I illustrated a tarot deck to help redefine femininity for myself.
I’ve always been a tomboy. I had a therapist once – for a short while – who was tall, blonde, thin, and wore make-up. I spent all of our three sessions talking about how much more feminine my sisters were than me. I wanted to be a boy so I could do things: ride horses, build things, be strong, be tough, not be made-fun of. I thought that girls sat around looking pretty and not touching anything, least they get dirty.
I’ve grown up and spent hours hating my body and its cycles, the places I’m soft, the emotions I want to keep inside. The way life has begun to drag at my body, but has begun to soften my thoughts, and soften my interpretation of myself and others around me.
In growing up, I started seeing more women doing more with their bodies than looking pretty. My step-mom, the race-horse riderer; my mom the gardener, my sister, (so much better at make-up and curlers than me), became a pilot. I worked with cowgirls, I worked with cooks in kitchens, I worked with women who built things and I started to find my standards of beauty shifting.
More recently, I’ve seen people who wear heels and five o’clock shadows with pride. I see people who wear androgyny in the face of beauty binaries. The need to categorize other human into male or female roles has begun to blur. Big hips are celebrated, cellulite is shown. Style is a choice that can be liberated from a binary. I’m not butch, but I like to use my hands, I’m not femme, but I like to wear lipstick. The choices I have in presenting myself have become more spacious.
As for the idea that women are weak, having a kid has totally disenthralled me of that illusion. To birth or raise a kid you must be the kind of strong that can bend all the way to the ground and not break. I bend everyday to my kid and I think I’m breaking. But somehow I’m still whole, some part of me has broken away, but mostly I am still here and my heart is beating bigger and with more compassion than it had before.
Have you watched Nanette? If not, please put everything down and do so immediately. The place at which Hannah Gadsby says “There is nothing stronger than a broken women who has rebuilt herself.” makes me cry just thinking about.
I illustrated a deck of tarot cards as part of a #100daysofdrawing challenge on Instagram. I drew 78 cards in a little less than 100 days. I’ve loved tarot and used it as a tool to talk through heartache and difficult times with friends and sometimes professionals for the past 9 years. Illustrating them I worked off the classic Rider-Waite images and just adjusted as I felt inclined to. I was drawing without thinking or planning ahead, just making lines quickly (while my 4 year-old kid played legos or tried to draw on the page with me).
Slowly I began to reflect and realize I was drawing a new version of feminine for myself.
Differently shaped breasts, thighs, hair, beards, people who I found beautiful, adorned in patterns and plants, but not your Vogue versions of beauty. The cards began to accumulate stories for me, about my friends and my relationships, how to be soft with myself when times are hard, how to hold myself accountable when I need to. I realized these cards were my own medicine for my broken body-image, for feeling like I wasn’t good enough because my breasts weren’t firm, or because I liked to smell sweat and hay on my hands and feel like I made something each day.
I’m printing this deck for anyone else who likes to look at tarot cards, and laugh, and feel that there is space for their version of beauty.
I’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund printing this deck and I’m thrilled that it has resonated with other people the way it has. You can pre-order a deck through Kickstarter until September 27th.
Thank you and may we all feel loved.
Lettie Jane Rennekamp is an artist / illustrator working in Portland, OR.