What does it mean to be a woman?
For some, being a woman means being strong, trustworthy and capable. For others, being a woman means being focused on your career and not listening to other people.
For Bella Utami, being a woman contains multitude.
“Being a woman to me means having to break barriers. While other people seem to always have something to say about what we are doing, being a woman also means that we don’t have to fit into just one category. We can be pretty and smart but also athletic at the same time. As a woman, we shouldn’t be limited”.
As an Alumni of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, the 23-year old go-getter is constantly breaking barriers by creating a safe and constructive space for women through her page; A World of Girls (@aworldof_girls). With her passion for photography and writing, she built a universal space where all women can share positivity and inspire each other through writings and visual works. Transcending borders, A World of Girls also provides life advice that are not just relatable to women, but to men as well.
“A lot of things that we go through in life are relatable, and we are going through similar things as human beings. A World of Girls is about inspiring people to live better lives by sharing positivity and improving our well-being,” she says.
Inspiring People Through her Photo Project
Her journey began in 2016 when she was still studying in Japan. As a lover of visual art, she wanted to create a photo project focusing on women empowerment by making it relatable to all. She started off by taking pictures of women from different nationalities while asking about their views regarding certain topics. She not only took pictures of her friends, she also talked to some strangers that she stumbled upon in the streets of Beppu, Japan.
As a start, she shared her work through her personal Instagram account, in hopes that it would inspire her friends. As it turned out, a lot of people—even men—felt encouraged by her pictures and words, which therefore pushed her further to expand her work. Since then, she created an Instagram account and website for her project and recruited some of her friends to help her out. She called her project ‘A World of Girls’ as it is a safe platform for all women around the globe, and is not limited to any physical, social or emotional borders.
With her strong dedication which has continued for over three years, A World of Girls is now more than just visuals and photography. Bella and her team has also created a lot of interactive activities to engage her communities by making mini-series, interviews, as well as offline events at her campus.
A Safe Space to Support All Women
As a woman, accepting every inch of ourselves can be a very difficult task to do. Because we are repetitively taught by society to always be ‘pretty’ and ‘perfect’, we tend to over-criticize ourselves and our bodies. You don’t have long hair? You are not pretty. You don’t have a small waist and thigh gap? You are not pretty. You choose your career over your kids? You are a bad mother.
It is true that we often see life as an on-going competition. Ever since we were young, society has always made us feel less than other girls. With the rise of digital visual culture such as Instagram, it is very easy to compare ourselves with other girls and turn their achievements into hate. In return, we are never really proud of ourselves, and we never truly learn to accept ourselves for who we really are. We always feel as if we are lacking in something—something that other girls have, but not us.
Bella sees this as an everyday issue that all women face. While this act of jealousy might be seen as a common practice, it actually damages our mental condition. Bella thinks that instead of prioritizing our appearance and physical beauty, we should also look after our mental well-being. After all, it is our mental health that is most important. Highlighting this concern, Bella wants all women to understand that it is not just you who are going through these problems, but all women go through these similar problems and issues. Which is why A World of Girls tries to support and promote the similarities faced by female-identifying individuals all around the world. It is a platform in which we transform our negative thoughts into positivity that we can all embrace and learn from. It is a safe space that always wants you to know that you are never alone in this journey because each of us are going through the same.
What is the Future of Women?
Geographically speaking, there are numerous issues faced by women, depending on where they live. In Asia, for example, women are forced to choose between career and family. Even though there are other options such as hiring a nanny, but society is still pressing women to be a full-time housewife and mother to their kids. Meanwhile, men are never to blame, because it is okay for them to go to work and pursue their career.
When talking about Indonesia, the representation of women in politics and in managerial positions are actually much higher compared to any other Asian countries. Though it is seen as a good prospect, but the Indonesian society still tends to objectify women based on their looks. Rape culture and victim-blaming are also two of the most prevalent issues that Indonesian women currently face. Not only that but the sexism, sexual harassment and misogyny are also quite persistent in Indonesian society.
“Society always connects appearances with intelligence. They tend to think that pretty girls are always dumb. I guess they only see women as one-sided. They think we only have one personality—but the truth is, we contain multitudes. We can be whoever we want to be”, Bella says.
However, though there are many barriers, Bella also appreciated a lot of women empowerment movements that are not only mushrooming in Indonesia, but also all around the globe. She believes that by starting small, we can actually make an impact. The journey wouldn’t be easy, but there is hope in the future of women from all around the world.
As she is now moving to Hongkong to pursue her career, Bella certainly wishes that she can continue her project, thereby creating an offline event: be it a workshop, discussion, or even a photo exhibition. She hopes that her platform will continue to inspire all women because she believes that we are brave enough to live a life that we actually want; and although it is difficult to break free from society's expectations, we should live our truth as who we are, not as who they want us to be.