Sharp Objects: a Story of Female Power, Abuse, Trauma & Pain

Content warning: This post contains mention of self-injury and abuse.

Breathtaking, uncomfortable, and timely.

These are the three best words I can find to describe HBO’s eight-episode series Sharp Objects – based on the book of the same title by author of New York Times bestseller Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn.

This psychological thriller abounds with breathtaking and unexpected moments that left me on the edge of my seat throughout the eight episodes and especially during the finale.

It also abounds with uncomfortable situations and emotions that we, the viewers, are forced to face alongside the characters: abuse, fractured relationships, trauma, pain, and death. It is also a timely story which features three women as the main characters: Camille, Adora, and Amma.

However, these women aren’t the Wonder-Woman-type of female characters we perhaps expect to see in today’s #MeToo era — which is exactly why this is an important story to be told in today’s climate.

Patricia Clarkson, who plays Adora, made this point in an interview with HBO:

“It’s wonderful for us, as women, to be portrayed as heroes and warriors … But we can’t forget there’s also darkness … And these are the stories we must continue to tell — these kinds of female stories. The time is now.”

The story takes us, alongside protagonist Camille Preaker, back to her hometown of Wind Gap, a small town in the Southern United States, where Camille, a newspaper reporter, is sent to investigate the death of two young girls. This is not just another assignment for the reporter, but a journey towards Camille’s painful past. In Wind Gap, Camille returns to the place where she’s from, and where her abusive mother (Adora), her stepfather (Alan) and half-sister (Amma) still live, in a seemingly perfect house and perfect life.

But underneath the surface of this ‘perfect’ family lies a long history of female power, abuse, trauma, and pain.

Sharp Objects was Flynn’s first novel, released in 2006, but publishers weren’t exactly “beating down [her] door” about publishing the book, she said in an interview. She was told that “people don’t want to read about women they can’t root for; who aren’t heroic.” For Flynn, however, Camille is a heroic character in her own unique way:

“Sometimes, if you’re in a lot of psychological pain and been through a lot of psychological damage, the most heroic thing that you can do is to keep your head above water, and that’s what Camille does again, and again every single day.”

To me, Camille’s story is important because it’s a story about surviving despite unspeakable pain — even though she survives by engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms through substance abuse and self-injury. It isn’t a pretty story, but it’s still worth being told, because the truth is, this is the story of many women in real life.

In the era of #MeToo, which has been exposing long-held gender inequalities and men’s power and abuse against women, a story which highlights the abuse women can impose on other women is almost unbearably uncomfortable, but also of the utmost importance. Abuse takes many shapes and forms, and sometimes, it takes the form of a woman and a mother — an uncomfortable realization Sharp Objects forces us to make.

Though the story is fictitious, the issues it explores — such as substance abuse, self-injury, and child abuse — are very real. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 12 women in developed countries will develop an alcohol dependence in their lifetime.

Data from the United State’s Centers for Disease Prevention and Control indicates that in 2012, 54% of child maltreatment perpetrators were women. About 4% of American adults engage in self-injury behaviors, with skin cutting as the most common method (between 70-90%) according to Mental Health America.

These statistics, are, of course, only glimpses into these and the other complex issues explored in the show, but they highlight that preconceived ideas we may hold — such as women as victims and not perpetrators of abuse — are not always accurate.

Sharp Objects was an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult show to watch, but I believe the conversations that this story have started around female power, abuse, trauma, and pain are timely and needed.

I know for me, this is a story that has touched me deeply, and that will stay with me for a long time to come.

If you’re in the US, you can watch the first episode for free on HBO.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-injury, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, or has been a victim of abuse, please reach out for help. Visit HBO for a list of resources worldwide.

Health Doesn’t Ask for a Passport

Last month saw the observance of World Refugee Day, and as the Swedish Organization for Global Health’s Girls’ Globe Blog Writer, I had planned to write a piece on the health issues migrants and refugees face.

Instead, I was silenced by outrage, anger, overwhelm, and shock – which is rare for me and also a privilege not available to all amidst crisis. The (often forced) mobility of humans around the world in 2018 has been responded to in every single wrong way possible from countries with the ability to help.

As a living, breathing human being, I feel connected to others – and not just those who have the same passport as I do. This is what makes the refugee crisis so raw, and the policies that endanger fellow human lives so disgusting, unacceptable, and devastating. Humans should be saved from drowning, empowered out of poverty, saved from war and death, maintained as a family.

I cannot and will never be okay with ‘othering’, or with seeing precious lives in danger, exploited, separated, willingly left in dangerous waters – both literally and figuratively. We know that women and girls, in all their diversities, are disproportionately at risk whether or not they leave their homes or stay in places that feel like the mouth of a shark”. We have felt, all of us, that visceral need to respond when another human is struggling. 

So, after some moments of action, phone calls with my friends and family, and inspiration from people like the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E. Tendayi Achiume, I write these words both to regain my own voice and ignite yours. There is much to say about the refugee crisis and the treatment of people across the world in 2018.

The truth is, health does not discriminate. It does not check passports, ask age, or inquire if one can afford the staggering cost to pay for simple care.

Globally, there are 258 million cross-border migrants and 753 million internal border migrants (according to the World Health Organization). The physical and mental well-being of migrants, refugees, immigrants, and all people who are mobile, is an enormous concern. These risks are present whether or not a migrant or refugee stays in their country, resides in a camp, or travels to a new country. The risks are present in each place. Like all health threats, if left unaddressed, the contagion effect will continue within vulnerable populations in a cyclical manner.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reminds us that “Individuals who are stateless face grave and often insurmountable barriers”, especially regarding healthcare. Health risks for women include sexual violence and reproductive health, in addition to accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiovascular events, pregnancy- and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension”, which the WHO regional office in Europe has documented.

Conditions where life and death are two close alternatives make luxuries like safety, care, protection, health, and hygiene hard to prioritize – especially without help. Though physical health care has traditionally been the main priority, mental health care for migrants and refugees must now become equally important.  

As I finish writing this long-awaited post, I see a news alert pop up on my screen with a picture of a woman clutching her toddler in reunification. The headline reads: My Son is Not the Same. This woman’s son was stolen from her arms at the border of the United States and Mexico, and kept from her for eighty-five days.

Trauma lives in the body and is embedded in the mind. While refugees, migrants and humans who face difficulty in life are incredibly resilient, they are not without scars. Our work now must be two-fold: prevent more atrocities and help our brothers and sisters, our fellow humans, to heal.

This is a reminder that we are not without agency to help change things. We do not need to be an elected official or head of an organization to help. I’ve compiled a short list of organizations to consider getting involved with. Please comment below to add!

Health
Rescue and Advocacy
Comprehensive
Law
Policy-based
  • The Global Compact for Migration was finally adopted after months of deliberation, on July 13, 2018. The word “health” does not appear at all in the three page document. This is a problem and needs to be changed.
Social Media
  • Videos to share
  • Follow the above organizations on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other favorite platforms

Healing the Invisible Wounds of Syrian Children

In March 2018, the Syrian conflict entered its eighth year with no end in sight. This war has stolen the right to childhood from millions of Syrian children. An entire generation is growing up with the ‘toxic stress’ caused by seven years of bombing, bloodshed and displacement.

In this interview, SOS Children’s Villages psychologist Dr. Teresa Ngigi explains the impact disasters and wars have on children and families, and tells us about the importance of the healing process.

Is there a difference between trauma from natural disaster and trauma caused by mass displacement or conflict?

“When you have continuous disaster – such as war, epidemic, or extreme poverty – children tend to develop resilience that sometimes makes them almost numb to the trauma. This isn’t good but it’s a coping mechanism. Those experiencing disaster for the first time have not previously had the need to create such defence mechanisms.”

How does treatment differ for one-off disasters compared to prolonged emergencies? 

“Developmental trauma and continuous trauma create a basis for serious health, mental and relationship problems or learning disabilities – even though externally the individual may appear resilient.

Event trauma – from an earthquake for example – may result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The person becomes disorientated. They cannot put their life back together and this interferes with their wellbeing in different ways, including physical and mental health problems. 

In both instances, it is important to understand that there’s a difference between treatment and healing. Healing is a long-term process, but treatment can come in the form of medication to address symptoms without necessarily helping the healing process. We need to be able to assess the individual’s situation, identify their needs, create a treatment plan, and then evaluate whether we are able to achieve the appropriate objectives.” 

A drop-in center in Syria, providing unaccompanied and vulnerable children with shelter, food, health and hygiene services, and psychosocial support. Credit: SOS Children’s Villages

Does toxic stress impact girls & boys differently?

“The way the brain copes and processes toxic stress differs between boys and girls. The insula – the brain region that processes emotions and empathy – is smaller in girls and larger in boys who have experienced toxic stress. The functions controlled by this part of the brain include perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning and interpersonal experiences. Girls who experience toxic stress may suffer from a faster than normal ageing of one of the part of the insula which puts them at higher risk of developing PTSD. High levels of stress could also contribute to early puberty in girls.

It’s important to put these findings into consideration when designing healing approaches. Girls may be more susceptible to PTSD than boys, hence they need specific interventions.”

How important is a long-term perspective in treating trauma like you see in Syria?

“Very important! If you start a process with a child who has been traumatized and you leave that process halfway, you are going to worsen the situation for that child. 

An assessment is extremely important to establish the needs of the child, as well as to assess whether we have the resources, time, and expertise to start and continue the healing process. Healing trauma is a demanding endeavor, and mental health specialists need to work diligently with a traumatized person to create a solid and reassuring relationship and guide them towards taking their power back.”

The initial phase of a humanitarian response typically involves reaching as many people in need as quickly as possible. Would you say that dealing with deeper mental health issues, especially of children, is more complex? 

“Yes, and this is why SOS Children’s Villages works with partner organizations to divide duties and responsibilities. There are organizations better able to address the immediate large-scale needs in a disaster zone. We use our expertise in caring for vulnerable children and helping their families to address their very specialized needs with a long-term perspective.

Through training local social workers and other specialists, SOS Children’s Villages can improve local capacity and strengthen the ability to respond to the needs of children and their families.”

Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) have been a central feature of SOS Children’s Villages’ work in emergency situations. How important are these facilities? 

“Child friendly spaces are a central part of our emergency response work. They offer a great environment to deal with trauma because you have caregivers who are trained, a secure and safe place, and an environment where children can express themselves. After trauma it is very important to be able to express yourself. Even without verbalizing experiences, children are involved in drawing, art therapy, singing, dancing and other activities.

It is also important that parents take part in activities so that they can participate in the healing process. Participating with their children is therapeutic for parents. We help address the needs of the parents through the children.” 

Children participating in educational and psychosocial activities at one of SOS Children’s Villages child friendly spaces in Aleppo, Syria. Credit: SOS Children’s Villages

How do Child Friendly Spaces help in providing ‘normalcy’? 

“Child Friendly Spaces offer a place for children to play, talk with other children, learn and tell stories. These activities help the children get in touch with themselves and feel a sense of belonging. When you bring them together, they feel they are a part of a community that is safe and protected.”

You can learn more and support SOS Children’s Villages Syria here!

Life as a Teenage Girl in Foster Care

I never realized how important it is to have a family until I lost my own.

For the first eight years of my life I lived in a small, impoverished town in Jamaica with my five siblings and our parents. We were so poor that we often had to stay home from school because my parents didn’t have enough money to cover our school fees and uniforms. I know it was especially difficult for my mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer while trying to raise the five of us. Her illness eventually forced her to depend on our father to care for us without her help. My dad was not necessarily the nicest man and often resorted to yelling and saying awful things to us.

I was nine when my father moved our family to Florida and split us up to live with various relatives. My siblings and I lived with different relatives for a year before our father was finally able to bring us together to live with him—though life at home was anything but positive. Although my family was finally together again, our situation at home was a nightmare. My father became emotionally and physically abusive behind closed doors and I would often go to school with cuts, bruises and a broken heart. This abuse took a toll on me.  Not having a stable, safe place to call home eventually impacted my performance in school – my report cards were decorated with Ds and Fs.

When I was 14, our situation was brought to the attention of the Department of Child Services. Our family was given a case number and I was assigned a caseworker.  I was ultimately removed from my toxic living environment to live in a foster home with other girls. I was placed there because my caseworker was unable to find a home that would take me along with my siblings. Nothing hurts more than feeling unloved and unwanted – especially when you’re 14.

Sadly, my story isn’t unique. Around 220 million children worldwide – that’s 1 in every 10 children – are at risk of growing up without a stable, loving family. In many of these cases children lose their families to poverty, conflict or natural disasters, but in others their parents are simply unfit to parent – like my dad. Without a family, many of these kids risk being exploited, abused or trafficked. Here in the United States, it is not unusual for orphaned or neglected children to move from foster home to foster home until they are 18 and age out of the system – never understanding what true stability feels like.

At 15, I was brought to live in a family home at an SOS Children’s Village in Coconut Creek, Florida.  I was told I would be living with my siblings and that I’d be taken care of by an SOS house parent, a caregiver dedicated to caring for children who’ve grow up in similar situations like me.

My confidence was close to non-existent when I got to SOS. To make matters worse, I was beginning to exhibit signs of depression and anxiety brought on by my tumultuous upbringing. This made for a challenging time for Rashani, my house parent. Nevertheless, Rashani was patient with me; she powered through and never gave up on me.

Thanesia and Rashani

I remember my first day at SOS like it was yesterday; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so cared for. Rashani showed me my room, made me dinner and told me what SOS was all about – love, support and stability. She made it clear that I would be supported and given access to therapists to help me overcome my trauma. She also assisted me with getting a tutor to help bring my grades up. She provided the stability I desperately needed in order to stop feeling like I was constantly on survival mode.

Rashani’s support and the family environment I found at SOS truly changed my life for the better. My grades went from trash to As and Bs. I learned how to cope with my depression and anxiety. But most importantly, I felt like I finally had the tools I needed to pursue my dreams.

Even after I left SOS, Rashani was by my side. She became a case manager for SOS’s Next Steps program, which helps people like me transition to adulthood. She helped me become the young woman I am today and continues to be the parent I always needed to this day. I know that in her I have a family for life.

Fast forward to now – I am enrolled in the Army and working towards a degree in child psychology because I want to help children and teens going through what I went through. I want to give them a voice and show them that they have someone who believes in them. If it had not been for someone believing in me, I am not sure where I would have ended up.

I know not everyone has a story like mine, but I also know how hard it is to be a teen and to feel misunderstood. For the people going through tough times, take the good with the bad. There are people out there who are willing to help you and watch you succeed.

In the US and around the world, SOS Children’s Villages builds families for orphaned, abandoned and other vulnerable children. To learn more about SOS Children’s Villages and how you can help girls like Thanesia visit www.sos-usa.org/sponsor-a-child.

What Girls’ Globe Means to Me

It was September 2016 and I had just started my first semester of graduate school and living in New York City, and was looking for opportunities to work with international NGOs with a focus on women and girls. In my research, I ended up coming across the opportunity to become a blogger with Girls’ Globe. Having worked as a writer and editor for a women’s online magazine in college, and having always enjoyed writing and even considered becoming a journalist as a teenager, joining Girls’ Globe as a blogger was the perfect opportunity for me.

Girls’ Globe has given me a platform to talk about issues that are important to me and issues that I believe are important for others to know about as well, from more personal issues such as mental health and the problem of violence against women in my home country of Brazil, to issues I’m studying and researching in my graduate career such as sexual violence in conflict.

But Girls’ Globe is more than just a platform for me to share my experience and knowledge: it’s also a platform where I can learn about women’s issues in other parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise know about. So many times, in reading posts by other bloggers on their experiences as women having to deal with pressure to get married or the reality of how vulnerable we are to sexual violence, I feel less alone.

Girls’ Globe has truly become a community to me: a community which has supported me and encouraged me in some of my darkest moments.

Since early this year, my mental health issues have taken a turn for the worse. It’s not easy for me to share my struggles with anxiety and depression as I always fear people’s reaction, but when I did share them with different women from our Girls’ Globe community, I was met with nothing but kindness, understanding, and encouragement.

Even when I struggled to write posts and felt ‘guilty’ – I love to write, and I found it especially hard when I had an idea and the material to write a post, but was unable to complete it because I was ill – I was met with messages of encouragement to take care of myself and not to worry about anything else.

When my depression was at its worst, and I felt utterly useless and like I had no reason to get out of bed, it was knowing that my fellow bloggers care about me as a person and thinking that there is still so much I want to do with and for Girls’ Globe in the future that gave me a much needed ray of sunshine in my dark days.

At Girls’ Globe, we encourage the potential in every one of our contributors, and we believe in each other and our power to make a positive difference. It isn’t about some unrealistic ambition that we will completely change the world for the better for women and girls (although, hey, we might!), but it’s an understanding that despite our limitations (such as mental health issues), we can all make a positive impact, no matter how small.

This is the heart and soul of Girls’ Globe to me: that we truly believe in the potential of each and every girl and woman in the world to be an agent for good.

I have recently been accepted into a PhD program – a dream come true for me and the opportunity of a lifetime – and I wholeheartedly believe that I wouldn’t have achieved this incredible milestone without the academic and professional opportunities and the personal encouragement and friendships that Girls’ Globe has given me.

Thank you, Girls’ Globe, for everything. For believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself, for being there for me when I felt alone, for helping me grow, and for giving me hope that there is indeed good in the world.

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Girls’ Globe is crowdfunding to be able to keep raising voices in 2018. Please support us so that we can continue to share our stories and reach every corner of the world! 

The First Step to Body Positivity

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote publicly about my hidden body insecurity for the first time. Usually I can write posts and articles easily. With this subject I cannot; my hands shake every time I hit the keyboard and my eyes fill with tears when I touch on a delicate truth about myself that I would prefer to keep in the dark.

My name is Sofia, I am a 24-year-old lawyer and an active fashion blogger. While I may appear a strong and confident woman in my posts, I am the opposite. I have lived with a fear of gaining weight or looking ‘fat’ for almost 10 years now.

It all started when I was about to throw my fifteenth birthday party. I visited a nutritionist because I wanted to look spectacular. Little by little I started to obsess over food and exercise. I kept evolving in my diets – trying new nutritionists and methods to look slimmer. I learned to hate carbohydrates and love protein.

Today, I know exactly how many grams are in a carb portion. I am aware, without consciously counting, how many servings of protein I have eaten in a day. The recap of my nutrients is my daily nightmare. I do it in my mind every single night before going to sleep. I start feeling so bad and hating myself so much whenever I accept that I ate an extra almond or indulged myself with some light popcorn at the cinema. I’m still working on a strategy on how to calm myself when I have these thoughts.

The ugly truth is that for all these years, there has not been a day when I have felt good in my body. In my mind I always crave more. I look at pictures of me from two or five years ago and I want to have that exact body shape I had then. But I know that at the time the photo was taken I didn’t like my body.

Being involved in the fashion industry makes accepting myself a bit harder. I look at my Instagram feed and it is full of ‘perfect’ bodies walking down the runway or famous fashion bloggers in bikinis having a blast on a yacht at St. Tropez. Mistakenly, I have thought several times that my life would be so easy if I had a slim and fit body. Sad as it may sound, when I make a wish it is always to be able to eat without getting fat.

For me, the social pressures of having a certain type of body don’t just exist in the world of fashion. I constantly hear comments coming from both men and women, such as “she’s really pretty, but she could look better if she dropped a few pounds”. It makes me think that I will never be pretty or attractive if I am not thin.

So, why am I coming clean about my hidden fear? First, because I am exhausted of feeling this way every single day. Second, I am aware many women will identify with the way I feel. You are not alone. We will fight this and learn to love and take care of ourselves…TOGETHER. No person should be defined by their physical appearance. We must embrace the fact that what makes a person unique is their soul, not their six-pack.

Some of the things I have started doing to overcome my obsession is to stop avoiding the mirror and start staring at my bare body for at least one minute each day. I also give my legs the credit they deserve for running those long distances; tell my arms and shoulders that I am grateful for them for letting me complete so many burpees per day; I acknowledge my butt for resisting so many squats without complaining. I have not yet managed to appreciate my non-six-pack-stomach, but I am certain I will love it if I continue to embrace my self-doubts.

And I encourage you to do it too. Never go a day without thanking your body for letting you achieve your daily goals. Start to realize that your body is amazing and that you do not need a six pack to kick ass out there. Little by little you will love yourself just the way you are. Because the truth is, you are perfect.