“Girls Who Handle It” opens space for women to speak about their mental health
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Increasing the level of public vulnerability and advocate for a community, “Girls Who Handle It” is about “honest sharing and acceptance, specifically amongst women,” as it says on the group’s Facebook page. This multifaceted event is about to have its third annual art exhibit on March 8 from 5-9 p.m. at the UCSB music building. The project was started by Julia Freet in her senior year at Cal Poly, who was in need of a senior project for her Communications major. While getting her senior portraits done, Freet spoke with photographer Asia Croson about the difficulties she faced through her parent’s recent divorce. Croson replied that she had heard from so many women about the struggles they had been going through recently, and the idea for “Girls Who Handle It” was born.
Women who participate in the project go through an application process. They write their story, get photographed by Croson—black and white, from the eyes up only, and their hair in a bun (reflecting the saying, “put your hair up and deal with it”). At the annual event, the art exhibit displays the portraits with the women’s stories below and a tag with the timeline of when they went through that struggle.
The gap that the project seeks to fill is the lack of an outlet for women to speak about their mental health struggles. The art exhibit is a place for people who don’t normally get the chance to speak up to talk about their struggles in the open. Each woman that participates gets a mentor from the previous year to help them through the process. It is a vulnerable experience, so it helps to have someone who has been through it to guide them along.
Westmont student Shae Caragher is participating in “Girls Who Handle It 3” this year. Her story will be shared at the event on Friday, March 8. Caragher has enjoyed the experience, and hopes that other women will find comfort in reading the women’s stories. Caragher summarizes, “‘Girls Who Handle It’ allowed me a platform to process and to share my struggles and also triumphs in a way that I had never been able to before.”
The event had an astounding response its first year at Pinkies Up Nail Salon in San Luis Obispo with an attendance of 600 people. The second year the event was held at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, and about 2,000 people came. This year it is in Santa Barbara, because there are many mental health struggles that are not talked about here. The event is free, but donations are accepted to help further the project. Viewers are encouraged to through the exhibit and gain insight into some of the struggles people deal with.
“Girls Who Handle It” is now getting its license as an official non-profit. It will continue with more periodic events to raise awareness instead of solely annual events. The movement is available to follow on Instagram @girlswhohandleit.