In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, we’re teaming up with Bloom Journal to showcase inspiring stories of incredible changemakers that are making the world more just, equitable and inclusive. This story is part of a new series of blogs, Bloom Stories, featuring different and diverse perspectives⎼from survivors and advocates to entrepreneurs and academics to yogis and writers. First up, a Q&A with Laura McGinnis, NYC-based entrepreneur and founder of Bloom Journal, on overcoming obstacles and her commitment to empowering women and girls.
How did Bloom Journal get started?
After college, I received a Fulbright scholarship to go to Uruguay where I started a girls’ soccer program to teach English through sport. That experience was incredible for me because I got to see blooming firsthand, in a different country and in a different context. The best part was that the experience was mutual—they helped me, I helped them, and we all learned so much from one another. Since then, I’ve always been enamored with the idea of blooming, the “hustle”, and personal growth. After moving to New York City a few years ago, I realized that I wanted to take the next step in my growth through turning the hurt that I had from a sexual assault from college into healing. I knew that I needed to do something sooner rather than later because I was at risk of losing myself because I was thinking about this negative energy all the time.
For me, the best way to overcome my hurt, was to create a community of supportive and radiant people. So I started to reach out to my most ambitious, change making, and entrepreneurial friends to interview them about their stories of blooming and personal growth. Now Bloom Journal features badass, blooming women entrepreneurs, artists, and start-up founders to discuss their hustle. On top of that, I knew I wanted Bloom to be a community committed to authenticity, inclusion, and intersectional feminism and those values stay with me as we continue to expand.
You mentioned your sexual assault, which you shared publicly when you launched Bloom. What was it like opening up about your sexual assault like that with the world? How did that impact you?
Publicly speaking about my sexual assault was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. When I first started talking about Bloom’s origins privately with people, I got some mixed reactions and feedback. It was really painful. I thought that everyone would be incredibly supportive but many people were maybe a little bit afraid and ill-equipped to talk about it. The topic was, and still is, very taboo.
So when I launched Bloom Journal I wanted to share my own journey, and how I got to where I am today, which meant detailing my sexual assault and how it affected me. I was shaking and crying because I didn’t know how people would react. But I launched and received an overwhelmingly positive response, which I think speaks to the fact that we’re living in a very different time now. My assault happened seven years ago and at the time, not that many people were talking about it and now we’re in a place where this topic is dominating headlines and therefore more top of mind.
Over time, it has become easier for me to talk about it with others. At the same time, it also became a lot more difficult because I started to see how many people were affected by sexual assault and domestic violence and it’s still just astonishing.
I can imagine that is overwhelming, especially with sexual violence dominating the headlines. How do you take care of yourself?
When I first launched Bloom and started interacting with more and more survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, I had to take more moments than I do now to check in with myself. I would meditate or do yoga and try to eat the right foods. I would also reach out to my best friends and family, as well as, check in with my therapist when I started Bloom, just because it was so new for me to talk about this so openly. What I can say is that now, I’m at a point right where I am strong and feel that I personally have a moral obligation to speak out about this issue on behalf of other survivors or victims. I feel it’s important, at least for me, to speak out on other people’s behalf because of how pervasive sexual assault truly is. I don’t think I need to feel that way but I do—I have this voice in my head always telling me to do more.
What do you wish people knew about sexual assault?
I wish people knew that sexual assault is extremely common and that it’s a societal problem, not just a personal hardship. Some people can think or say, “I can’t believe that happened to her”, and talk about it at arm’s length, instead of realizing that it affects us all directly or indirectly. I wish more people knew how to support one another and talk about it without pushing any stigma, asking the wrong questions, or being uncomfortable. I wish that there was more heightened sensitivity around “locker room talk” and language that trivializes rape. I also wish that more men understood the lasting impact they can make by integrating respectful verbiage into their daily lives. For example, I’ve had friends jokingly use the word “rapey”—as in “don’t be rapey, bro!”— and I think a lot of people don’t know yet that using that language can be very upsetting or triggering.
After my assault, I was sensitive and hearing a lot of the wrong questions like: “What were you wearing?” or “Were you horny?” or “Did you ever flirt with him before?” or “Why were you wearing shorts like that around the house? Your legs are very curvy!” I wish that people knew how impactful language can be to a survivor and how based on statistics alone, you are quite frequently in the presence of someone affected. If we adjusted our vocabulary slightly and started asking the right questions, it could make such a difference.
Can you talk more about the process of coming to terms with what happened to you, in the immediate aftermath of your sexual assault?
Initially, I didn’t fully understand. I’m naturally someone who likes to take a lot of ownership in life, so if mistakes happen, I often first ask myself what I could’ve done differently. I know now that this was a situation where I couldn’t have done anything differently. But it was really difficult at the time. I like to consider myself a very independent woman; I definitely didn’t want to be a victim!
Immediately after, I remember walking a couple of miles in shock, not thinking about anything. And eventually I reached out to my friend to hang out. I started to explain what happened and she helped me realize that what had happened was serious and not okay. I started to understand, replay the events in my head, and acknowledge that this thing that I never ever wanted to happen actually did happen. It took me six years before I was ready to speak about it publicly, when I started Bloom. For me this has been a journey of forgiveness, wellness, and regaining control over my life whether through the Fulbright where I was working with girls to empower and inspire confidence, despite what I was dealing with emotionally, or through becoming more of myself again. Through time, the pursuit of growth, and a lot of self-care, I’ve regained my confidence and I’m happy! I’ve been working hard and it feels so good that things are working out.
So speaking of blooming, what’s is your goal for Bloom?
I’m really excited because I’m in the process of rewriting our mission statement to hyper focus on the “Bloom”—the hustle and the steps we take to achieve our goals and grow! This fall we are launching more events called ‘Bloom Chats’ where we gather women to share information on topics of interest like entrepreneurship, current events, relationships, wellness, and more. I love bringing my favorite people together and learning, I know we can take it further.
We’ve also launched this new section of Bloom Journal, called Bloom Stories, where women submit their stories and it’s become this unique space for women to share and discuss empowering and authentic narratives on growth, entrepreneurship, and driving goals. It’s very confidence driven and inspirational. Long term, I hope to build more partnerships with charities and add a microfinance piece to the brand.
I love that! So, how can people get involved and support Bloom?
Gosh! There are so many different ways to get involved! New Yorkers can attend our charity yoga session in October, benefitting Exhale to Inhale. In the winter, we will host a more intimate event for entrepreneurs and business minded women to idea share. I’m also looking for an intern to help with journalism, editing, and event planning.
You can also always get cozy, read, and share stories of change making, entrepreneurial, and intersectional feminists on Bloom Journal. If you or someone you know is interested in sharing your story of your hustle or blooming process, please reach out! Follow @bloom_journal to learn more about our upcoming events. And if you’re feeling really inspired, you can back a Bloom event by donating or contacting us as we are very open to help.