THE POWER IN YOU
For Luiza Tojer, the "discomfort" zone is almost like a prison, so talking about her history, sharing the traumas and events in her life, was extremely important for her liberation process.
When Luiza created the project “The Power In You”, her goal was to provide quality of listening to women who, like her, suffered from gender violence in their lives, respecting these women and also providing information on how to welcome women in a healthy way when they seek for help or just wants to open themselves up.
Luiza's abuse started very early.
“One day I realized that it was wrong, but I lived that situation for a really long time. Even though I knew in my gut it was wrong, only when I was around 8 or 9 years old I think it was when I had a wake up call.
I remember I was very young, I remember some things that happened, but most of them I can't remember. I remember the conversation I had with my aunt and uncle, when I decided to speak up, because I knew something was wrong. I remember we were by the living room door and I turned to my aunt and my uncle, and I opened up about what my uncle did to me.“
When sharing what had happened to her aunt, in front of her uncle, Luiza was called crazy and when she saw her uncle denying the situation, she left and proceeded to tell her parents.
“I remember that I went downstairs and told my parents, but I don't remember details about the conversation. I remember they didn't believe me. They were the people that I trusted the most and I was still a child, so it was very difficult. Growing up at home, and having to live with my uncle in the family, like it or not, was very difficult. I think the bond of what trust meant to me was broken at that moment.
And my uncle was “the cool guy” for the kids, so in order not to feel excluded I continued to go out with him anyway because there were a lot of other children around. It was only in my teenager years that I stopped talking to him."
It was when she grew up that Luiza understood that she had not only been abused, she had been silent and that caused her trust in her family and in all people to be shaken. It was difficult to understand the need to keep the family's reputation and avoid scandals, but the silence brought pain as heavy as that of the abuse she suffered.
It was in the middle of a family reunion at Luiza's home, when her uncle had brought his dogs over without permission that Luiza lost her patience and bursted.
“His dogs went after my dog and he was laughing, the same way he used to laugh at me. As he always did, he liked to destabilize the family and then he would be laughing.
When I saw him laughing I threw everything out, I took his head and hit the wall, and said everything.
That was when my father realized that it was real, and then it became a family discussion.
That was when my father became a beast, I had never seen my father like that. My mother was lost, my father was very angry and everyone left."
Despite the density of that moment, for Luiza that fight had a different meaning.
“I think it was the best day of my life. It seems that I had taken the weight of two Luizas out of me, because I grew up feeling so lonely, I didn't feel like talking to my mom and dad about anything, I didn't trust anyone to talk, so all the difficulties I went through I had no one to talk to.
When I told a friend, Mariana, for the first time, I was already in college. I was over 20 years old, and I only told her because I trusted her a lot. It had been years of silence and on that day I felt much lighter by sharing."
“My father sat with me and we had a conversation after what happened. I always blamed them so much, but after I sat down and talked to them that day, I saw how hurt they felt by not believing in me. I was able to be honest and talk about how I felt during all these years of silence. It's crazy because I love them, but I didn't trust them, because as a child, I needed to be heard and I wasn't. They apologized to me and after the conversation we had, my relationship with my them changed completely.
Today I feel like I can have sincere and honest conversations with them and my father has become my greatest life advisor."
For Luiza, the consequences of the abuse experienced reached beyond the emotional area, having neurological reflexes, as well as affecting her learning area.
“I didn't know that these traumas could affect me neurologically. I was never able to read a book, I always had a lot of learning difficulties, my whole life I was called stupid and only recently I discovered that it happened because of the trauma suffered during my childhood.
I ended up becoming a teacher, and then I understood how a teacher is not able to look at each child individually, treating them by their uniqueness.
I did an internship and fell in love with the profession precisely because I was able to look at each human being, each child in a different way.
In the classroom everyone is treated in the same way, without taking into consideration that each child is a unique being, with a personal background, sense of who they are and own thoughts.
I take a lot more time to learn. I almost gave up photography because I couldn't understand the numbers and people always told me it was my fault, because I didn't study, because I wasn't dedicated enough.
I grew up thinking that I was very stupid, and in fact I am not, my head just works differently. Finding it out was liberating. AND THE BLAME IS NOT MINE."
During a relationship, one of the few that Luiza had in her life, the photographer recognized the difficulties she had getting involved with other people. That was when her father encouraged her to start therapy.
“I didn't understand myself, I didn't know myself, I didn't know why I was doing that, I was afraid of trusting someone, to like and to engage with them and this affected my personal relations. That's when my dad said he would pay for my therapy, and so I went.
It was the best thing I could have done. It was liberating to have self-knowledge, and to know that there would be no end, because therapy never ends, right? It was then that I came to the realization that I had suffered several traumas as consequences of years of abuse and I stopped questioning why that happened to me."
It was Luiza's courage to talk about what happened that revolutionized her family.
“It was so good to put that out of my system, I know that I am someone renewed. Look at me now, creating this project. My main objective with this project is for women to have the courage to leave this suffering zone."
For Luiza, no woman deserves to be silent for so long, without seeking help, not knowing any better.
“That's what I say to everyone: we are not going to erase this from us, there is no way. We cannot make this choice. We will bear the consequences of this for the rest of our lives, but we can make some choices along the way to live better.”
Therapy was a key tool for Luiza, being able to speak normally about the abuse she suffered, and while people still see the subject as taboo, one of her missions now is to make women break the silence as an act of self-care.
“ I was ashamed of it all my life, but I didn't have to be ashamed. I was just a person who was there, in that situation, like so many others. After I spoke about it openly, several people came to me to report the abuse they suffered. Women who were abused as children, like me, women who suffered domestic violence, abusive relationships, all of these women felt comfortable coming and talking to me. I even got to shelter some women in my house and saw the neglect and lack of compassion that people had with them. And it's so delicate, but it's more common than we think.”
It was at an EmpowHer New York event, platform of the dancer and activist Ingrid Silva, that Luiza realized the fragility of this subject and it was in front of 80 people that she decided to speak in public, for people she did not know for the first time.
“They opened the microphone at the end of the event and I took it. My heart felt like it was going to come out of my mouth, I was shaking a lot, I thought I couldn't get to the microphone, but I needed to speak that day. I thought: I need to speak now. I saw women feeling so insecure about society, and I felt that sharing my story would somehow help them.
Then I said: The only person who makes you believe in you is yourself. I was always asked about my choices, like when I decided to become a teacher, everyone questioned me, and after a while I decided to open my school in Brazil, and again everyone questioned me and thought I was crazy, but on the first day I was paying the bills already. You don't need someone else to say that you are capable, you have to believe in your ability and from the moment you believe in your ability, we do a lot of things.
And I spoke up about my experience with the abuse and all the silence.
“Even with all the difficulties I managed to take myself out of the “poor thing" position, which is that sad look people give you.
No! I am fucking awesome, because I went through all this and today I am here, living my life and making my dreams come true."
When talking about why she decided to be a teacher, Luiza says that she wanted to protect all the children in the world, so they would not go through what she went through.
Today Luiza carries the strength and the certainty that she can accomplish anything she wants, taking her self-care as a priority, eating well, without judging herself and evolving in her healing and self love path.
“The Power In You, that's it. It is knowing the power that exists within you because everyone has it, everyone carries that power, but sometimes it is hidden or you do not know that it exists because you have not yet given the opportunity for that power to be revealed. I believe that telling the stories of these women, who opened their hearts for this project, shows that even with the trauma experienced, they managed to find the power within them, the strength and today they are conquering their things."
For Luiza, the moment when women discover themselves is so beautiful. Women who really know the power within them do great things and know that anything is possible. And that a trauma does not have the ability to destroy your life or your dreams.
"Photography carries incredible power, where through my work I make women see their true selves and make themselves seen within a society that silences us all the time."
“I have reached a point in my life that I would like women who have experienced any type of violence to feel the way I feel today. We are not going to erase what happened, we are going to carry it inside of us, but I think the biggest journey was reaching to the point where I am proud of the person I am, loving myself completely and feeling so happy for who I am."
May the power in you, and in all of us, shine after following the story of these five wonderful women who, despite all the traumas and violence suffered, today seek their best version, making the woman's strength recognized in any place in the world.
This is "The Power In You".
Luiza is the co-creator of this project, photographer responsible for all photoshoots except her own, which was done by Nicole Batista.
She resides in São Paulo, Brazil and works full-time with photography. You can explore more of her work in the links below:
Women Self Love Corona