We had the good fortune of connecting with Leah Olbrich and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leah, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
I find that I am most happy when I am able to authentically be myself. While I have been a visually expressive “individual” for most of my life, it took well into adulthood to include the power of my voice into this equation. It takes courage to share your thoughts and speak your mind. I am much happier now, feeling more confident with this aspect of myself. Learning to embrace how to be your own creative, quirky, funny, silly, opinionated, unique person is one of the most empowering things you can do. This is made even better by, also, supporting others in finding their own creative selves and voices. Everyone wants to feel safe, to feel heard, seen and if we’re very lucky, loved. It brings me great happiness to help others find joy, power and confidence in themselves, too.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I recently launched a new project called #HashtagAnatomy on Instagram (@hashtaganatomy). My mission is to destigmatize conversations about our bodies, minds and sexuality in order to remove the taboos around talking about them, while embracing the inherent humor and awkwardness of it all. We live with our bodies our whole lives and are constantly discovering new things about them. It’s pretty amazing! One of my great goals is to help make these discussions less scary to have so we can be better advocates for our own health and lives. No one is going to do that for us but ourselves. So why not get a little TMI about it all? Currently, I work as a puppet fabricator for stop motion animation. However, I desire involvement in work that serves a greater humanitarian purpose. At this point, I believe that may mean working in reproductive rights, sex education and/or advocacy, although I am open to other avenues as well. #HashtagAnatomy is part of that journey and has been very rewarding so far. A little back story. I learned what sex was while watching a National Geographic special about wild horses with my mother when I was in early elementary school. One horse got an erection and I was like, “Mommy, what’s that?” With a smile, my mother patiently explained what sex was and came home a few days later with an animated VHS tape about sex from our local library. It was both amazing and horrifying. She always made sure my brothers and I were informed about everything we asked about. I just never asked, because I was shy and inquiring was mortifying. Good thing one of my younger brothers was precocious enough to ask all the questions when we were growing up. (Picture us watching “Amélie” as children and having my brother sweetly ask, “Mom, what’s an orgasm?” My ears were ALWAYS perked around him.) So now, in my early 30s, I am making up for lost time and asking ALL of the questions. Especially the awkward ones. The #HashtagAnatomy origin story comes from many a late-night conversation with my roommate, Tahnee, where we would try to decode the many questions we had about bodies. It started with “how do drag queens magically pretzel their bits away?”, which led to “OMG, periods” all day every day, and then spiraled into everything else, including random thoughts like “more people have seen their intimate bits than the top of their own head.” Eventually, she was like, “dude, you’re really funny and you need to do something with this” and here we are! All along, I had mostly been reading books about vulvas (and bodies) and dystopian fiction, so go figure! It’s always interesting when your self-awareness catches up to your lived reality. Part of my #HashtagAnatomy mission is the desire to improve my understanding of body issues in addition to exploring what conversations are needed right now. Some topics of discussion have included periods (and period activism), using anatomically-correct words when talking about body parts like “vulva” and “vagina,” body politics and activism, how to respectfully ask someone what pronouns they use, funny observations about body functions or body parts, questions about people’s experiences with their bodies or perceptions of their bodies, mental health practices, birth control options, book recommendations, in addition to exercising safe sex and general best practices during the time of Covid-19. Plus, random entertaining facts like,“on average, men fart louder but women are stinkier.” These are just the tip of the iceberg. I have also been organizing Quarantine Digital Fashion Shows, which promote mental health management via self expression, comfort and joy during these unusual times of “shelter-in-place.” Other material comes from healthcare and political institutions, some of which I have worked with personally. I am a Sexual Health Ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) and I sometimes share information about sexual health topics that they feature over the course of each month. Additionally, I used to volunteer and work with the organization, I Support the Girls. They help menstruators to maintain their dignity by providing menstrual hygiene items and new and gently-used bras to people in need. (Please feel free to contact me or them directly through their website if you would like to get involved.) I also volunteer with Planned Parenthood Pasadena San Gabriel Valley in social action, helping to get the word out about important issues and candidates that are making strides in reproductive health and politics, both locally and nationwide. It feels incredible to be a part of something bigger than myself. Additionally, I feel a huge sense of responsibility for having a platform through which to take on the role of activist and advocate as we, as a country, work towards obliterating systemic racism and educating ourselves to be anti-racist. While I do not claim to be an authority in this work, it feels so important to amplify the voices and experiences of Black people and people of color and I will do my best to continue to do that. Now, more than ever, humanity needs to come together to take care of each other. What is the goal of all this, you might ask? My hope with #HashtagAnatomy is to cultivate a space where people can actively be curious together and engage in conversations about those curiosities. It is an inclusive and open space where all topics are approached with respect and kindness towards everyone. That said, some of the topics will feel hella awkward and there will be oversharing a lot of the time. That is part of the process and part of the excitement. Chances are, many of the thoughts will be something that others have had before but have not talked about publicly. It is the best feeling when people share their experiences and thoughts on the posts, both with me and others. I hope the space grows to be one where people are comfortable sharing and contributing so that we can learn and explore together. If you are interested in being a part of the conversation, please join me at #HashtagAnatomy (@hashtaganatomy) on Instagram! I welcome your insights.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Outdoor activities: Wisdom Tree / Hollywood Sign hike, walking around Echo Park Lake, hiking at Brand Park in Glendale, walking around South Pasadena, Huntington Gardens, sunset at Barnsdall Park; Adventures: LACMA, The Last Bookstore in DTLA, Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, roller skating at Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, dance classes at Heartbeat House in Atwater Village; Food: froyo at Yoga-urt in Kenneth Village in Glendale (vegan), Cafe Gratitude in Larchmont (vegan), Sage restaurant in Echo Park (vegan), Golden Road Brewing in Glendale, brunch at Lemon Poppy in Park, Sqirl, Bigfoot Lodge bar in Atwater Village, pho at Indochine Vien also in Atwater, Kanpei Ramen in Glendale, Swork Coffee in Highland Park, Donut Friend also in Highland Park (vegan); I’m not vegan but just love these places!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shirley Steinmann is made of fire and magic. She is also my mother. I have always been “quietly rebellious.” What I mean by this is, even as I child I was very shy about speaking up or sharing my opinions. That said, the paths I walked were ALWAYS my own way, regardless of the trends kept by those around me. My mother taught me to do that, by encouraging me to be myself and that not only was that enough, it was awesome. Born of German immigrant parents, my mother wanted to study the arts. She was not allowed to pursue her dreams because her family found them “impractical.” When, at a very young age, I expressed my desire to study art, my mother instantly made space for me to do this. She has always been my strongest advocate, in every way. Both of my brothers and I were encouraged to be individuals, to think for ourselves and to not let others dictate our impressions of how we should be. We were raised to be independent-thinkers with vastly open hearts, to speak our truths, especially when it is hard, to celebrate diversity and love whoever we love without fear. She also taught me about “girl power,” that society’s beauty standards are stupid and that being “your own kind of beautiful” is way cooler anyway. She also taught me how to say “fuck off” by smiling. All of these things have taught me to be fiercely independent. The parts of me that are fire are from my mother. And the magic, too. At an early age, we found ourselves more equals than mother-and-daughter and given our sometimes volatile family circumstances, we had to jump into varying roles for each other. I would not be the person I am today without having to step into those roles with her or the mutual learning and growing we did together. She taught me to be brave and to keep moving forward, even when I don’t know what steps to take. She taught me that if your heart gets broken, you get the chance to reassemble the same pieces into a new shape and try again with a new sense of clarity. She taught me never to give my power away. She helped me to pioneer my path, living by the concept that you don’t need to know all the answers but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep moving forward. I would not have the courage to be as bold and outspoken as I am now without the wisdom, guidance and influence of this incredible woman. I have so much love for her. Shirley—the oldest daughter of German immigrants, breast cancer survivor, multi-lingual, free-spirited, curly-haired, fierce mama bear, badass BITCH (Babe In Total Control of Herself, in case you need reminding of what it stands for), who can both rip you a new one and can sideswipe you with the most unexpectedly dirty comment, leaving you both speechless and crying from laughter. I strive to be such a force to be reckoned with.
Daphne Mir @daphnemir on Instagram (for #HashtagAnatomy black bar photo & portrait with bell bottom jeans)