Arielle Egozi is a writer, producer, and the founder of @ladysavaj. Originally from Miami, she now resides in New York City, where she works for a creative agency by day and spends her remaining time crushing stigmas and promoting healthy sexuality through her Instagram and website. Arielle is a traveler and a gold hoop enthusiast. She’s equal parts witch and equal parts regular human.
Tell us about the beginnings of Lady Savaj.
Lady Savaj actually started as a jewelry business almost three years ago. My mom is from Guatemala, and the artistry there is just incredible. I was flying down there a bunch, and it was really important to me to work with a co-op of indigenous women. I used to buy all their beautiful work on the side of the street, until I learned that usually it was women making the jewelry, but that their husbands would steal all the profit, mostly for booze—it was a whole cycle that I didn’t know about before. I knew the only way I could be involved in this business was to find a way to work directly with women and make sure they had full control over their earnings, investing it back into their businesses and their families. Eighty percent of the indigenous population in Guatemala lives under the poverty level, and 40 percent live under the extreme poverty level. A bunch of that is the CIA and the American government’s fault, but I mean, it’s just abysmal the situation there, and it’s entirely unfair. I spent days taking buses around the country and talking to different people to try and find a community I could work with, and finally—after a four hour bus ride through the mountains, a 45 minute boat ride across a lake, and a 30 minute climb up to a small village—I found them.
Guatemala has one of the highest reported (yet still massively underreported) rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. On one of my work trips down there three years ago, I was sexually assaulted by my uncle who I was staying with. And that messed me up in all sorts of ways.
So, I started an Instagram account. Really, I just wanted to tell these women’s stories, and I wanted to tell my story, and move these conversations forward. I realized I don’t really like selling things, I like telling stories. And it evolved from there. Finding community in Miami, right after the election, felt impossible. No one seemed to care about what was going on, and I felt so alienated in my emotions. People weren’t mobilized in the same way as New York or somewhere else, so I went to the internet and Instagram to find that support and community, and for that I will always be grateful.
“The community that’s been built and the opportunities that have opened up because of it is absolutely amazing, and it’s my inspiration to keep going. I’ve shifted from a place of anger and talking about the pain all the time to a place of being able to find joy in that pain that I’ve had and so many of us have had, because if we can’t talk about a female orgasm or a woman enjoying her body, then we’re clearly not talking about all of the bad shit—rape culture, lack of consent, toxic masculinity—that’s happening either.”
What’s Lady Savaj all about?
I’ve always been a writer. I haven’t always had somewhere to put my stuff, though. Growing up, I wrote poems. They helped me work through being a teenager, and dealing with being sexualized by boys from a young age.
I didn’t realize I was raped by a friend until three years after it happened. For a while, I couldn’t understand what that experience was. When I started processing it, I started writing about it. I think I sent it to Elite Daily, or another publication. They published it. The amount of emails and Facebook messages—from people I had known my whole life, people that I barely knew, people I had never heard of, people that just found me through the internet—was amazing. People were coming back and saying, “Me, too,” and “Thank you so much for sharing your story,” or “I don’t know how to talk about this,” or “You’re the first person I’ve ever told.” This was like five years ago, before all of the #MeToo stuff, when people weren’t talking about this in the same way. I saw the immense power that while I was doing something for myself and for my own healing, I was also able to touch so many so quickly and in so many ways.
I’m just beginning to learn about protecting my own energy. The more I heal, the more I learn how my story is going to help other people, and also the more it makes them want to open up to me. I am only one person, and I can only hold space for so many. Learning that making space for myself needs to be my first priority, otherwise I can’t help anyone, has been huge. I’m literally just beginning to practice saying no to people and cancelling plans. The bigger the platform the more energy it attracts—and I’m so grateful, but I also recognize the boundaries I need to set so that I can continue doing the work and moving from a place of space, rather than being drained all the time, which I’ve been.
The community that’s been built and the opportunities that have opened up because of it is absolutely amazing, and it’s my inspiration to keep going. I’ve shifted from a place of anger and talking about the pain all the time to a place of being able to find joy in that pain that I’ve had and so many of us have had, because if we can’t talk about a female orgasm or a woman enjoying her body, then we’re clearly not talking about all of the bad shit—rape culture, lack of consent, toxic masculinity—that’s happening either. The repression, this terrible culture that’s been bred, if we can’t even talk about what it would look like for it to be better, it won’t change.
It’s not just the cis-white man, either; we all have to do the work. We’ve all internalized misogyny and racism and homophobia, and we all have a voice in certain circles. Understanding that means we also need to leave space for people to grow. There are ways to take accountability, to move forward, to forgive, and I think we sometimes get stuck in these liberal circles where we “cancel” people, where we don’t leave them any room to be better. I’m just as much a culprit of that as anyone else because it can be freakin’ exhausting if you’re the one educating all the time (which I won’t do for white men who try to fight with me for free anymore, by the way—I’ve started telling them to google my work or pay me). But I try to promote the understanding that people aren’t perfect, and we have to let people into our movement.
I’m doing this work to save my own life, and hopefully helping someone else out there who feels connected to my story. I have a little sister—I actually have lots of little siblings—and thinking about them, I refuse to not be doing everything in my power to make the world safer for them, make the world safer for teenage girls and teenage people everywhere.
How did you become interested in breaking stigmas, mental health, and sexuality?
I’ve always been passion-driven. It’s hard for me to give my all to something I don’t believe in. I need to understand what I’m believing. I definitely always had this social justice drive inside me from a young age—I helped start the GSA (gay-straight alliance) at my high school in Miami (although today that wouldn’t be PC, and it’d be called something different, but we were all learning back then!). No one felt comfortable coming out while in school, and it was clear that a safe space needed to be created. I was also the self-appointed “pejorative police” and wouldn’t let anyone use “gay” around me as an insult. But that just got all the boys to walk up next to me and whisper it so that I’d give them attention, but whatever. I went on to study Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, and worked in non-profits—which I quickly learned wasn’t where I needed to be to create the change I wanted to see.
In addition to everything I’ve learned (and had to unlearn) from my privileged education, I feel like the internet and Instagram have honestly just exposed me to people who share their stories and their experiences of moving through the world differently than me. They let me listen, and they’ve taught me everything. Even in the work that I do now, I speak mostly from personal experience. I’m not, for example, a sex educator. I don’t have a degree in Women’s Studies or Gender Studies. But I move through the world as I am, with my experiences, and as I increasingly have a bigger platform, I know that I’m able to hand that platform over to people that don’t look like me and let them tell their stories, or interview them, and let them speak with their own words.
How has your own identity impacted this work you’ve been doing?
My identity is something I’ve been moving and working through my whole life. My dad’s from Cuba, and my mom’s from Guatemala. We’re Jewish by blood. I feel like I’ve never been sure of how I identify myself, and I’ve always sort of felt like I’ve been on the outside no matter where I am. With moving to New York, and celebrating other people’s identities in the work I’m doing, I have to remind myself to celebrate my own. I’ve been moving toward a place where I see my Latinidad in all that it is, in my way. And same with the Jewishness: two months ago I went to Israel to visit family for the first time in 15 years (and I take very seriously the privilege I have to visit them on a whim, when so many others can’t go back to their homeland). I grew up around a bunch of Jews, but my family was still always different. We dance to different music, we eat different food, we speak a different language. I also grew up around a bunch of Cubans, but again—my family doesn’t always eat the foods Cubans typically do, doesn’t celebrate the same holidays, and doesn’t have the same historical reference points. Now, I’m beginning to own all parts of myself for what I am.
What’s your take on inspiring body positivity through social media platforms?
If I don’t see people who look like me or talk like me or move through the world like me, then I start to think that I’m invisible or my experience or body is invalid, especially on Instagram, which is such a visual platform. I think it’s important to have the understanding that that’s where people are at—scrolling on their feeds all day—and then being able to meet them there. Social media can be so positively impactful, but it can also have such a negative effect on mental health. So, I think it’s important to use this incredible power responsibly.
We read that you spent time living in Brazil, where you encountered folks who did move differently through the world. What’s the importance of travel to you?
I think the world looks one way, and then I leave for another country and their world looks totally different. How could I ever possibly understand their world? My priorities, feelings, what I call different things all look totally different to somebody else. And again, just making space for people to tell their stories. I lived in Brazil in a spiritual permaculture community. We made our own shampoo and conditioner, and the closest surf town was a 7km walk on the beach. We were out there.
While in Brazil, I shaved my head. It was a turning point in my life because I had always been really connected to my hair. I sometimes felt so unsafe while I was traveling, and like I was attracting more attention than I was comfortable with. So, I woke up one day, in my little mosquito net-covered bed, and decided that I needed to shave it off. I cried while I did it, and I gave it to the ocean. For three months, every single time I looked in the mirror, I cried. I was like, what did I just do?!
The day after I did it, I went back to the town a few kilometers down the beach. I walked by the three different guys who had all made me feel unsafe and super uncomfortable the last time I was in town, with hair, only two weeks before. Once I had shaved my head, I was invisible to them. Part of me was like, fuck yeah! I’m powerful now because I’m invisible and I can’t be seen. But the other part of me thought, really? You think that I’m that ugly without my hair that you don’t even recognize me? Have I just lost the only power society has ever given me?
Now, my hair is growing long again. Because of all the trauma I have experienced, I think I really blocked off my sexuality for a while and never really wanted to engage with it. Now, I’m just beginning to want to explore it in whatever way that means to me, and it doesn’t mean necessarily exploring it with someone else. I’m working through it in the outfits I’m now choosing to wear, the way I carry myself, or even by looking someone in the eyes, whereas before maybe I wouldn’t have because I didn’t want to be invited in.
“And then I put my gold hoops on, and I’m going to walk into that meeting! I’m going to ask for what I want.”
So, what are you up to now?
Now I’m in advertising, which I never thought would happen! I just started full time as Content Director at a creative agency, RAXO. That’s the day job, and one that I really love. I needed it for my mental health because I wanted to make sure that I could preserve the authenticity and real connection to everything that I’m building on my own, and not need to make money off it. Always staying real is important to me. Making money is important to me too, but it all needs to align. Now that I’m working within an agency, I’m growing so much and learning to be even better at all the things I was already good at—as well as being schooled on a bunch of stuff that I had no idea about! I’m studying and incorporating skills from the best in the industry and able to bring it back into my communities.
I’m also really grateful for how supportive my team is of my work outside. My dad was always worried that no one would hire me because of what would come up on the internet when you googled me, and I feel like I found my people in this agency, and I’m grateful. RAXO is 95% people of color, with a Latina founder and Afro Latino Creative Director. That’s like, a huge deal. Every day I’m stunned that I found the one colorful agency in a space so totally whitewashed. I’m extremely motivated to see how I can keep changing things and moving things forward from the inside-out, and am so glad to have everyone I work with on board for the same mission.
Representation is a major theme for me. I was a producer for a big media company before going freelance, and I was always trying to incorporate different identities, different bodies, different voices into all of my work. And I was, and am, trying to fight for them. It’s exhausting because brands and companies say they want it, but no one’s willing to put in the work to do it.
But we out here. That’s all I know.
Arielle, what makes you feel powerful?
Wearing gold hoops makes me feel so powerful, which maybe sounds silly, but it’s true! It makes me feel so connected to all my identities. I put them on, and I think, “yes.” No matter what happens today, I am going to get through it, I am going to remember who I am, I am going to stand up for myself, which isn’t always easy. I have a post-it note on my mirror, which I repeat to myself every morning after I shower. It says: “I love you body, I love you mind, I love you spirit. I support you in every decision you make today and every day. I love you.” I’ve been doing that for the last eight months or so, and I’ve noticed, maybe in the last two months, how much doing this has actually shifted me. If I am there being my friend, and telling myself that I’ve got my back no matter what, even if no one else has my back, I do! It’s amazing. And then I put my gold hoops on, and I’m going to walk into that meeting! I’m going to ask for what I want.
I still get nervous. People definitely have preconceived notions about me, like, you don’t have sex all the time? Why aren’t you yelling at that person because they said something problematic? But I’m still moving and working through everything, and I’m still a human being! I have so much insecurity, just like everyone else. Sometimes the stuff I’m saying online, when it’s snappy or bitchy or whatever, really I am just talking to myself and trying to remind myself that I can do that, too. My gold hoops just bring that out in me a little more and remind me more, and make me feel more confident. It’s also a strange ancestors thing; all these women before have fought so hard for me to be where I am today, just surviving. I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to let myself down, or let down all the people coming after me. Somehow the hoops incorporate that.
Follow Arielle on Instagram @ladysavaj, and check out her work at https://ladysavaj.com.