These simple three words are something I try to say all of the time. I've always known the key to true happiness lies in that simple, yet horribly difficult phrase to say: “love yourself first.” However, it took me a long time to get there and I realized last week that I'm not quite fully living it. I share a bit more about me and my personal background in my meet she blog, but my story here today wouldn’t be the same without a quick overview.
I grew up with very low self-esteem and had finally been working through it when I experienced significant emotional trauma as a bystander at the Boston Marathon. It set me a back a bit and over the past 2 years my weight has fluctuated significantly (I gained almost 30 pounds after the Marathon, and have now lost almost 50!) I have recently been diagnosed with a major digestive disorder (no, not a gluten issue as I'm asked constantly) that makes it near impossible for me to eat any food without being sick. It's called leaky gut caused by an imbalance of bacteria. If you want to know more about this illness and my journey through it check out my personal blog here.
Through all of this, I have been staying strong. I didn't want to just BE sick. I figured that while I was losing weight from my illness, I wanted to also work on feeling my healthiest. Even though weight has dropped faster than I would have liked, I am working to stay strong by putting my effort at the gym into gaining muscle and strength. I didn't want to feel weak and let the illness consume me. I also have always loved when I felt strong.
So, over the past year, I have literally become a new person. I have started to love myself, flaws and all. I look at myself in the mirror and even if I see physical things I'd like to work on, I still accept them and feel good about myself. I love having strong arms and muscle and would never want to be a size 2. I accept that I am smart, emotionally strong, and a great photographer, along with many other traits I have, all things I never really believed before. I do believe these things. However, I also still have doubts and moments of being self-conscious that creep in. This became even more apparent during a photo shoot last week.
Kiera and I got together to do some she. teaser photos with a few other people. Since we were doing that anyway, I had an idea. For six months, I had a vision in my head of some pictures of myself that I wanted. I had a pair of red heels (the ones that have become part of she.) and pictured a very urban backdrop and maybe a black dress. Well, I have been feeling so amazing with my body and inside as well and also found a black coat that just worked perfectly with what I wanted. The bonus was that Kiera's studio has a great feel outside and inside for what I was looking for. So, I asked if she'd snap some photos for me after we finished our other photos.
I was excited and had put on the outfit the night before, feeling great. But, once I was in front of the camera, I became self conscious. I kept thinking I must be smiling badly, that maybe I looked fat. When she told me to bend my leg and put my heel up on a fire hydrant, I thought, "My leg probably looks fat like this". I felt uncomfortable in front of the camera and very exposed.
Side note, as much as I’ve never loved having my picture taken (something caused by the way I felt about myself), I do get head shots every once in a while because I want to know what it feels like to be on the other side. I feel it helps me connect with my clients and be a better photographer overall.
So, for half an hour of having my photos taken, I was extremely self conscious. I had fun and laughed because, well, Kiera and I always have fun. But, I was thinking of all of my "flaws" and worrying they would show. Once I saw the images, however, I realized just how crazy all of that beating myself up was. I've lost 50 pounds and yet, I still thought my leg looked "fat". And what is "fat" anyway? I wouldn't look right if my legs were any thinner than they are now. My stomach isn't completely flat and toned how I'd love it to be, but it's decent. I have a giant rib cage and I'd look really strange if I lost more weight there. If anything, i want to GAIN muscle and not actually lose any more. For the first time in my life, I actually weigh myself, but not because the number means all that much. I've always gone by how I "feel" not a number on a scale. I also look at the number differently. The number i'm at would have made me think I was overweight in the past and I do not think that any more. We have these beliefs in our heads of what we're supposed to be. I look at women of all sizes, shapes and think they are beautiful. But, I can't always think that about myself, even after working for years to get there and being the strongest, happiest, most in shape and most at peace I've ever been. For me, I carried extra weight my whole life BECAUSE of how I felt inside. I don't think I'll ever gain much back because I truly am treating my body, mind, and spirit like they are the most important things in the world. And they are. As is all of yours.
The photo shoot was eye opening to me. I realize I have to speak to myself, remind myself that I'm perfect even with the "flaws" I still notice. They are what makes me, ME. I can't beat myself up or compare myself to anyone else. I can improve on things I feel I need improvement on but without judgment. I can leave other things alone and just let them be what they are. It's not easy. I even thought I was there and obviously not quite yet. But, we all can feel that way. It will take time. It will take work. It will take a belief that you are good enough. That you are strong enough. That you are worthy and beautiful no matter what. I hope this movement helps us all to LOVE OURSELVES FIRST.
Here is a look at the great images Kiera captured last week. It is the first time I've ever loved many pictures taken of me and it feels pretty damn good.
We are overwhelmed and overjoyed by the amount of positive feedback we are getting about this new project! Many of you are reaching out to help and are looking for ways to get involved. We'd love all of you to get on board to help keep she. viral. To help manage the flow of excitement and utilize the strengths of our faithful followers, we are asking you to please check out our website's "Get Involved" page to assess our current need. We also have a contact form on there where you can send us your ideas for how you can help and/or how we can make she. better. Right now, it is hard for us to track and follow up with the inflow of private messages and comments, so using our website process will help us greatly.
We have also asked you to post pictures with a sign that says #sheisme and tag us! Please use the #sheisme and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (or all of them!) We are excited to see what you come up with!
We are currently organizing a free professional portrait session day in Boston in March where we will photograph females for the she. campaign. We need volunteers who want to be photographed. We also hope to take our "show on the road" and host portrait sessions across the country. If you are not located in Boston, we'd still love to hear from you so that we can assess the demand for hosting a portrait day in your area.
We have created an application for interested participants so that we can organize and plan how many people are interested in portrait sessions and where they are located. The application takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. We'd love to hear from you. The portrait sessions will be super quick and easy shoots. You can see what they will look like on our "she. is me" page on our website. These images will be used on our website and social media. Some of the images will also be printed out and displayed at community events where we will have speakers presenting about different topics relevant to women's empowerment, health, self-esteem, etc.
We are also actively looking for sponsors to help us finance our portrait sessions, speaking engagements, and managing our campaign. We also would love to hear from folks interested in hosting or speaking at one of our community events. Check out the site and let us know what you think. You can use our general contact form to send us any suggestions you might have! Thank you again for your excitement and for bearing with us as we work our way through this awesome campaign!
Nicole and Kiera
For me she. is about helping capture the beauty within each person I meet. I turned 30 this year and finally started to feel comfortable knowing who I am and who I want be for the rest of my life. I think that before now, I didn’t really know who I was. What I stood for. What makes me, me.
When I turned 30, even though I wasn’t my “ideal weight,” “didn’t have anything to wear,” and “hated having my photo taken,” I forced myself to get out and in front of the camera lens. I can’t count the amount of times I have looked back at pictures of me from times when I thought I wasn’t good enough to be photographed and then actually thought- “hey- I looked great, why didn’t I realize it then?”
Tired of looking back, I acknowledged that I may never actually be fully comfortable with where I am in life, however, I am choosing to embrace who I am and to love every day of my life. Since adopting this attitude, it has truly helped me live a more fulfilling life, be happier and spread love and light to others around me.
I wanted to start she. to help others embrace this lesson. If we continue to live looking back to the past or wishing for the future, we will never truly engage in the now. This is our life. It’s time to shine and celebrate who we are-- today.
In my “perfect“ world, all of the beautiful women I meet and photograph will one day learn to love themselves, as they are today. I’d love to help people embrace the gift of the life that they get to live, and learn their value and influence on others. For me, with she., we as a community will help each other embrace our lives, laugh a little harder, and make the future shine a bit brighter!
I grew up with major body image and self-esteem issues. I never thought I was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. I had people in my life who were encouraging but I also had people who put me down and made feel like I wasn't good enough. I was teased relentlessly in elementary school despite being in the "popular crowd". Those people won, at least for a long time. I had weight issues and would go up and down, never feeling like I was okay. The weight was due to how I felt about myself. Most of the time I thought I was "fat" I really wasn't. I would stress eat and overall, not make myself the healthiest I could be. I was so insecure, I would purposely pull away from entire groups of friends convincing myself that I didn't belong. I finally settled with a group of friends at the end of high school. I was sort of the center of the group, throwing parties, having close friendships with everyone and feeling more like I belonged.
My dream was to get out of the town I was in, where I had many things that made me feel bad and unhappy and go away to school, do a semester abroad, and backpack through Europe after college. I took a semester off after high school and then planned to move back to Charlestown and into my grandmother's house, take some community college classes and then transfer. My grandmother was one of the most important people in my life. Nine months after I moved in, she took a bad fall and was in the hospital for months. When she came home, she only wanted me to help her. Soon after, she started to show signs of dementia, which I realized later had been slowly happening for a while at that point. Over the next few years, as I tried to balance taking college classes and trying to work to pay for those classes, she declined. I basically gave up my social life and eventually, decided to take a break from school to make sure I was home more to watch over her. My dreams were moving farther and farther away. A serious relationship I had been in since moving in with her started to be difficult due to my stress and need to be home most of the time. My family didn't want to admit something was really wrong. They didn't see her every day. They didn't see her leave the house in a winter coat in 90 degree weather. They didn't see her leave a lit cigarette wrapped in a tissue near the front door. I luckily came home before it became fire. They didn't see that every single day, her mind was being eaten away by an awful disease.
It took until I reached my breaking point. My boyfriend and I broke up, I had pushed away all of my friends, and I was horribly depressed. I couldn't take it anymore and I moved out, leaving my family to take care of her and learn what was really happening . I couldn't watch her slowly forget me and basically lose her mind. This woman who had been very good to me, protective of me and who I looked up to wasn't herself at all anymore. I had a very difficult year, turning to a lot of alcohol while being on prescribed anti depressants and sleeping pills. Then, one day I woke up and decided I was done. I was going to stop this unhealthy spiral and get my life back on track. I moved back to Charlestown while my grandmother went into a nursing home. I went back to school and ended up having to stop due to a bad car accident. It was a blessing because I wasn't happy and had been taking the "safe route" of business classes. I was miserable doing that. Having to quit mid-semester made me step back and look at what I really wanted to do. I started to travel, taking my first solo trip to Italy. I nannied while I tried to figure it all out.
I continued to struggle with everything. I was lost. I had lost those dreams and didn't know how to get them back. I spent my time making sure everyone else was happy, but I wasn't. Finally, in my late twenties, I began to focus on ME instead of only taking care of others, always making everyone happy and feeling bad about myself. I realized it wasn't selfish as I always thought it would be. It was just what I needed to do. I also started to realize that as I felt better about myself and took better care of ME, that people responded positively to that. At the same time, I was coaching cheerleading in South Boston. I had been coaching for years in different places and there was always something that struck me. I would listen to these girls beat themselves up. They would say they weren't smart or pretty or would talk about how fat they were when they were certainly not even close to being "fat". It hit me hard every time since I knew all too well what those feelings were. I worked hard to teach them to talk to themselves in a more positive way. I didn't allow the word "can't" to be used and focused on teaching them healthy habits, but it never felt like enough. I started to think about doing something to help girls and women feel better about themselves but didn't know what that would look like and so, it got pushed to the back of my priorities.
I started to really take my life back. I decided that after losing that dream of studying abroad and traveling I would start traveling once a year overseas. I've managed to do that many of the last 5 years. Around my 30th birthday, I decided after some urging from people in my life to try and turn a passion and hobby into a career. I took the initiative to start a photography business after years of being unsure of what I wanted to be doing and hating most jobs I had. When I found photography, it was like I found my true calling, something I had wanted to do all along but never realized. Well, it turned out to be successful. I felt empowered but still doubted myself along the way. I doubted my abilities as a photographer, whether I could really make it work, and continued to doubt my physical appearance and pick away at the things I didn't like. As a photographer, I was seeing clients who were beautiful in every way that felt they shouldn't get their pictures taken because they "needed to lose weight first". This happens even when I do newborn shoots. My thoughts on this are, of course you have some extra weight, you just carried a human inside you and it's BEAUTIFUL. Wear that body like a badge and don't miss the opportunity to have photos with your new bundle of joy. They will never be that tiny again. I would also have clients and friends point out all of their "flaws" in photos I took of them. It made me sad. I could see the beauty in them. So, I came back to wanting to do something.
In 2012, I did a project where I took pictures of almost 100 females from two years old through women in their eighties. I had them stand in front of a brick wall holding cardboard signs saying things like "I am beautiful", "I am worth it", and "I am strong". It was interesting to me to see many did not choose "I am beautiful", or others, but instead stayed with what I considered the "safe" one, "I am strong". I held a gallery showing of the images and had a speaking program with women speaking to teens and other women about their own experiences with eating disorders, drug use, and overall low self-esteem.
Well, I've wanted to do more ever since then. I had a difficult couple of years after I was standing on Boylston Street as the bombs went off at the 2013 Boston marathon. It changed my life, first in a negative way, but eventually in the most positive way. I struggled with severe anxiety and emotion for over a year. I doubted myself more than ever and doubted everything around me. I gained about 25 pounds over other weight I had already been carrying. When I finally came out of it all and started to feel "normal" again, I was struck with physical illness as a result of stress. Through it all, I made the decision to be happy and do whatever I had to do to get there. I have a new appreciation for life and how precious it is since that awful day and I want to make my life as amazing as I can. Despite being very sick with a major digestive disorder and barely being able to eat, I have focused on staying strong through weight training, learning a lot about foods and what they do to us (a necessity since i'm using whole, organic foods to try and heal), and used energy work and other means to get myself to full and true happiness inside and out. I have lost 50 pounds which happened a little too fast due to being sick, but I've stayed strong. It isn't about the weight loss, it's about feeling the healthiest, strongest, and most in shape i've ever been despite what is happening inside of my body. I realized I wasn't truly happy for all those years I was carrying extra weight, up and down (and extra weight inside). The weight was a result of that, not the cause. I have never and will never be a size two, nor do I want to be. I want to feel healthy and strong mentally, emotionally, and physically. I want to know that everything I put into my body or expose myself to is making me the best I can be inside and out.
I see so many possibilities now. It is freeing and beautiful and I want all women and girls to feel this way. For years, I've wanted to start a movement to try and ensure girls learn at an early age to love themselves. I want girls to feel confident. I want them to realize the negative words and actions of others are not a reflection on them. I want them to be able to live unoffendable. I want them to not feel pressured by the what society thinks they should be.
I want women to look at themselves and see how amazing they are. I want them to look back on all of those years of beating themselves up and make the decision to change the way they view themselves. I want all females to look at what they think are flaws and see them as beautiful imperfections. I want them to feel good about themselves, their abilities, and never let anyone let them feel bad again. I want everyone to realize that they have the power to change their own lives.
My grandparents were very active in the community and my grandfather had left a beautiful and powerful legacy. I have always looked up to that. I want to make a difference and I've always wanted to do things that would make them both proud. I wish they could see how far I've come. So, I do this for myself, for all the females out there who need it, but I also do it for my grandparents who were taken too young.
Last summer, a new friend and photographer came into my life. Her name is Kiera Slye. Not only did we instantly become close friends, we also work well together and have the same values and passions. After a few months of mentioning my dreams of creating a project to help empower females, we decided to sit down and come up with a plan. That's when the plan for she. was formed. Kiera had also been wanting to do a similar project. She will tell you more about that in her "meet Kiera blog post".
We are beyond excited and this is a dream come true. My only hope is to make a difference and inspire, so that is what I intend to do.