Many of you have met Michelle in person as she travels around the country doing women’s events or planning activations or attending trade shows. Michelle joined Rosebud Woman even before we had our first formula in the market, and is a total delight to work with. She is from a big Minnesota family and has lived in San Francisco for the last 13 years, where she founded Women Enough, a nonprofit organization focused on shifting the narrative for women’s bodies. She produced the first TEDxWomen (with speakers like Gabrielle Bernstein, Sark, and Alissa Vitti) in 2011. For many years, she worked at Aveda Corporation (the grandmama of green beauty) and moved to California to open up an Aveda Lifestyle Salon and Spa in 2007. In sum, she’s invested her career in moving the needle forward for women. Here, she talks with Jeff, our editor.
Q: What do you love about your work?
A: It resonates with me. Deeply honoring and respecting our bodies ultimately helps shift the narrative and culture around women’s bodies. As Christine has said from the beginning, our products are really a vehicle for respect and reverence of the feminine. Having conversations with women around their intimate health and concerns, I’ve found, really helps connect us all to a more positive message about ourselves. It’s also fascinating to experience the cultural shift as we develop an entirely new category and see how people’s responses to the concept evolve over time.
Q: What are you learning from the women you speak with?
A: That most of us (women) don't know a lot about our own bodies. We don’t know our parts, and often don’t know how to take care of ourselves in new and specific cycles or phases of our lives— including getting a period for the first time. A lot of women weren't told they were going to menstruate by their mothers, so there was a lot of shame, embarrassment, and hiding around it when it occurred. The same goes for sexual experiences: A lot of women didn't know what to expect and didn't really know how to have a conversation with the person they were intimate with. I’m also in constant awe about how many of us have sacrificed (or continue to sacrifice) our own boundaries in order to appease other people, instead of honoring what is right for us at any given time.
Q: How has this impacted you personally?
A: When I started working with Rosebud Woman, I began using a period tracker, or a cycle tracker. I had just turned 35, and had no idea about my own hormones, or about hormone-disrupting ingredients that might cause things like period cramps. I've also learned about the symptoms of women going through menopause. Although I haven't had a child, or gone through menopause yet, I now know that when those rites of passage come to play, I will have more awareness around the things that are happening in my own body.
Q: So, some of the issues that you’re addressing arise during and after child-bearing years.
A: Yes. After many conversations, I've learned that many women don't even realize symptoms that occur around menopause—like vaginal dryness, for instance. Often, women will express ‘concerns’ followed by a disclaimer: “I’m not that old yet. any women approaching first-time pregnancy and childbirth aren’t told about vaginal tearing or the after birth experience. We learn about these things merely through first-hand experience rather than wisdom sharing and cultivating.
Q: Do you find that women today are more open to frank and unashamed discussions about their sexual health? And if so, why do you think this is?
A: Yes and no. It depends on where you live, and how the conversation is approached. Certainly, sharing on the Internet has provided closed and safe spaces for women to do this, and the world of Internet influencers has done the same.
Q: If you could give your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what might it be?
A: My advice to myself would be to stay connected to the things that I love. When I was younger— because of my self-consciousness around my own body— I shut down my natural self-expression and stopped doing the activities that I really enjoyed- playing trumpet (because that was for boys), being goofy (because that wasn’t attractive or sexy), playing basketball (because I was too self-conscious about my new and curvy feminine body to be comfortable being ‘watched’ by big crowds). Instead, I invested in activities or behaviors I thought my peers or others expected of me, instead of doing or being who I wanted to be, for me. I’m still unraveling this.
Q: If you could change any one thing in the world for women, what would that thing be?
A: I think even just having a say over our own bodies. Whatever that means for any specific person. Because there are just so many laws that dictate how women's bodies are treated or exploited, and the media has been perpetuating the narrative around women’s bodies for too long. There's a Chinese proverb that goes “Women hold up half the sky.” If 50% of the world's population were truly respected, what would be possible?
Q: What sort of woman would you like to be when you reach, say, the age of 70—twice your current age?
A: As I've gotten older, I continue to become more confident and at ease with myself. I’d like to see that journey continue. And I will always want to take a stand for the equality, safety, and happiness of women and girls around the world.
Q: Do you, personally, have a favorite Rosebud Woman product?
A: My favorite product is Honor Everyday Balm. Before the products came to market, when I was first learning about them, Christine said it was for laxity and dryness, and I just didn't really get it. But that was because I didn't know about these conditions or concerns. I'm not menopausal, but I started to use it as a practice to understand our products. Now it’s my favorite product because it makes the area much more comfortable. And it helps to prevent chafing as well— and chafing on my inner thighs. Now it’s a daily staple, and I can’t live without it.