This most personal blog post I’ve ever written.
I have written this in my head a million times. I have tried to write it on paper even more. Every word I have written has been deleted at least once and sometimes the words I feel just won’t come out. I have felt paralyzed by fear. I have been afraid to hurt other people’s feelings by revealing who I am and what has made me, me. It wasn’t until last week, when I was at the Inspire Photo Retreat in Portland, Maine, that I learned an incredibly freeing lesson from Anne Almasy:
"The things we fear will disconnect us are actually the things that connect us."
In a relentless journey to embrace my authentic self and to help foster a better world to live in, I am putting my truth out there. So here goes:
I was born into a loving family, to a mother who desperately prayed for me and wanted me in her life more than words will ever be able to describe. Unfortunately, she was in an abusive marriage with a man who didn’t value her. My mom also didn’t value herself. She jumped head first into a relationship she thought would fulfill her dreams. She married a marine who she thought would provide her with a beautiful family and allow her the chance to see the world. She was 20 when I was born.
Alcohol, physical and emotional abuse took that dream away. When I was 3 years old, we were stationed at a military base in Japan. My biological father was having an affair with a married woman. He wanted a divorce. It was time for us to leave. It was just a few days before Christmas. My mom was 23 with two toddlers, no job, a high school education, and no place to go. We landed in the US and my mom found an apartment for us to start over in. As tough as it may seem, this was the best Christmas of my life.
In my memory, we had nothing. Our new home was a large, dark, and nearly empty house with a scary monster tree casting evil shadows into my room. It had no chimney for Santa to come down. But inside this house was also a small light, a glimmer of hope still burning in my mom’s heart. A hope for a better life for us. My mom taught me the most valuable lesson of my life that Christmas.
Just because things don’t go according to your plan, it doesn’t mean tomorrow won’t be different. Live your life with a positive attitude and focus on the good that you do have in your life. We had our health, we had each other, we had a package of hotdogs and the "Little Mermaid." We were going to be ok, and we were.
However, some days I struggle to find the positive message that the universe is trying to show me. I feel paralyzed by what I assume other’s think of me.
Here’s what I think other’s think of me:
Here’s what they don’t know:
I don’t always smile. My smile is my greatest asset, but it is also at the same time my biggest weakness. I hide behind it and use it as my security blanket to protect myself. I smile when I am hurt. I smile when I am sad. I smile when I am overwhelmed, insecure and afraid. I smile when I am happy, when others smile, and when I can’t think of anything else to do.
I am truly happy. What I have is enough for me, and you’re right, I couldn’t do this without my husband. However, life hasn’t been and isn’t always easy for me. It has taken years of hard work, struggle, risk, loss, pain, doubt, and working through fear to get here. Life has never been and will never be handed to me on a silver spoon—and I don’t want it to be.
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “life is about the journey, not the destination.” After nearly falling off the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, and being hit by a cab in Boston last year, I have learned from my near death experiences to cherish every moment of my life. I have witnessed friends be diagnosed with horrible illnesses at young ages, and have even seen friends die far too soon. My goal is to live everyday to be a better person and to help others embrace the beauty of all that life has to offer, no matter how long that life is.
I do have a shit ton of friends. I love people. I love meeting people, connecting with people, and helping people. However, with “a million friends” it’s hard to maintain meaningful relationships. I am working hard at finding a balance where I can foster more genuine relationships with “my people,” you know those people who are there for you no matter what and those to whom you would be there for no matter what.
Dunbar’s Theory states that humans reach a cognitive limit on the number of people with whom they can successfully maintain a stable and meaningful relationship. That number is 150. I think my life will feel fuller when I focus on finding and embracing my 150. It’s on my to-do list (thanks Anne!)
My inner light from my soul is infectious. It’s true. I see it in the way that people look at me. I hear it from those that I surround myself with. I feel it when I connect with people. Helping those around me fuels my inner light. Right now, my biggest challenge is accepting the light I receive from others when I give to them and see them get happy. Sometimes, I feel guilty for the feelings I receive back, like it’s something I am selfishly doing so that I can feel better about myself. I need to work on accepting and realizing that this is the “give and the take” that makes the world go round.
I have a bigger purpose out there right now and I am so looking forward to my journey of overcoming my fears of putting myself out there and being more real. Through she., I have read countless stories from individual ladies sharing their reality, their truth. It gives me inspiration, hope and strength to continue to feverishly work to make the world a better place.
So there it is. I have so much more to share, and maybe one day will!
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.