Livingthebliss is Reno's newest girl power movement
Women helping women: Ashley Clift Jennings,
Mandi Holden and Sharon DeMattia of
It’s hard to be a woman these days.
Before you open your mouth in protest—yes, it’s fair to assume that many women prefer living now than during any other period in history. Modern women can choose to have careers, to become educated, to decide if, why and how they want to start families. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In the controversial article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, written by Atlantic reporter Anne-Marie Slaughter, she attributes much of the stress women face in their lives to the unstable economy and a lack of emotional support for women’s life choices. Women seek self-sufficiency and stability, families and freedom. It’s possible to be happy and successful, she writes, but something has to give. And until the world becomes more sympathetic to these plights, women need to prioritize their happiness.
But local entrepreneur Ashley Clift Jennings is tired of women sacrificing their well-being for the sake of societal expectations.
“It’s time to cut through the bullshit,” says Jennings, the founder of Livingthebliss, an organization that plans events to help women “explore emotional topics collaboratively, using creativity, and lots of love.” “Women often don’t take the time to just grieve.”
After several years of working with female entrepreneurs through her businesses Girlmade and Lean Crafting, Jennings felt that women in Northern Nevada were lacking an outlet to express themselves and process complex feelings in the comfort of other women. These emotions, she says, were holding women back from “unlocking their potential.”
For Jennings, Livingthebliss began out of personal need. After getting married at 25 and helping her husband raise two children, she never got a chance to process how she felt after dropping out of graduate school in Washington and relocating to Reno. Her parents’ divorce after 30 years of marriage added to the existing stress. Over time, she wrote on her website, other personal issues turned into “pretty little boxes” of grief that eventually began taking a major toll on her physical and mental health. And so, for Jennings, “there was nothing left to do but to start unwrapping the boxes.”Common threads
Jennings says that the word “grief” often confuses people. She and collaborator Mandi Holden, author of the blog Realology, define it as the loss of a relationship—which could be “a relationship with another person that we don’t take time to grieve, or a bunch of little things, or the relationship with yourself,” Holden says.
Through Livingthebliss, Jennings and Holden hope to provide women with better tools for dealing with these changes in people’s lives. Holden refers to it as “modernizing the quilting circle.” Traditionally, quilting circles were female-centric spaces where women would, yes, quilt, and discuss their lives. Holden also dealt with personal issues before finding the strength to connect with others in the same predicament.
“I felt like my life was not having a purpose,” she says. “But it’s important to catch that stuff before you move on. Women tend to put those needs on the backburner to tend to others before themselves.”
Sharon DeMattia, a fellow organizer, agrees. Daunted by the prospect of getting older, DeMattia—also a healthcare expert and the founder of The Art Inside You—decided to embrace the rest of her life with open arms. But before she was able to realize that, DeMattia says she went through an intense grief process—dealing with the loss of her youth. She found solace and motivation in personal improvement. The Art Inside You means that “art is imperfect, personal and all about connections,” she says. “It’s about owning everything good and bad. And you have to look at it, and you’ve got to own it. It’s a beautiful thing just like all works of art, and we are all worthy of display.”
This is a hard concept for many women to understand and embrace, she acknowledges. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We’re expected to handle it all, supporting everybody else, let it go. But it’s OK to want to live my dream. I better value my time while I have it.”
The first event through Livingthebliss was held on May 25 at the River School Farm and was dubbed an art therapy workshop. It served as a “prototype,” says Jennings, to determine what the needs are of women in the community. There were three goals: to get “the sense that you are not alone; the ability to give yourself permission to make space in your life for grief; [and] to introduce you to the powerful effect that creativity, togetherness and mindfulness can have on your emotional well-being.”
“It’s targeted toward rad women who are just a little bit stuck,” she says, referring to herself as the “curator” for the event. “It’s just to help grease the wheels and help women learn how to brand themselves. We’re trying to find out, ’How do we live a normal life without a disorder lexicon?’” Normalizing the range of emotions most women experience is a vital aspect of the project. Comfort is key. She hopes that women with different personality types will be able to find common ground in their struggles and triumphs.
Sessions were led by Holden, DeMattia and yoga instructor Denise Barclay and were intended to encompass mind, body and spirit. Barclay took participants through a beginner’s yoga session as a way to recalibrate women with their bodies. DeMattia showed women how to create a personal brand, which, as defined in Forbes, “is about making a full-time commitment to the journey of defining yourself as a leader.”
Holden helped women own their personal stories and express themselves through discussion and writing.
“A lot of women get intimidated when asked to identify with being creative,” she says. “It’s important to disarm everybody to create an environment where it’s comfortable to share and let it all hang out.”
Holden says that women are constantly bombarded by images of what a “perfect” life looks like, and “living up to Pinterest” ideals of how to live a life can be detrimental. Pinterest, a web site that functions as a virtual bulletin board for ideas and inspiration, has been criticized for promoting unrealistic aspirations for domestic bliss. But Jennings says that she referred to Pinterest when planning the first event, and that the website can be good for helping people establish a vision for themselves. Creating a “beautiful environment” for the workshop with flowers, candles and tote bags filled with goodies was important for making women feel appreciated, comfortable and loved.
Jennings promises that Livingthebliss events won’t go “super deep”—the workshops are not intended to take the place of therapy, although it can be considered “therapeutic.”
“It’s about looking at your own process within a support group,” she says. “This is a vehicle to go deeper into that process. … [Livingthebliss] has kind of warped—”
“—evolved,” insists Holden.
“Evolved into a way for people to discover their potential,” says Jennings.
Ultimately, Jennings, Holden and DeMattia hope that the positive energy will inspire women to take control of their own lives and encourage them to start their own businesses or community projects.
“The healthier these women are, the healthier their families can be,” Holden says. “We’re just hoping to create a healthier community, one woman at a time.”