Welcome to The Flawless Project interview series! Contributor Jessica Newsome came up with the idea to start interviewing flawless women in different careers and life places and asking them seven questions about life, career, feminism, dreams and goals, and more. Naturally, we thought Jessica would be the perfect person to answer the questions first!
Jessica Newsome was TFP’s co-founder Emily’s upstairs neighbor for a brief stint in Chicago. They met fortuitously over back porch beers and have been friends ever since. Jessica still lives in Chicago and is a social worker at a non-profit specializing in job training and work force development. Jessica holds degrees in psychology and social work and has been writing regularly for The Flawless Project since October 2015.
1) Did you know about The Flawless Project before today? How did you hear about The Flawless Project? What drew you to it?
I read it about it through my old upstairs neighbor, Emily. I think what drew me most to this project was the idea that I can be both a masterpiece and a work in progress as the same time. I think sometimes I’m hard to be around because I am very hard on myself, and can be hard on the people around me when I think something could be better. I’m very driven—but part of that means I’m also driven to acceptance and celebration of the hard things I’ve learned and accomplished. I think The Flawless Project does a great job of highlighting that.
2) What do you do as a career? How did you decide what to do with your life?
I’m a social worker. I don’t know that I decided to be a social worker so much as I realized I needed to start getting paid for always taking care of people. I’m the oldest of a large homeschooling family and I grew up in a small homeschooling community that was pretty rocked by the screw ups of the adults around us. I’ve always taken people in and tried to provide a safe space for people who are hurt to heal, grow, and thrive. So, I got myself over-educated on the subject and started getting paid to do the work I’ve always done.
3) What do you think is the biggest myth about being a woman that you had to overcome?
Honestly, there are a lot. Like I said, I like to think of myself as a pretty hard person, largely because I’ve always regarded some of the softer aspects of femininity to be weakness. I think that’s been hugely influenced by my upbringing—and it’s something I have to work really hard to remember. Fragility and vulnerability aren’t the absence of strength—sometimes they’re the biggest markers for it. Thankfully, I have a lot of flawless women in my life who have helped me learn that lesson—over and over and over again.
4) What myth would you most like for society to change about how women interact with each other and the world?
If we can break the myth of “lady hate” I think we’d accomplish so much more. I had to make myself stop saying that I didn’t get along well with other girls—firstly, because it wasn’t true! But then also because I realized there was a lot of sexism in that. I realized somewhere in college, I think, that another person’s beauty and confidence didn’t take anything away from my own—but that when I loved, respected, and learned from another woman’s beauty and confidence, I grew more as a person and so did they. I would not be who I am without the women in my life and I’m not really interested in hating another woman because she isn’t me, or because a guy is interested in her when I’d rather he be interested in me. I’m not saying that is easy—it’s something that I have to remind myself of all the time. But as one of my really good friends reminded me lately, when you take care of yourself and prioritize being healthy as an individual, those feelings of competition and bitterness become a lot easier to understand and let fade away. I remember after I broke up with my college boyfriend, I said to him, “I just want you to know, that whoever you love next, I’m going to have to love. Because I know what it’s like to love you—and there’s no one else in the whole world who will understand her the way that I do.” When you realize that there’s no point in shitting on another woman to make yourself look better, you have to grow up. And it’s a good thing to do that. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything a person does or says just because they’re a woman. But I’m able to think about where feelings of dislike or frustration are coming from and make sure it’s not just because this person is “the other woman” in my career path, my romantic life, or my social butterfly tendencies.
5) How do you deal with it when you don’t feel flawless? Can you talk about a time in your life when you felt totally and completely lost (career, relationships, spirituality, etc.) and what the biggest/hardest lesson you took away from it was? What would you say to encourage other women going through something similar?
When I don’t feel flawless, I write. I go to shows by myself and think about the state of the world. I call my friends to get a drink or show up unannounced with ice cream and park myself on their couches. I surround myself with people who remind me that I am not broken—that I have a full heart and that I bring a lot of good to the places that I go. I listen to music by women for women—thankfully a lot of my friends are musicians and they provide me with a steady stream of great anthems. I’ve had a few rough patches in my life. My senior year of high school, everything changed for me. I lost the church community I grew up in—or I should say, they lost me? My parents split up, I changed schools, a friend died—and then I had to go to college and figure out everything from scratch. There’s a beautiful quote that I love and have always tried to live by. In the Bible, after Jacob wrestles with the angel (or in some translations, with God) he says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” The biggest/hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in life is that I have to find out how to make things into the biggest, best version it could be—even if I walk with a limp afterwards, like Jacob in the story.
6) Who are the flawless women in your life? What would you like people to know about the relationships you have with other women?
There are so many! I have my aunt, my college boyfriend’s mom, and my mother for the “grown ups” I go to when I need them. Recently my college boyfriend’s mom said to me, “I sometimes tried to be demure—but then I always got in the way. You don’t have to do that; you can just be you!” I have different friends I go to for different things—sometimes I need to be challenged; sometimes I need a good mom hug, sometimes I need to go out and have a good time and dance and forget that there are bad things in the world. My peers are my sister and my friends from high school, college, and now that love and support me and that I am so lucky to be a part of their lives. Don’t get me wrong—I have really deep, long-lasting and build-you-up friendships with my guy friends. They’re really important to me. But I think it’s easy to forget to celebrate our female friendships—and I think part of why I realized that is this project! I would like people to know that women can love each other and support each other and learn from each other’s differences and grow together without making it into a competition. I work in a very female-dominated industry, and people always like to ask me how hard it is to work with almost all women. The funny thing about my job is that I work with a lot of guys, actually—and they’re much more obnoxious to work with sometimes. Women communicate—we talk and we figure things out and we collaborate. Some of the guys at my job do, but other times they are too wound up in their ego to be able to accomplish anything.
7) What’s something you’ve accomplished recently that you are proud of and want to share with the other flawless women who are part of this project?
It’s been a long time since I wrote regularly—and I’ve actually been reading poetry and some of the drafts of pieces for this project at open mics around where I live. It’s been terrifying and wonderful and work. But it’s really good and I am learning a lot. It’s been a good thing.