August 6, 2012

Reclaimed Words

So I wanted to talk a little bit about my new Graffiti Tag pendants in my Earthen Alternative shop on Etsy.  In my art making career, I have often been drawn to making components and jewelry that have symbolism, meaning, and stories behind them.  Sometimes these symbols are subtle and have many meanings and varied cultural references so people can find personal symbolism in them. Even words have a variety of meanings and it can effect each individual differently.  I have enjoyed using words in my work in the past, but I usually stick to the safe types of words that everyone seems to respond to positively.  Words like home, peace, love, create... there are lots of words that people seem to enjoy, even when they have subtly different meanings to different people.
I have recently become interested in my personal life with words that create more challenging reactions.
I have been inspired by words that are sometimes used as insults or are derogatory, but which people are working to reclaim, to give them new meaning (or to take away their negative power by owning them). 
For instance, the word "freak".  I have always been an artsy, kinda weird chick. I always listened to different music, wore unusual clothing, and I have strange hobbies (which led to an offbeat career).  I have certainly been called a freak by simple minded people and bullies.  And it has bothered me over the years, but I have learned to "let my freak flag fly" as they say, and own and revel in my freakishness.  Now I can be pretty bold about calling myself a freak and taking pride in the fact that I am different, because normal is boring, and I have met other "freaks" and have decided that freaks have more personality and more fun! So I am in good company.  Freak is a word that I have reclaimed from those who would (and will) try to use it in a negative, derogatory way. 
Bitch is another word that can have a strong negative feel.  Lots of strong, independent, assertive women have been called bitches, from people who are challenged by these qualities.  But to me, those are all good qualities, and if that is what a bitch is, then I will own that word and will claim it as mine.  
There are lots of words like this.  Some start out as insults meant to shame a person about their sexuality, their gender, their appearance, or their personality.  These words fascinate me, and I have been collecting them and asking others about words like this that they work to reclaim.  I want to know what words people would want to wear on their bodies as a reminder of who they are.  This is the inspiration for this new series of work.  It is a little more challenging than some of my other, more widely appreciated words and images, but it is important to me.  And it is important to my friends and people I surround myself with, as I feel that conversations about these types of words and ideas, start to build communities and ideologies that bring us together.

Melanie is an artist, blogger, writer, and ceramic beadmaker at Earthenwood Studio. Her beads and components can be found at her Etsy shop and her jewelry can be found in her Etsy Galleria. To comment on this post, visit the original post at the Earthenwood Studio Chronicles Blog.


  1. BITCH: Babe In Total Control of Herself. I don't mind this word at all! I even have a BITCH charm on my charm bracelet. I really think your new graffiti tags are going to be a hit with the younger folks.

  2. I've always liked "chubby". Since I'm a short round woman, I hate those other words, fat, fatso, obese, ugh. But chubby always sounds so soft, so comforting, like we round women can be.

  3. In my senior picture in the yearbook (this was before professional photo spreads for school kids) I was wearing a shirt that said "Bitch". I have always been proud of being one.

  4. I teach a Gender & Women's Studies class at a university. Early in every semester, my students and I have a conversation about words - how they can be used to denigrate or for power. How stereotypes get attached to words. I have my students say these words out loud and track the feelings that come up. "Fat" is a hard word for a lot of young women. I claim it. I am fat. It's kind of amazing how talking about the words diffuses the power. Shifts it from something that shouldn't be said because of the stereotype or negativity attached to it, to something that just is, another part of someone's identity. I think it has to do with ownership. Saying I'm fat or I'm a bitch means I get to keep the power of the identity.

  5. I'm with Skylar I would love to see 'Fat' on one of your pendants. Which are fab by the way.