amazing snowy Tahoe maternity session up on the blog!
(It’ll give you something to read when you go into labor Amanda! lol)
Amanda and I met at a bridal show in Berkeley in February. I know her fiance through some other friends so when she bounded up to me belly first at the wedding show I knew exactly who she was and I was ecstatic to finally meet her in person! We talked a lot about what they wanted from their photos and ultimately decided that the one thing that HAD to have was snow. Luckily I was already Tahoe bound near the end of February so we made some plans and were off to the races shortly after!
After avoiding deadly driveway ice (which nearly took Andrew out in Stooge-worthy comedic glory) and three foot deep pockets in the snow (which I promptly sunk right into) we made it to a beautiful grove of trees to shoot.
Amanda was worried about how she looked, like a lot of nearly-new-mom’s with bodies they don’t feel quite at home in, but I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful model if I tried. She was calm and relaxed, enough so that she let me snap some subtle sexy shots between outfits in the 28 degree chill. She was an absolute rockstar! All the while Andrew (a photographer, by the way) was looking at the back of my camera “ooh-in” and “ahh-ing” over my captures of his wifey in all her motherly glory. I could not have dreamt up a more perfect shoot!
Of course, not every photo turns out the way you want it, but this series of images from an attempted hair flip added an extra layer of hilarity and joy to their photos.
In the end, the sun went down right behind this big beautiful pine tree and soon after this popsicle frozen mama bear was whisked away by dad to the warmth of their Tahoe cabin for some relaxation after an incredible shoot.
Congratulations to Amanda and Andrew, I can’t wait to meet Calliope! Cheers! ❤
As time goes on and I continue this project I feel an ever stronger urger to continue sharing stories of women who fight and overcome. There is so much strength that comes from listening to others. Stories that feel so personal to the teller sometimes make a profound impact on the most unlikely listener. Stories preserve our past and help us create a stronger, smarter, kinder future. As we push forward into uncertain waters, I hope we can all take the time to listen and share with one another in the hopes of creating a more connected and respectful world.
Please view the previous installments of the project here:
If you’re interested in becoming a part of this project and sharing your story, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me personally HERE.
To be a woman is to be mocked by the man behind the counter at Calumet Photographic:
He made fun of me, laughing at me, telling me I was “mixing two alcohols” by purchasing film chemistry & cf cards.
I shall not be moved by sexism
To be a woman is to be sexually harassed by the man who owns the photo studio down the street:
He put his hands all over my shoulders, neck, stomach, back, while he told me he treats photography as sexual foreplay & only photographs women he wants to fuck; then he asked to photograph me.
I shall not be moved by patriarchy
To be a woman is to be abashed by the promoter who puts on Erotic Art Events:
He asked me to lie & advertise false sales, I was to only bring in female models for “the patrons delight”, no male models, then he ran his hand down my thigh, & patted my ass.
I shall not be moved by chauvinism
To be a woman is to promote the idea that my work is amazing, phenomenal & groundbreaking though, when the exact same work is presented by a man, it is be merely mediocre.
I shall not be moved when Forbes states that my photography profession is “ruled” by women.
Women only represent 50% in number & average less than 17K annually.
To be a woman is to break the glass ceiling, only to be sliced open as is shatters.
I have been called River Diva. I have been called Last Chance Hollywood Cuddlenick. I have been called bitch and every other demeaning name under the sun. I have been told I don’t belong on the river, never mind that I have achieved numerous certifications and have many years of experience. I will never be hired at certain companies in Canada, Switzerland and Italy, all for the single reason that they don’t hire women. I have heard the disappointment in a customer’s voice when they realize they “have gotten the girl guide.” I prove them wrong every single time. However, I shouldn’t have to. Me being a female guide isn’t the problem. The outdated notion of what a woman “should be” or “can do” is the problem. I am exactly where I should be – doing what I love. I have been called Adventure Barbie, but make no mistake, I am no Barbie Doll.
This is the second installment of the TO BE WOMAN photo project and blog series. It aims to focus in on women’s lives and women’s stories in an attempt to bring us closer together through honesty, empathy, and understanding. This week since the Women’s March has been unfailingly frightening, but I’m filled with a defiant and nagging sense of hope over the thought that there are so many people out there willing to stand up and fight for the rights that we all desperately deserve. Women of the world will not be forced into silence; we will not take demeaning and dehumanizing actions lying down. Together, we will fight.
Please read a full description of the project and view the first three incredible women HERE.
If you are interested in becoming a part of this project (and I would absolutely LOVE that), please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#women #woman #femenism #respect #thefutureisfemale #femenistfuture #fucktrump
I will not be deterred by anyone else who seeks to define my worth.
“I love this new world. I no longer have to be politically correct,” Christopher von Keyserling, longtime member of the city council in Greenwich, Connecticut, allegedly said before he grabbed his female coworker’s genitals on December 8, 2016. Thankfully, there was a security video that caught it on tape, or it could have very well been ‘his word against hers’ as he warned her, and his threat that no one would believe her could have very well unfolded. His lawyer defended his actions as “playful” and “too trivial to be considered anything of significance.”
When I think of myself in this woman’s position, I am mortified. When I think of my little sister in her position, however, or in any position where she is being treated as a body that does not deserve equal respect as a human, I am beyond devastated. I am utterly heartbroken. I am sick to the core of my being.
More importantly though, when I think of her being treated this way, I am livid. I am possibly angrier than I have ever felt. I am ready to fight to the death to protect her, to protect her rights, to protect her happiness.
It’s honestly harder for me to apply this heartbreak and anger to myself, because when I think of myself, I think of the many criticisms and insecurities I have collected about myself over the years that would make me less than worthy of that response. And I don’t think that’s an accident: I think people can prey on others, and male identities can prey on female identities, when there is vulnerability from a lack of self esteem and self worth.
I’m not just talking about patriarchal societies which seek to use and control women, I’m also talking about capitalism itself and how it feeds on and grows from people’s insecurities, males and females alike. Fear will sell products like nothing else. It will also sell ideas.
At some point in the past few years I decided I don’t want to buy the ideas. I don’t want to be submissive or docile or self-compromising or disgusted by myself. I don’t want to buy the idea that I am only useful for sexual or child-productive means. I don’t want to buy the idea that my life has to be anything other than what I feel is right.
As for my body, which I once starved almost to death out of fear of rejection or disapproval by others… I don’t buy the idea that I should be ashamed of my body, for being too fat or too thin, or too sexual or not sexy enough, or imperfect or not photogenic, or alive and farting and growing hair. This body is my story, down to every wrinkle and scar. My story has been glorious. And no one can take that away.
And it will never again be given away because of a culture or a president that says I need approval or validation from men, or from anyone else. This is my vow. When I summon love for myself, exactly as I am, right here, right now, no amount of intimidation or insult can touch me. When I know my own worth, I can get angry for myself too.
And so my fight begins here, with my own perspective on these things I spent so much of my life hiding from and being humiliated by; realizing that it is always in my power to see the beauty of my own story:
My breasts are slightly different sizes= options! Who doesn’t like options?
The roll on my belly= proudly earned talisman from my recovery from my eating disorder!
The scar on my face= I can tell little kids I’m a pirate! Pirates are adventurous and exciting!
The acne scars on my butt= my own unique constellations!
Hair under my arms= I have more important priorities!
Hair on my legs= excellent warmth for my winter backpacking in Europe
Bunions/incredibly ugly feet- I can’t believe I was a real ballerina for a while.
Nipples visible through my shirt: not trying to be sexy, not trying to be offensive, just trying to be comfortable
Bring it on.
I shall not be moved by racism.
By definition, racism is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” The definition has blended into a fluid part of everyday life in the United States. Let me ask you this: Do you laugh when a group of Chinese-Americans laugh at selfie sticks and say, “That’s so asian!”. Do you curse at a poor driver and comment, “Stupid asian drivers…”.
With the results of the recent election, I’ve noticed friend groups becoming significantly more polarized. Two conversations rotate amongst the groups: (1.) Laughter at the “white people” and mocking their “white privilege”, while naming me as “white-washed” therefore assuming I should be able to talk sense into them; (2.) Outrage at the minorities and stereotyping them as a cult.
Why am I “white-washed”.
Why am I the buffer.
Just let me be me.
Gia is one of my closest friends. She is Italian-American and we have known each other for 15+ years. And guess what? She makes her own dumplings from scratch and I make her grandmother’s lasagna once a month. We inspire each other to move through this barrier of racism and grow stronger. Nothing can break our friendship.
Racism will not move us. Don’t let it move you.
I will not be deterred by my own fear.
2016 was an interesting year for me personally, and on a wide spectrum, from very happy to very sad. It was the year that I finally allowed myself the freedom to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It was the year that I finally gave myself enough forgiveness to admit that both of those things are real diseases, real demons, and not weakness or my own defects. It was when I decided that love, actually, had to be the thing that won in my own life so that I can be happy and the best version of myself.
It sounds a bit self-indulgent, but none of that has been easy.
There have been days where I’ve cried in the bathroom at work, so no one would see me, because I could offer no real explanation for why there were tears. There were nights when I could not sleep, because I could not escape my racing thoughts. There were days when I was too paralyzed with fear to leave my house to visit friends.
But the one thing I’ve learned again and again through all of this, is that I cannot be afraid. I cannot fear my own thoughts when they are cloudy. I cannot fear being honest, out in the world, about who I am, how I feel, or what I believe.
With a new president coming into office, one who, to say the very least about it, does not share any of my ideals, is terrifying. But I’ve already decided that fear can’t be the victor in my own life, and so I will not back down from the challenges that this new version of America poses. Just as I will not back down from fighting my own battles with mental health. I will not let fear, in any capacity, dominate my life. And I will fight for what I now know is the most important thing: love.
I will not be deterred by hopelessness.
When I peer into the past, I see a family that had no choice but to be resilient. My father taught me strength, my mother taught me patience, and my brother taught me to stand up for what is right, even if you cannot physically stand. Thinking about the current moment we find ourselves in, it’s so easy to drift towards thoughts of fear and defeat, to the point of paralysis. But my family raised a strong, educated, and compassionate woman, so I cannot lose hope. We were made for these times.
We are alive in a moment in which we feel the impacts of climate change, and have the last opportunity to stop irreparable damage. We already have the tools needed to build a sustainable and just future. I close my eyes and can see that future so clearly.
The Haudenosaunee, my ancestors, believe in living and working for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. Colonialists (also my ancestors) tried to wipe them out seven generations ago. We are the seventh generation. We were made for these times.
So I shall not be moved, because of those that came before me, those that raised me, and those who will come seven generations after me.
This project is about women; women who have felt hopeless; women who have gained strength; women whose stories deserve to be heard and appreciated. In a time when progress can sometimes feel like it’s falling by the wayside, these women remind me that there is still so much good worth sharing and working towards. There is so much strength and so much power to be found in their lives, in their words, and in their souls.
My goal in documenting women was to expose a shared experience of prevailing determination. I was not disappointed. Hearing their stories was such a powerful experience for me as an individual. I got a firsthand glimpse into the lives and experiences of those who stand to lose so many rights. I heard stories about the fear that develops from encounters with racism, sexism, self-loathing, transphobia, and sexual assault. It was emotional to hear what these women were saying. It was educational to have them highlight the importance of appreciating the intersectional aspects of each of their individual stories. And as we all know, after a storm the sun does shine again. I listened as the clouds of their past led to the beautiful blossoming of stories about compassion, might, inner strength, and self-assurance. I saw a fire in their eyes as they spoke about the wishes and goals they had for our future world. I heard women who at one point felt broken describe to me their plans for a future where we are all valued and supported. I heard about the actions they’ve been taking to better our world and was inspired all over again to give back to those who support us. I promised myself for the millionth time over that I would take a stand laws, people, or organizations that threaten us. I felt that common thread of purpose, hope, and promise tie us all tightly together and pull me forward.
Take the time to listen to women. I hope this small sampling of stories will open doors into conversations that may never have happened, but so desperately need to. I will not be deterred by those who aim to silence me. We will not be silenced.
#women #woman #femenism #respect #thefutureisintersectional #femenistfuture #fucktrump
I will not be deterred by those who remain silent in the face of injustice.
The happiest day of my life was the day after I gave birth to my son. After fifty-two hours of labor, I felt superhuman. I was completely unprepared for how much I loved him; I was like Dorothy stepping into Technicolor Oz from black-and-white Kansas.
I thought that he would look exactly like me, but he is a fair-haired, hazel eyed, tiny tornado of joy. He is a mélange of American natives and European immigrants, all love and laughter and curiosity. I can’t imagine contaminating him by teaching him to hate or to fear those who are different than him.
I thought I would be raising my son in a more progressive country than the one I was raised in. But I’m not. I was raised with the belief that ignoring bigotry took away its power. To deny it attention would ensure that it would starve and die. That’s not true. I am disheartened, but I am not afraid. Those who find excuses to treat other men and women as less than human are always on the wrong side of history.
I want my son to be able to say that I spoke out against inequality and that I taught him to do the same.
I will not be deterred by pressures to conform.
I was born in Oakland while my Indian immigrant parents were students at UC Berkeley. I grew up in a Hindu family and am proud of my heritage. I converted to Islam the summer after college.
Because of my headscarf, so much of my interaction with people is burdened with having to dispel misconceptions about who they think I am or what I should be (foreign, conservative, quiet, meek, obedient…). It’s as if I’m asked to prove, every day, that I am normal. I reject the idea that I must act, believe or look a certain way to be accepted as an authentic American.
I also consider myself an Orthodox Muslim, and find myself pushing back against prejudice or patriarchy that stems from cultural practices falsely disguised as religious principles. I believe my faith encourages critical and rational discourse and I enthusiastically engage in it.
As a citizen, Muslim and human, it is my duty to improve my society in whatever way possible. This includes not only speaking out against, but also challenging practices or beliefs that prevent social progress or justice. I don’t think we have to continue to do things simply because they’ve always been done that way before.
I will not be deterred by my vulnerability.
Three years ago, I was hit by a car. Now 23 screws, 6 plates, and a rod hold my leg together and, in the coming decades, I will likely need a hip replacement. One year ago, I learned that I have a congenital defect where my aorta expands each time my heart beats. If it expands too far, I’ll need open heart surgery or else I’ll die. Without the Affordable Care Act and its protection for people with pre-existing conditions, people like me face futures dominated by insurmountable debt. Insurance provides assurance.
I would love to have this become an ongoing project and I would be honored to work with anyone willing to share their story with me. If you’re interested in sharing and being photographed, please email Kate at email@example.com and we can set up a time to chat.