Inspirational Women – Author Elissa Stein

Another in my series of interviews with women who will inspire you! Elissa is well known in the US (and I know she will soon become familiar to UK audiences too); she has just published an interesting book on a rarely openly talked about topic of interest to all women!

Jane: You are just about to publish a fascinating book you’ve co written with Susan Kim called ‘Flow’ (available in UK late autumn 2009) Elissa SteinCould you give the readers a summary of what the book is about?
: ‘Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation’ explores anything and everything menstruation—what it is, how it works, and what can go wrong while also delving into sex, politics, religion, advertising, hysteria, PMS, big pharma, femcare, product development, women’s rights, education, menopause, alternatives, with a twist of kitsch and over 150 color illustrations. It’s the start of a conversation women have been kept from having for thousands of years.

That is an interesting topic! What prompted you to write a book on menstruation?
Years ago, my period stopped. I was both too terrified and embarrassed to say anything to anyone for over a year. When I finally went to a doctor and all checked out, he handed me a pack of birth control pills, patted me on the knee, and said “Honey, we just need to jump start your hormones.” But I didn’t want to be on the pill. Even worse, no one bothered to figure out why my period stopped in the first place (anorexia). From that point I’ve wanted to put something out into the world that would help women feel more comfortable talking about menstruation without that deep-seated shame we’ve been raised with.

Elissa, you are now well established in your career as an author and designer. When you left school did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do? Did you plan your career? If so how?
My career path has been anything but linear. Traditional college wasn’t right for me, so I left after two years and worked my way through a variety of jobs in retail, merchandising, and advertising, while my husband was in law school. After his graduation, I enrolled at School of Visual Arts, to study graphic design. I realized there that I had been a designer my whole life, without knowing that was something you could be when you grew up. In design school, I discovered it was the marriage of images and words that was my path. In fact, at my portfolio review, my teacher said I should go on to get a graduate degree in writing. I burst into tears. But, books later, that’s exactly what I do. 

Have you encountered discrimination/problems because of being a woman, or maybe because of being a feminist? How have you overcome them?
I have been exceedingly lucky to work with people who have been supportive of me. Not only do I design and write, but I’m a stay-at-home mom, working out of the corner of my living room. I’ve called clients from the hospital, in the middle of labor (both times), to explain why a project would be held up a bit.

The advance publicity for ‘Flow’ has garnered praise but also a few brickbats too. Why do you think the topic is so taboo (remember all the fuss when tampons were first allowed on TV?) And how do you deal with the less than favourable comments about your book that are lobbed at you?
As a society, we’ve been trained, literally for thousands of years—it says so in the Bible—that menstruation is dirty and a sign of weakness. Women were taught to keep it a secret at all costs. That mindset isn’t going to die a quick and easy death and there will be countless people perfectly happy to shove the conversation back into the closet. I’m working on thickening up my skin.

Women are a relatively new entry into the world of paid work and we work in a system designed by men for men. If the situation had been reversed, that is women calling the shots from the beginning, how different do you think things might have been? What do you think would be the major change?
What a great question! Not to make too broad a generalization, but how about a work hierarchy structured by people who effectively multi-task, can blur edges, don’t necessarily think linearly, are empathetic and supportive, creative and nurturing? I don’t see a down side to that.

On your blog spiritual pedicures you often talk about your family, baking brownies etc. How do you manage the work life balance? Any tips for our readers?
I call it my juggle, keeping all these unrelated balls in the air at the same time. I find what makes it all manageable (and believe me, I can’t always pull it off with style and grace) is making sure I have time for myself. I practice yoga at a delicious studio and that makes a huge difference. Keeping in touch with friends, too, whether at coffee bars in the morning, or online late at night, helps keep me grounded.

Who or what has been the most influential figure in your life?
My kids. I was a different person before they were born. Being a mother forced me to let go, to take chances, to laugh at myself. To give up my eating disorder, to let someone else come first. Profound lessons.

Flow- the bookIf you could give the 18 year old you one piece of advice, what would it be? What is the most important lesson that life has taught you so far?
If I could go back in time, I’d make this my mantra: Believe in yourself. As for lessons I’ve learned so far? I can’t narrow it down to one. Trust my instincts. Don’t take anything too seriously. Dream big. And embrace that the more I learn, the less I know.

Elissa, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I hope the book is a phenomenal success and that the taboo is broken once and for all!

You can buy ‘Flow’ in all good bookshops and it is also available through Amazon.


Posted on November 5th, 2009 by

2 Responses to “Inspirational Women – Author Elissa Stein”

  1. Chella Quint says:

    Glad to see Elissa and Flow getting some UK coverage!

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