Challenging the Challenge: Why I Passed on the #challengeaccepted

When Instagram began to fill up with black-and-white photos of women tagged #challengeaccepted, I googled it. The lead article mentioned some female country singers promoting natural beauty – no makeup/hair, no special lighting or filters, no glam, just women being themselves. Women supporting women being real women.

But that wasn’t what came across my Instagram feed. Instead, I saw superstars coiffed and posed. Even among friends, I’ve seen very few “just being me” photos. Oh sure, I’ve smiled back at the great smiles on faces of people I know and love. But really, why would anyone risk a natural shot when the # had morphed into something glamorous?

People simply follow suit; my friend posts a B/W selfie and challenges me, I’ll just do the same. Right? Except I didn’t.

When my friend challenged me, I passed. Good friend that she is, she asked why. I am all for women supporting women, but how do B/W selfies support women, exactly?

On the surface, the words sound right. Women should support women. We should challenge each other to grow, to be and do more, at times to do less in order to care for ourselves and others more. On the surface, there is certainly nothing wrong with women posting beautiful pictures of themselves – one of the hallmarks of social media, obviously.

But just as selfies are superficial, I’m digging down below the surface to clarify two things bugging me: inclusion/exclusion and competition/comparison. “Supporting women” means challenging them to post a selfie, and then the selfies themselves become an online beauty pageant? C’mon, ladies, we all know that we do and can do more to support one another in meaningful ways.

Playing tourist with the Strong Girl statue in NYC

Going way back, it reminds me of slam books in elementary school, handmade books with questions like, “Who is the nicest person in our grade?” or “Who is the cutest boy in our class?” You felt a secret thrill if a friend passed you their book and you hurriedly scanned the pages for your name scribbled there. You felt great – or, more likely, not – if you found it.

Our teachers had good reason to confiscate and trash those books: they tended to salute those already on top while confirming for the rest of us that we were as gross as the dried up chewing gum stuck to the bottom of our desks.

Another google search turned up indications that the # might be related to interpretations of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s powerful rant against the sexist comments made to her on the Capitol steps (talk about a strong woman; now she’s inspiring!); or a years-old cancer awareness campaign (that makes no sense); or a Turkish campaign against femicide (more logical if yet ineffective).

The friend who challenged me was herself challenged by someone who is “competition” in her professional field. However, that challenge was intended as encouragement that they are both members in a professional community with a common goal. My friend also recognized that, as it’s not her typical style to post pictures of herself, posting a self-portrait was an actual challenge nudging her beyond her comfort zone (okay, that helps; I relate). And, as photographers, showcasing their skills is also a professional move.

Still, I’d rather see real women being themselves. I’d rather see women doing what they love, being strong, achieving or learning something, engaged in a favorite hobby, taking risks to grow. I’d love to see action shots that will inspire my own action. I’d rather see women truly challenging, supporting, and inspiring women. Wouldn’t you?

In the spirit of women supporting women, please check out the links below:
This may be one of the best #challengeaccepted photos I’ve seen – she’s doing something active, demonstrating her strength and sense of adventure; plus, she writes some stellar words about women supporting women.
And my friend who challenged me and then listened, my favorite creative collaborator has inspired me yet again this summer by redoing her beautiful website to showcase her immense talents.

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

The (Wounded) Artist

Create Challenge Guest Post #1 – woo hoo!

I am so excited to devote Wednesdays on this blog to create a platform for friends wide and far, from every arena of my life, to share their perspective on and experience of creativity. And I am a big fan of today’s guest post author, Paul Quinlivan, as I’ve been cheering him on since he was in junior high. He held Teen when he was, ahem, teeny, and he was one of the first to hold newborn Tween when he arrived home from the hospital. Guy performed the ceremony in which Paul married his beloved, and these days their arms and hearts are full-up with their own beautiful boy-bundle. Paul’s one smart, thoughtful guy, and today he shares with us a vulnerable story to which I’m sure most of us will be able to relate.

Without further ado, please welcome Paul Quinlivan!

Like many young boys I was prone to doodling, you know, stick figures of our family dog, or the pretty girl who sat next to me in Mrs. Gauthier’s 2nd grade class. I filled the margins of my composition books while teachers attempted to fill my mind with the finer points of grammar or mathematics. As my imagination evolved so did my art. Sketches of soccer players transformed into beach scenes which morphed into surfers on waves. I imagine I am not the only person who has found themselves mind-surfing across the page. My drawings were by no means “good” art, as if one could put value judgments on works by an 8-year-old, but they were creations of the heart.

Super heroes consistently graced my pages. I was obsessed with the idea that characters could be blessed with powers that enabled them to step outside of the realm of possibility and wrestle with those who would threaten hope. I lived in comic books and Saturday morning cartoons.

My imagination also produced its own heroes. One character I created was a man with a square head, a combed-over Mohawk, a cape, and a giant “BM” on his chest: “Block Man,” protector of the universe (contrary to what may have been your first guess). A hero so strong and fierce and good and moral and literally block-headed, all evil fled from his presence. He was my imagination’s amalgamation of all the heroes I admired.

My father’s friend had a son who truly had an artistic gift and would often draw elaborate life-like sketches of his favorite heroes. One day as the two men talked about how this son might cultivate his talent, I looked at them with longing as I said, “I can draw, too. Look, I call him Block Man.”

With sadness on his face my father replied, “You do not have a single artistic bone in your body.”

His horrific remark raced through my body, mind and soul, wounding so deep. Did he not see my Block Man sketches? Sure, they would never end up in the Louvre or even the county fair, but were they not still art? When measured against his friend’s son I paled in comparison. I felt ruined.

When we arrived home I went straight to my room and trashed all my drawings. Out went the heroes and beach scenes. Out went the crayons, pastels, charcoal, and watercolor kit. I did not pick up an artist’s tools for years, and each time I did the wound stung as I heard the words echo, the message always the same: I could not possibly be an artist.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. I have always been an athlete, creating feats of art with my body’s movement and my teammates around me. But he most definitely wasn’t right. Let me be clear: my father meant no harm and spoke what he believed to be truth, that I would never become a professional artist. Intent, however, does not change impact.

I am not alone in having a wounded artistic child. As humans, we bear the consequences of a long-ago broken relationship that opened the door for hurt and trauma and well-intentioned words that cut to the core. Many of us feel shamed by the culture of comparison, the pressure to live up to some impossible and invisible standard. Maybe, like me, you hear the echo of words spoken by a family member, coach, teacher, pastor, friend, or bully. Each of us has our own story of betrayal and faces that go with it.

Each of us has also been created to create. In the beginning, humankind was commissioned to “be fruitful and multiply,” or to create. When we create we move closer to the One who created all, to fulfilling our purpose for being. For most of us this will require finding a way to embrace our inner artist’s woundedness. We need to share our stories of betrayal and harm with those in community who can hold our pain and help us to (re)create and to again pick up our pens, paints, cameras, or clay.

My challenge for you is to tend to your wounded artist and once again embrace the younger you who had a vibrant imagination and a longing to allow it to run wild.

Godspeed in your recovery.pq1

Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer, Teacher, and Pastor are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife, almost 3-month-old son, and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist in private practice and instructor at a graduate school helping to train future prophetic therapists, pastors, and artists.pq2