When a professional model walked into the ibu office for an interview, her hair and face plain, clothes black, face blank - she was only doing what the fashion industry had taught her to do. Erase herself. Look like a mannequin, upon which we might want to hang our fashions. I talked with her a while and learned that she is an artist, and as she talked about her painting, a light began to flicker in her eyes. Over time and a glass of wine, she relaxed and even smiled. She filled herself in, a human being flaring out in front of my eyes. . . and we hired her.
Before every photoshoot, (and I’ve just had two photoshoots this week, so I’m thinking much about it), I chat with the woman we have chosen to be the face of ibu. Many of these are not professional models at all, but women who have engaged me with their considerable presence. Before the camera begins to click, I remind each one that what I am looking for in an image is . . . you. You are not an object in our clothes, but a subject in our movement. What matters is not how you look, but how you feel. And what I want you feel, as much as you are able, is your sovereignty.
Women from Tanzania, South Sudan, Japan; from collegiate America to 50 year old professionals — they have each nodded their heads in deep and quiet recognition. They know exactly and instinctively what I mean. Sovereignty. It is a word I whisper, for it can be misunderstood by some. But it is the word that guides everything I do at ibu.
Perhaps you’ve heard the tale of a king who asked, what does a woman really want? … and sent his knights into the far corners of his world to discover the answer. Only one came back to tell the truth, cajoled from an old haggish woman in the woods. Sovereignty. she said. And of course, as fairy tales go, when she was loved and honored for her sovereignty, the shrew transformed into her most beautiful and interesting self.
Sovereign is the woman who rules over her own life and destiny. Not her husband's, partner's, or child's life, but truly and formidably her own.
Sovereign is the choice to live one’s own life from the inside out, and the courage to do so.
Sovereign is a woman in poverty picking up her hands and transforming ageless skills into a source of power.
And sovereign is a woman like you or me honoring that woman’s courage. To see her as the author of her own life. And myself, the author of mine.
I am passionate about getting money into the hands of women. It will go to good things, strong things, like the education of daughters, which leads to fewer child marriages, fewer child deaths, better maternal health and stronger economies. But also, most of all, it will lead to a woman’s self-respect. Hers. Mine. Ours.
Sovereignty is an ibu thing. Underneath all we do lies that secret word. But I think you knew that. Just look at those faces.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker