*The following story contains triggering and/or sensitive material
Artist and writer, Jesse Wells, shares with Sassy her project, which aims to change the conversations around sexual consent and the issues of harassment and rape. Creating a storybook called ‘The Barbie Collection’, Jesse used dolls to create a narrative that both educates as well as expels the silence which surrounds rape and sexual abuse. We asked her to share with us her own story to understand the catalyst for ‘The Barbie Collection’.
"I grew up in a very small town. I’m sure anyone who comes from a small town will understand when I say that boredom is very common. It also means that things happen a little prematurely. Drinking and smoking are tested a lot earlier and ‘relationships’ happened a lot younger.
I wasn’t aware that even if the person was my age, relationships can still be very inappropriate, or that comments from older men that may sound like a compliment are often just down-right creepy.
I had the classic birds and the bees talk in school as well as with my Mother and then my Father; both were unfortunately in a moving vehicle so I couldn’t escape it, no matter how uncomfortable it was. I feel like everyone learns about sexuality as they grow up. You discover the things that you like and don’t, but it wasn’t until I started at university and had moved away from the people I grew up around that I realised that things are not always okay, that consent is the most important thing when it comes to sex and any other kinds of intimacy.
I’ve always felt comfortable talking about harassment and rape. I was always on the defense and voiced that we should be protected not ridiculed. News articles and social media posts would get me angry, women’s marches speeches would make me cry and my family and friends made me feel even more protective.
I wasn’t prepared to tell my own stories just yet, but by reading the essays by the women and men in ‘Not that Bad’, I felt a kind of confidence and could begin something real.
Sadly, despite my ability to support everyone else, I couldn’t always make allowances for myself. So now that I’ve completed this project I can talk about it without letting my emotions take complete control, I’m calmer and more accepting so that if anyone needs me and wants to talk about it, I offer much better support.
When I began this project, it was incredibly hard for me to do, for many reasons. It was a challenge to face the things I hadn’t been prepared to. It was difficult to read the stories of others and look at my experiences and think “Why should I be doing this? I’ve not had times as tough as these people I’m reading about? What right do I have?”
I’m a very sensitive person, I’m always feeling something way too deeply. I have to say or express how I feel because otherwise, it hurts me to keep it in. Emotion features in everything I do, even if it’s not my own emotions that I’m dealing with. I put myself in their place and think “If it were me, how would I feel?” I cannot always forget the things that affect me and surrounding people but the only way I feel that I can move on is to forgive myself. It can take a very long time to accept yourself and be happy after experiencing something as difficult as rape or any form of harassment. I wasn’t prepared to tell my own stories just yet, but by reading the essays by the women and men in ‘Not that Bad’, I felt a kind of confidence and could begin something real.
I think that the book I created is a very difficult thing to look at and read, which is exactly how I wanted it to be. I wanted it to evoke a reaction. Rape and harassment are vile for the victims, I felt that if I could induce even a fraction of that discomfort or anger or sadness then I had done something right. As long as what I create makes the viewer feel something, then I will feel accomplished.
Note from the Editor:
We'd like to thank Jesse for being so brave in sharing her story and work with us.
If you feel in need of support after reading this, we suggest visiting The Survivors Trust
We'd like to share Jesse's own disclaimer for The Barbie Collection - "Sexual violence, sexual assault, and abuse are the main topics mentioned within this book. The main aim is to encourage discomfort and evoke emotion, but not to hurt, or upset anyone. I acknowledge the lack of diversity and these images are not representative of all cases, only fictional or my own personal experiences."