People 22 April 2018
Céline Semaan is committed to new aesthetics and new narratives. She is compelled by the need to humanize and embed our world with a palpable sense of empathy. It’s no wonder considering that before the age of five Semaan had been displaced to a new country because of a war in her home country. She grew up in Lebanon. But violence forced a move to Montreal. Later, she was able to return to Beirut with her family. War defined her world view and instilled in her a deep desire for change, something she knows the world cannot survive without. Little did she know then that fashion and design would be one of the ways she would begin to craft that change.
She describes herself as a hyper-active kid who “grew up dancing and entertaining adults; putting on plays and shows for them; and have always enjoyed being on stage.” Her favorite toy was a Fisher Price guitar which allowed you to record your voice on K7 tapes. “My friends and I would record radio shows on there for hours. It was just the best. In Montreal, we were in Québecois Native American summer camps where we learned chants, legends, songs and was very inspired by nature, the spirit of Mother Earth and a deep respect for the environment.”
The collections Celine creates are made sustainably with important causes at the heart of the process
Semaan says her love for fashion definitely came from her mom who she loved watching get ready to go out, doing her make-up and choosing that to wear. She describes her mom and her aunts as “masters of everything Middle-Eastern beauty rituals,” always braiding their hair and dressing up impeccably no matter what. When Semaan turned thirteen, she and her family moved back to Lebanon. “So I got to be a teen-ager there, and wearing kohl on our eyes, which is the equivalent of smoky eyes, and shawls and scarves have always been a cultural thing for me. My grandpa collects vintage Phoenician jewelry and fossils, and I viewed them as treasures!”
As a child, she dreamed of being an astronaut, of going to space, of seeing the universe. She describes herself as having a genuine love for the Earth and the idea of watching it from space struck her as the most amazing thought ever. But, she says, she was terrible at math and her teacher told her that because of that she would, she explains, “Never be an astronaut” (to be said in a slow motion voice).” After moving back to Lebanon, her astronaut dreams drifted and she decided that she wanted to be an Ambassador. “I wanted to throw parties and reconcile any party that is at war with one another.”
Being back in Lebanon, she witnessed the cost of war on both the environment and human-rights and says it marked her for life. “Ever since that day, I dedicated my time, my work, and my skills to support causes related to either human-rights or the environment.” Her first gig out of University was as a Community Lead for Creative Commons, a non-profit devoted to open licenses, where her work was around advocating for access to information, open knowledge, and the open web. It’s a cause she deeply believes in to this day.
Slow Factor collaboration with Camille D. Jewelry funding Best Bees
At that time, NASA had joined Creative Commons and released their images as open data. And then, she says, “Something in me lit up.” It took a few years before she did anything with the images as she was also working as an Interaction Designer and designing interfaces for companies. Then one day she tweeted, “Wouldn’t it be nice to wrap yourself with the world and the universe and stop killing each other?”
She got such a wonderful support on Twitter, that she decided to make it a reality. “I sort of began the project as a side project where my passion for art, fashion, science, and NASA would come together.” She knew very little about manufacturing or running an e-commerce site. She began researching sustainable ways to print the images as she didn’t want to print them on anything “that might hurt the Earth or people in the process,” she explains. That is how her journey in sustainable fashion truly began. “Our first collections sold out quickly; our work went viral a few times; and, fast forward almost six years later; we have expanded our work in jewelry now and looking into apparel too.
Slow Factor collaboration with Camille D. Jewelry funding Best Bees
She designs under the label she created called Slow Factory, which she defines as an “independent label working at the intersection of Fashion and Activism.” The collections she creates are made sustainably with important causes at the heart of the process. “We team up with NGOs and help raise their voices and their missions. We create pieces that raise funds and awareness for causes we believe in, mainly around environmental rights and human rights.” Her collections have supported the work of a variety of organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and UNICEF.
Semaan has also collaborated with ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid). As part of her work with them, she went to refugee camps to work with displaced youth. When she did, she brought some of her Slow Factory scarves with her. “Our USA by Night, New York by Night - our entire Cities by Night collection - and let the girls play models with them. Watching them wrapping themselves with cities they dream of going to filled them with so much hope. That was the most beautiful moment.”
Slow Factor collaboration with Camille D. Jewelry funding Best Bees
Still, Semaan experiences challenges in her work every day, constantly actually. “Sometimes, I realize I am a challenge to my own self. Like I self-sabotage myself all the time, thinking I don’t deserve something I have worked so hard to achieve.”
Other challenges she has faced and continue to face are issues around sexism and racism. “I can’t believe that in 2018, I am faced with racism because I am Arab,” Semaan says. “Being treated as less than, trying so hard to fit in a small box that is not meant for me. Working twice as hard to get a seat at the table, or simply dressing up extra modest not to be considered a snack or patronized because of my femininity. Prejudice and privilege hurt minorities who have suffered trauma, and displacement, and yet have to fight harder to achieve and make their dreams come true.” But, she says, every single hardship she faces shows her how strong and focused she truly is.
And people’s reactions to her work at Slow Factory has certainly proven her pursuits to be both worthwhile and desperately needed. She is grateful to read people’s emails about, “when they get to wrap themselves with the Universe. I get emails about how it connected them with a lost one, or when people get to wrap themselves with parts of the world they have lived, or have a loved one there.”
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."