Shellie and I met in Santa Cruz in 2010. She grew up in South Carolina and she was new to the west coast scene. Shortly after we met she modeled for me. Shellie is beautiful, intelligent. Now in her early 30s, she has a lot of wisdom and insight, especially for young women, to share with this world. She’s also taught me a lot about conscious consent. Over the years Shellie and I became friends and we connected at Beloved, Burning Man and the magical royal water palace in Tirtag Gangga, Bali, where some of these photos were taken.
Kyer: You grew up a preacher’s daughter. Your father was sometimes not emotionally present in your life. How did your desire for his love affect your need for validation from men as a young woman?
Shellie: My father, his father, and my great-grandfather were all, at one point, Baptist Ministers. My dad never really wanted to be a minister, but because of the strength of his father's lineage, he fell in line. While he was in his ministry, he was emotionally unavailable to me simply because he was not being true to his authentic self. Today, my father spends his time building guitars and listening to music. We are now good friends, and that came after a long hard look at how we had been very inauthentic with each other most of our lives. I did strive for my father's love, and on a deeper level it was also a striving for God's love. When my dad wasn't present for me emotionally, or judged me for being a rebellious young woman, I found the illusion of love and fulfillment in the arms of young men, alcohol and recreational use of marijuana, cocaine and mindless activities like TV and binge eating. I found validation through being talkative, flirtatious and beautiful. I made many choices that didn't serve me at the time, but serve me now as an adult because I can reflect back on them, and provide a better solution for women going through similar experiences. I'm still healing some deep wounds around self worth, self-esteem and the need to be liked. I have grown out of many of the reckless behaviors of being a wild teenager, yet the actual issues have changed form. I have to stay aware of my emotions, my food choices, and substance use or I find it is easy to fall back into patterns I developed as a child to cope with what I perceived to be a lack of love from my Father, which leads to a deeper perception of a lack of love from God itself. Daddy preached about God, and there was a time when I felt the presence of neither of those 'Fathers'. I guess you could say I am still growing from it, not so much out of it.
Kyer: You have love for Jesus and his teachings. How do you separate Christian shaming, around sex for example, and his wisdom?
Shellie: The archetypes of Yeshua and his Beloved Mary Magdalene have immensely shaped my views on sexuality, shame, guilt and going about daily life in general. I went through a deep initiation where I discovered I still wanted a very personal relationship with Christ, but not with Christianity. I felt, and I still feel, that organized religion has created an unbearable amount of suffering and separation on this planet. Yeshua (Jesus) spoke a message of loving God first, and loving each other as ourselves. Once I realized that I could still love Christ and connect to his teachings and life, yet let go of the religious aspect of it all, I felt very free. I am still in this process, especially around sexuality and sexual shaming. When I looked deeply into the teachings of Jesus, I discovered that he doesn't speak much on sex or sexuality. What is mentioned is mostly about "lust", or epithumeo, Greek for “an all consuming desire.” I interpret that as: don't look at another with the intent to possess sexually, regardless of consent. I still deal with feeling that I need to be a good girl in a monogamous relationship, but that hasn't seemed to work for society, or me personally. I also still work though shame around being naked or how what I am wearing effects the minds of the men or women around me. I have to practice daily feeling innocent in my sexuality, understanding that it is something safe to express, in conscious communication with my partner.
Kyer: You and I met in 2010. You did two nude photo sessions with me. You shared that you were comfortable with me during the outside photo session with another woman, but that there were times when you didn’t feel comfortable during a shoot that we did indoors when it was just the two of us. Was there a lesson in communication for us both around boundaries and expectations, and in trusting your gut instincts? How did curiosity and innocence come into play?
Shellie: The photo shoot with the three of us was fun and really edgy for me in being nude with another woman. I enjoyed it and it pushed my comfort zone. When you and I were alone and inside, I felt the energy become less innocent and more sexual, like I was being put on the spot to be some sort of porn star or something. In 2010 I was just beginning to explore this side of myself, and I simply didn't feel comfortable with some of the poses or actions I was being asked to do in front of a camera. I was able to listen to my gut and say, I'm not ok with this, I'd like to stop now. I'm glad that I did that, because I feel like if I hadn't maybe I would feel regretful and we wouldn't be as close as we are now. I trusted you, and I still do. But more importantly, I trusted myself, set my boundaries, and understood the difference for me in what felt like innocent erotic play and explicit content. I really love the photos that came out of that bedroom shoot, and I remember asking you to delete the ones where I didn't feel comfortable, and you did. The ones that were edgy for me I have included in this interview. Thank you for pushing my edge, I feel grateful I have the powerful photos of my feminine form.
Kyer: What advice would you give to women who want to push their own boundaries and edges, especially if there is a sexual component involved?
Shellie: I am constantly inquiring about my own edge, boundary and hard line limits. If you're going on a date, for example, are you looking to just talk or do you want sex? It's not something to think about as the moment is upon you. Know what you're ready for emotionally and physically before entering in to a situation. What is your edge? Is it a kiss or oral sex? Is it talking about politics? In general, I know my boundaries in life are pretty clear, and getting clearer. The boundary I have the hardest time with is my own time management. It feels difficult for me to say no to a social offer or time with my partner when I really know I want to be working on my business or taking time for silence. I notice many women say yes begrudgingly, when they really mean no. Listen to your gut! Do you REALLY have the time or energy to be fully present? Or are you going to say yes and half ass it and probably resent the person later? It's a deep inquiry, and a vital one.
Kyer: What does conscious consent mean to you?
Shellie: Conscious consent is saying YES when you mean YES, and NO when you mean NO. Silence is not consent. Being drunk, or too far under the influence of any drug is NOT conscious consent. (Drugs are a real problem at festivals and in the conscious community scene). An enthusiastic YES from a sober person is consent. If you aren't sure, then say, "I'm not sure, let's wait". Conscious consent means that just because you said YES to making out doesn't mean you are ok with a finger in your pussy! Just because you've made love with someone one time, consent is still required every time; even in marital union! Conscious consent means that both parties are aware of each others authentic head space, heart space and physical comfort, and willing to put their own pleasure aside to be certain the other person is fully on board what is happening each moment.
Kyer: What are some of the ways that you felt that your consent, both as an adult, and as a child, wasn’t asked for or honored?
Shellie: When I was a little girl one of my cousins touched my breasts. He stuck his hands under my shirt during Hide and Go Seek. He told me that, this way, if we got found or tagged, it would seem like we were one person and then one of us would still be 'unfound'. He just wanted to feel me up. I remember feeling hot in my face and kind of embarrassed. Also though, at the same time, with that same cousin, we decided it would be interesting to get naked and hug. I still felt embarrassed, but my curiosity over-rode it. I was very sexually curious as a child, starting at four years old, and that curiosity has grown into a deep passion and purpose over the years. As a teenager, I was naked and making out with this really hot guy from the wrestling team and I was having fun with all of the touching and fingering, even oral sex, but I did not want him inside me. He didn't care. He said, “you can't be naked and basically fucking me without actually fucking me so we're fucking".” And he put himself inside me and it hurt and I wasn't into it and he finished, left the room and I cried.
As an adult I haven't had any issues around this. People take advantage of my time more than they do my body. I have a relatively strong force field around me that says, “I'm not available,” until I want to be and then I open up. I can tell when dudes are creepy, and I go the other way and I never assume anyone is innocent. It's my responsibility to listen to my gut and heed its warnings. Most women know in their gut when something doesn't feel quite right.
Kyer: How can women be more empowered around conscious consent? In light of the fact that men are still taught to be the aggressor in intimate relationships, is there a balance for women between standing your ground and being graceful in your response to men and other women? What could both men and women do better in creating more conscious consent in our interactions?
Shellie: Women can be more empowered around conscious consent by asking themselves what they really want and need, and WHY they want and need that. Is it for validation, or to feel power over someone? Or is it because there is a genuine connection? Ways to be conscious around consent is to practice saying NO in other areas of life, like parenting, jobs and to strangers. You don't always have to say yes to be loved, liked and accepted. Practice saying NO so that when a vulnerable sexual experience arises, you feel OK saying “no, I don't like that” or “I'm not ready for that yet.” Conscious consent is also about creativity. Maybe you're not OK with one physical connecting point but would like to try another way of connecting. Consent is all about YOUR VOICE and YOUR CHOICE. Hone your voice in daily life. Sing! Chant. Speak your truth and mind openly and freely so that in moments of intimacy you already know your value and power. Regarding "being graceful in response to men and other women" I think there is a fine line between being polite and being abused. I don't feel women have to be 'nice' or polite when saying no. There are opportunities, depending on the relationship between the two adults where a woman can lovingly communicate to her partner, but a NO is NO and feelings can be talked about anytime after the fact. It's more important to me that women learn to say what they mean first, and learn how to say it in a different way later. Regarding men and women creating more conscious consent in sexual interactions; appreciate beauty without feeling like you have to obtain it. For example, my outfit is not an invitation to sleep with me. It would be nice to be able to wear a revealing outfit in which I feel sexy, without attracting so much sexual attention. I enjoy being told "Wow, that outfit is amazing" or "You look so incredible", but I don't like having my ass grabbed or hearing degrading comments. In general, women need to get clear with themselves first so that they can be clear with their lovers. Men, really listen to the words and body language of your lover and make sure to ASK before entering the Sacred Yoni Temple. Those are just a few points, and this is just the tip of the iceberg on a topic that needs to be widely addressed in festivals, schools, etc.
All photos are created by and copyright Kyer Wiltshire and published with the permission of Shellie White Light.