Naomi Katz was born in New York where she “grew up in a very loving, kind family.” Her mom passed away four years ago. She was an incredible mom who, “in so many ways,” helped Naomi grow into the woman that she is today. She describes herself as being very lucky and grateful for that. She has a younger sister, Aviva, whom she describes as a “dear sister,” and her dad whom she described as “a great role model for what it is to be a kind human on this earth.” She also shared that she was lucky to have known her two grandmothers who were strong influences in their families and communities. Her grandmother Dorothy once told her, “Don’t be modest. Be proud of your accomplishments.”
Naomi went to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2016 because she was in New York for the release of her book, Beautiful – Being an Empowered Young Woman, which was released while CSW was happening. She said, “It was fascinating,” but she hasn’t been able to get back since. Speaking further of CSW she said, she was inspired by “the way in which it brought together women from all over the world and people who were engaged with really meaningful and interesting initiatives that are not the kind of thing you would find in a day-to-day peruse of the news about what’s going on with women.”
Having moved from New York to Israel, she is releasing her book in Hebrew in April. This is the first translation, though she does hope that eventually the book will be translated into Spanish. When she’s not busy with the production of her book, she is teaching.
From the beginnings of simple conversations about issues faced by her female students at the school in New York where she taught history, and an elective class she developed, came the idea for a book. Naomi explained, “The book itself was actually the vision of the dad of one of my students, Kara, the woman who is pictured on the cover.” Her father reached out to Naomi after she had been working with girls for a number of years. He owned a publishing house and wanted to help develop “something that would be useful and supportive for girls and for their parents.”
Beautiful is accompanied by a curriculum that can be delivered in schools or can also be used in a book group, or just as conversation between a mother and daughter in their home. Naomi described it further. “The project is the proliferation of this idea that the book is a tool that is really useful on its own that takes the girls out of the world of Instagram and out of the world of cell phones and into the world that is quiet and offers the possibility for self-reflection and self-growth and also can be something that is much larger than that; that it is a tool for meaningful conversations between girls, between girls and boys, between parents and children.”
One of the main topics addressed in the book, and one that Naomi felt was most important is how women are portrayed in media. She stresses the importance of being critical and honest about the images of women that are presented and how it makes girls see themselves. A new chapter that will be in the Hebrew version, and hopefully will be included in an updated English version to be released this summer, will be about Social Media and the way it has impacted our development as a culture.
Naomi identified the chapter about sex as the hardest to write. She said, “Because to talk to young people about sex is a whole book unto itself.” She tried to be very direct and didn’t go into as much as she would have wanted to about cultural implications for the way we teach girls about sex. We focus on dangers and risks and not how sex can be pleasurable. With the limited space, she couldn’t get into those issues as deeply as she would have liked.
With chapters such as, “Don’t Question Yourself—Question the Media!” and “How Do I Want to Be Treated? How Do I Want to Treat Others?” in addition to the aforementioned chapter about sex, “Sex – AHHHHHHHH!” and a conclusion entitled, “Knowing, Choosing, and Respecting Myself,” Naomi maintains a tone similar to a big sister or a trusted aunt, which is what she had hoped to do. She addresses difficult topics including eating disorders and mean girls by sharing personal stories from her own life and from real students who shared their experiences with her. She invites girls to take time on their own to think about who they are and who they want to be. To decide, before they are faced with issues such as drinking at parties or trying drugs or having sex, what they really want for themselves. She said, “Make [decisions] from a place of clarity that comes from [your] inner voice. Not from a place of peer pressure or expectations. Listen to your inner voice, give it power. Cultivate it by, first of all, recognizing it, second, creating the opportunities to hear that voice.”
Another compelling point made in the book is, “If we can feel strong and positive about who we are, then we can have strong, positive responses to the influences around us.” When asked where a girl can look for sources of strength, Naomi said, “Sources of strength are individual. Find a woman elder, beyond your mom, someone who is a generation or more older than you are who can offer wisdom because she has lived longer than you have.”
Naomi has worked with women and young women around the world. She said, “Defining ourselves as women is a universal challenge.” She insisted that having roles that are culturally specific to women is not a negative thing. “I think having areas, not necessarily types of work, but spaces that are dedicated to women, gives girls the opportunity to understand themselves and what it means to grow into being a woman today.” Naomi also referred to needing to be more connected to the earth and respecting ancient wisdom passed down from women.
Part of the conclusion of Beautiful reads, “I think that we’ve suffered from a great confusion over the past two generations or so, one that tells us women that in order to be equal to men, we need to be the same. . . I embrace that I am a woman, and I celebrate my femininity. And I know that from that place, I am equal to the men around me. In some traditions, women are considered more than equal, on a spiritually higher level, in large part because of our ability to grow life and give birth. This is a great miracle that I celebrate every day.” When asked about this idea that equal doesn’t have to mean the same, Naomi admitted that it is controversial, but said that she has seen that focusing on this issue is one of the most important things that she needed to do. “I think that the way that we have learned what it means to lead has become very masculine, and girls are growing up with an understanding of success as women, and that can mean whatever it means to each of us – she can choose to be a doctor, she can choose to be a teacher, she can choose to be a mom, she can choose to be an artist – whatever, however you define success for yourself. Many, many girls are learning today that there’s two choices. One is to turn myself into a sex object and to emulate the likes of the Kardashians and to use my sexuality as power and to bring that to the forefront, and the other option is to lead and to act like men, and to push our way into this very masculine world, or often also to combine the two and use sexuality to find their way in the masculine setting, and neither of those options offer the possibility to girls to really grow into who we really are and want to be as women.”
This idea is met with some resistance, especially among girls in the 11-14 year age range. Naomi explained that is “because there are qualities that we can associate as women’s qualities, but for some girls as soon as you associate something as being women’s qualities, it becomes something negative because that’s the education they’ve received. And so on the one hand there is resistance, but on the other hand I have also found that in a lot of settings universally, when you name something and you give someone language to talk about it, then all of a sudden it becomes possible to engage with it in a meaningful way.”
If Naomi could tell one thing to all women everywhere it would be, “That we carry a great wisdom inside of ourselves, an innate wisdom that we have received from ourselves, from the earth, from the generations of women who have come before us, and if we just give ourselves the chance to listen to this wisdom then we can access incredible things.”
To learn more about the Beautiful Project go to NaomiKatz.com
Naomi also helped to found Her Wisdom organization https://www.herwisdom.org/
Written by Lisa Bjornberg
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