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The Skinless Project Conference

Last weekend I had the wonderful blessing of being able to attend The Skinless Project Conference, a gathering of women encouraging other women to rise above daily challenges and struggles in order to become who they‘ve always wanted to be, both in their personal and professional lives. It comes as an extension of The Skinless Project, the brainchild of founder Maaria Mozaffar.

With topics ranging from The Deconstruction of Beauty to Breaking Your Glass Ceiling, this annual conference held on October 16, was a special event and so much more than I expected it to be. I am already looking forward to next year.

When I was invited, I didn’t realize how much effect the speakers and their topics would actually have on me or how much I would actually relate to the situations addressed in the presentations.

This was something different.

I knew instantly when the first panel began to talk about meeting standards of beauty and crossing ethnic lines, that this was the place I needed to be that day. My only wish was that more young women could be there to listen, since I know these are discussions I needed to hear many years ago when I was struggling to accept my own ethnic identity growing up around peers so different from myself. Self-esteem wrapped up in media coverage of who we as women should be was just one of the topics that broke the ice- and kept my attention.

This was something more powerful because the elephant was out of the room.

We were all women.

Some of us Muslim.

Many of us covered, wearing the hijab (head scarf).

Ayesha Akhtar of the HEART Women and Girls Project speaks at The Skinless Project Conference

Others not.

It was a beautiful mixture of women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and belief systems.

Yet, these discussions spoke to all of us.

Everyone was compassionate, understanding and respectful of difference in appearance and belief, yet seemed to find ways to completely relate to one another on a very human level and all the common struggles women face, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

There were so many wonderful motivational speeches given by women (19 in all) that it’s hard to pick just one to focus on here. In fact, many of them had quite an emotional impact on me, pouring out heartfelt stories of struggles and obstacles I could relate to or knew because I know someone going through similar issues. As I listened to these women speak from the heart with passionate intentions to benefit all the other women in the audience, I could only just sit in silence with gratitude for being in their presence.

Healthy lunch at the Skinless Project Conference and iCover, a photo journey through the lives of Muslim women by Sadaf Syed

Presented as role models- activists in our communities and successful in their careers- they really spoke to us like sisters. We all need to be that for one another, not just one time per year, but as much as we can. That’s what the Skinless Project is all about- women inspiring other women to be who they need to be.

It’s hard to wrap up just what the Skinless Project Conference was in a nutshell without leaving out so many important and powerful things, but overall it was an important day for me and countless women I spoke to in attendance, even those like me who didn’t even realize how much they needed to come.

Not only was lunch tasty, it was delicious! Vegetable samosas, Gobi Manchurian (Cauliflower), Wheat Noodles and Beef Stir Fry. One of the best lunches I’ve ever had at a conference event.

There was one presenter at the conference whose work I want you to know about, as it relates to groundbreaking research into the ever-important topic of food justice. Mari Gallagher is the Principal at Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, based in Chicago.

Her research on urban food deserts has been critically important in bringing fresh produce and overall access to healthier food options to urban areas of Chicago, also serving as a model for cities all over the country. And, if you’ve read the news just recently, you’ll know that Mrs. Obama was just in Chicago to push for the elimination of food deserts. Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports this push, perhaps in part as a result of the research at Gallagher’s firm being vital proof that something needs to be done about this cruel imbalance of access to healthy food. Mayor Emanual also stated that Milwaukee’s succesful urban food programs have had a direct influence on the changes being made in Chicago.

Take a look at Mari’s talk at TedxWindy City and tell me- what role do women play in changing the way access to healthy food isn’t dependent on income or socioeconomic status?

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