Lauren Bille is the co-founder of Allbodies, formerly known as Cycles + Sex. They are an online resource for reproductive + sexual healthcare, with goals to transform our health system into an educational, empowering, and integrative experience for patients. The Power Thread sat down with Lauren Bille at The Wing in SoHo, a community working space for women of all definitions.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in San Diego. I had a challenging beginning. I dealt with some serious mental health issues and addictions at a young age. I wasn’t focused on hobbies, school, or my future at all. I was pretty lost, and I was hurting. I got sober when I was 17 and began rebuilding and finding new perspectives and inspirations. Mindfulness became an integral part of my life then.
I went to San Diego City College and am a proud first generation college student. At age 25, I moved to New York City to transfer from community college to the Gallatin School at NYU. I studied everything related to history, media, and politics. I especially dove into studying Social Justice movements and how communications and the arts influence them.
In 2007, I randomly ended up in an interactive community class about the prison industrial complex. I had an incredible awakening during that class. I knew nothing about the history of the prison system and how tied it was to slavery before that course. I studied how different ways of teaching, learning, and educating can change lives. And how our current systems were set up to oppress certain groups of people. This class was pivotal to my career. I became obsessed with American history and racial, gender, and economic inequity.
What did you do after NYU?
I graduated during the Great Recession in 2008, and it was very, very difficult for me to get a job. I started with many low paying jobs in public policy related organizations.
At one point, I was working on a policy campaign for women of color while nannying for families in New York City. I was fascinated and outraged by the stark class difference. Jumping from job to job was very hard, and my financial situation was extremely tight. I decided to take a job at lululemon, doing community building and marketing. Working there taught me a lot about business. I appreciated the lululemon internal culture and business autonomy. They empower employees to have ownership over their personal goals and work. I found there was a lot of room to learn, be entrepreneurial, and grow in my career.
During my time with lululemon, I helped to develop the men’s community in NYC. I wanted to connect with men who were not just athletes, but also incorporated mindfulness into their lifestyles. I ended up finding an organization called Mediclub, founded by a Jesse Israel. Jesse started a record label after graduating from NYU. Overwhelmed by his company, Jesse left and sought meditation to help him with his anxiety. He started to host these super cool, low-key gatherings where people would come and meditate at his loft in SoHo. I started a collaboration with him and lululemon. Ultimately, I left lululemon to join him on his entrepreneurship adventure.
We kept hosting mediation events every month at different locations all over the city. They were growing and getting better and better. We brought in sharing vulnerability, music, singing, connection. I was powerful. It was also during this part of my life that I really stepped into my public speaking skills and leadership.
At one of our Mediclub events, a woman named Ash approached me. She was a birth doula, someone who emotionally supports a person through the birth process. Ash invited me to help her host an event focused on reproductive health. I didn’t know much about my own body. I was on birth control, but I did not have a clue what was in it. When Trump got elected, I had a visceral realization about gender constructs. I immediately saw and felt them more clearly. It was painful. I had studied different forms of oppression and injustice done to others, but I had never dove deep into my own gendered experience. It was then that I decided I needed to become a serious ally and advocate for women’s bodies and the bodies of anyone who is marginalized.
I began helping Ash build this event on the side. We rented an event space, researched all the brands, products, organizations and experts we could find for reproductive health and sexual health. We invited them all. I employed grassroots community building techniques. 900 people attended our event.
It was so crowded and so insanely beautiful. Everyone attended to understand their body and to be part of something bigger. Our event wasn’t only about people with vaginas. It was about coming together and moving toward a future where people have power over their bodies. Cycles and Sex was born.
That event put our name on the map. We got national press, and it was clear the people, brands and experts wanted more. Ash and I decided we needed to build a digital hub for all sides of this health care issue. We needed to take what we did in real life and put it online. But we were starting with no money saved (lots of student loan debt), no rich parents, no business degree… it’s been a great uphill climb.
What was the greatest challenge you faced while creating Cycles + Sex?
Getting myself into rooms with investors, turning the cultural need I so clearly saw and felt into financial projections, persuading them of the potential market, breaking down barriers, stigmas, gendered opinions, remaining resilient and unwavering.
What pushes you to work so hard?
I’ve never been so passionate and challenged by what I am working on in my entire life. I am not bored. Also, no one is doing it! So we have to! I need what I’m building and so does everyone I know. I truly believe in what we are doing. My business partner, Ash, is amazing. Our relationship is so incredible. We move through difficult situations quickly, mindfully, and with grace. We communicate very well. She reflects my greatness and gives me the platform and trust to step into it. I hope to do the same for her. I’ve never gotten to work so closely with someone I admire.
Why does Allbodies inspire you?
Because the state of women’s healthcare is HORRENDOUS. Information, choice, and power over our own bodies does not exist.
The current state of our nation in 2018, since I started building Allbodies:
- America made it to one of the top 10 most dangerous countries for women in the world, because of sexual assault (aks #metoo)
- The US ranked LAST for the “Status of Women’s Health and Healthcare” when compared to 10 other wealthy countries.
If you dig into the history of western medicine, women’s health, and sexuality in America, you find that people with penis’s have been making all the decisions around bodies (especially women’s bodies): laws, healthcare, scientific research, economics, what we see in culture, etc. And you find that most integrative, natural medicine was actually indigenous and erased with colonization.
What is the future of Allbodies?
We want to revolutionize healthcare in America by making it educational, empowering, and integrative. And we are starting with one of the most vulnerable issues of our time: reproductive and sexual health.
Currently, we are a small engaged community of about 100K people (mostly millennial womxn) who want help, brands who make helpful products, and practitioners who provide helpful services. We have a simple platform where you can LEARN, SHOP, FIND HELP for any health issues you’re having. We host live sessions with practitioners every week on instagram. We send out a weekly email about one interesting topic that is relevant to you that you most likely know nothing about. We post to instagram everyday about something interesting. In 2020, we’ll be going on a 10 city tour to build relationships across the nation! Everything we do is about informing, supporting, and ideally empowering people to take control over their bodies and make the best decisions for themselves.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
- Be brave. It’s your greatest asset.
- Surround yourself with people who inspire you and think differently than you.
- Think critically about your beliefs, why you do things you do.
- Don’t take things personal.
- Take care of yourself first. Get comfortable and happy with being alone. Enjoy time with yourself. Love who you are and treat her well. You are all you have.
- Figure out what you really care about, what your values are. Then align your life choices with it.
What makes you feel powerful?
- Feeling clear, energetic, aligned, focused, and free.
- Feeling seen by someone. Having them feel seen by me.
- Being of service and not getting credit/recognition for it.
I really resonant with that quote by Toni Morrison. “If you are free, you have to free someone else. If you have power, you have to empower someone else.”