Pictured: Leah Soweid at the "Letter to My Body" exhibit at the Waukee Public Library.
When planning Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities heading into 2019, Leah Soweid wanted to do something different. Leah works as a Victim Advocate and Outreach Worker for Monsoon Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity, out of their Iowa City office. She wanted to figure out a way to take her love of writing and incorporate it into an awareness month campaign that could have a significant impact with community members.
"When I write, it's a very expressive process," Leah said. This led her to develop the "Letter to My Body" exhibit: a series of letters from Iowa community members describing their relationship to their bodies. The letters explore how culture, gender norms, and what we are taught through society impact sexism, sexual harassment, and other forms of violence. Monsoon has received 170 letter submission so far, and they expect more in the coming weeks.
"I thought this would be a good way for people to write about difficult topics without feeling super exposed," Leah said, noting that a majority of the letters were received anonymously. "It's been a very positive response," she said, and incredibly empowering for participants who submitted letters and attended letter-writing workshops.
Most of the letters are predominantly about body image and gender identity. Leah said she hopes that Monsoon will be able to utilize the exhibit and the letter writing workshops in coming years as a way for people to express themselves and dive into these complex issues of body image and autonomy.
The exhibit launched April 1 at the Iowa City Public Library. As interest in the exhibit grew, Leah and Monsoon decided to expand it to other parts of the state, including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Johnston, and Waukee.
On May 5 - 11, "Letter to My Body" will be held at the Ames Public Library, and will include a letter writing workshop on May 8 as part of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month. For more information about this upcoming event, click here. It's definitely worth checking out!