Headshots for Resiliency

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Thank you so much Rochester… for your continual support of the many incredible organizations this city has to offer!!! Together we raised $1625 for the YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County, and the money is already hard at work providing housing and haven for women in need right here in our city. This organization is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Their goal is to be recognized as an influential leader in racial equity, housing and young adult services for women and families, which they work towards daily. In addition to supporting the cause, headshots are the foundation of personal branding, and the opportunity to update and strengthen over sixty of our participants’ professional headshots through this event was truly wonderful.

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Working with the ladies at the YWCA - Oscia Miles-Wilson, Holly Beaston and Carrie Michel-Wynne was truly the icing on the cake. We have never met a more enthusiastic and dedicated group of women. Their role was absolutely integral to the success of this event. Exceeding our expectations, Oscia gave us an inside tour of YWCA’s headquarters so that we could see exactly where every dollar raised went. We could not be more proud of the work these women are accomplishing, recognizing how vital it is for our community to support its women in need. As always, our favorite part was meeting so many of you, learning of your triumphs, your big personalities and celebrate our mutual love of all things Rochester. Thank you for your help in making another successful event!

Please stay tuned for details about our August headshot fundraising event that will be announced soon!

 

Bridal Ball

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We cannot be thankful enough for the amazing group of ladies who came out to support and party at Bridal Ball! The Bridal Ball was a major success, and together with Rochester Indie Weddings and Black Label Events, we brought the house down at Jack Rabbit Club while raising funds for women in need!

At NSP Studio, it has long since been our mission to be an advocate for women in all ways possible. We were so happy to not only create a fun and memorable experience for local women (brides and non-brides alike!), but to do so in a way that supported Brides for a Cause - an organization that supports women in so many ways. Brides for a Cause is not only a dress shop, but also a nonprofit organization that collects and resells wedding dresses to raise funds for charity. In 2018, they donated over $150,000 to various charities that support women who are single mothers, battling serious health issues, fighting in the military and more. Any organization that is a friend to women is a friend of ours.

From feeling like a million bucks in fancy dresses, to getting down on the dance floor, we could not imagine a better night. The community of women in Rochester never fail to amaze me with their energy and generosity. Some of them even parted with their beloved wedding dresses for donation. We loved seeing everyone come together to have a great time and support a worthwhile cause.

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Congrats to those who won items from our awesome raffle, complete with a Stacy K. bouquet, OneHope Wine, gift cards to Rachel B. Cupcakes, professional headshots by yours truly and many other great prizes!

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The Lovely Bride dress try on station was the hit of the night! There were so many beautiful gowns that we got to twirl and dance around in. It was double the fun with all the vibrant and outgoing personalities in the room.


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Lets not forget the BEST SELFIES EVER we all got in the Hype Booth!!!! There was literally a line, and the GIFs were priceless…. see for yourself here!!!

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As you can tell our venue, Jackrabbit Club, was just gorgeous. The lights, and atmosphere were to die for. Their appetizers were so unique and delicious, and the support staff were wonderful.

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Cheers to our NSP team for help making it all possible. From set-up to tear-down, they were there to keep everything running smooth, and not to mention looking great while doing it! (shout-out to Molly’s amazing fashion sense and organizational skills). You guys remind me constantly how together women are unstoppable! Stay tuned for details about future events like this!




“Hi” Desiree from  Verve Events!

“Hi” Desiree from Verve Events!

Hello Jessica from Memorial Art Gallery! @artstagram on ig, literally the funniest account you will ever follow. we promise.

Hello Jessica from Memorial Art Gallery! @artstagram on ig, literally the funniest account you will ever follow. we promise.


NSP would like to give a HUGE thanks to…..

Our Co-Hosts!

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Black Label Events - Brittney is an extrodinary event planner, and we would not have gotten it together (especially our raffle!) without her expertise!

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Rochester Indie Weddings - Ali brought her A-Game with this event, handling all the ticketing and promotion!

Our Beloved Sponsors!

Thanks for keeping the party alive with music!

Marquee Events

Thanks for helping us dance the night away with some awesome jams, and for lighting up the space like what.

Thanks letting us try on some gorgeous dresses!

Lovely Bride Rochester

Thanks for making us all feel like beautiful queens playing bridal dress-up at your try on station.

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Hype Booth

Thanks for the capturing all of our crazy selfies with your revolutionary photo booth.

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Stacy K Floral

Thanks for making our venue look absolutely gorgeous with your lovely flowers.

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Rachel B. Cupcakes

Thanks for all the delicious desserts, the cupcakes were A HIT.

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One Hope Wine (Alyssa Whitfield, Director of Dress for Success Rochester)

The champagne toast was delicious and we were honored to be your inaugural event!!

Real Women of Rochester | Erin Julian

Erin Julian | Age: 39 | Marketing Maven | @erinleighjulian

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: It's a journey, right? It is hard and fun and ongoing. There are days when I think I have it all figured out and then... well, that will teach me to think I have it all figured out. 

In January 2017, I had to have a hysterectomy. It changes how I saw myself as a woman and how I felt. I had a period of time when I felt that I was less than. It was hard to shake, especially when my body felt so different.  

These photos are proof that I am not less than. I am still the same woman. How powerful is that?

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: We all experience things so differently. It is hard to imagine how one woman's experience would feel to her, as it did to me. All we can do is support each other and hope for the best.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: It was so easy and exhilarating. In the moment, I was so wrapped up in the little details. It is hard to imagine how it will look when you are positioning your body in a particular way. Then, Natalie shows you the shot on her camera, and you are like, "Oh, that is why I just did that." It is so neat to see it all come together. 

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I feel glamorous. I sometimes forget it is even me.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: That is bullshit. It just is. We are all beautiful. There is no "maybe when." The time is now. Capture your best self today.

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: We need to support each other and build each other up. It makes all the difference in the world. I have so many strong, fierce, powerful women in my life. I have so much gratitude for all of them. They have helped shape me and continue to do so. What a gift. We just need to do that for each other, everyday.

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty starts on the inside and with self-love. It's not easy, it's work; however, it is the best work you can ever do.

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Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I hope that the world we are creating today is a place that offers hope, joy, love, and opportunity. As far as advice goes, I would offer this: always stand up for yourself!

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: It gets better.

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Spend less time on doubt and worry; it gets you no where. Spend more time on the things that give you joy.

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: When you struggle with self-worth, it can make others take you for granted. That was a hard work environment to be in and it wasn't until I was no longer there that I realized that I was doing great work and added value.  

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: The first time Natalie photographed me, I felt more empowered than I ever have. I saw myself that way that many others had and I just never believed it or felt it. It was an incredible day that will stay with me forever. 

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Right after I get out of the shower. It is just me, in the purest form. I love when I get to put on a fancy dress (and that doesn't suck), but I love the simplicity too.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything!

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Real Women of Rochester | Shaquana Divers

Shaquana Divers | Age: 42 | Public Health Professional, Health Care Leader

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: My journey started as a young girl growing up in Queens NY. It spans major life experiences, windy roads and smooth sailing. Peace, peril and the in-between. 21 years of mothering, a loving partnership of 22 years. 18 years of being a professional. 42 years of life. Many lessons of self-love. There is so much to my story of becoming. Three consistent threads of my life that I can clearly point to is an innate nurturing quality, a haunting ambition, and a deep commitment to social justice.  

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: I heavily rely on my spirituality and faithfulness to get me through tough times and would encourage other women to cultivate their faith. I also believe in seeking out practical solutions to problems, and being resourceful and creative. Having trusted confidants who love you and want the best for you is invaluable. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: The studio has a simplistic elegance that made me feel luxurious!   

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Seeing my reflection through an amazing photo is a way that I stay attuned with my positive self-image.  I strive to have my outer and inner self align as much as I can.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: I would encourage her to bravely invest in herself.  One way that can help her to get excited is to make the experience as special as possible - get her hair and makeup done, wear something that makes her feel confident, then show up and let the professionals help her bring out the beauty inside. 

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Each day I seek inspiration about how I can live my best life, and I gain it from women in my various circles as well as public figures who I admire. I also aim to be an inspiration to other women. I find that I am in a season where I am really cherishing having one-on-one bonding experiences (a cup of coffee/tea, lunch, dinner, a walk) with women for a purpose.  For me it allows for intentional communication. Although we do have many similarities, the nuances of our journeys can be where we need to put our attention to gain a vital change. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: I am obsessed with beauty - both outer and inner. I love cultivating my beauty and appreciating the beauty of humanity and our planet.  Since my pre-teen years, I connected to my beauty through self-care and invested in caring for my whole self. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: It is happening already, but I hope that the next generation will be able to see more examples of other women living deep and fulfilling lives beyond the few traditional paths, so that it will give them further inspiration to innovate their own lives and enjoy them. There are multiple ways to achieve success, maximize destiny and be at peace. This can also lead to us cheering each other on more genuinely. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: I am proud of you! 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Stay focused on your goals. Spend less time comparing, take the best possible care of yourself and continue to assess what is needed as your life changes. If you come across a great guy or potential partner, don't be afraid to commit. Lean into love.   

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Under estimation has been one that I have had to and continue to deal with, especially as I ascend further into leadership. I have also had the joy and pain of being at the forefront for most of my career and having to pioneer new programs and policies to improve the lives of the people in my community. I am so grateful for the struggles and triumphs that come with innovation. 

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: I can remember feeling very empowered after giving birth (naturally) to each of my children. Raising two amazing sons and a self-assured daughter in partnership with a phenomenal man makes me proud. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: One of my favorite pics was one I took at Letchworth park with one of my sons during a camping trip. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Our beauty, our faithfulness, our strength, our sensuality and our timeless wisdom.

Shaquana is the 2019 recipient of the Rochester ATHENA Young Professional Award as Executive Program Manager with Excellus BCBS. She also serves as a member of the Rochester Women’s Council, Governance Council of East High School, A Princess for a Day, and is an Executive Board Member of the Rochester, NY chapter of Jack and Jill of America. You can also follow her at @sheglowsforever on Instagram!

Man Crush Monday | Chris & Nina Kennedy

Nina’s everyday #ManCrush is her husband, Chris Kennedy.

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Tell us the story of how you met...

Well we told people we met at PF Changs in line for the bathroom and he caught me as I tripped and fell. We really met on Match.com. 

What was the first date like?

We met up at City Grill - it was Wednesday, February 3rd.  I got there first and as I was waiting for him to walk in, I suddenly panicked that I couldn't remember how tall he said he was in his Match profile… I wore heels. When he got there we hugged - it was fine (phew!). The place was packed and SO loud, and by some miracle we got two seats at the bar. We decided to order some appetizers and I made him choose. Naturally he chose two of the hardest things ever to eat on a date - lettuce wraps and I can't remember the other… but I just remember barely eating anything. I was totally nervous and luckily he's got the gift of the gab because he kept the conversation going the whole time. We decided to get a nightcap across the street which was the complete opposite atmosphere and super quiet. At this point the gift of my gab was in full effect and we talked and talked for another two hours. I just remember thinking that I didn't want the night to end.

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What makes him crush worthy?

He's just one of the most genuinely good people I have ever known. He's generous, caring, passionate, smart and handsome, and much like on our first date, I just never want the night to end when I'm with him.  

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When did you know you wanted to spend the rest of your life with this man?

I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him when we were sitting at his favorite restaurant, The Pour House, watching a ‘Cuse game with a bunch of his friends. For some reason I got this overwhelming feeling of just being safe and exactly where I'm supposed to be. 

Tell us about the proposal…

The day started much like any other. I went to work but was taking a half-day to situate something with my car. I had also made plans to get my nails done with my BFF - she was supposed to meet me at my old house that we were in the process of selling. As I was sitting at work in the morning, I decided that I wanted to meet at the new house before our nail appointment instead (obviously not realizing that all the meanwhile, Chris is at the new house executing his elaborate proposal). She quickly texted me back and super bluntly said NO and that she would just meet me at the nail place. In a total panic she called Chris to let him know what was up and he immediately called me to tell me that our entire neighborhood was being sprayed by the Orkin man for mosquitoes, and that we were to stay away for several hours. As annoyed as I was that I couldn't go home, I was super pumped about the Orkin man because I hate getting bit by mosquitoes! Anyways, my friend and I got our nails done, everything was great… I ran to Wegmans afterwards to get some taco stuff to make for dinner and as I pulled into the driveway, I decided to call my dad to catch up. I sat in the driveway for probably 20 minutes, not even realizing what Chris was going through inside waiting for me to open the door. Finally I walked up to the door - it was locked which was weird, and it had one sunflower in the handle. Also weird, but not totally unlike him… I just thought he was being cute. He got to the door and unlocked it, and as soon as I saw him I knew something was up. He was super nervous AND he had a sport coat on. He tried to say some things to me, all of which I cannot remember - and then he took my hand and walked me to our living room, which he had decked out in 150 sunflowers, each in their own individual vases. His plan had been to propose to me in an actual sunflower field, however it had rained so much that year that the crop had completely died and the sunflowers never grew. The rest of the moment was a blur - he got down on one knee, proposed to me in Farsi (which my dad had taught him beforehand) and I don't even remember if I actually said yes, but it was one of the best days of my life (even though the Orkin man didn't actually come). 

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Team NSP's Thoughts on Beauty, Womanhood and Boudoir

Happy #WomanCrushWednesday! Recently, each of the NSP ladies did their own boudoir sessions and wanted to expand on their personal experiences. We work so closely with the women who choose to do photoshoots (of any kind, but especially boudoir) at our studio, who trust us to make them look and feel their absolute best. It was humbling, nerve-wracking and SO much fun to have the tables turned. Each of us answered some of the questions that we pose to the women who participate in our Real Women of Rochester Series:

Natalie Sinisgalli-Kettavong | Age: 34 | Owner and Operator

Shot by Whitney Warne of  Ivory House Photography  at Natalie sinisgalli Photography Studio

Shot by Whitney Warne of Ivory House Photography at Natalie sinisgalli Photography Studio

“I'm Natalie - the one who started this business 12 years ago (straight out of college, in my parents’ basement) and I run it to this day. I am one of the primary photographers, our team leader, CEO and I ensure every move we make here at NSP has the end result of empowering women, supporting our local community, and capturing life's most important moments for our cherished clients.”

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: You are beautiful, and you are enough. As a boudoir photographer I have had the opportunity to photograph so many women - and let me tell you, every one of them has insecurities. Even the model-esque women you see at the gym or grocery store and think "if I looked like her, my life would be perfect". She has the same insecurities, and is probably looking at you thinking "if I had her [hair or butt or nose or insert anything here]” that she too would be happier. We need to spend our time and energy lifting each other up - as friends, as co-workers, contemporaries and sisters. I don't mean to minimize the impact of a healthy and positive self image in any way (it's what we promote every day at the studio!) - it's vital to our well-being - but frankly, we have many miles of ground to make up as a gender when it comes to social issues such as the wage gap, reproductive health, political representation and many more. We have more opportunity than any women before us, and yet I see us holding ourselves back. I also see change happening, and feel that the pen of history is in our hands more than ever. We can't keep focusing on what we wished we looked like and depriving ourselves of experiences because we don't feel like we're enough. It's draining our energy, our bank accounts, and our precious time on this earth. Ladies, we have work to do, and our lives depend on it.

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty is confidence. It's diversity. It's a feeling, a vibe, an energy. It's not an endpoint, nor is it stagnant. There is beauty in everyone. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Wow, this is a hard question (I realize I wrote these - thank you/I'm sorry to the women that have been answering them before me LOL). I love sisterhood more than any other part of being a woman... There is a feeling I get when a group of women get together - like anything is possible. I am lucky to have SO many incredible females in my life - role models, mentors, friends, teammates, and above all my mom. I truly believe there in no limit to what we can create and achieve together. 

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Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Try me ;)  ----- But seriously. I have seen everything. You cannot show me something I haven't seen and photographed before. I see wrinkles, rolls, stretch marks on hips, butts, breasts, arms and stomachs. Scars from surgery, abuse and self-mutilation. Post-baby bellies, pre-baby bellies. Cellulite. Every kind of hair on every part of your body. Dry skin. Acne. Bumpy noses. Over-plucked eyebrows. Stumpy fingers. Tattoos from when you were 18. Blackheads. Rosacea. Spider veins and bruises. Tan lines, double chins, upper arm fat, neck creases... Did I forget anything? And none of it matters. Not even a little bit... None of it defines you. You are so much more than the sum of your perceived shortcomings. You have SO much to offer the world, and I promise you the people that love you find you beautiful. I believe being photographed is an opportunity to see yourself as those who love you see you, which is why I treat every photo shoot as if it's the most important shoot in the world. Because to you on that day, it is.

Molly Hannon | Age: 26 | Studio Manager & Client Care

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“I’m Molly :) I am most-likely the first person you will speak with when you call or email the studio :) I do all of the scheduling, ordering, administrative duties, social media, and assist clients when they are selecting their photos. I am here for any type of support you need, whether it be offering my opinion on a photo you’re unsure about or giving you a hug and cheering you on when you arrive for your shoot!”

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: None of our paths are linear. If you had asked me five years ago where I would be today, it 100% would not be where I am at this current moment, and I think its silly for anyone to think that they have the ability to know that about themselves at any stage of life. For a long time, I measured success with so much finality. Get your degree, find a good job, a partner, a house, etc. etc. Not that those aren’t great goals or things to have in life, but I have found that success and happiness can be so many things other than the big “checklist items” - learning a new skill, standing up for what you believe in, helping a friend… Simply getting out of bed some days can be deemed a success! I’ve been burned, I've failed, doubted myself… But I’ve also been given so much opportunity, and have had many hands pulling me back up onto my feet. Its so important to remember that the pendulum always swings back in the other direction at some point. You can always start over. You can have more than one passion. You can always adjust your sails and change your course.

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: The way I try to think about beauty is this: When your best friend, sister, mother (even a stranger in some cases!) says something negative about their appearance, your knee-jerk reaction is to correct them or even scold them. “You’re beautiful! Stop it! That dress looks great on you!” Partly because that is your honest opinion of them. However, its also partly due to the fact that you see them as the AMAZING person that has helped you through hard times in your own life. You’ve experienced their strength, how funny they are, how good they make you feel. Rarely do we think or speak to ourselves in the same way. And I think that needs to change. Its extremely difficult to manage our inner-dialogue and negative self-talk, but it is possible! Its a muscle just like any other, so you have to exercise it. Get to it, ladies!!

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Women are magic. The things our bodies and minds can do is truly amazing. We have faced so much adversity - its hard not to feel like we’re all part of something bigger; a sisterhood. I love that we can be soft and strong at the same time, that we can give life, that we can come together and lift each other up. We are adaptable and wear many different hats on most days.

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Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Everyone deserves to be seen, and having photos of ourselves is so important - especially for our loved ones. We all have hangups and insecurities, but 9.9/10 we are the ONLY ones who see that when we look at photos of ourselves. Whenever I’m working with a client, I’m truly blown away by the beauty each one of them possesses, and its never for the same reason. Maybe its the story in their eyes, or the stretch marks (I call them tiger stripes) they’ve earned over the years from motherhood and just LIFE. We are all beautiful and deserve to be valued and cherished.

Alyssa DeWitt | Age: 33 | Digital Image Specialist

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“I’m Alyssa, the Post-Production Manager here at NSP. I process all of the images after each shoot and I design all of our clients’ albums and printed products. I love being able to tailor each shoot for our individual clients, and see every project to the end. I’ve been with NSP for 5 years now, and I love being part of this bad-ass team of ladies!”

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Women are beautiful, strong, powerful, and so much more. But being a woman is also difficult. Even though it sometimes feels like I'm not pretty enough or not good enough (or whatever negative thought process goes on in my head on any particular day), I have to remind myself that I'm amazing the way I am. I try to think of all the things I love about myself, and what others love about me, and it really lifts me up. We are capable of so much. We need to surround ourselves with others who believe in us and see us for the badasses we are. It's important to own who you are, and be yourself to the fullest extent, no apologies given.

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty is so many things. I don't fall into the normal vision of beauty that we see over and over again in society, in advertising, and in the media. I don't shave my body hair and I tend not to follow beauty trends, believe in "fixing" my "flaws", or slowing down my aging process; I feel my best when I'm not worrying about how others perceive me. I think beauty is more about what we put out into the community, how we make others feel about themselves, and whether we bring positivity into the room. Vulnerability and love makes us beautiful. Being 100% ourselves makes us beautiful.

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love my body, my softness, my honesty, and my ability to love deeply.

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Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: There is no such thing. If you are alive -- if you take up space in this world -- you deserve to be photographed. Photography is one thing I cherish more than most things; photographs of my parents, my husband, and my friends and family bring me so much joy and love. If you don't think you deserve to be photographed, ask yourself why. There must be negativity surrounding photography for you, and you need to kick that to the curb. Get rid of those negative thoughts, those people who aren't lifting you up, and give yourself the gift of self-love. Be photographed. It feels AMAZING to see yourself through someone else's loving eye.

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Real Women of Rochester | Ayanna Jackson

Ayanna Jackson | Age: 46 | Coordinator for the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: I have been a big girl all my life and I’ve dealt with a lot of teasing, but I never let it get to me. My grandmother always told me I looked good no matter what I put on, and that’s my motto to this day.

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: It’s okay to reach out to other women for support. You do not have to suffer alone.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: Nothing, I love being in front of the camera LOL.

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I feel like the most valuable woman in the world.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: If you need someone, I’ll come with you and be your personal cheerleader! You’re always beautiful.

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Our journeys are all different. I can’t get jealous over your success, especially since I don’t know how you got it! What we see a lot of the time is just smoke and mirrors, not reality. So never judge yourself based on others. SHARE with each other. We can all be successful.

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: We cannot let beauty be defined by industry standards. We all see beauty in different forms.

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: Always think for yourself! Don’t let society judge you for who they think you are - be happy in your own skin, flaws and all. Only you can love you.

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Keep that fire - never lose it at any age.

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: It’s okay if you’re not strong ALL the time. It’s okay to fall down. It’s okay to take time to get back up. Never rush through your healing process from any situation, no matter what others may say - they are not you! It’s okay to be afraid of doing something new or getting back up after a breakup. We’re human.

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Showing that my size does not mean I’m lazy, a slob or unmotivated. And that we can dress our asses off better than some skinny women, OKAY!!

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Winning my first National Plus Size Pageant on the first try. What a rush!!!

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I’m in casual / comfortable clothes, no makeup, hair not done, wearing a housedress.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love that we are each powerful, unique, classy, sexy, strong and versatile in every way. I love being the baddest BBW the city of Rochester has ever and will ever see.

Real Women of Rochester | Sydney Bell

Sydney Bell | Age: 29 | Podcast Co-Host / Major Gifts Officer

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood:

A: So much of what I’ve focused since graduating from college seven years ago is finding my identity. As a woman, as a biracial person, as a perpetual people-pleaser… There’s a lot to unpack. Actively seeking to educate myself has been the best thing for me. Finding like-voices, or voices and identities of strong, vocal women has changed everything for me since then. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Seek help!! Doing some homework and searching to seek out women who have overcome the same struggles, or have ways they’ve educated themselves will help move you forward. Finding my voice as a biracial women came from seeking out resources that were written by, spoken by, and lived by black women and biracial women. It opened me up to a dialogue I had been missing.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: That I had so much fun! I laughed and smiled and felt so confident because there was someone who was making me feel like I was on top of the world. I didn’t think I’d ever be that happy in front of a camera. 

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I remember thinking I could not imagine how being so uncomfortable behind the camera would produce the best photo I’ve seen of myself in a long time — it made me think that maybe if I could push myself to be a little more uncomfortable more often, maybe some really beautiful things could happen.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: I would say that Natalie finds a way to bring out the very best in each person she photographs. She finds what is unique and special about each person and zeros in on that — she will take a million photos and show you that each angle you take can produce a different feeling, and she will help you find the one that you love, because she’s taken so many phenomenal photos. She makes you feel beautiful because you are beautiful. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Get comfortable with rejection. The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll probably get rejected, but learn how to push through it. If you’re someone that needs to take a breather, take it, but don’t let it stop you from giving it another try. None of us are special, all of us are going through something, and if something/someone rejects you, that’s just part of the journey, not the end of the story. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: That beauty is different for everyone, and you need to come up with your own definition. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: Get off your phone! Kidding… but seriously! Getting sucked into whatever narrative is hot at the moment will steer your course, and you should have every opportunity to make decisions for yourself. Also, take some solo time and do some active work on yourself. Read books to figure out what your values are, work hard, and don’t be discouraged if your “thing” takes awhile to figure out. Enjoy the learning process. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: “Find your strengths, and run in the direction that allows you to live them every single day.”

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Never stop learning! It does not have to be in a classroom, but continue to read and educate yourself. Challenge your way of thinking, connect to different people, find what makes you look in the mirror and say “I love this person, no matter what.”

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Taking on a new podcast, grad school, and working full time — I didn’t think I could manage all of them, but I don’t think I ever challenged myself to take on so many things that would make me happy, and here I am doing it!

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Knowing that fighting for our rights as women is as important today as it always has been, because somehow someone else thinks they have control of my body, my mind, my actions, and my emotions, is something that I never take for granted. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I’m laughing with my friends and family. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love that women are so many things to so many people. We are powerful beyond measure. It is absolutely incredible what we’re capable of, what we overcome, how we overcome, and how we talk about our lives.

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Sydney is the other half to Queen Speaking Podcast (make sure to check out co-host Breanna’s RWOR interview, too!). You can also find Sydney on Instagram at @mindbodysyd!

Real Women of Rochester: Breanna Banford

Breanna Banford | Age: 30 | Community & Marketing Director / Podcast Co-host

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: It’s been an endlessly eye-opening experience, especially the last decade. One that’s an inquisitive quest to understand my whole self — a journey I couldn’t have prepared for or understood until I was in the midst of it. The most important lesson: always continue to grow and learn. I think I’ll always be challenging my understanding of self.

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: You are enough. It’s the one lesson that’s been the hardest for me to learn. I’m still learning it!

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How comfortable it was! It can feel awkward to pose for the camera, but Natalie made the experience so comfortable, fun, and casual right off the bat. She posed us perfectly and the session flew by.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Is that me? It’s amazing to see yourself the way other people see you. It’s an opportunity for self-reflection in the best way.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: You are beautiful! There’s no other you in the world and it’s the most empowering thing to embrace that about yourself.

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: We are unstoppable! I’m so impressed by all the things women are capable of and want each of us to all have the confidence to challenge ourselves to take on whatever we dream up.

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: I wish people saw themselves the way their close friends or family see them. The realest of real and most beautiful, confident versions of themselves. It’s easy to get stuck in a comparison spiral, but the world needs our individuality. Beauty is embracing you as you are.

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: Love yourself first — explore your passions, your desires, your needs, your wants. Learn what you love, what you dislike, stand behind your values, and be aware of and present in your everyday experiences.

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Embrace your youthful innocence. Work less, you’ll do that in your 20s. As a teenager, I wish I spent less time worrying or being self-conscious. I wanted to do more, but held myself back, thinking I couldn’t do it or didn’t have the skills or money to pursue things. Since then, I’ve learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to. You figure it out along the way. That’s the beauty of it!

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: I think we all need to love ourselves a little bit more. Understand and soak up the things we want as individuals and go after them despite fears that hold us back.

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Understanding that your career is not your identity. You are not defined by what you do, but rather who you are, what you value, and how you are in the world. Be open to all possibilities.

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Standing up for myself. Staying true to who I am and what I know best.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I feel comfortable in my own skin — healthy, strong, and hydrated. Plus, an outfit that’s tailored perfectly and a great loose wave in my hair.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Being able to show people our strength, magic, understanding, and compassion. I want everyone to know we’re capable of anything we set our minds to.

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Breanna is the Community Director for @yelproc and Co-host on Queen Speaking (@queen_speaking) podcast with Sydney Bell.

Real Women of Rochester | Amanda Wattie

Amanda Wattie | Age: 40 | Somatic Sex Educator / Intimacy Relationship Mentor

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: This human be-ing is something. Everyday, each moment here we are in this body. Whether or not we are present to that experience doesn’t matter, we are still here in repeating moments of be-ing. Over and over and over.  

When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to grow up, be on my own, somehow I thought that life would begin for me the moment I was on my own. And even more importantly, that I would do it better than my parents.  

Over the years, especially since the birth of my first daughter, (I have 3) I realized that I was no different than my parents, in their struggles, joys. It’s been a humbling process. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Lean in. Don’t run from the hard stuff. Be acutely present to it and breathe deeper. How does it feel in the body when you’re anxious? Stressed, angry, frustrated, rejected, tired to the bone?  

There is a whole world going on inside of us.This is not wallowing in it. This is dropping out of the mental chatter and instead listening to our body’s wisdom.  

Most of the time I find this practice takes less than 5 minutes. Sometimes I experience it like blowing up a bubble til it bursts. Other times it’s like picking up the child who’s been crying all day and just needs a few minutes of our undivided attention. But that’s the point - we aren’t running away, but taking a minute to be with what is. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: There are certain people who have the ability to be authentic right away. I felt that with Natalie and it really helped me to be myself 100%.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Happy!

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: The nature of this question answers it all. Not “beautiful enough” is a thought, it’s a story. It’s not actually what’s true. Even if someone said, “You aren’t beautiful.”  Well, that’s just what they said, that’s what happened. Who cares? People say lots of things. And it doesn’t make it true. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: If someone chose you over someone else, and you deemed them more beautiful than you, it’s meaning you added to what happened. Beauty is a construct, it’s an opinion.  

And we have the potential to rise above that, to be free. We are who we are. Just as a chair or a tree is what it is. Not seeking to be anything other than what it is. Perfect, whole, complete.  

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Lately, I feel most beautiful when I am really present with others. It’s in those moments of being authentic, not on auto-pilot, that connect me deeply to them and myself. Like I don’t really need to be anything other than who I am, just present. And that feels like a beautiful thing.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I’m having a hard time answering this but I really want to! So let me try. I love being alive as a human and that doesn’t feel unique to me identifying as a woman. However there is something that I do love about being with other women, including my 3 daughters. Even though they are my children, there is a sisterhood we share. It’s beyond makeup and fashion advice. We’ve got a bond that sometimes has us laughing or crying on the kitchen floor, with love, so much love. We get each other in a way that I don’t know would be possible if I identified as a man. But it might be. 

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You can find information about Amanda and her work on her website at www.amandawattie.com 

Real Women of Rochester | Ilana Griffo

Ilana Griffo | Age: 29 | Illustrator & Designer

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: What a wonderful, exhilarating journey it's been! I was the tallest girl in the 5th grade, but my  peers quickly caught up (and surpassed me) the following years. That feeling of being uncomfortable and self-conscious stuck with me for a long time. As a new mom, I can honestly say I am starting to know myself in such a different way, and feeling more comfortable in my skin than ever before. Even though I can still point out my flaws and imperfections, it finally feels like my body is my home. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Most of what I'm about to say sounds cliche, and I'm okay with that. You are NOT alone. You are capable. It's okay to not be okay. When I talk with a friend, I consider how they need to be spoken to, what's going to lift them up? What can I say that they need to hear? That's different for every woman, and every scenario, but if I can be present, and show up for them, whatever that means, that's gold. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I was surprised by the level of comfort I was able to feel in front of a camera. I feel pretty awkward most of the time, but Natalie metaphorically held my hand through the whole process, giving me the tools to rock out a pose, or find my best angles. Natalie flatters you about a thousand times throughout the time you spend in front of her lens, making you feel beautiful inside and out. Natalie's gift is finding the best in people, and making it come through in a photo. 

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I'm reminded of a fun time, a great memory, an exciting time, a funny joke, and good company. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Every. Body. Is. Beautiful. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Through my work, I feel best when I'm encouraging others. That may be to stand up for themselves, or to carve their own path, either way, I want them to feel strong to make the best choices for themselves. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty looks different for everyone, but it always starts on the inside. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: YOU DO YOU, GIRL!! I hope the next generation of women follow their own path, wear sunscreen, let their phones die, and feel confident standing up for themselves, their passions, and their rights. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Embrace your weird! Over the years I've lost some of my love for creating or exploring without purpose, but how fun would it be to just play? Just try something, just experiment, without feeling any pressure to share it on social media, or worry about what other people are thinking?!

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Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Whenever I'm asked about "one piece of advice" I feel overwhelmed with the possibilities. I think each person deserves to be heard, and the message I'd give to each person after hearing their story is different. What I know to be true is that love is powerful, gratitude is great, and that each one of us is capable of so many incredible things!  

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Every hurdle has turned into an opportunity to learn, grow or pivot. I love what makes me unique, even though it may mean it's not right for someone else (client, employer, peer, etc). 

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Becoming a mother. Whoa. It's like my heart is now crawling around outside my body in the form of a tiny human. Becoming a mother... I had no idea such love could exist! It brought more love for my family (which I already loved to the moon and back), more love for my wonderful husband, more love for my body, and of course, so much love for my son. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel beautiful when I'm comfortable, both in my skin, and in my clothes. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: What's not to love?! 

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Ilana will be offering the promo code NSPLOVE for 20% off at ilanagriffo.com/shop so that our readers can go out and CRUSH THEIR DREAMS. Check out the rest of her badass work on her website above and her Instagram @ilanagriffo

Kazemian-Kennedy Wedding

Congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Kennedy! We could not be happier to have witnesses and captured the STUNNING wedding celebration yesterday at Oak Hill Country Club. A couple has never been more loved than these two…. with guests hailing from all over the country to honor the union of Chris & Nina, it was one of the most joyful and intimate days a couple could hope for :) Congrats and enjoy this slidehow we produced and displayed at the reception!

Real Women of Rochester | Juanita Medina

Juanita Medina | Age: 56 | Student, Mother, Feminist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: My parents brought me home to what we used to call the "projects" in Buffalo. I was the sixth mouth they would have to feed, with one more sibling yet to come. Neither parent cared enough to learn the basics of parenting so it was a very meager existence. Many essentials were non-existent or in short supply; food, clothes, nurturing, recognition, security, honesty, approval, tolerance, love. However, I was incredibly blessed that I had an older sister who believed that you are not what has happened to you, you are what you choose to become. She was a teenager when the women’s movement rose up in the sixties. Watching that sisterhood march and burn their bras and make demands for equal rights opened her eyes to sexism and its deep roots. The courage of those early feminists empowered her and changed her view of herself and the future. She had a tremendous impact on me. Without her love, guidance and support through adolescence and into adulthood, I would not be who I am today. There were bumps in my road, but her faith in me never wavered. She taught me that we ALL stand on the shoulders of the women who have come before us. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: This too shall pass. Life is unpredictable so have faith. Without faith, you are dead in the water. Faith and patience are the foundation to strength and understanding. Always, always trust your instincts. Never give up your power. Learn how to forgive someone even if they are not sorry. Find someone who takes you seriously and will listen to you and your problems. The impact that kind of validation will have on you will enable you to become a strong, resilient, confident, resourceful and independent woman.   

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How carefree I felt! The entire process was relaxed and natural with Natalie and Molly. I had been entertaining the idea of a boudoir shoot for years and always seemed to find an excuse to not do it. I now know that it was because the universe was leading me to Natalie. :) Seriously though, I encourage every woman to do it. It was transformative for me.  

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I feel sassy, smart, accomplished, and finally comfortable in my own skin. The aging process is a funny thing. Your priorities in life shift and come into a sharper focus than when you were younger. It’s very liberating.     

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Beauty is subjective and fluid. My ninety-one year old aunt is the most beautiful woman I know. If a woman feeds into her fears about what defines beauty, then her faith is going to starve. She must flip the equation and feed into her faith about her own magical beauty and then her fears will starve. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: “Do not let what you think they think of you make you stop and question everything you are.” - Carrie Fisher  

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: There are two kinds of beauty. Physical beauty and beauty which comes from your soul. To me, physical beauty has little value and is overrated (apologies to all Kardashian fans). But throughout time in all patriarchal societies, including here in the United States, a woman’s worth has been been defined by her looks, her weight, her age, blah, blah, blah. And with the pervasiveness of social media, society’s values are becoming even more superficial and we've reached a new low. To me, internal beauty is what people should strive for, no matter their gender. Beauty to me is sacrifice, imperfections, authenticity, courage, truth, integrity. People who own their own flaws. To me, that’s beautiful.

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: My hope would be that women would learn to stop being so hard on themselves, and each other. Just be who they are born to be, not what the world teaches women to be. Support one another and applaud one another’s successes. Drop the judgment and suspicion. And for God’s sake, don’t forget to breathe and use sunscreen. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: You place WAY too much importance on how you look and what people think. Stop trying to be a people-pleaser. It’s a dead-end road that leads to unhappiness. Snap out of it.  

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: The miracle of grace is that you can give what you have never received. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Professionally, most of my life people have judged me on my appearance. That stung for a very, very long time. It just seemed so unfair, I am so much more than my hair color or bust size. I spent most of my career trying to prove myself to people who never really mattered. It was a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I now realize that it works in my favor when people underestimate me. It always has, I was just too idealistic to see it.  

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Becoming a mother. The sense of accomplishment I felt after giving birth has not been overshadowed by anything else in my life. Yet.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When my dog is kissing me.

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love being the underdog in the race, it’s as though I have a secret. But I usually end up with the upper-hand.

Real Women of Rochester | Melissa Briscoe

Melissa Briscoe | Age: 43 | Mom, Former Mrs. NY America and Total Badass

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: Most people that know me today would not be surprised I was a very outspoken child. What I think some would be surprised to know is for a very long time that very self-confident girl was lost. I married very young, was a stay at home mom to my oldest two sons. I was raised to believe in the value of a higher education and that it was an absolute must-have. With the support of my family, I went to back to college as an adult student part time and eventually I graduated college with honors at age 28 with a B.S. in Political Science. All while I was fighting a personal battle with depression and anxiety. I went on to speak out about depression and anxiety awareness after being crowned Mrs. NY America 2003: a competition I entered never expecting to actually win, but one that I wanted to be a part of to make the statement that depression and anxiety were actually illnesses that no one should be ashamed to have or seek treatment for.

I chose to leave my first marriage in 2008. I continued a passion of mine working in the jewelry industry with RW Manufacturing becoming a CAD designer and wholesale manager. I also began modeling in print, video and runway. 

I reconnected with my high school sweetheart and remarried in 2012 officially becoming Step-mom to three amazing individuals. I had my youngest son in 2014 and once again became a stay at home mom for a short period of time. Suddenly and unexpectedly in 2016 my husband, the love of my life, passed away. Shortly after his father passed, our son was diagnosed with a severe language delay along with other developmental issues resulting in eight therapies by four different providers a week. 

Becoming a widow, a word that has taken me almost two years to be able to say, is like joining a secret club. A really crappy club, one that you wish you were not a member of, as well as one that is very hard to explain to people who have not experienced this loss. The best description I have is to imagine waking up one morning to find a tsunami has taken place. You are staring at the remnants of the life you had, every part of which was destroyed, trying to decide which part that is now on fire to save first, after which you can deal with what is just submerged under the water or missing. 

Now, two years later I am still working on putting the pieces of my life back together while simultaneously making a new one. A process which has shown me that I am stronger than I ever believed I could be. 

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Accept help when it is being given to you and don't hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. I am the type of person who used to believe I should be able to tackle all of life's challenges alone. I was only able to triumph over the diseases of depression and anxiety when I reached out for help. When my husband passed away I wouldn't have been able to get where I am today if I had not accepted the help I was offered. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How completely at ease all of my boys were during our shoot. Especially my older children. It felt like you had known my children for years when in reality you had just met them minutes before we started shooting. 

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: Proud. My favorite shot is with my three boys. I am proud of the mom I am despite being far from perfect at the job. Proud of the amazing young men that stand next to me and the opportunity to help Harrison (my youngest) grow into the amazing person who he will one day become. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Get over it! You are not alone. I think we are our worst critics. I know I am when I see myself in images. I used to focus on all of the things I felt was wrong with me. When Riley, my step-daughter, came into my life I felt I needed to change that. I never wanted her to look at a picture of herself and not love what she saw. So I changed my focus to what I do like when I see an image of myself. I understand that long after I am gone my loved ones will want to hold onto the images of me. I don't want them to have to search for one. Feeling beautiful or not, I always am in front of the camera at some point. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Value your girlfriends. Make time for them. If you do not have a tribe, find one. Create one if need be. There is nothing more invaluable than surrounding yourself with honest, caring, and supportive women. I am blessed to have a group of girlfriends that I have shared some of life's most exciting adventures with. More importantly though when we need someone to lean on one of us is always there to hold each other up. Usually without anyone ever having to say a word.  Having these women's support has been life changing for me

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

I think Judge Judy said it best: "Beauty fades, dumb is forever". As a society there are so many more important things to give value to. Beauty is subjective, ever-changing and honestly all around us if we look for it. The most beautiful people are the ones that are comfortable in their individuality and use it to make the world a better place. Think about it, when you look into a crowd the people that are truly the most beautiful and most confident are the ones that love themselves for who they are, both inside and out. It is a beauty that you can both feel as well as see and comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I think the next generation of women are entering such an exciting period in time. One that we as women are continuing to break down barriers and stereotypes. My step-daughter Riley and her sister Gabby are part of this upcoming generation. My hope is that they see and value themselves as individuals above any labels that may be placed on them.  That they define who they are and who they choose to be, not the views of men or women or even society itself. My advice is the same I give my children. Don't be a lemming! Value your individuality! Use it to figure out your place in the world.  

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: F*** it! Nothing you currently think is important actually is. Focus on your education as it is the one thing in life that can't be taken from you. 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Be the streak of shocking pink in a crowd of all black. Embrace your individuality and all of the talents that make you stand out in a crowd rather than blend in. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Very honestly, I am in the midst of my biggest hurdle career-wise.  After the loss of my husband my main focus has been being a caregiver and advocate to my youngest due to his developmental issues. As he enters a five-day a week program this fall I now have the ability to focus on rebuilding a career for myself. A very empowering and terrifying reality at 43. 

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Competing in the Mrs. NY America Pageant. I grew up watching Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe. The thoughts that ran through my head as I watched those pageants were always how I was not as smart, as pretty or as confident as those women that walked across the stage. Even as I became an adult and a mother I still felt as if I wasn't "enough" to do many things I wanted to try. I entered the pageant after I had finally gotten my depression and anxiety under control. I wanted to show the world but more importantly myself that I was smart enough, that I was pretty enough and I was confident enough to do anything I set my mind too. Stepping onto the stage for the first time was such an empowering experience that I will never forget. It was the beginning of the journey of becoming the women you see today. One that absolutely believes she is "smart enough, pretty enough and confident enough" to do anything she sets her mind on. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I am walking down the runway modeling. Not because of feeling physically beautiful, since usually professional hair and makeup artists work their magic, but because I once lacked the confidence to walk out into a crowed room let alone down a runway. I feel beautiful knowing that I have conquered my fears and not let them hold me back. 

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Q:What do you love about being a woman?

A: The color PINK, sparkles, glitter, lipstick, high heels and false eyelashes. LOL. On a much less superficial level: being a mother/mother figure, mentor to my three boys, my three step-children and my Goddaughter Gabby. I consider this to be the most important job I will ever hold. I constantly strive to better myself, step outside of my comfort zone, do things I honestly never thought I could, to show them that they absolutely can achieve any goal they are willing to work for or handle any hurtle life may throw at them. 

Two organizations that cannot go without mentioning in Melissa's story are Dress for Success and Inspire Learning and Childcare. "Dress For Success is a huge supporter of women, as well as playing a role in rebuilding my life. Inspire Learning and Childcare is a place I trust with my most valuable possession. Prince Harry."

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Real Women of Rochester | Fatima Banister

Fatima Banister | Age: 29 | Social Worker, Graphic Designer, Educator

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: Wow, what a loaded question! In a nutshell, My journey through womanhood has been what I would describe as a maze. I have had lots of fun discovering who I am, but have also found myself to be frustrated at times because the journey has not always been easy. I didn't always know who I was, had to deal with the issues of my past, and really truly believe in myself, and see myself the way others saw me. Becoming a mother in December, and turning 30 in January, the maze that I have found myself in from about 18 to now is coming to a close. While I believe womanhood is an ever evolving journey, I don't believe that I will be entering my 30s in a maze. I'm not quite sure what the next chapter will be, but I'm ready and anticipating what God has in store for me as I enter my 30s.  

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Don't give up. Never give up. Tap in to your faith and believe in yourself. Believe that you deserve all that life has in store for you. You are the head and not the tail, above, and not beneath. YOU ARE WORTH IT. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I don't consider myself a photogenic person, and I love the way a photographer is able to capture the beauty that I don't see, or to see an angle I haven't discovered yet. Light is also so important, and I was amazed at how the light illuminated my skin. I was 5 weeks pregnant when I did the photoshoot, and was just so so happy, and I think that special glow helped!

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: My honest thoughts are "Wow, that's really me!" I feel empowered and beautiful. 

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Put your best outfit on, beat that face, get your hair done, and do it girl! Every woman deserves to be photographed, and to feel beautiful including you. If you need a cheerleader behind the scenes to say "yassssss" "work it girl!" "oh yes, thats the shot!" I'm here for you! 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: I believe that we all have something to offer to this world and there are unique qualities and gifts that we each possess. The world is waiting for your gifts, your talents, your expertise, your story.  What do you need to release in order to unlock the gift that is inside of you?

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: While it's a cliche statement, I do believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As women, we all possess beauty, and it shines through in different ways. It may be the way that we look, the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we carry ourselves, or the way we treat others, but we ALL possess it. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I love this question because my daughter will be here in December, and I think about this all of the time. My prayer is that the next generation of women will continue to defy odds, believe they can do anything they put their minds to, and reject and break generational and societal curses that they face. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Oh boy. I would tell my 16 year old self, you are worth more than what you are allowing. Stop suffering in silence. Be yourself, love yourself, and don't worry about the pressures you face to be like the rest. You are set apart.

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: You are a royal priesthood. Hold your head up high like the queen you are. Being a young woman this day in age is not easy, but set the standards for yourself NOW. What will you allow, what will you not tolerate? What do you need to feel valued, loved, and appreciated? Think about the life you want to have and live with those goals in mind. 

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: I think one of the biggest hurdles I've overcome in my career was learning not to be a 'Yes' person. It's so easy to be caught up in saying yes, especially on the job, because you want to be the best, you don't want to disappoint people, and you want the people you work with to like you. However, that is just not realistic. Yes, you should strive to be your best, but you WILL disappoint people, and everyone is NOT going to like you! There is so much more power in a "no", with a justified reason, than saying "yes", to appease whats comfortable and safe. 

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Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Having my own business (Freely Fatima Designs) has been quite empowering, particularly because I have no background in graphic design whatsoever. I had no plans to start my own business, or at least in the industry that I'm in. Being able to work for myself and see my creativity shine through my work has been an amazing experience. 

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel most beautiful in a dress, and a fabulous pair of heels. Those who know me consider me a girly girl, and I am! I just love to dress up.

But I also feel most beautiful when I'm in my sweats in the kitchen with crazy hair and my husband comes in and gives me that look that no other man has the privilege of giving me.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love everything about being a woman. We possess so much power, we bring forth life, figuratively and literally! Our souls give us the capacity to love the people in our life that goes beyond what sometimes we can even imagine. Our strength is unmatched and we continue to defy the odds that are set against us. We are unstoppable. We are trailblazers. We are queens.

"Broaden Your Borders" | Rochester Global Connections Visits NSP

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Earlier this year NSP was connected with a local organization, Rochester Global Connections, by our great friend and one of Rochester's biggest cheerleaders, Alyssa Belasco :) Rochester Global Connections is a nonprofit that promotes “international understanding and cultural exchange between our community and international students and visitors”. Alyssa called us after an overwhelmingly inspiring meeting she had with a delegation of women from all around the world hosted by RGC, with the resounding declaration, “You just have to meet them!” All of the women are creative entrepreneurs and business owners within their own home countries, from Algeria, Tanzania and Malaysia, just to name a few.

The ladies were on a journey throughout the States and came to Rochester through the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a program designed to build understanding between professionals from abroad and local communities during short-term exchanges. The delegation traveled and participated in workshops and site visits, as well as met with local specialists among many different careers. We were lucky enough to be included on that list!

Olori Ajayi | The Katie Wang Company (Founder, Chief Operations Officer) | Nigeria

Olori Ajayi | The Katie Wang Company (Founder, Chief Operations Officer) | Nigeria

Dr. Welyne Jeffrey Jehom | Anthropologist, Emporoh Plt. (Founder) | Malaysia

Dr. Welyne Jeffrey Jehom | Anthropologist, Emporoh Plt. (Founder) | Malaysia

Lynda Serir | Urban Music Artist, Business Owner | Algeria

Lynda Serir | Urban Music Artist, Business Owner | Algeria

The goal of the IVLP is "to provide firsthand knowledge about U.S. society, culture, and politics, while cultivating lasting relationships." There is no application process for the program - participants are nominated by the staff at the U.S. Embassies, and each delegation or project has a theme. Themes can be anything from Civic Education, to Energy Security to Environmental Protection. This particular project theme was Women and Entrepreneurship (so you know we're ALL about it). The ladies were accompanied by a liaison officer from the Philippines, Dr. Teresita Bernales.

As soon as these women walked through our doors, our studio was alive with conversations, hugs and instant friendships. We met Olori Ajayi, Foudner and Chief Operations Officer for the Katie Wang Company, an ethical apparel sourcing and production company in Nigeria. The brand focuses on transforming and empowering women through their choice in fashion and lifestyle. Olori has been nominated as one of the Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Nigeria! We were also introduced to Lynda Serir, an urban music artist and bakeshop owner from Algeria. She has released several albums and sings in Arabic, French and English. In total, there were six women in our studio, sharing their stories and their passion for connecting others through their work. It was so inspiring to be in the same room as women from different corners of the world, who are dreaming big and pushing boundaries. We felt like we had known them for years, instead of the 30 minutes they were able to take out of their busy schedule to spend in our studio!

Teresita Bernales, Ed.D. | President of Bridges, Etc. | Philippines

Teresita Bernales, Ed.D. | President of Bridges, Etc. | Philippines

Mariama Colley | Proprietress, Studio 441 | The Gambia

Mariama Colley | Proprietress, Studio 441 | The Gambia

Aysha Boma | Founder and Managing Director, Tembea Mara | Tanzania

Aysha Boma | Founder and Managing Director, Tembea Mara | Tanzania

“Broaden Your Borders” is RGC's slogan, and a sentiment we hold near and dear to our hearts here at NSP – keeping our hearts open to all the beautiful and unique people we meet on a daily basis, never limiting ourselves to fit into a certain mold, and always learning from our neighbors. These badass women continue to be an inspiration for us (we're all Facebook friends now!) as they travel the world and strive for success in their personal and professional lives. So, we encourage you to meet someone new this week, listen to their story, share yours, and maybe even start chasing that dream you've been putting off for a while.

Special thanks again to Alyssa Belasco for connecting us with the organization, and Josephine Perini, Director of International Visitor Programs at Rochester Global Connections, who hosted the delegation here in Rochester.

Real Women of Rochester | Jessica Lewis

Jessica Lewis | Age: 32 | Communications Specialist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

A: As a little girl I always admired beautiful, strong, smart women. I looked to those women as an inspiration for myself because I've always been driven, hardworking and goal-oriented, and aspired to be the best person I could be. As I grew and matured I knew how important it was for other girls to see someone who could be an example to them. I made it a priority to pay it forward to other young women coming behind me. I've always prided myself on living a life that could be an example for others. I want girls to know that you can love yourself, be confident, strong, and in charge of your life and make decisions that make you happy and feel fulfilled. Those principals have guided me on my journey to womanhood.

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: My advice to another woman going through something I’ve been through is to always stay the course. I would encourage her to step out on faith, being unafraid to make mistakes. It is through mistakes that we develop our own path to self-discovery.  I would also say don’t let fear, doubt or anxiety get in your way. You are an over-comer and victory is an arm’s reach away. I would caution any woman against comparing themselves to others as each woman has her own journey.  And, lastly, in the face of adversity never comprise your integrity.

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Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I feel awesome. It’s like I’m in awe.  

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: I would say “pish-tosh.” Every woman is beautiful. Beauty is not just what’s on the outside, although society has conditioned us to believe that. Beauty is what’s on the inside. Furthermore, we are each beautiful in our own way. We have to look beyond society’s standard of beauty and create our own. 

Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: Women have been constantly told how to look, act, dress and carry ourselves. Women are blazing trails as entrepreneurs, professionals, mothers, business owners, and often doing so simultaneously. While women wear many hats, and play many roles, our appearance can often be scrutinized. Recognizing who we are and the greatness within us affirms our ability to excel in our various endeavors and empowers us to persist.   

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty comes in many different forms. On the outside it’s represented by various hues, tones, shapes, sizes and color. On the inside it’s represented by joy, peace, love, confidence and positive self esteem.  

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Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: My advice to the next generation is to continue to blaze new trails and break barriers. I hope that each generation learns and grows from the last, and creates new standards for themselves that are empowering, encouraging and uplifting. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: I would tell myself to continue to follow your dreams and passion. Don’t be deterred by outside forces that have no bearing on you and avoid the guy that’s coming your way senior year.

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: My most empowering experience as a woman is the launch of my public relations firm, LáLew Public Relations. My passion for public relations began in college. While an undergraduate student at Buffalo State College, I served as the president of an on-campus club called Black Active Minds which led student meetings around pressing issues such as race, equality and social justice. I often found myself engaging in meaningful conversations with peers and would promote club activities and publicize special events. Years later, those experiences coupled with my professional experiences would come full circle with the launch of my own public relations company.    

In March, LáLew PR turned two years old and I can proudly say that I am a successful entrepreneur, owning the fastest growing, Black-owned, woman-owned public relations firm in Rochester, New York. 

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel most beautiful on the outside when I feel good on the inside. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love the strength of being a woman.

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Headshots For Empowerment

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We are so humbled by all those who came out to support Teen Empowerment through our Headshots For Empowerment fundraising event. Since 2003, Teen Empowerment has employed hundreds of Rochester youth who have engaged thousands of their peers, adults, and community leaders in youth-led initiatives.You all blew us away with your dedication to your careers, ambition for new endeavors, and passion for making Rochester the greatest it can be! Thank you again to our sponsors, Haigh Wealth Management Group and Haven Hair Salon, and ALL those who participated! We hope your new headshots bring you SO much success and prosperity. Special thanks to Shawn Brown, Erin Julian and Lauren Gallina for helping make this event run so smoothly and for all you do for our wonderful community!

Here are photos from TE's Let's Be Friends event, at which the youth of TE performed spoken word pieces they had written themselves. We were blown away by the courage, skill and depth these students demonstrated in the poetry and lyrics they prepared and performed for a room full of adults. We could not be happier to have the $2000 we helped raise go towards supporting them in their future endeavors.

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Real Women of Rochester | Annette Abell

Annette Abell | Age: 45 | President, Business Owner

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: I was raised by a single mom, put myself through college and worked nights as a cashier for an extra $0.25/hour, graduated and started my post-college life as a Manager Trainee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Rochester instead of Syracuse because the white collar job prospects were better here. After rear ending a renter's repaired car with the very vehicle she had just returned to the office I was let go only to start a cold call center job where I cried in the parking lot during lunch each day. Eventually, thanks for an aunt who worked at Xerox (network was key!!!), I joined the trade show industry and was so very fortunate start a career. It was here that I learned what marketing really was and gained a small glimpse into the beast called sales. It was also a rude wake up call for how corporate America worked (and still does work). My role at an agency that served a then successful firm allowed me to see how decisions are really made and how people really behave in the workforce. (Remind me to tell you how I returned home after a trade show where my three clients were blonde women like me and how I returned home with fire engine red hair and a belly button ring because i was too chicken to get a tattoo). This job was an appetizer to the thick, raw steak serving with a side of whoop ass that would be my next job where I felt like I really started to come into my own. 8 restructurings, 5 job changes, 1 major jump from marketing to sales (with a $20,000 pay cut), and a layoff will do that to you. Fast forward to a sales job that brought me to London and Paris, and how kids led me to accept a job at a small, local firm to launch an entirely new business line for this firm. I took the pay cut to strike a better work/life balance. This, ironically, only lasted 4 months. I was fired. They said they did not think I knew what I was doing. I was defeated. Crushed, embarrassed. Then pissed. The next morning I woke and decided to implement the exact plan they rejected. This spawned Able Cloud Advisors. We are 8 years old now and have a 5 star rating on the Salesforce.com app exchange. Did I mention I'm a one-man band? I do it all myself: sales, marketing, HR, legal, accounting, and all fulfillment of the work we win. (We = me and the 700 voices I hear in my head that demand I do this and do that. "Forget about that last date. He was an a**hole anyway." But I digress.) In true fashion, karma wore red and a year after launching the man who fired me was himself fired. He implemented my business plan and became my competitor. He--with his condescending, arrogant partner--ran the company into the ground leaving 21 people without a job. Today, after 8 years, I feel like I'm finally ready to think about what's next. It truly took me that long just to establish a groove. I'm not certain I want to grow where I have employees yet. Maybe I'll learn from the others in this group so I can decide what's next.  

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: It's so freaking hard. It's so easy to fail. It seems insurmountable. Ask for help, guidance, a shoulder. Focus on what brings money in the door. The rest can wait. If there is no income then it's all for not. Know that at the end of the day you must take care of yourself first: body, mind and soul (BMS). You have to be at your best physically, emotionally, and spiritually (PES) to get through a single day. Your personal life may suffer. For me, a divorce actually helped me gain the PES I so desperately needed. You have to surround yourself with the right people--not just women. It's a man's world, unfortunately, and omitting them from your tight circle of sage business advisors is a mistake. You can do it. The cards are stacked against you, no doubt. But it can be done.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How passionate Natalie was. How she made me feel great about my physical appearance. I needed that. Thank you.

Q: How do you feel when you look at your favorite photo of yourself from your shoot?

A: I love it. It captures exactly who I am--even if I wish I did not give off the persona I do. My friends said I look like an in-control badass in both the boardroom and the bedroom. LOL! Maybe THIS is why I cannot get a date. Again, I digress...

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Fuck that! Put on your best outfit and go. You will finally find a picture of the true you. You deserve it.

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Q: What message would you like to share with other women?

A: I took a deep breath in after reading this question. There is so much to share... Where do I start? It's hard. I've made so many mistakes. I'm the only employee so there is no one to blame when things go south--and they will! BUT it can be done. You have to allow yourself to hear the things others are telling you whether it's that your business idea sucks, or that your marketing proposition that you came up with yourself is off or whatever. You have to listen. Do you act on everything tiny piece of feedback? NO. Do you listen to the people who never started a company? Hell no. But you do have to listen. You have to leave your ego at the door. Conversely, you get to own every single success and win. You made it happen. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: I struggle with this. I'm in a good space now but have grown comfortable with who I am today. But that took me 20 years to get here. Dating in today's day and age quickly tests my resolve, that is for certain. All in all 2018 is a great place to be in terms of diversity and acceptance of all the various forms women take. We need not be size 2, tall and blonde. But self doubt is pervasive. It's a FT job to love oneself. To put yourself FIRST. Be that allowing yourself down time, a massage, going to the gym, trying a new lipstick. There is nothing more attractive to me than confidence. That said, this will scare people. It will turn off people who can only function if they are the "big man on campus." You have to decide who you want to be. How you want to be known. Whatever you decide that is--THAT is what is beautiful. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: That they see themselves as women, but that no one else cares about their anatomy. Advice? Own who you are. Own your mistakes. Own where you are in life. Sure we face discrimination (women of color and different sexual orientations more-so) but so what? If a door is slammed in your face either knock on a new one or kick the first door down. 

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Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Your thighs are not as fat as you think they are. 

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: You have to learn from those around you. You do not know it all. Yet your naivete is an asset. Ask an older woman: Knowing what you know now, would you get married? Have kids? Start a business? Have taken that job? The answers will probably be, "No." The secret is to make a life for yourself while your still naive and before you become jaded or cynical.  

Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Accepting that failure is a big part of my success. And I hate failure.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: You want me to be honest? When a handsome man engages me in a dating context. Sad but this "oh he likes me" is still the best validation for me. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: That I am raising two boys who see a woman doing for herself--all of it. I fix the leaky facet, I run the house, I run my business. I expect them to respect me. Nothing is more empowering than raising two boys who I hope will grow to be respectful gentlemen. 

Real Women Of Rochester | Sharitta Gross-Smith

Sharitta Gross-Smith | Age: 42 | Assistant Director, Student Development

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: My journey through womanhood was not linear. While I always knew I wanted to be an educator, somehow helping others in my community, as an introvert I did not consider the possibility of how that would come to fruition. My journey involved much introspective work that was helped along by an ability to artistically express myself through dance as a School of the Arts student. I'd like to think of my journey as still in progress, as my latest pursuit is a doctoral degree at St. John Fisher College. And to think that at one point my main goal was just to finish high school?

My maternal grandmother was a great part of my journey, encouraging me along the way with the following words: "You can be whatever you want to be. God knows the desires of your heart." She said it to me so much that throughout adversity I believed that it must be so. While embracing my womanhood, I became more and more fearless in approaching who I wanted to become. It made me take the limits off and I draw from her mantra sometimes daily.

Now I'm a selective extrovert. LOL

Q: What would you say to another woman who may be going through something you've been through?

A: Forgive yourself. Often a decision is made based upon the information and emotion we have within a given time, not realizing how things might unfold. Part of living, learning and loving involves risk. If you stay with your arms closed to your chest for fear of hurt or failing, you will never embrace anyone or be embraced. This doesn't mean you approach situations with no thought or strategy, rather, it is a pass to live a little, realizing that the God of your choice is in control anyway. Be kind to yourself in your life's process. Always choose you first.

Q: What would you share with a woman who doesn't think she is beautiful enough to be photographed?

A: Much like our fingerprints, we are unique, making the interpretation of beauty quite individualistic. As women we are so intricately made and complex that embracing all that we are becomes a necessity when combating all the stereotypes within society of what's beautiful and what's not. Beauty is in the curvature of your neck to shoulder, your smile, the lines in the corner of your eyes...you embody beauty everyday. Own it. Embrace it. Work it (and the camera)!

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Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women? What advice would you give to them?

A: I hope that they kick a$$ and take names.

I'd advise them to find a mentor or several mentors, taking note of and respect for those who have come before them, as they can create a path of ease in a situation where you may not know how to navigate the landscape. Be specific when seeking a mentor (e.g..: career development, spiritual advisor, personal development), as that helps manage expectation and ensures that both parties are reciprocating as appropriate. And acknowledging the infinite benefits of diversifying your world. There is much to be enjoyed outside of the boxes we comfortably place ourselves in. 

Q: What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

A: Wait. Breathe. Slow down-it's a marathon, not a sprint. You'll figure things out in due time because you don't know what you're about to do, but it's going to be awesome since God authored your story. Stay present in the present, because as cliché as it may sound, you can't get certain moments back when looking so far ahead.

Q: What empowering message would you like to share with young women today?

A: Take the limits off and don't measure your success against that of others. If you can conceive an idea in your mind, pursue it to the end so there will be no wonder or regret. Know that there will be naysayers and/or dream killers that will come with their proof positive examples of why 'it' won't work, but stand firm in who you are and wish to become. In part your life's purpose is to find your gifting and give it away to the extent that the world is left far better than when you found it.

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Q: What's the biggest hurdle you've overcome career-wise as a woman?

A: Transitioning from human services to career services within higher education. The process was an exercise in humility and creativity that caused me to seek out those I could learn from and, in some cases, be coached by. It also reminded me that finding a job is indeed a job. I learned relatively quickly the importance of networking, requiring that I stayed ready for an opportunity as opposed to getting ready (which takes work!).

Q: What's the most empowering experience you've had as a woman?

A: Wow--do I have to pick one experience? I've been blessed and fortunate to have several, past and recent. I'd say that one of the most empowering experiences was being the chair of 2013 YWCA's Empowering Women Luncheon .  I had an opportunity to assemble and work with some of Rochester's most talented, creative and resourceful women to achieve the ambitious goal of 2,000 people. We were faced with having to leverage media platforms in a way that we hadn't previously, while finding ways to better educate the community on this event. And we did it!

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: After a 90-minute deep tissue massage on a sunny day. Sun on my face, moon roof open and in that moment all is quiet, allowing me to just be.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Knowing that I have the ability to heal with a smile or hug. That I can inspire young ladies just by the life that I lead and the mentoring that I provide. By being I can help someone else become and with any luck, they will exceed my and their own expectations.

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