Jessica Yatrofsky, Artist/Author of Pink Privacy
Jessica Yatrofsky is outspoken. Whether it's through photography, film, music, writing, or a combination of creative mediums, we were excited to be chatting with a woman who uses her art to forge her voice, without fear of being put into a box. Her latest voyage into speaking her truth can be found in the cheekily named anthology, Pink Privacy. Written in under 72 hours in a flash of creativity, Pink Privacy is 200 poems that unapologetically touch on gender, body, sexuality, feminism, bad boyfriends, and good lovers. Though they come from a personal place, the relatability is undeniable. Below you'll find aha moments that come once you enter your 30s, the addictive nature of Transcendental Meditation and why it's important to be a "no filter feminist."
Can you talk about your process in creating Pink Privacy and how that came about? What made you want to explore this medium?
I'm primarily known for photography and for film. Work dealing with the body, beauty, gender, and body politics, is what I'm into. A few years ago, I was traveling with my best friend, who is one of my muses. We were touring with this talk called Gender, Beauty and the Camera. We would have these really good discussions and Q and As. I think people tend to view me as "serious," especially with the work that I make. When you're an artist like me that feels multifaceted and interested in allowing the idea to dictate the medium, like, I really believe in that. I think your aesthetic can be incorporated into whatever you're inspired to follow.
When we were traveling, I was just kind of having this moment. It was an awakening of not giving a fuck. I was into the beginning of my 30s, I'm 36 now, but it was a combination of things. I felt empowered. I felt very aligned with what I cared about. There was such a freedom happening. I just kind of started jotting down phrases and funny things, and my friends, the people around me know that I have a very dark sense of humor. As I was writing these things, my friends were loving it. They thought it was really funny, but literally it started to take over my life. It was 72 hours or something like that. It was three days nonstop that I could not stop writing. I was just writing for three days constant. I'm telling you, it was divinely guided, because sometimes I look back at this, and I'm getting chills now, even as I tell you this. They were pouring out. I couldn't get the words out quick enough. They were just on my notes, flowing when I was riding my bike, when I was in the shower. I was just writing, writing, writing so much.
The poems read as a stream of consciousness. They don't feel edited or filtered. They are raw and real, very much like your photography.
If you look through the book, a lot of the poems are very short. They're what I call roasts, and then people started calling it a burn book, which I'm fine with too. However you want to [interpret it]. Because, essentially as a reader, you're consuming it how I created it, which was on the fly.
When I went back to edit the book, I didn't edit it. I just worked with a copy editor to put commas and breaks in. That's it. I didn't go back and retouch it, because I wanted people to see sort of that direct, pure nature that it was executed in. I was so excited about that. It's just the way somebody would rattle off a comment or thought or something snarky, or something like that. Pink Privacy sort of just hit me like a freight train. The words were coming. I didn't want to judge it, so I just let it out all at once. Before I knew it, I had 200 poems.
When I think about how Pink Privacy came about, it just feels more of a self-portrait, if you will, because there was this process, that it was created solely in isolation without anyone else.
When did this project move from words flowing out of you to a book that was to be published? Why did you feel it was important to share this?
You know as you're doing anything, you reach a certain point where it starts to refine and move, not in a different direction, but there's a polished-ness that starts happening, you notice in the work. I'm like, okay, this is Pink Privacy. 200 poems, that's it, I'm ending this. But then I realized that I couldn't end the writing, so I just let myself continue to write. I even linked up with my friend who is a producer and and we cut a track called Cunt Keeper, which is based on one of the poems. It's hilarious.
Pink Privacy is my favorite thing. And this project has come at a time where women are getting vocal, more vocal than they've been in the past, but also validated in speaking their minds and creating their art without being censored. I love that. This was unintentional with Pink Privacy, but I think it's in the air. It's in the energy. It's in the water. Look at all the beautiful art that's being created right now as a result of this revolution that we're literally seeing. It's evolving on Twitter, you know what I mean, like daily. Minute by minute, you see that things are shifting. I think it's for the good, and I'm loving what's happening as a result of all of this sort of, "shake up".
You mentioned Pink Privacy being more of a self-portrait than your other work. Can you talk about the references behind the poems? The obvious ones being sexuality, relationships, gender; these show up in your other works as well. What about your veganism and spirituality practices? Did they have any impact on this writing?
A lot of the writing comes from this place that seems like held-back comments. It's interesting, because they feel very much from the past. It doesn't feel as current, but it is current if you haven't released it and healed it. Then there's a lot of references and comments to being in power, being in control. I think that's a reference to sort of the shift that we're experiencing right now, like female culture. I talk about crystals and witchcraft and energy and vibrations and vortexes. That's all because I'm obsessed with Esther Hicks and the teachings of Abraham. There's pop culture references in there too. We're living in an age where there's a completely different language, and the way that we communicate via text and on Twitter and Instagram. That kind of folds into a little bit, and then a lot of references to food. There's a line in there that says something like, "I'm a chickpea kind of bitch," because that's part of my identity as well, the way that I eat, what I consume.
There's this woman Juliet Allen, and she's this tantra teacher in Australia. Her blog is amazing. She's all about good energy and having open discussions with your partner, partners, whatever the case is. I was reading this article about her. I think she was recalling or retelling a story of her mother saying that you have to be mindful of the way you eat, what you consume, what you're putting on your body. All these things are getting absorbed into your system, and we can be healthy if we take care of our bodies. They're aiding us in our life on Earth. If you think about that the same way you think about the people in your life, you know, that whole, 'Oh they have bad energy.' 'I don't want to be around this person', or 'this person is toxic.' Why would you allow something in your body if it wasn't good for you? Why would you allow somebody into your body to penetrate you if they don't have good energy?
[It’s the idea that], don't let somebody fuck you if they're not on the same sort of wavelength as you energetically, or however you want to interpret that. I think a lot of times, and this also comes with this unconscious consumption in America, but as you become more conscious – I meditate, I practice TM (Transcendental Meditation) – I feel like when you're doing that kind of work, and then you're also aware of what you're consuming, then you start to become hyper-aware of how you feel, like physically how you feel. 'I'm feeling hot. I'm feeling cold.' Then, it's this emotional feeling. I feel like you can tap into your intuition. Who's my best person? Who am I going to let into my bedroom and allow that part of myself?
How long have you been doing Transcendental Meditation? Has it changed the way you live your life and create art? Are there other rituals that you've found to help you "tap in"?
I've been doing TM for about three years. It does really bring you into the present and grounds you, even if you can only do it once a day. Getting it in twice a day is pretty difficult. I was super into Kundalini. I would do their 30, 60, 90 day sadhanas. I did this one that was almost a year long. As the year went on, I just realized my meditations were turning into an hour, an hour and 15 minutes. I had the time at that time to spend on it. Now I don't have time for an hour and a half, just laying on a yoga mat and chanting, but with TM it's nice, because you have your mantra. You internally chant it. As soon as I had TM, I was like, this is my thing. This isn't going to change. This is my mantra for the rest of my life.
There's a certain beauty and simplicity about it, that you can always go back to, even if you miss a bunch or just completely fall off of it. It's just like getting back on a bike. It's so soothing. I was trying to think of a word to describe it, but with any meditation, it levels you out. It's not something that you would often say, "Oh, I feel the relief right away." It's cumulative, and that's what's so powerful about it, because you realize over time that you are reducing stress, and that you're giving yourself more space. These issues that you would have had a tougher time with in the past are no longer as hard on your system. I think you learn to balance a little bit more with meditation in general.
It's funny, because when I arrived at TM, I was like, 'this makes sense', because I have been meditating for years, doing different types of meditation and doing a lot of chanting and stuff with Kundalini. Kundalini has been the most powerful practice that I've learned, because you really do get into your body. It's the vibration, and I'm all about vibes. To actually feel that coming through your core and out of your chest. I think maybe that has a lot to do with the way that I was brought up too. I think as a girl, I was a little bit more demure and softer spoken. With Kundalini, you're really vocalizing, and all of that is coming out. Having that as a base, and then having TM as this wonderful space that you get to go to twice a day is really lovely.
Can you speak on the dedication in Pink Privacy, and your creative decision behind it? [ed. note: page one indicates Pink Privacy is “dedicated to those who have fucked me”]
It's meant both ways. Dedicated to those who have fucked me, literally, and just fucked me over. It's a thank you too, because I think that without those experiences, I wouldn't have found where I am now. You really need that to form who you become in a lot of ways. I'm not saying, anybody needs abuse or anything like that. I think we've all experienced that on a certain level as women, but in regards to the dedication, it's more like some of those are lusty and love poems too. It's like, 'yes, they fucked me really good'. There can be a line of love in the poem, and the next line can be one of hate.
As you said earlier, minute by minute, things are shifting. Women are learning not to fear their voices or their feelings in fear of being "labeled". Communication is becoming more clear, women are speaking about what is on their minds. How have you broken through these walls in your mostly male-dominated industry?
I think that that has also been a thing through my life, where it's like, "You don't want to be perceived as the crazy girlfriend. You don't want to be perceived as the out of control female person on the team. You don't want to be the bitch boss," which I don't mind now, because I've had so many experiences on set where people go up to my partner because he's a male. They introduce themselves to him, because they think he's the photographer or the director. I'm like, "No. Hi." It's kind of like all those experiences that I've had have really made me think about, you know what? I'm going to get accused and called these things anyway, so why don't I just ask for what I want, or tell people what I want? I feel like that is an attitude that is so much expressed in this book. It's really the way I live my life now.
Of course, you'd be mindful and be kind to people, but also not be a doormat. I'm so sick of that in business relations, personal relationships. You have these situations with family too, you know?
How did you learn how to find your voice?
I will attribute a lot of this growth to therapy, TM, and hypnotherapy, and of course my healer. She's based out of Bolinas in California. She's completely changed my life. It's like Mario Brothers. You're unlocking different levels until you get to the clouds, the cloud level, and it's constant. It never ends, because you're on this journey, and you're never done. Esther Hicks, she talks about that, you never get it all done. Nothing is ever completed. I think I allowed that thinking to totally inform the way that I created Pink Privacy. A lot of my friends that are creatives, they like to sit on things for a long time. I'm like, "What is that?" That is not even a modern mindset.
With this writing, I was like, I'm not going to sit on this. I'm going to put this out right away. I feel like the women that were also encouraging me were like, "Yeah. You should totally publish this." I was like, 'Why not? It's for you.' It's for me, but it's also for you. And now people are gifting it to friends and stuff. I didn't even hope for that. I was just making, basically, a statement. I ended up having a very cathartic process as a result of writing this.
Each poem feels like an inside joke but is also so completely relatable. They are poems for every woman. All women have had these experiences in some sense, but maybe haven’t been able to particularly articulate them the way you have. What are your thoughts on the current dialogue women are having, especially in today’s political world?
People that I admire in my life, they're not the most articulate. I love Valerie Solanas, the SCUM Manifesto. I don't think people are writing about her that she was particularly articulate, but she sure as hell had a point of view. I feel like this is one way of communicating, talking to you right now. This [book] is another way. My photos are another way. None of those have to be polished and refined. Getting your message across however you can, that's the point.
There are so many people that are taking these current cultural phrases and making them into hashtags and t-shirts and coffee cups and stuff. I hate two of them. One is, "I’m a nasty woman", because pardon, he said that. I don't want his words. I want my own, original words. The other is, ’Sorry, not sorry’, because there's no “sorry”.
I don't want to call myself a nasty woman. I don't think I'm nasty in that way, and if I do, it's not going to be out of the context of how he started using that. I hate that that's on t-shirts and on coffee cups, but I have to check my hate and be like, why does that bother me so much? I think what bothers me in the end is that I feel like he is somehow profiting off of these catchphrases that he's using.
What are the challenges you've faced in learning how to speak up as a woman with a strong point of view?
Trying to talk in statements is hard for me, or not doing the uptick where everything is a question, or trying to get people to agree with me. That's been something that's hard. Being aware of these words that sort of subconsciously or unconsciously hold us back, like apologizing all the time, or claiming some phrase that we never created for ourselves.
What's next? What would your advice be to other women wanting to have their voice heard?
If women have something to say, they should say it. Now is the best time, because I think when people get complacent, that they stop being as active. I consider myself an activist as an artist because of the subject matter that I choose to tackle in my work, and that's reflected in so many aspects of my life. My diet, the people I choose to be around, my spiritual practice. They all feel very much connected. I feel like with the political climate right now, the cultural landscape is shifting, but it's beautiful, because people are getting more in touch with their own alignment. They're waking up. Maybe if another President had been elected, we wouldn't have had this crazy opening that is happening right now. So many women are going to be benefiting from this, as fucked up as this is, what's happening right now. But, it's not even benefiting. I feel like it has alerted everyone to the fact that ‘Hey, you know what? Actually, we do not live in a society that is all about equality.’ We're almost brainwashed to think that, because growing up, my mom was a housewife. My dad, he worked. He told my sister and I that we could be whatever we wanted to be, but that's confusing, because we see my mom is working in the house. Then when I got to college, I didn't feel opportunities were there for me like he said they were. I was often getting passed over for men, or men spoke up in class and the women hung back, and professors weren't encouraging the women to speak up.
It's all of this, you know what I'm saying? It's so unconscious, people don't realize that it's happening. Where are we now? We're still not getting paid the same. We're still being silenced. We're still being called hysterical. All of these things. Being able to recognize that you're a human being. That you're fragile. You have all of these different pieces inside you that are completely contradictory. Embracing that instead of being like, "I'm only going to post photos with a filter on." Just allowing these little pieces of who you are to come out should be embraced, but I feel like we don't do that so much, because then we're going to be typecast as someone.
If we can have a little bit of courage and just step out on our limb, whatever our limb is, our personal limit, then that is going to give encouragement to other women and younger women in particular too. I think while they have a lot more confidence than generations before them, they still need to learn how to feel confident in expressing themselves and be validated. It's a very interesting time that we're experiencing right now, but I think it's positive.