Fed up with patriarchy and sexism, Carrie Biegler set out to portray the strength women possess through photographic portraits and blog posts in her Strength Source Project.
When it came down to it, 44-year-old Carrie Biegler, a Philadelphia-based studio art and digital photography teacher, was just tired of feeling powerless. Throughout her life, she had dealt with sexism in her family, her career, and past relationships. She was sick of being silenced, kicked aside, and feeling ashamed.
After the 2016 presidential election, Carrie reached her breaking point. “I was stunned. I really couldn’t believe we were still in a place where someone who could speak about women that way could be celebrated,” Carrie recalls. “I was really sad because I didn’t know how to explain that to my daughter. She went to vote with me, and I’ve been raising her in a way where she can do anything, and then there’s this conflicting message.”
Carrie found inspiration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s exhibit of women’s photography throughout history.
“I was standing there with my daughter, Leah, and I had this lightning bolt. I thought, What if I just started photographing women and telling their stories? I didn’t want to ask women a negative question, so I decided to ask an empowering question.”
She settled on a question that asked women to look deep within themselves to find a moment or a source of inspiration and strength, and she set out to ask it to friends, family members, and strangers. She asked: What have you done in your life that makes you feel strong inside?
Among the 88 women Carrie has interviewed and photographed so far, answers ranged from giving birth, to fighting cancer, to embracing their heritage, and even to survive a brutal assault. For her part, Carrie has derived strength from relating to these women’s stories and from bearing witness to their courage. “I hope when people see these women and read their stories that they make that connection to someone they never would have crossed paths with,” she says. “We’re so different on the surface, but I think we have so many common bonds. I didn’t expect to relate to everyone’s stories as much as I do, especially given the variety of what people share. I didn’t expect to feel so much connection to what people are telling me. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.”
Below is a sampling of Carrie’s ongoing project to tell the stories of local women and capture the ways they’re empowering themselves. You can see more of her work on Instagram, Facebook, and online at strengthsourceproject.com. Contact Carrie via email if you’re interested in being featured.
“Sharing the horrible reality that my son will never be coming back gives me strength. When people look at me and say, ‘How does she do that?’ I want to say, How can I not?”
Source of strength: Helping others
“I was incarcerated for 5 years and released in 2011. I was separated from my children while incarcerated, and I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to live anymore, but I survived. One of the things that I do now when I’m having a bad day or just feeling like I have not accomplished anything in my life is I look at two photographs side by side. One of the photographs is of me during my incarceration. The other photo is of me on the day of my college graduation, and this is where I find my strength. I went on to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and I also have my associate’s degree in social work.
“My strength to persevere comes from my struggles, and now I have decided to help others make it through their struggles.”
Source of strength: Being vulnerable
“I’m a social worker, and I work mainly with individuals addicted to heroin in Kensington. What I spend my days doing is attempting to meet people where they are, and then empower them to make changes in their lives. It’s a privilege to hold space for people’s pain and strife while encouraging vulnerability, openness, and honest dialogue about taboo subjects. Working with addicts has taught me that change starts with them, not me, but I can create room for them to contemplate the changes they might (or might not) want to make. I can listen to them, and my goal is always for them to feel cared for and heard when our time together has ended. I feel strong when I know that someone else is empowered because of our time together.
“I also think strength is multi-faceted and doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes, I am strongest when I look weakest. When I need help and feel broken, but I can muster up enough courage to ask for help, I know I am strong.”
Source of strength: Overcoming fears
“I always loved dancing and performing, but anxiety and shyness stopped me from pursuing it further than a few dance classes and cheerleading. When I was a sophomore in high school and auditions came for the musical, I selected Norah Jones’s ‘Don’t Know Why.’ As I stepped up to audition and the music started, I began to have an anxiety attack and had to leave the room without completing my audition. I cried in the bathroom, repeating ‘I can’t do it,’ and I cried all the way home. I vowed I was going to try again the next day.
“The next day, I stepped up, my hands shaking so much they moved the paper with my lyrics, but I completed my audition. I never felt the adrenaline rush like I felt that day.
“Now, as I start my own business, I’m calling upon the same strength, the same fire, the same adrenaline that I have used to overcome my fears.”
Source of strength: Pursuing her passion
“I am an arborist back home in Puerto Rico. I do tree work, so I’m often up in the trees. At the beginning, I was thinking I was a bit crazy working at my dad’s company doing that work, but then 2 years ago, I participated in an interchange with women turning wood, and it was awesome because inside was this thought that said that anything that gets the blood racing is worth doing. I realized I was not crazy working as an arborist and wood turner because I am passionate about them. Maybe it is not what society is used to seeing females doing—running a chainsaw up in the trees—but it is really incredible, and at that point in the interchange I felt relief. I felt peaceful because I finally knew that my blood racing was telling me to pursue my passion.”
Source of strength: Embracing her pregnancy
“I feel stronger today, at 9 months pregnant, than I’ve ever felt in my life. Knowing my body carries the intuitive wisdom to create a human life makes me feel like a badass! Learning how to rest, receive, and surrender to this process has been so empowering… It’s not anything that I do, but everything I am, that makes me strong.
“The past decade spun me into teaching and traveling around the world guiding yoga teacher trainings, performing at festivals, and leading medicine retreats. That taught me how to live a life of wild passion and devoted service. Now, as a new chapter of my life arrives, I’m learning how to establish roots, commit to family, and stay in one place. And it’s none of these lifestyles, but my willingness to give myself to the unknown, that makes me strong.”
Source of strength: Pushing out of her comfort zone
“For the past 5 years, I’ve been working with victims of human trafficking. In October 2015, I organized the first Walk For Freedom, which was a worldwide march to raise awareness of human trafficking. It was the first time I’ve ever done anything of that magnitude before. There were a lot of challenges involved, and I wanted to quit plenty of times, but it had a lasting impact. I’ve been able to work with myriad nonprofits around the country, providing victims of human trafficking with toiletries, working directly with the FBI to get these toiletries to the first responders, and I’ve just formulated so many great relationships with the City of Philadelphia and other agencies and nonprofit organizations. So while that was very scary and really took me to a place where I was uncomfortable, the faith and perseverance for the survivors were well worth it.”
Source of strength: Facing her past
“I come from a long line of sexual abuse. I lived most of my life until I was 35 running away from what happened to me. Even after the sexual abuse had stopped, I continued to abuse my body—starving myself, taking drugs and drinking, and moving in and out of bad relationships. One of the positive things I did was to make art. I think it sort of saved my life by giving me something to focus on. Three years ago, I started therapy and began drawing, painting, and writing about my experiences. I still paint, and I’m trying to find a healthy balance. I’m trying to focus on my son and my husband and making our life joyful. I’m a part of a gallery, and I was part of a show recently of abstract and figurative works based on my journey. It gives me strength because for so long I tried to forget what I had lived through, and I’m not doing that anymore. I’m trying to be able to say, ‘Yes, this happened to me but it doesn’t define who I am.’”