April 23, 2018No Comments

Linnea Claeson: ‘They call me a rainbow warrior’ Part II

Read the first instalment of The Fem League's interview with Linnea Claeson here

The Fem League met Linnea Claeson at a Women’s luncheon and panel in Sweden’s capital Stockholm. Backstage, we talked to Linnea about her signature rainbow hair, not fitting into other people's 'boxes' and the message she has for her childhood self.


no matter how many fish in the sea it feels so empty without me

A post shared by Linnéa Claeson 🐳💋 (@linneaclaeson) on


How does your appearance - your rainbow hair, your makeup and your sense of style - relate to your identity?

My rainbow hair is just like the pride flag. It's for the LGBTQ [movement]. It’s a sign of freedom; it’s a statement. But it also, my clothes and my hair and my unicorns and what not, it’s also something that I’ve been working on my whole life. It's to keep the artist inside of me, the child, to let the child decide what we're going to wear today. Because that keeps me remembering who I am deep inside. All kids like rainbows but then we forget it and everyone starts wearing grey and black. But we don’t get happy from that. [Laughter]

For me, fashion can be powerful and for me, it also can have sexual power, a gendered power. For example, I don’t have to wear a suit to say smart things; I don’t have to. Even if I’m in a fucking tutu: you still have listen to me and what I say because it's gonna be the most important thing you hear all day. [Laughter]


I really want to fight for that girl. I don’t want to silence her. I don’t want to forget her and I definitely don’t want to give up on her


I think I’m just trying to inspire people to be themselves so that’s why I’m not really trying to hide anything. I’m just letting my inner child go wild on me with all the paint box…


All the colours of the rainbow?

Yeah, all the colours under the rainbow and that’s alright and I’m still one of the top students in our law school. Even though I look like I just came from a frigging child’s birthday party. [Laughter]



All kids like rainbows but then we forget it and everyone starts wearing grey and black. But we don’t get happy from that.


Is it important to you to have that connection with your childhood?

Well, I think since I was, like all the other girls I know actually, harassed when I was a kid; my body was assaulted in many different ways. And, this is after MeToo so we don’t even have to discuss it. It happened to everybody.

I really want to fight for that girl. I don’t want to silence her. I don’t want to forget her and I definitely don’t want to give up on her. She’s so close to me and my heart and gets to pull the strings when we're going to choose the outfit for the day [for example].


I don’t have to wear a suit to say smart things; I don’t have to. Even if I’m in a fucking tutu you still have listen to me


I think I have a very warm relationship with her and I think I have a lot of strength, really thinking of the girl that I was. I know that I always think about what she deserves or not. If I’m in a bad relationship, [I think], 'does Linnea at 10 years old deserve this shit?', 'No.' No, that’s not what I dreamed of when I was a kid. This was not the way that I wanted to live my life. And then I put my foot down and I walk out the door and I do it for me and I do it for her.


A lot of people, unconsciously, put people in boxes: ‘the law student’ or ‘the athlete’ or ‘the activist’. Do you find people try to put you in a box?

I guess I’m everything of that and nothing of that. I’m just being me and everyone is just running around with their boxes trying to catch me but they can’t because I’m so fast. [Laughter]



When I was a kid; my body was assaulted in many different ways. And, this is after MeToo so we don’t even have to discuss it. It happened to everybody.


No, but because I don’t fit. And so for me, it hasn’t really been an active choice. I’m just being me. I don’t fit into boxes and I don’t believe in boxes. The whole point of what I’m doing is seeing structures and seeing things in society that I think need to change and starting to change them - starting to change the things that I cannot accept. For me, that goes for everything. So I guess I come from a place where I’m critical but I’m not negative: I’m very positive. I know change is gonna come.



Words | Naomi Southwell & Linnea Claeson

Image | Viktor Gårdsäter


April 20, 2018No Comments

A Better Daughter

In spring my mum sent me a pack of socks, five pairs, soft and brightly coloured. Each had a farmyard animal on the ankle that looked like they belonged in a nursery rhyme. The next day, between the early start and the sad cereal breakfast, two smiling cartoon ducks slipped onto my feet.

We’d talked earlier that week, popping grapes into my mouth on a snack break. “My friends’ mums send them care packages before exams. With chocolates and things.” She’d liked the idea.

This was the spring I barely saw her. Days passed in long, elliptical orbits between the library and my room in halls. As I slumped back for the night with a backpack full of notes, surprised by the late hour in the lengthening dusk, I called mum as an excuse to think about something other than work. We talked about the dog, neighbourhood gossip, and television. It felt like I was on a spaceship receiving the latest missives from Earth – like that voice at the other end of the telephone, an impassable distance away, anchored me to the rest of humanity.


Books on shelves mounted along a curved library wall

Image | Patrik Gothe


For the few days over Easter when I touched back down at home, I found myself carefully scheduled. She popped into the dining room as I hammered at my laptop. “I thought we could make a cake. Now, or this afternoon?”

“I guess. It depends how work goes.” My chest thrummed with nerves at the thought of hours that could have been spent studying. When she left I looked up from my screen to see she’d set a cup of tea down next to me. “Thanks,” I called after her.


I’d never seen her afraid like this – deeply, sorely shaken by the depths of my unhappiness.


I emerged after exams into summer sunshine that failed to pierce a cloud of newly diagnosed depression. I stayed in my university city, full of tourists but empty of friends, for a summer internship in a biotech startup. It was strange to have evenings and weekends free of guilt about work. I ran long distances, wrote bizarre, apocalyptic short stories, and made an appointment with my GP to see if there was anything I could do except wait for counselling. There wasn’t.


A line of teacups on a shelf against a white background

Image | Joanna Kosinska


Mum spent a small fortune on train trips to take me out for coffee and cake. One afternoon, I cried into my cream tea and tried to explain to her why the life she’d helped me build suddenly felt like a snake’s dead skin that I would rather shed.

“There’s nothing good in it,” I said, even as the sun coated us like butter. She looked helpless and confused. I’d never seen her afraid like this – deeply, sorely shaken by the depths of my unhappiness. I didn’t know how to convince her to trust in that fear, to say, I feel it too. That’s how I know the real me is still here.


It felt like I was on a spaceship receiving the latest missives from Earth


A month later, in Portugal alone, my texts to her took on a manically cheery tone. I was on holiday! I was having fun! Against my expectations, this was true; watching the sunset on the metro back from a beach trip with complete strangers, I felt my joy might spill over if I moved too fast. Not normally a keen photographer, I took pictures for her at every opportunity. She replied with three sun emojis. My happiness felt more solid for having been shared.

Later, back for term time and struggling academically, I scrolled back through the photos and knew I could feel that way again.


I didn’t know how to convince her to trust in that fear, to say, I feel it too. That's how I know the real me is still here. 


In my first counselling session, I tried again to explain why I was so unhappy. We worked through every aspect of my life, cataloguing everything that felt wrong. “And your mother? How’s your relationship?”

The damp, mildewed part of my brain, usually so ready to criticise, was unusually quiet. “It’s good.”

“Are you close?”

“Really close.” I warmed as I thought about it and the words started to flow. “I know she thinks the world of me. It’s really hard for her to see me like this. But she always listens.”

“That’s how it should be.”

The mildew crept in again. “I just wish I could give back to her. It feels uneven.”

My counsellor nodded. “Do you think that’s something you can change?”

Our session ended soon, with a promise that I’d come back in two weeks. I walked out into the golden autumnal light and thought about that question.


I cried... and tried to explain to her why the life she’d helped me build suddenly felt like a snake’s dead skin that I would rather shed.


Every time mum visited my room in halls, she’d check my mirror for the phrases I scribbled there in dry-wipe pen. Mostly the words came from poems or articles I read on the internet, anything I thought was beautiful. In October I gave her a plain brown notebook that I had decorated with her favourite quote from the mirror, inspired by Tavi Gevinson. Not enough time for self-hate! Too many things to do! Go!


A pile of blank white notecards viewed from above

Image | Brandi Redd


“I love it.” She hefted it in her hand.

“Look inside.”

I had filled the pages with my mirror quotes. “I didn’t know you liked Louis MacNeice,” she said, and gave me the biggest hug I’d had in a long time.

I had thought MacNeice a discovery of mine; I’d borrowed an anthology from a friend who studied English and spent an afternoon in bed copying out my favourite phrases. Now I wondered if she’d spent a similar afternoon as a student, feeling that same thrill of something new to love.


The damp, mildewed part of my brain, usually so ready to criticise, was unusually quiet.


When I came home for the Christmas holiday it snowed so heavily the walk to the train station felt like an ice rink. Her car was waiting for me at the other end. I chucked my bags unceremoniously into the car and collapsed in the warmth of the front seat.

“We’re having some people round after Christmas,” she told me as we drove past the familiar landmarks; the fish and chip shop, the old sauce factory, and the Tesco Express on the corner. “I’m making some curries if you want to help.”

“I’ll help,” I promised.

We spent the week in the kitchen, dancing around each other with knives and hot pans and bowls loaded with food. Mum covered our plan for the meal with last-minute scribbled changes and swore at the fridge when it couldn’t possibly hold any more food. I volunteered to chop leeks, wash dishes, assemble starters and watched her to-do list shrink along with the stress lines on her forehead.


White shelves containing stacks of plates and bowls of different colours and sizes.

Image | Brooke Lark


“I don’t want anyone to go hungry,” she fretted, pouring over a list of dishes. “Do you think there are enough desserts?”

“We could make another,” I said, pulling out the recipe book. We pored over it together, skipping crumbles and pies until we came to a cake that made our eyes widen.

She delegated me to put some music on, and when the record started her head snapped up. “I love Fleetwood Mac!”

“You used to listen to this all the time,” I remembered. It was why I’d put the album on my phone when I found the CD buried dustily in a pile during a shelf clearout. It was why I’d listened to it on the train home earlier that week. Now, mum sang along as we mixed butter and flour.

My extended step-family arrived to a feast of chickpeas and spices. We wove around making small talk, smiling indulgently at small children, and drinking plenty of prosecco to help us cope. There was always something to do: tidy up bowls of nibbles, find another fork, bring in the starters, collect dirty plates. In a brief moment of respite in the kitchen, she cast me a frazzled look.


Now I wondered if she’d spent a similar afternoon as a student, feeling that same thrill of something new to love.


I topped up her drink and hugged her. “Everyone loved the samosas.”

“God, I couldn’t do this without your help.”

I focused on finding a spoon in the drawer for a bowl of chocolate mousse. “I haven’t done much,” I mumbled.

“Just having you here.” She reached in and found it for me, rummaging below the potato peelers and spatulas. “It feels like a bit less of a disaster.”


A messy kitchen

Image | Jason Leung


I peered through the door at our chattering guests. “It’s not a disaster. Everybody’s happy.”

“That’s all I want.” Her smile came back on again. I’d spent so long feeling like I was failing at this, at giving her all that she wanted from me, but now it felt easy to return her smile.

She picked up the mousse to take through and I carried the huge cake we’d made together, laced with orange zest and chocolate.


My happiness felt more solid for having been shared.


Our big, complicated family made all the right noises as we set dessert on the table, and our eyes met with pride at the warmth with which we’d filled our home. Mum cut the slices. I handed out plates. We all sat down to eat.



Anna Lewis is a writer and blogger



April 11, 2018No Comments

The Fem League features: Fern Edwards Part I

Forget making weird heart shapes with your hands Fern Edwards wants to capture the in-jokes and little quirks that make a couple’s relationship theirs. It may seem like a daunting task, but Fern’s start as a wedding photographer was no less formidable. Asked to photograph her mum and step dad's wedding while still a student at art school, Fern's candid, intimate photos ended up impressing more than the stilted family portraits taken by a professional photographer.

In the first instalment of our interview with Fern, we talked about capturing those memorable moments, the power of print, and what happened when she took part in a couple’s shoot herself.


Is there anything, in particular, you do to get to know a couple before their wedding day?

Engagement shoots! They are this brilliant way of not just taking some photos but just to hang out with a couple. You get to see them in their own clothes and strip away all of that 'wedding-i-ness' just for a few hours.

I always say to the couples that are booking me, I know lots of beautiful places that we can go but if there is somewhere that you feel strongly drawn to let’s definitely go there. For that reason, I've done a few shoots at peoples homes. If they've built a life together and they’ve built a home together then why not just kill a couple hours, make some tea and have photos laughing on the couch.

At this point, I'm still getting to know them. I'm reading their body language and figuring out whether they’re really touchy-feely people who can’t keep their hands off each other or more aloof and casual. I’ll try to spot their little in-jokes and quirks so I know just the right moment to press the shutter. Also, the verbal prompts I can give them to get the interaction going between the two of them. It helps them to stop thinking, ‘where shall I look?’, ‘what shall we do with our hands?’ and ‘am I facing the right way?’



How do you make them feel at ease?

Well, I'm basically an utter goof. I always tell couples that I know they might feel awkward but I'm one of the most awkward people on the planet. We're all in this together and let’s just laugh at how ridiculous this is. Because it does feel a little bit ridiculous at first.

When else do you have professional photos taken with your partner in a portrait session in your life? Unless you're going to get married it’s very rare. It’s a little bit bizarre but you have to go along with it, laugh it off and just roll with it.


They want memories of who came to celebrate with them


The minute you can let your guard down and just accept it for what it is it’s really, really fun. I’ll tell them this at the start. But, then also, to make people feel comfortable around you I think it helps to mirror them and what they’re doing.

If they're withdrawing I'm not going to get in their face. If they're being really outgoing and lively I'm not going to be really mousey about it. I want to echo their energy and I just want to reflect what they're feeling. Then you get this balance and this sort of, mutual understanding. 



Is there anything you’d hope for couples to feel when they’re being photographed?

Just enjoy the process because it is such a rare occasion and also enjoy the time with your partner. Take the time to just look at your partner and think about why you’re marrying this person. How did I know that they're the one for me? You might find yourself asking yourself that on a day to day basis. But, sometimes, you get so caught up in life that until you actually get to your wedding day, it hits you that this is my person.


It does feel a little ridiculous at first. When else do you have professional photos taken with your partner in a portrait session in your life?


To give you a slightly different example, myself and my partner volunteered to model for another photographer who was teaching a workshop about couples photography. They wanted a real couple to photograph instead of models. So I said to my partner that it would be fun and that I'd love to see what it feels like when the shoe’s on the other foot. I twisted his arm and he agreed to it. He knows how much I love my job and how much it would help me understand my job a little bit more.

So we went and I found that I wasn't exactly learning about the photographer’s style or process. Instead, because he got us focusing on each other so much, it just really made me hone in on my partner. It was nice to take a step back and think about how much I love him. Even though there was a photographer I'd never met taking photos whilst teaching a class of about 15 other people who were also watching and taking photos.


What do you hope to capture about a couple’s story at their wedding?

A lot of people forget because when you see wedding photography online and in magazines it’s just the couple. But, that's just one piece of the pie. I spend a lot of time in the morning with the bride and I spend a lot of the ceremony concentrating on them, the couple, because they're exchanging vows and the ceremony happens so quickly. Well, most of the time anyway. [laughter]

And then in the afternoon to be honest so much of it is about friends and guests. What other day are they [the couple] going to have all of these people under one roof together celebrating together? They want memories of who came to celebrate with them.


You never know the weight of a photograph, it's why its so important to document it authentically.


So, if I can document that for them, that isn't just via family formals and group shots, then I’ve given them a record of these memories that they can have. Not just portraits of them looking really cool when we've whisked away for 20 minutes taking portraits. They'll print a couple of those. But, the things they’ll want to remember is having a really great drunken chat with one of their old best friends from college or a family member embracing them in a big warm hug and telling them how proud they are.

Just all these little connections and the things that they also weren't there to witness first hand. Interactions amongst the guests with each other that are really touching that they might not have gotten to see. It's so rare as a couple that you'll be able to get to talk to everybody on your wedding day.


I think there's something special about having something tactile that you can physically hold and keep


It's important, it's really important because memories fade so quickly especially in this very, very, digital day and age. We have a relentless amount of information thrown at us all day long. I think in the long run, without trying to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist, our short-term memory is getting worse and worse.

To have a document of this day, this chapter in their life, where everyone was together printed physically in an album. Imagine going through that in 5 or 10 years time. Because realistically you won't remember it very clearly even in a couple of years, those memories will start to fade a little bit.



It’s about capturing the couple’s memories with all of their loved ones, not just each other?  

I've had friends who are wedding photographers talk about how they’ve taken a seemingly standard photograph of somebody hugging someone at the ceremony or an exchange happening between two people that is really genuine, a really great moment that's happening. In five years time if that person has maybe passed on or something significant has happened in their life, then that photo takes on a whole new meaning.

There have been a few instances where couples have shared those photographs on social media. They might have lost a grandparent for example, and they’ve now got this really genuine photograph of that person or just a really beautiful portrait of that person on that day. It just takes on this whole new significance.

It hasn’t occurred with any of my images yet but it's a big thing in the wedding photography profession. You never know the weight of a photograph, it's why it's so important to document it authentically. You never know how much that's going to mean to someone. It might not mean so much to them today but in the years to come you just don’t know. 


Take the time to just look at your partner and think about why you’re marrying this person. How did I know that they're the one for me?


Does having a physical object like a printed photograph enhance that memory?

Maybe I'm biased or a bit old fashioned but I think there's something special about having something tactile that you can physically hold and keep. That will always be timeless. The thing with print is that once you've printed something and you're looking at it you'll know unless you leave it in bright sunlight, it's always going to look the way that it's meant to look. The way it looked when it was delivered.


The things they'll want to remember is having a really great drunken chat with one of their old best friends from college or a family member embracing them in a big warm hug and telling them how proud they are.


Looking through old photos, the quality of those photos says something about the time they were taken. The ways the photos were processed, the colours and the texture of the print there's just something you can’t quite put your finger on it. I think when you can physically touch something it brings back memories stronger. A bit like with music and smell. I think it’s something to do with it being tactile.

Looking at those images with others, it becomes an event and another memory in itself.

You're turning pages and you can smell the ink; it’s something that will never lose its impact. A bit like picking up an old favourite book even if you own a Kindle; there's something about having a book with a cover, a nostalgic smell or notes you’ve scribbled in the back. Some people might have little notes written on the back of their wedding album. It just gets you right in the feels, I don’t know how else to say it.




Words | Naomi Southwell & Fern Edwards

Images | All images courtesy of Fern Edwards

See more at www.fernedwards.com

April 5, 2018No Comments

Linnea Claeson: ‘They call me a rainbow warrior’ Part I

Spotting Linnea Claeson across a crowded auditorium isn’t exactly difficult. Her rainbow hair, pastel blue faux fur coat and holographic bag stand out in a sea of black and grey. She’s the personification of happiness and positivity, which makes the online abuse she’s received since the beginning of her professional handball career all the more shocking. She describes routinely receiving unsolicited, explicit and often violent messages from men online - all while still a teenager.

But, Linnea clapped back. Around two years ago she created the Instagram account, Assholes Online, where she began posting the misogynistic messages she received along with her hilarious, witty clapbacks. For this, she was awarded the Human Rights Prize by the UN Association of Sweden.

Since Assholes Online, Linnea’s activism has reached far beyond her impressive 200k Instagram following. She is now one of Sweden’s most influential young voices on gender equality, racism and LGBTQ rights. She is the ambassador and co-founder of a number of humanitarian organisations including Omtanke Stockholm, an organisation that supports the homeless, Refugee Relief and Kvinna till Kvinna, a foundation supporting women in war and conflict zones.

The Fem League met Linnea Claeson at a Women’s luncheon and panel in Sweden’s capital Stockholm. Backstage, we talked to Linnea about her signature rainbow hair, her activism on and offline and her plans to 'fight the big leaders with the big suits'


I don’t do it for fame. I do it for freedom.

A post shared by Linnéa Claeson @linneaclaeson (@assholesonline) on


Would you say most people know you as a handball player or through your activism online?

Definitely for my work online, for my [involvement in the] women’s movement. I work for human rights, I work for LGBTQ [causes], I work against racism, for women, for children, for freedom basically. They call me a rainbow warrior because of my hair and I love it; I love it!

I get a lot of threats: from Nazis, from racists [and] from sexists. Every day I hear someone new saying that they want to see me dead or that I’m going to get raped. The thing that makes me special is that I’m still standing here. I’m young. I have a voice. I’m not ashamed to say what I think and I’m not going to move just because they’re scary or just because I’m scared. I’m choosing to be brave. I believe another world is possible and if we want that world we're going to have to fight for it every single day and that’s just what I’m trying to do.


For every right we gain we also have to defend it. It's not done, it's not over, it's never going to be over.


How do you cope with people telling you every day that you should die?

The first time men started to write things to me and send me dick pics and so on, I was 10 years old. I look at 10-year-old girls now and think, ‘Hell no, ain’t no one gonna treat them that way, [the way] that we were treated.’

Growing up in a world where everything you do as a woman is wrong it's [a] like double punishment all the way. I don’t want that for the next generation, for our children. So that keeps me going when it’s hard. And then, of course, having a lot of sisters that I know [have] got my back.


They call me a rainbow warrior because of my hair and I love it; I love it!


Was there any point where you asked yourself. ‘Why am I doing this, this is really hard on me?' 

When my mother or someone in my family comes to me and says that they are afraid I’m going to get killed or murdered by the Nazis, then, of course, it's hard. It’s hard to look at my mother and say I’m going to do it anyway. But, I have such strong belief that we need a world that’s kinder, braver and wiser. And we are the ones we’ve been waiting for and it starts with us.

With #MeToo you saw a revolution, the revolution is here. And for a revolution to mean something it means we have to go from words online to actions out on the streets and in the homes and in the workplace and the schools.  We have to fuel this fire so I don’t feel that I can stop or rest. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about me. It’s not about my life. Even if the Nazis kill me, I’ve lived the way I wanted to.


I'm young. I have a voice. I'm not ashamed to say what I think.


How do you stay positive?

Seeing the next generation being so active and conscious. Little kids running around and saying they’re feminists and anti-racists and they’re going to fight for the environment and for animals. They’re so cool and they’re doing things that I hadn’t heard of when I was twelve. Then, I don’t know, I was eating ice cream. [Laughter] I didn’t do shit.

And now since social media, young people have good people to look up to. There are a lot of good content [creators] on the internet and I’m trying to be one of those people; I find hope just watching the next generation.


With #MeToo you saw a revolution, the revolution is here.


How do you think we can harness social media for good?

I think we have to be aware that we always have to fight back. Because for every right we gain we also have to defend it. It’s not done, it's not over, it's never going to be over. And maybe that seems tiring but I see it more as inspiring because we get more and more [people] in this army of love.


I don't want that for the next generation, for our children. I want something else.


My followers are called my rainbow army because we fight for freedom. We fight for people's lives. We fight for things that are fair.

There are more people writing love than writing hate on the internet. There are a few people, angry fucking men, mostly, that write shit to people but everyone else: we are more.

I really believe that the only thing that is needed for the evil to win or to conquer, is for good people to do nothing at all. So that’s why I’m always trying to inspire courage: standing up for each other online, out on the streets, in your home, at the workplace. Just say something. Do something. Because, otherwise, the evil is going to win because they’re the only ones that dare to speak up. That’s so important.


How do you hope people will turn your message into actions and what is your advice to those people?

I usually say that we don’t need charity, we need solidarity and with that, I mean that women don’t need to be saved. We need to have men who're prepared to stand beside us, to fight for this, to fight for equality, to fight for a world full of possibilities for both genders: together as equals. That’s what we need.



I always call my followers my rainbow army because we fight for freedom.


So for men, I think that you should really start to challenge the way you look at women, not only in your own personal life but also, which women do you look up to? What music do you listen to? What books do you read? How many female authors or musicians can you name? Really question why, seemingly, you have so many more men that you look up to. To really challenge themselves and what they’ve learnt and the structures - that’s what we really need to see from men.

And for women, I think the best advice that any woman can get is to do whatever the hell she wants because we’re taught so many things, like, don’t even get me started on, 'How to avoid rape’ tips. What the fuck is that? I want 20 tips for men to avoid raping women.


There are a lot of good content [creators] on the internet and I'm trying to be one of those people.


Women, just do whatever you want. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. We’re all just in this together with self-hate because we’re taught that we’re not supposed to love ourselves. So really lift other women and also try to take back your own body. The day we were born society stole our bodies and we’ve got to take them back and make them ours because so much starts with sexual violence against women. Equality, economic power but also sexual power and being the masters of our own bodies.


We don't need charity, we need solidarity


Our current issue, ‘Seasons’, is all about celebrating the different seasons of women’s lives. Is there anything that you’ll take with you from this season into the next?

I’m really sure of this answer because I think about it so much and that’s the sisterhood. Women have become the most important relationships I have in my life and I think they always have been but I just didn’t know it yet.

I think that when I really started to put my sisters first, before all other relationships, I got a more stable but also a lot richer life. It’s so reassuring to have women in your life that you trust and that they’re always going to back you up no matter what. If the Nazis come banging on my door I know that I have a lot of sisters…

That you can call?

I can call and they’ll come. [Laughter]

Nazis beware

What plans do you have in the immediate future coming up? Do you have anything that you’d like to share?

I am really a dreamer and a visionary. But I have very few dreams for myself and a lot of dreams for our world and our society.

I’m going to Brussels to speak to the bosses of Europe and try to shake it up a little bit with them, stir up some trouble with the UN.

I’m also trying to keep on spreading my message on social media. Like starting up a YouTube channel because I really think we need more content, more women's writing, more sexual liberation, more [of a] civil movement on that platform. I really want to create strong independent kids because that’s what we need.

So I’m going to go on social media and keep on spreading kindness, courage. And then I’m going to fight with the big leaders with the big suits. [Laughter]


Words | Naomi Southwell & Linnea Claeson

Image | Viktor Gårdsäter

March 24, 2018No Comments

The Fem League features: Kat Walmsley

Kat Walmsley, a.k.a. @happyhumanclub_ is a collage and mixed media artist who enjoys, ‘cheese, pop, and GIFs’. Her work gleefully references the retro sides of the internet; combining quotes written using Microsoft Word art; iconic internet memes and hand-drawn elements to create a uniquely playful and often ironic style.

However, within this bright, internet-inspired world Kat frequently explores ‘serious’ topics such as parenthood, life as a working creative, and the importance of self-care and supporting other women. The captions to her posts on Instagram, @happyhumanclub_, which she uses to chronicle her life as well as to showcase her work, are imbued with the joys and frustrations of parenthood, the importance of smear tests as well as the sassiness of Little Mix.

The Fem League spoke to Kat about her love for GIFs and the inspiration behind her ‘poptastic’ work.



How would you describe your art in three words?

Colourful, fun and clumsy.

What inspires you to make art?

Starting maternity leave for the second time, I decided to try and do something creative each day; something for me. Suddenly my GIF diary was born. A piece of bright, funny, humorous artwork which looks for the silver lining in the mundane everyday. Created in 45 mins (the length of time my baby slept) this was a great way to keep my perfectionist gene at bay. Rough ready creative content.


I know I carry many insecurities about image, body, being and am only learning now that I am enough.


What was the inspiration behind ‘Care’?

Living in today's modern relentless world, we very rarely leave time for ourselves: to reflect, recoup and re-energise. I often feel like I am spinning a ton of plates with not a lot of fuel in the tank. These artworks look at the deeper world around us, the elements, beyond the skies, under the earth's surface and share messages which suggest looking out for one another as well as ourselves. Diversity is beautiful, we’re all unique and that should be celebrated. This particular piece has a very strong female perspective. I know I carry many insecurities about image, body, being and am only learning now that I am enough.



Why ‘@happyhumanclub_’?

THE HAPPY HUMAN CLUB is a conceptual collective. Its premise is simple, being human is our common connector. I believe we’re all striving for a moment of happiness, however big or small. Happiness isn’t the holy grail, it’s finding joy in the smallest most humble places. It doesn’t have to be euphoric or last forever, I don’t think it can in fact. As humans, we feel every emotion on a loop throughout our lives. Happiness can be as simple as enjoying a slice of pizza or sharing a smile.  My happiness in the small things is exuded in my gifs. I hope to produce a clothing line that embodies looking for the simple wins, joys and highs in life, I want to create apparel inspired by my artwork that makes you feel a tiny high and gives you that extra spring in your step.

What is your process of creating art?

I’m inspired by everyday happenings, adding elements of fun, fantasy, and whimsy. Capturing that thought then making them into a reality, if only for a brief moment through my gifs.


Happiness isn’t the holy grail, it’s finding joy in the smallest most humble places.


What is your favourite ever gif?

My favourite gif: all of them. They sit together as a collective organised in rainbow order (sad I know). Always look for the rainbow kids even when it pours.



Is it important for you to keep ‘happyhumanclub_’ as a personal creative outlet?

Yep, it is so important to squeeze in 15 minutes of self-love and creative outlay a day. The creative industry is hard and you are often governed by deadlines or budget. Having your own space without any rules or boundaries is very liberating


It's so important to engage with what feels currently like a troubled, raw world and find your voice.


Your work is often ironic and whimsical yet the captions often reveal a raw and unfiltered perspective on your personal life - is this intentional?

It is totally intentional to juxtapose whimsy and fantasy with sincere heartfelt feelings. It reflects the need for balance in life. It's so important to engage with what feels currently like a troubled, raw world and find your voice. This can be hard and heavy going, and so it’s also important to be open, accepting, find humour, whimsy, and fun where you can, this helps us through troubled water and stokes our fire in the dark.


I used to believe that I would have everything ‘sorted’ by the time I hit thirty. Now I’ve learned that there’s always time



What ‘season’ of your life would you say you’re in currently?

Spring! I have so much more to see do experience and achieve.

How have your past ‘seasons’ informed your current ‘season’?

I’m going to keep this pretty abstract. I used to believe that I would have everything ‘sorted’ by the time I hit thirty. Now I’ve learned that there’s always time: time to change, time to aspire, time to reach your goals, time to change direction and, time to grow. Never be afraid of change. Jump into that abyss because quite often there’s a feather bed waiting.


Having your own space without any rules or boundaries is very liberating


What will you take from this ‘season’ into the next?

Positive attracts positive. Always remember that!



Kat Walmsley is a collage artist and content creator.


Words | Naomi Southwell & Kat Walmsley

Images | All images courtesy of Kat Walmsley

March 21, 2018No Comments

Twice the Mother: A tale of two sisters



‘Twice the Mother’ explores the idea that one woman can mother in entirely different ways, influenced not by her own ability and character, but by external circumstances, namely, seasons of her life. The first section is from the perspective of a young and adoring mother, the second from her daughter, now a teenager, reflecting on how her mother has changed since the birth of her sister. The final chapter is a realisation of how wrong she was to judge her mother, and explores how external circumstances have once again changed the family dynamic.


December 1989

To my darling girl,

I’m looking down at you, staring at your tiny lips smacking together as you dream, and I know I will never love anything so much as I do you right now.

I’m 21 today, and I can’t imagine what you will be like when you grow to be this age. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. I married the boy I love, and now we have a perfect life together. I hope you are as happy as I am one day.

I wanted to write to you, here, now, so that no matter what happens, you will always know that you are loved. You have completed my life in ways I never thought possible, and I have found my best friend for life in you.

As the most special person in the world to me, I feel like I can share everything with you, and I pray my angel you will always feel the same for me.

With that said sweet princess, I have to tell you, I’m so, so scared. I’m scared I won’t be able to give you everything you deserve, and I’m scared I’m not strong enough to be the role model you need.

But most of all, I’m scared that even for a second you will not think the world of me, and that I might ever disappoint you. I’m writing this now my love so that you will always know, I only want happiness for you, and I wish every day for the strength to be the one to give it to you.


August 2004

“Get out.”

“Noooooo... Liv play?”

My three-year-old sister stares at me with the most innocent yet expectant eyes imaginable, and I hate her for it. My mum has “put her back out” again, which I know is just code for she’s depressed. She lies there, day after day, lifeless, expecting me to look after my sister.

I go in and lie next to her, curling my teenage body around her duvet-engulfed, marshmallow form and will some of my energy into her - it never works. My sister tugs my hand and I want to scream at her, but I know, from experience, that it will just make the situation worse. I begrudgingly “Liv play”.

My sister should never have been born. I remember the day my mum told me she was pregnant; I just stood there in shock.

“Aren’t you going to say congratulations?”

No, I wasn’t. My parents hadn’t lived together for the last six months. My mum didn’t even like me, her firstborn child. How was I supposed to be happy about her bringing another baby into the mix?

“Well?” my father prompted.


In hindsight, I think my mother had always suffered from depression, and I think my father was the cause. I wasn’t close to either of them anymore, and I hadn’t been since I was a child. My dad was gone a lot. My parents arguing, my mother's tears, and my fathers own indifference to whether I knew, gave away his indiscretions.

When my dad moved out, I refused to stay with him. My mother would cry and shout and rant about being a single parent, about money and her wasted youth. But what about my wasted youth? I’m 15 years old and not only do I have a toddler sister to worry about, but the pressure of pleasing my mum is becoming unbearable.

I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of them both. I don’t care about hating my mother because I don’t really think she cares about me anymore.


March 2018

I have always felt guilty for my teenage angst towards my mother and my sister. The guilt visits me as I lie in bed and keeps me from sleep.

My mother was trapped in an exceptionally difficult, painful situation and my sister was just a child.

When I left for university, things changed. My mother fell in love again, with a man yes, but with life and with her children. It was as if the shroud of darkness lifted from our household - I finally understood how much she loved me, and our family blossomed like spring flowers.

Maybe it comes with being older, maybe it has come with seeing what wonderful women they truly are, but I have so much time, love, and understanding for the two of them.

I’m glad my sister probably doesn’t recall much of our relationship from back then. She is 16 now, and taller than me. She is long and lean, funny and humble. She has adopted my childhood bedroom now, and I climb into her bed with her when I visit and hold her tight. She wriggles jokingly, and I simply pull her in tighter. Every squeeze filled with apology and regret.

My mother is the strongest and most inspiring person I know. Every time I feel down, lost or hopeless she is the person I call. She found life again at 43. She became the best version of herself after a failed marriage, two children and decades of battling mental illness.

It is a new season for her, and for all of us, a beautiful spring of happiness and confidence. She has mothered adoringly, relentlessly, hopelessly and joyfully, and for that, I am truly grateful.



Emii Lou Ryot is a writer at ryotgrl


Image | Josh Willink @ Pexels

March 8, 2018No Comments

Editor’s Letter

I've been enveloped by wisdom and it has allowed me to hold women and the seasons we navigate with depth and reverence. In the Yoruba tradition, the heritage I hold, we are taught that we have three phases in life -- morning, afternoon and evening. Our Morning phase or season is our early life. Our afternoon phase or season, our mid-life and our evening phase marks later life.

As women, we pass through so many journeys and I have come to believe that each journey denotes a season. Through each season there is cultivation that takes place. There is fruit to harvest, there are leaves to prune, there are seeds to sow and there is soil to till. Each action prepares us for our next season. Each action comes with its own challenges and lessons, each action is unique to the individual and the season we are in.

I decided to name this re-launch edition "Seasons" for a number of reasons. The overarching reason is that we as women have jointly entered a new season. A season where we declare that time is up and lift our heads beyond imposed shame and say me too. I have entered a season of renewed commitment where I urge every woman that meets a new woman to ask the question what are you committed to? in place of what do you do? Because It is our commitment that will support us in realising a vision and a world where we as women can stand in the fullness of our power, in partnership with men. I embrace this current season that is a bridge as I walk from maiden to mother. I have never held women and their capacity to birth in its rightful place. Although not a journey for all of us, the challenges have opened empathy, ferocity, miracles, and magic within me. I am grateful to every single woman that makes the Fem League's journey possible and worthwhile.

May your evening be greater than your morning and afternoon.


Yomi Abiola is an international model, journalist, social entrepreneur and founder of The Fem League


March 8, 2018No Comments

The Fem League features: Melanie Grace

Melanie Grace is a motherhood photographer who was first drawn to photography through her own desire to capture the ‘fleeting moments’ of her family life.

Her natural, raw and intimate photos lovingly tell the unique stories of her clients and their children as well as celebrating the ‘chaos, Calpol and caffeine’ that so often accompanies parenthood.

Melanie has also recently begun documenting ‘all parts of motherhood’ through her project ‘100 Days of Motherhood’. The project sees Melanie, and her clients, discuss what motherhood means to them. They touch on topics such as; regaining your identity after becoming a mother and why it’s sometimes necessary to throw the rules of parenting out of the window.   

We spoke to Melanie Grace, who lives in Cornwall, about what documenting motherhood means to her.


Image of a woman styling a child's hair taken by Melanie Grace


Could you describe your photography style in 3 words?

Simple, natural, real.

What drew you to motherhood as a subject? 

I started off specializing in newborn photography and so many of the mothers who brought their babies to be photographed shied away from getting in front of the camera themselves. So, I had to really convince them because, for me, the relationship between mother and baby is so powerful.

It's such a massive change for a woman to become a mother and I really believe we should all forget our hang-ups and have more photographs with our babies. Photographs are our legacy for our children. I often hear women saying that they wished they had more photos with their own mums so that’s my mission.


An image of a woman embracing a child taken by Melanie Grace


What drew you to photography as a medium to capture motherhood?

It’s the old cliche of becoming a mother and having that need to document my babies as they grow. They really do grow and change so fast. You hear it so often but you will never be prepared for what that really feels like.


It's such a massive change for a woman to become a mother 

I love, love, love photographing babies and children. But, it’s that relationship between a mother and baby that makes my heart sing. I really just want to give mamas memories of motherhood that they can keep forever.


What do you hope to capture in your photographs?

Real moments, real love and the best bits of motherhood. The moments we wish would last a little longer.


An image of a yawning baby taken by Melanie Grace


How do you build a relationship with your clients?

I have three children myself so I find I can easily relate to what my mama clients are experiencing right now. I’m also super laid back. A typical session with a client is more like grabbing a coffee with a friend and taking some photos.


You prefer to take natural unposed shots of your subjects why is this?

Natural photographs are about connection, emotion, honesty, and love. When I started in the newborn photography world six years ago the style was very posed. I just hated posing parents into awkward positions. I found it stressful and time-consuming and it’s just not real.


It’s more like grabbing a coffee with a friend and taking some photos.


A posed family portrait, for me, doesn’t show me enough, it doesn’t tell your story. Being positioned, told where to look and when to smile can create a beautiful family photo. But, it’s just a photo of how you looked: it doesn’t hold any memories. Over time I evolved into what felt right for me. Getting more and more natural to totally unposed. Real moments are what I love.


An image of a woman lying down playing with a smiling baby taken by Melanie Grace


Are there any challenges you face while working?

As a location photographer I never really know what I’m getting into until I turn up. Lighting can be a challenge but it’s a fun challenge and it keeps me on my toes.

What does motherhood mean to you? 

Motherhood is everything to me; it’s who I am. I had my eldest daughter when I was 19 before I really knew myself. Those first few months, I didn't really know who I was or who I was meant to be. I was so worried about being judged by the older mums who seemingly had it all together because I didn't feel like I was holding it together at all.


Real moments are what I love.

It wasn’t until much later on in motherhood that I realized I was suffering from postnatal depression, anxiety, and mild agoraphobia. You see, this was before it was okay to talk about mental health. But, thankfully, women are opening up more about the struggles, especially over on Instagram. And I’m learning not to be ashamed to talk about my own battles.  


I don’t just want to show beautiful images of mothers, I want to share their stories too

By 20 I was married and moved to Buckinghamshire. Then, a year later we had our second child. Photography helped me find something for myself. Whilst I was at home with my two children I started to build my business by photographing friends and their babies. It pushed me to be more confident in myself and believe that I could build the life I really wanted for myself and my family.


Thankfully, women are opening up more about the struggles, especially over on Instagram.

Now I’m a mother of three and a business owner living in Cornwall. Life is full, and busy but amazing at the same time. My youngest will be turning four this year and starting school in September; it’s a new phase for us both. I’m no longer a mother of babies. It’s kinda sad to close that chapter but I’m looking forward to embracing life as a mother of school-aged children and making the most of having my “baby” at home for a few more months.


A posed family portrait, for me, doesn’t show me enough, it doesn’t tell your story.

I love my life. I'm able to balance motherhood and business; spend my days drinking tea and chatting with amazing mothers and documenting their motherhood story for them and their children.


Image of a woman lying down embracing a child taken by Melanie Grace

Do your own experiences of motherhood inform your work? 

Motherhood is full of highs and lows. It’s important to me to acknowledge that in my business. It's not always what we think it’s going to be and honesty is so important. I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve been through myself because it enables me to relate to my clients and listen to their experiences with no judgments.

I’m also well aware that these moments don’t last forever. I’ve experienced it with my own children. You’ll catch yourself staring at them wondering how on earth they got so big. You wish you could go back to the time that they fall asleep on your chest or experience those first smiles again but you can’t. You don’t know you’ll miss these moments until they’re gone.


Can you tell me about ‘100 Days of Motherhood’

100 days of motherhood is a project I started to push myself creatively and dig deeper into the subject of motherhood. It’s a chance to create conversations and get real about motherhood’s highs and lows. Sometimes, they are my own personal views and experiences and sometimes they are words from other mothers I’ve met.


Image of a couple lying down while holding a baby taken by Melanie Grace

What do you think women gain from sharing their stories of motherhood?  What do you think other people, mothers or not, gain from reading them?

I hope that women can gain more information about motherhood; the stuff no one tells you about.  I want mothers who may be struggling in some way to realize that someone else has been through the same thing. I don’t just want to show beautiful images of mothers. I want to share their stories too so they can inspire more mothers to get in front of the camera because none of us are perfect. We have all been through stuff or are battling something right now.  


A photo of a couple embracing holding a baby taken by Melanie Grace


And finally, what ‘season of your life are you in now and how to do the previous ‘seasons’ of your life inform this current ‘season’?

I’ve recently relocated to Cornwall after 8 years in Buckinghamshire. So my life currently is all about adjusting and building a new life and new friendships. As much as that's challenging I also believe that it will all be fine and things just take time. I’m not far off 30 and I finally feel comfortable with myself. I know who I am and I know what I’m about. It’s about finding the right kind of people who you can be yourself with. Find your tribe.



Melanie Grace is a motherhood photographer

Melanie Grace 


All images courtesy of Melanie Grace 

March 7, 2018No Comments

Quiet Strength

I only realised how strong my favourite women were when I had the least amount of time to appreciate it.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a tight grip on my idea of what ‘strength’ is. Strength for me was a badge of pride, a way to protect myself, as well as a way to ensure I would be successful. My notion of strength all stemmed from wanting to be “tough”, and never ever wanting to be a “damsel in distress”. In itself, this is not a bad thing, but looking back I can see focusing only on this blatant kind of strength was at times to my detriment.

I climbed mountains in a moonboot and paid for it later. I hated myself when I cried or showed ‘weakness’. I tried my best not to need other people and refused to ask for help - even in the direst of circumstances.


'All my life I've collected strong women, the ones that I thought were just like me'


It’s funny isn’t it, how, subconsciously, we can hold onto these perceptions even without us realising. I only seemed to find value in these loud kinds of strengths, such as drive, stubbornness, never needing help, and physical fitness and strength. Whereas the softer strengths like forgiveness and asking for support seemed to find their way to the weak list.


Image | Les Anderson


All my life I've collected strong women, the ones that I thought were just like me. One’s with personalities that say "I do what I want," "I have my own opinions," and "I don't need anyone’s help to be successful." These were the type of girls I seemed to gravitate towards and surround myself with - as I found their determination, independence, and headstrong nature inspiring.

My three younger sisters are these types of women; something that caused no end of arguments when we were younger, but now that I'm immensely proud of. My friends are also this type of women; determined to achieve their own goals in their own way, and staunchly opposed to any of the sexist or derogatory bullshit that still rears its head all too often.


'It's ironic that amongst these 'strong' women, I feel safe to allow myself to be what I previously saw as 'weak.'


It is interesting though, even as I write this it is not their ‘overt strengths’ that first come to mind, it’s the quiet ones. I think of these women and I think of people who balance fierce independence with putting others first, who say I love you loud and often and who are always there when I need them. It’s ironic that amongst these ‘strong’ women, I feel safe to allow myself to be what I previously saw as ‘weak’.

It is only now that I’ve started to realise that there is more to strength than my subconscious lists have led me to believe. In part, it is through the recent loss of the beautiful souls I have been brought up by that’s changed my perceptions. Women who possessed the quiet strengths as much as the more ‘obvious’ ones.


Image | Les Anderson


My grandmother, the woman who taught me to sew and to bake her famous fruitcake. The woman that taught me when you do bad things (like put soap on your cousin's toothbrush!) they come back to bite you, and that saying sorry is always worth the embarrassment. Through her, I learned that you should always tell people you love them and that something as simple as a held hand or a hug can be the bravest gesture of all. She also taught me that you decide your own destiny, using her determination and the power of hope to keep on living even after the doctors told her she wouldn't. She refused to go when she was told; only when she was ready.

My great-nana was much the same, the quietly influential monarch of our family. Her determination and sheer damn independent-ness became apparent whenever we had to hide while doing the dishes (every time) so that she wouldn’t try and stop us. There was nothing she loved more than being there for others, whether that was through an abundance of baking or openly showing joy in our visits. Even by the time she was 95, she still steadfastly refused to let anyone put themselves out for her; putting others first even when she was at her end.


'They've taught me that quiet hope is strength...'


It is through their love that these special women have taught me that there are different kinds of strength than the more in-your-face kind I'd always coveted, kinds that are just as powerful in their softness.

They taught me that quiet hope is strength. That making love the basis of everything you do is strength. That smiling when you feel like crying is strength, but also that crying freely when you need to is also strength. That putting family first, reaching out often, and looking for the positives is strength.

Most of all they taught me that if I have even a smidgen of the strength they have, I don't need to seek anything else.



Megan Raynor is a creative and copywriter



March 7, 2018No Comments

The end of the year



This poem is about the realisation that a friendship is a due closure, whether it’s to create a more positive environment for yourself, or whether it’s just the passing of time. The imagery is deeply rooted in the natural transition from winter to spring, referring to personal growth and maturity. I feel as if the movement to adulthood comes with the personal permission to understand when you’re ready to opt out of something, and I was thinking about that as I wrote this piece.


The end of the year


my leaves crumple

and coil inside their structure  


it is time to wither, she says


i do not stop her


for i have withered time and time again, my sunshine stifled with the memory of hurt


i am now dust, she says


and the memory of her seeps through heavy skin


and i think that it might be okay to drift for a little


to allow space and stretch


to compose my selfish nature and take back my feelings


so one day


as the ground blooms


and as the girl blooms

i can say goodbye



Kat Albiston is a poet and writer.



The Fem League is a global culture design and community building firm that creates inclusive cultures and communities where everyone thrives.

We leverage our proprietary framework Cultural Curiosity, community building and self-leadership programs to support organizations, communities and individuals to design intentional cultures.