Fashion and beauty photographer BriAnne Wills first encountered the 'cat lady' stereotype when she was 13 years old. "I started watching The Simpsons for the first time. They had the crazy cat lady character, Eleanor Abernathy, who was a mentally ill hoarder and always had several cats clinging to her."
Even if you’re not a fan of The Simpsons, you’ll be familiar with the image. The word 'crazy' has long been used to describe women (single women, in particular) who have furry felines for pets and lingers in the lexicon as an idly accepted cultural reference. "I couldn’t understand the portrayal at first because I had grown up in a very cat-positive household," BriAnne added. "But it dawned on me eventually that this is how many people saw cat-owning women."
Cat lovers know the truth of the matter, though. There’s absolutely nothing 'crazy' about having cats. In fact, there’s something really beautiful about it. Starting out as an Instagram photo series of the "cutest cat ladies and their feline companions", Girls and Their Cats has now evolved into a wonderful photography book full of portraits and profiles of 50 women – artists, entrepreneurs, writers and activists – and their furry sidekicks. In it, BriAnne flips the cat lady stereotype on its head and celebrates the cool cat women of the world and their funny, affectionate, sweet relationships with their pets.
"Our relationship is symbiotic. Cats give us what we need and vice versa, and we don’t take anything more. We respect each other and sometimes even learn from each other," BriAnne explains. She has two cats, Tuck and Liza. Tuck is a black and white tuxedo who loves attention and wags his tail like a dog when he’s excited. Liza is a brown tabby, a mama’s girl with a thing for vegan cheese. "From what I’ve read, women and cats have been connected since the days of the Salem witch trials. I don’t think that special connection has necessarily changed, but the perceptions around it have – only slightly however, and more so for the women who have cats. Many of us women don’t feel as much shame around having cats because there’s a larger number of us supporting each other – thanks to the internet."
Click through to meet some of the incredible women (and cats) BriAnne encountered as she pulled this project together.
Girls and Their Cats by BriAnne Wills, with Elyse Moody (Chronicle Books, £17.99)