Book challenges gender, religion, race and other stereotypes

Exposing false stereotypes and challenging readers to take a second look, What I Thought I Saw, is a coffee-table book any Utahn could proudly display. Compiled and written by Utahns Sasha Polak, Peta Owens-Liston, Amy Albo and Zoe Rodriguez , each page tells the story of a different person whose outward appearance may be misleading.

From gender identity to race and religion, the topics explored represent a true cross-blending of marginalized and stereotyped groups. The large portraits on the left-hand side of the pages accompany a background story and description of the not-so-apparent truths of each person.

The opening story of a former Playboy model who shares the heart-wrenching and devastating account of her own rape as a child grabs demands attention, pushing the reader through the book. What appears to be a casual jaunt through some very attractive photos immediately becomes much, much more. Followed by a story of a corporate lawyer whose body is covered entirely in tattoos and a paralyzed skier, the book commands attention and the layout of the book allows for browsing, as well as a more intensive study.

The description of the book explains that the four women who compiled it realized their own struggles with stereotypes and the difficulty of dropping preconceived notions. Finding the notion of expelling stereotypes and challenging readers to take a second look at life enthralled the four women.

“We have tried our best to present slices of these individuals’ lives free of our beliefs and attitudes,” the introduction states. “We hope this book spurs readers to open their eyes to the possibility of those ‘what I thought I saw’ moments all around us.”

The book also delves into gender identity, including a man who buys women’s clothes while traveling on business and a former candidate for the Utah Senate who transitioned from male to female.

“For my whole life, I’ve been holding my breath, fighting the urge to give in to who I really am,” the book quotes Jessica, the former senate candidate. “How long can you hold your breath?”

Truly a stunning work, the book will challenge not just how we view the world, but how we view ourselves.

The coffee-table companion is available online at thewhatithoughtisawbook.com and at King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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