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.