Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter Talk About Letting Go of Shame

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice. Today we are talking to Amy Ferris and Hollye DexterSDC15444, the co-editors of Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small, a collection of  essays by women discussing their accounts of shame.

1. How did the concept of writing about shame come about?

HOLLYE: Amy and I had numerous long phone conversations about the ways our own shame had limited us. We each began blogging about shame, and were overwhelmed with responses from readers who shared their own stories. We realized how alone we all feel when we are carrying these silent burdens, and how in sharing them, we form bonds with others and are transformed. We wanted to share this with many more people, so we gathered essays from other courageous women we knew, and voila- the book was born.

AMY: Hollye and I talked (and talk!) all the time. About our lives. Our fears. Our doubts. Our joys. Our victories & defeats. Everything from our marriages, to the importance of friendship. And we talked a lot about our shame. All the stuff that kept us small, kept us hiding. Talking with Hollye gave me great courage. I think we both realized (in almost the same moment) that by sharing all that pain & suffering we were able to loosen its grip. We both came to the realization that if we shared our stories, others would be inspired and join in, and that was pretty miraculous.

2. What would you like our readers to know about shame and overcoming it?

HOLLYE: Guilt is how you feel about what you’ve done. Shame is how you feel about what you are. If you have ever felt “less than” or “not enough,” that is shame, and it’s a universal feeling. Sharing your story with others will help you to see that we all carry shame, and it’s so unnecessary. We spend so much time trying to matter, to measure up, when the truth is — we already do. You are perfect, just as you are.

AMY: There’s always some shame somewhere. It hides. It pops up. You think you’ve won over it, and holy cow, it pops up somewhere else. I think the most important thing to realize, to know about shame, and/or guilt, fear, our self-doubt… it’s a constant battle between loving and believing in the greatness of our own lives, or allowing shame to win. Shame should never win. We are such powerful, extraordinary women. Our past gives us credibility. It gives us the opportunity to inspire and encourage others.

3. The stories about shame are very moving and sincere. Did you expect to receive such powerful accounts about the effects of shame on people’s lives?

HOLLYE: Knowing the powerhouse women we were working with, we did have confidence that the essays would be good, but we didn’t know just how powerful they would be. As editors, we pushed the writers to go even deeper than they thought they could, and the end result was worth it.

AMY: Oh yeah, sure. We knew we were reaching out to amazing women who were ready (or, at the very least, almost ready) to share their stories. I have to say that there were a few essays that just knocked our socks off. Truly. Lyena’s essay, holy cow. Hollye knew her — they’re friends — and she championed her, and her story just leaves me breathless.

4. In the book, many contributors write about childhood experiences that have continued to play an integral role in people’s lives. Why do you both think that shame has such a powerful effect on people?

HOLLYE: Shame is usually kept a secret, and often it is held over us from our developing years. Keeping secrets allows shame to harbor and fester. Exposing it robs it of its power.

AMY: I just recently read, this week as a matter of fact, that shame and fear and doubt, are so deeply engrained in us from the time we’re young children. It’s not easy erasing that human stain. Shame has such a sadness connected to it. Sadness and self-doubt, and the want/need to hide. The truth is, we all have stuff in our life that we’re not proud of, that we’ve keep hidden, at arms length. Stuff we do not dare to share. But, the most amazing thing happens when we do share it, expose it, expose it to daylight — we find out that most every human being has shame. Some less than others, some so huge, it’s an unbearable burden to carry. But most of us have shame. Its power is in exactly what Hollye just said, the secrecy surrounding it. Secrets have amazing power.

5. When not busy writing, running workshops and being activists, what are some things you like to do in your spare time?

HOLLYE: I’m a mom, which keeps me busy. I also have a career as a singer, do yoga, hike, fight for animal rights and work with One Million Moms for Gun Control.

AMY: I write, I blog, I look for god, or godlike experiences (not so easy!), I am on a few boards: The Women’s Media Center, Peters Valley Arts Center, along with two literary festival boards. I love anything and everything that affords women the opportunity to awaken to their greatness and power.

Picture of Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small taken by Hennie.


  1. Thanks Hollye! It was great working with you and Amy!

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