Life Stories #63: Leah Vincent

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Life Stories: Leah Vincent
photo: Ned & Aya Rosen

My guest for this episode of Life Stories, Leah Vincent, grew up in Pittsburgh’s Yeshivish community, an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism that keeps women in strictly regimented subservient roles, impressing upon them from the early age the importance of modesty. In her memoir, Cut Me Loose, Vincent writes about how her family essentially wrote her off as a lost cause during her adolescence, basically because she had exchanged letters with a boy—something that, as I observed during our conversation, barely even registers on the scale of normal teenage rebellion. Here’s her take on how her parents’ beliefs affected her, through not only their actions but her own state of mind:

“Adolescence is so bewildering in the best of circumstances. When I think about my life, so much has changed since the time I write about in the book, some of it’s hard for me to remember, but I can remember so vividly what it felt like to be 14 and to feel so physically alive in my body, and realize that I had to keep it all at bay. I was a regular hormonal teenager and I just felt terrified by myself; I felt betrayed by myself, that my body had developed—I was disgusted by it.

I know that a lot of teenagers who grew up in circumstances that aren’t open face this kind of dilemma also, where you aren’t prepared for this crazy thing that happens to you, and it can be really overwhelming to know how to navigate waking up one day and realizing that you’re different than the person you were your whole childhood. And if the adults in your life aren’t encouraging of your development, emotionally, physically, whatever’s going on for you, it can be incredibly unbalancing and frightening.”

As we discuss, things got much worse before they got better, and she’s still dealing with the emotional consequences to this day—but she’s also able to help others who face the same crises she’s dealt with, through her work with Footsteps, a non-profit organization offering resources to those trying to transition from an ultra-religious environment into mainstream society.

Listen to Life Stories #63: Leah Vincent (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

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16 February 2014 | life stories |