Naked Narratives: Storytelling, Sexual Assualt, and Survival

Jheanelle Garriques
Posted May 18, 2017

Someone once told me that the desire to be loved is rooted in the desire to be understood. Shortly thereafter, this man molested me. It took me a long time to return to this wisdom, to cut through the deafening trauma that had encased it—so brittle and tenuous—deep in my being. But I’ve come to realize that there is an inherent value to lessons riddled in trauma, particularly those experienced by female-bodied people. To understand is to love, but more importantly, to embrace is to overcome. And we should not be scared of the things our parents, peers, or former lovers teach us—even if they’re right for all the wrong reasons. In my work as an artist, activist, and narrative therapist I use these principles to uplift and educate women all over the world. Encouraging women to embrace their trauma through creative writing and multicultural adornment practice, I’ve found that there is great potential in all our hard-earned lessons. Not just for love, but for inspiration, connection, and the promise of a soul restored.

Founded in 2014, Naked Narratives began as a small gathering of 10 women in my living room in Los Angeles. An experiment in empathy, the feminist project employed reflective writing and artistic self-care practices to elevate and inspire women—transforming trauma into change. Now three years and three continents later, this caring, creative methodology has proven to be just as effective as the day I first started. Here body parts are redefined as characters in our life stories, enabling our participants to dissect and deconstruct specific pressure points of trauma. In programs that range from a few hours to a few weeks members are assigned individual body parts as writing topics. Participants can create any narrative of their choosing, but it must be based on a real experience they’d had with said body part. To cultivate these insights I then lead a group discussion, posing thoughtful, relevant questions for participants to connect with and learn from each other.

In our program participants write about everything from their hair to their hands, ultimately indulging in restorative and beautifying adornment practices used to celebrate the body. What many members call the most spirited portion of our programming, these adornment practices provide colorful, creative mediums to release repressed trauma or distress. And, as they are always connected to the assigned body part, add a joyful memory to an otherwise painful history. In previous programs participants have written songs about their scars, odes to their eyes, and lullabies to their lips. Parallel to these assignments, participants have enjoyed trips to local hot springs, Zulu mask-making rituals, and DIY organic lip-balm workshops.

When I started Naked Narratives I was 20 years old, had only recently begun to study Gender at the University of Southern California, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. But upon witnessing the revolutionary transformation that occurred in my program’s participants, I knew I had created something special. Women who were once defeated—bruised and broken by misogynistic relationships, patriarchal environments, and internalized oppression—rediscovered themselves as proud, powerful goddesses. Black women, who’d never let their curls show, soon wore them freely, lavishly, in abundance. Queer women, shed the shroud of heteronormativity, opened their hearts, and blossomed in their sexuality. Abused women, found strength, solidarity, and courage in the loving support of their fellow females. I became a better feminist, and we all became better women.

Perhaps more importantly, my project has been able to connect an incredible diversity of women all over the world. In January I spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, speaking with young women of color in Lavender Hill, a neighborhood so fraught with gang violence they are often mandated to stay indoors for 24 hours. In February I worked with English-second-language learners in Yangon, Myanmar, teaching students who had never written a poem before, the beauty of creative writing. And currently, I’m back in Los Angeles working with The Huntington Library, developing an international anthology featuring all my amazing narrators. I’m so excited for the opportunity to share this writing with the world, but despite all our success it hurts me that there are still so many women who are in need of support.

One day I want to wake up in a world where women and their bodies and their spirits are not in constant need of defending. I want to exist in a space where to trust is not a crime and honesty is not made for fools. I believe that…what makes you vulnerable can be what makes you strong. And I know that trauma can be a powerful source for peace and reclamation. So if you’ve enjoyed my story then I invite you to join in my mission. Consider taking one of my programs and adding your narrative to our international anthology. Beautiful, bold, breathtaking women, please do not let pain keep you from the self-love you deserve. For when you feel as if everything has been taken, believe in your inner voice and create, create, create.

How to Get Involved

Go to our website, nakednarratives.org, to find out more about our programs and workshops. Many programs are free or low-cost, and all funds raised are in direct support of hosting free programs internationally. 

This story was submitted in response to Art for Action.

Comments 6

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Jill Langhus
May 19, 2017
May 19, 2017

Hi Jheanelle. Welcome to World Pulse:-) I love your story, inspiration, intuition and empathy. It really resonates with me. I would love to know how you can help to release repressed trauma that is still affecting me, or at least what you would recommend. Looking forward to connecting:-) Namaste.

Sophie Ngassa
May 19, 2017
May 19, 2017

Hello Jheanelle, You are in the right place. Thanks for sharing your story. You have a great project and vision.There are a lot of women that are affected by trauma.

Feka
May 23, 2017
May 23, 2017

Welcome sister!

You are doing great and I love your approach I pray you go places and make many women happy

LillianVB
Jun 14, 2017
Jun 14, 2017

Dear  Jheanelle Garriques,

Welcome and great programme you are running for other girls to benefit. Story sharing helps us not feel alone and gives us the ability to overcome the darkest moments in our lives.

Keep up! 

Fatima Waziri - Azi
Mar 07, 2018
Mar 07, 2018

Hello Jheanelle - Welcome to Worldpulse community! You are now part of a thriving network of grassroots women leaders and supporters from more than 190 countries. It’s so exciting having you with us. Thank you for sharing your story and indeed "to understand is to love, but more importantly, to embrace is to overcome".

Sharon Martini
Oct 25
Oct 25

Wow! What a powerful piece you have written. And what a powerful program you have created. Art and creativity has been (and still is) my salvation. I have also shared space for local women in my community to have the opportunity (rare unfortunately) to go visit with themselves through art and creative expression.

I am off to visit your website!

Blessings!
Sharon