Real Women of Rochester | Juanita Medina

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

Medina-Boudoir-155.jpg

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.  

Medina-Boudoir-060.jpg

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.

Medina-Boudoir-114.jpg

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

Briscoe-Melissa-16.jpg

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. 

Briscoe-Family-027.jpg

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.  

Briscoe-Melissa-39.jpg
Briscoe-Melissa-44.jpg
Briscoe-Melissa-05.jpg

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. 

Briscoe-Melissa-49.jpg

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."

Briscoe-Family-015.jpg

Real Women of Rochester | Fatima Banister

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

Banister-Fatima-010.jpg

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!

Banister-Fatima-002.jpg

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. 

Banister-Fatima-024.jpg

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

GlobalConnections-059.jpg

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

Lewis-Jessica-032.jpg

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.

Lewis-Jessica-024.jpg
Lewis-Jessica-003.jpg
Lewis-Jessica-036.jpg

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.  

Lewis-Jessica-084.jpg

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. 

Lewis-Jessica-075.jpg
Lewis-Jessica-068.jpg

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.

Lewis-Jessica-013.jpg

Headshots For Empowerment

hfe-composite-web.jpg

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.

2018-06-29_0003.jpg
2018-06-29_0002.jpg

Real Women of Rochester | Annette Abell

Annette Abell | Age: 45 | President, Business Owner

Abell-Annette-037.jpg

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.

Abell-Annette-001.jpg

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. 

Abell-Annette-040.jpg

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

2018-05-23_0002.jpg

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)!

2018-05-23_0003.jpg

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.

2018-05-23_0004.jpg

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.

2018-05-23_0005.jpg

Man Crush Monday | Brad & Maggie Humberstone

Humberstone-Wedding-179.jpg

Tell us the story of how you met...

After moving to Rochester, I wanted a way to casually meet new people and explore my new town.  Being your typical millennial with a "What's the worst that could happen?" kind of attitude, I joined Tinder.  If all else failed, at least I would get a nice meal every now and then, right?

And then Brad happened.  The one who changed it all.  

We agreed to meet on a dark and and cold Tuesday night in October, at a tiny bar called Half Pint.  We sat on bar stools for hours, talking and laughing like we had been friends for years.  From the moment I met Brad, he made me feel like the most special person in the room.  Our first date was so easy and comfortable, I was hooked. 

Two and a half years later, Brad would take me back to Half Pint on a summer evening and ask me to marry him. 

Humberstone-Esession-112.jpg
Humberstone-Esession-053.jpg
Humberstone-Esession-034.jpg

What was the first date like?

Our first official date was an afternoon of hiking through Letchworth State Park.  Everything about that day was perfect.  After our hike, we stopped for cider doughnuts and apple cider.  We took the long way home on back country roads and grabbed dinner at one of his favorite spots.  I went home thinking about what life could be like with this amazing man by my side.  

What makes him crush worthy?

Brad is such a special human.  Not only is he an amazing husband, he's an incredible friend, brother and son (and doggie-daddy).  His warmth, unconditional love, relentless positive-attitude and sense of humor make being his wife an absolute privilege.  Brad is the best man I've ever met and I consider myself a pretty lucky lady to have him as my daily crush.  

Humberstone-Esession-003.jpg

What are you looking forward to most in your future together?

I am excited for the whole journey.  To watch Brad evolve and change and grow.  I can't wait to start a family and watch Brad transition into the role of being a new Dad.  I can't wait to see our how love evolves and changes and grows.  Brad has never loved me like I'm ordinary and it's made my life better in so many ways.  

Tell us about your wedding day

In October 2017, Brad and I married in front of our family and friends at the Woodcliff Hotel.  We were blessed with seriously the most beautiful sunset during our ceremony.  The clouds literally opened and a beam of light lit us up as we said our "I do's".  You can't make that stuff up!  

The whole day had "us" written all over it.  It was super romantic and full of love.  

NMS_2644.jpg
Humberstone-Wedding-978.jpg
NMS_0849.jpg
Humberstone-Wedding-504.jpg

Anything else you'd like to share??

I was twenty minutes late to our first date.  He will never let me forget this and even managed working my tardiness into his proposal when he said, "although you were late to our first date, Maggie, you were right on time."

Ladies, find someone who sees the best in you and hold on to them forever.  

Humberstone-Wedding-168.jpg

Spoleta Perri Wedding | 04.28.2018

Yesterday, two of the kindest souls pledged their lives to each other - and it was stunningly beautiful (in more ways than one!). While we could make an entire slideshow dedicated to the decor and details of this wedding - from the flowers to the napkins, the dress, and the place cards designed by Celebrated Events at The Wintergarden by Monroe's - the most gorgeous thing witnessed during this powerhouse couple's wedding was the incredible love that Michael and Jennifer share.

069-NMS_1238.jpg

One of the most special moments as a photographer was getting to capture Mike and Jen's new beginning at the place they first met - City Grill. After a busy morning of getting ready, the ceremony, and family portraits, the whole bridal party went to City Grill and it was a great time of looking ahead while appreciating how everyone got to this moment. Seeing Mike and Jen sit in the very seats they met in was so special. 

101-NMS_2053.jpg

Finally, as the couple and their guests danced the night away, nothing could take away from how much these two are head over heals for their daughter. Their little family could not have been any more bursting with love.

NMS_4062-3.jpg

Lindsey, Jennifer's sister shared that she has always said the one thing she could eat every day was pizza - so marrying the owner of Rochester's best pizza brand - Perri's Pizza -just makes sense :) Congrats to Jennifer & Mike Perri!

DN0A2122.jpg

Bridal Boudoir | The PERFECT wedding treat (for bride and groom!)!

 BRA & PANTY SET: SOMA INTIMATES 

BRA & PANTY SET: SOMA INTIMATES 

While preparing for your wedding day can be about many different things; dress shopping, choosing the perfect florist, sending out all the invites, and doing just about everything under the sun besides spending some (probably much needed) time on yourself, we've created our boudoir sessions to be a complete celebration of YOU from start to finish. This shoot also makes the perfect groom's gift - many of our brides use their boudoir album as a gift to give to their soon-to-be-life-partner on the wedding day. And we think that's wonderful! But what YOU will receive out of the experience is such a gift in and of itself, and that is what we're always most excited about for our bridal boudoir clients :)  

 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

 LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

 BRA & PANTY: SOMA

BRA & PANTY: SOMA

BridalBoudoir-Angelina-022.jpg

We know what you're thinking. "This is great.... for other women" or "I could never do that - I'm too [awkward, un-photogenic, need to lose 5-30lbs]." And while you may feel some of those nerves the night or morning before your shoot, or maybe don't normally describe yourself as "sexy", by the time you see yourself on the back of that camera within the first 5 minutes of your shoot, we promise there won't be a trace of those nerves to be found. This is one of the most special times in your life, to celebrate who you are to yourself, and to your future partner. Your fiancé sees you as the most beautiful, strong, compassionate goddess in the world (he put a ring on it, didn't he?!), so why shouldn't you?

BridalBoudoir-Angelina-044.jpg
BridalBoudoirPromo-Maren-008.jpg
BridalBoudoirPromo-Maren-034.jpg
BridalBoudoirPromo-Maren-001.jpg

Trusting a professional to find your best angles, understand lighting and lens choices and to help you choose the outfits that will photograph best will ensure your photos come out just how you've always wanted to see yourself. As we like to say, “you can't mess this up.” We take the entire day to celebrate your style and personality, and pamper you with our on-site hair and makeup services by Special Occasion Hair Design, and of course, a bubbly mimosa as soon as you walk through the door!

BridalBoudoirPromo-Maren-156.jpg
 BRA & PANTY: SOMA 

BRA & PANTY: SOMA 

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE

We love incorporating unique details, like the shoes or veil you'll be wearing when you walk down the aisle, or your man's favorite shirt and tie. Floral designs can also add some bridal feels to your shoot (we love working with Stacy K)! And of course, a ring shot or two never hurt anybody :) But in the end, you'll be the star of this show – we want to capture your most authentic self at this extraordinary time in your life.

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

So get that Pinterest board going, and have FUN with it! We can't wait to meet you and create the bridal photoshoot of your dreams together :)

BridalBoudoir-Angelina-091.jpg
 LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

LACE GOWN: LOVELY BRIDE

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

BridalBoudoir-Angelina-043.jpg
 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE

Thank you to Stacy K Floral for the beautiful floral designs, Chrissy from Special Occasion Hair Design for being our hair & makeup guru, Lovely Bride Rochester for the stunning bridal wear, Hair Comes The Bride for the bridal headpieces, and Revival Rentals for her killer vintage furniture collection that rotates in and out of our studio. And of course, our wonderful models!

 VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE | BRA & PANTY: AERIE

VEIL: LOVELY BRIDE | BRA & PANTY: AERIE

BridalBoudoirPromo-Maren-121.jpg
 WHITE SLIP: LOVELY BRIDE

WHITE SLIP: LOVELY BRIDE

BridalBoudoir-Angelina-158.jpg
BridalBoudoir-Angelina-143.jpg
 LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

LACE TOP: LOVELY BRIDE | HEADBAND: HAIR COMES THE BRIDE

LaVoie Haenisch (Surprise!) Wedding

082.jpg

It's always an honor to shoot someone's wedding. Even moreso when it's a friend. Add to that the fact that your friend is also in the wedding industry, and you've done dozens of weddings together - and now it's her turn?! Honor doesn't cover being chosen for such an event. It was truly one of the high points of my career as a wedding photographer to be able to shoot such a special occasion for Brittney LaVoie and Coby Haenisch. But in true wedding planner fashion - her own wedding had to be a bit out of the ordinary....  so while most of their guests thought they were attending an engagement party last night - their closest family members joined Brittney and Coby earlier in the day as they exchanged their vows in a private ceremony at St. Joseph's Park. You'll have to stay tuned for the reception photos at the stunning Arbor Loft, but in the meantime please enjoy this Same Day Slideshow that we created just after their ceremony, and played as the surprise-newly-weds entered their "engagement party" reception to share with all their very surprised guests :)

 CONGRATS BRITTNEY & COBY!!!

CONGRATS BRITTNEY & COBY!!!

Man Crush Monday | Jared & Tabatha Vander Weel

Tabatha's everyday #ManCrush is her husband, Jared Vanderweel.

2018-03-26_0006.jpg

Tell us the story of how you met...

We met in May of 2013 through Jared's sister Brigitte. I had just moved to Rochester from Chattanooga, TN, started working with her and we became instant friends. She invited me to her house for a cookout which Jared was also invited to. We both liked each other but wouldn't admit it for months until he asked to take me out for my birthday to Tapas 177.

2018-03-26_0009.jpg

What makes him crush worthy?

His confidence when he walks into a room, his heart of gold, and his trusting eyes. 

2018-03-26_0008.jpg

What's your favorite story about the two of you?

Getting caught in a storm in the Caribbean Sea. We were on our honeymoon island hopping on a personal catamaran for a week (a wedding present from my in-laws.) Jared was the captain and I was the skipper. Just the two of us on this boat without a care in the world, and we see the storm up ahead. But like most tropical storms, you are in it for a few minutes and just a few miles ahead it is nothing but sunshine. The rain was coming down but we still had our reggae music playing and drinks in hand laughing because nothing could bring us down. It was a perfect imperfect day.

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

The first Christmas we had together. Jared went out of his way to make everyone happy including me. I realized then that he was the most selfless person I had ever met.

2018-03-26_0004.jpg

What are you looking forward to most in your future together?

Retiring in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands

2018-03-26_0003.jpg

Tell us about the proposal...

December 8th, 2015 we were at Disney World in front of Cinderella's Castle watching the frozen show with my sister, brother-in-law and niece. Jared was standing behind me and when the show ended - I turned around and he was gone. I looked back to my sister and said "I don't know where Jared went," she looked past me and said "he is right behind you." When I turned around he was in a Prince Charming costume, he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. I of course said yes!

Tell us about your wedding day!

April 5th, 2017 we got married at the Sand Dollar Estate in St. Thomas USVI. I couldn't picture a more perfect day than what we had. Surrounded by friends and family we said "I DO" on the deck of the Little Sand Dollar overlooking the bluest water you have ever seen without a cloud in the sky.

2018-03-26_0005.jpg

Anything else you'd like to share?

I am the blessed one that gets to call him "mine". 

2018-03-26_0010.jpg

Real Women of Rochester | Lisa Ostrander

 

Lisa Ostrander   |  Age: 50  |  Profession: Pharmaceutical sales specialist

Ostrander-Lisa-56-sq.jpg

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: How much space do I have (lol) - my journey through womanhood has evolved. As a young girl I had a very clear vision of my life and what I wanted it to be. I wanted children, a husband, and  a successful career. I was not always sure I would have any of that. I have been a late bloomer throughout my journey. I went back to school at 32, started my amazing career in pharmaceuticals at 33, was married at 40, and had my daughter at almost 41. Prior to going back to college I had doubt that I was ever going to accomplish much in my life. The truth is that I did not feel I had a clear identity of who I was anymore. It had been mixed up in the relationships I was in, and those had been my focus. However, I had a desire in my heart to accomplish as much as I could. I am not really sure where I found the courage to go through the obstacles it took for me to finish school and break into a very difficult industry - but I did, and I persevered. I refused to give up and every door that slammed in my face made me more determined to keep going. That time in my life showed me that I had one quality that would carry me through my life above all else: courage. 

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

A: I have had a lot of experiences that have molded me into who I am today. I sometimes feel I could really write a book! For anyone going through any difficulties whether it is self-doubt or a career move and or cancer, which I was diagnosed with last May, the single best thing that helped me was having someone who would listen. We all go through seasons in life where we hit rough patches and speaking to someone who will simply be there to listen allows you to sort out your thoughts and be able to dig within yourself for the answers. And while it's helpful to have a listening crew, ultimately the momentum and action to create change has to come from within ourselves. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How comfortable I was. I felt confident and relaxed. Natalie did an amazing job of putting me at ease. 

2018-03-17_0001.jpg

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

A: Proud. Not because of my appearance, but because the image captured who I am today. It captured my true essence and that is what I wanted to portray.

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

A: First, this question makes me sad. I see many women struggle with self-esteem and it’s not an easy society we live in with so much emphasis on appearance which is a real thing, but I would share with women my favorite quote which is to "walk in faith and not fear". Beauty has such a spectrum . I teach my daughter that when she is around people to pretend everyone has a spacesuit on ...if you could not see their appearance- would that person still mean the same to you and would you want them in your life. Our exterior is only here while we are here. Our soul and the legacy we leave behind is what will shine on, and we all have something to share. 

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

A: It is never to late to chase your dreams and impact others lives. Do not let others discourage you from achieving what you desire, and have the courage to follow through. Also surround yourself with like minded people who will elevate you. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: This is a tough question. I am the only daughter in my family and as a young girl growing up, my father put a lot of emphasis on my appearance. As an adult looking back now and as a mom I know he did not do it to be harmful and that he was proud of me - but a lot of that commentary really stayed in my brain for a long time. For many years I felt that the value I brought was based on my appearance, and so I worked really hard at looking good. It was not until I was much older and began to get recognized for my achievements in my career that I was able to separate myself from that thought process . I do still work hard at taking care of myself and the truth is that there will always be that young teenage girl inside me remembering those comments, however the difference is that my appearance does not define me. It is just one part of the big puzzle that makes me who I have become .

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

A: To have courage. To not allow fear to hold you back from following the journey that was meant for you. Leap in, and take a chance - when you do amazing things will happen. I know this to be true because they happened to me!

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

A: I would tell my 16 year old self that your gonna have a rough journey and you will be tested in many different ways, and just when you think you may not be able to overcome a challenge you have to dig deeper - because you will overcome it. Don’t let fear stop you. It is going to hard and you will want to give up but don’t do it, and most importantly remember to live in the moment. 

2018-03-17_0002.jpg

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

A: Be prepared for every opportunity that comes your way and go for it. It was brought to you for a reason and you never know where it will take you. 

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

A: If I am being transparent it would be appearance. Unfortunately we still live in a society that judges you very quickly on how you look and so I have had to show both men and women that I deserve to be where I am. 

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

A: My most empowering experience has been speaking at the Angelo del Toro Hispanic youth leadership program in Albany. I was able to share with this amazing group of future leaders the importance of melanoma education. Being of Hispanic descent I always felt that I was "safe" - that melanoma would not occur in me, but it did and I'm lucky to be alive. Having these future leaders resonate with my journey and understand that they should advocate for their own health was so important to me. Cancers from melanoma have increased over the last 30 years and it all starts with education. When you are aware then you are prepared! One person dies every hour of every day from melanoma and Hispanics and African Americans typically get staged higher when diagnosed because they have missed the signs. I am absolutely moved to action to continue to help educate and continue to spread the message of awareness. Don't forget- it all starts with a skin check!

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel the most beautiful on a Saturday morning with a great cup of Spanish coffee and reading the newspaper . 

2018-03-17_0003.jpg

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love the possibilities that are still out there for women to make an impact in our community and in the lives of others. 

Real Women of Rochester | Jenny Thomas

Jenny Thomas  |  Age 42  |  Profession: Motivational Mentor

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-027-square.jpg

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: My journey was filled with hills, valleys, and mountain peaks. I lived under the radar and my worth for many years due to overwhelming feelings of rejection, and lack of identity. For many years I felt like a lost little girl looking for love and validation. I made a lot of mistakes; however I got married and raised (still raising) four children, and managed to attain the career (Nursing) that I felt I needed to be in. As an adoptee I always felt like a human question mark. I finally received the gift that I’d prayed for, and that was finding my biological family. Only, finding them didn’t bring the love and peace that I’d dreamed of. The quest to find the answers about myself brought me to a place of awareness and understanding. Realizing the answers that I’d sought, I’d always possessed. My journey unearthed my purpose and passions that had been buried by shame, and abandonment for most of my adult life. 

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-002.jpg

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

A: Let faith be your catalyst. Everything that you’ve endured has given you everything that you need to be the pioneer that you are. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How fun and relaxing it was!

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-033-square.jpg

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

A: Empowered 

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

A: We don’t give ourselves permission to be our own kind of beautiful. Not the beauty that we compare ourselves to. Remove the labels and allow YOUR beauty to be released and exist. 

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-047-square.jpg

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

A: There is nothing that you’ve done, or endured that can cancel who you are destined to be. Don’t ever dim your light to fit in. Instead hit them with your high beams. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Physical beauty is totally subjective. Kindness, love, and the ability to make people feel special are the most beautiful.

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

A: I hope women will be innovators, and no longer live within limits. If you haven’t found where you fit in, create it.

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-020.jpg

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

A: I need you to know that you were born with purpose. There are no mistakes, and you will understand everything you’ve endured. I love you!

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

A: Don’t wait to be told how great you are. Know your worth for yourself, and if people don’t acknowledge that, let your success leave them with no choice. 

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

A: Realizing that what I initially chose as a career wasn’t ultimately what I was born to do. Overcoming the fear connected with “letting go” and becoming an entrepreneur. 

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-010-square.jpg

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

A: Understanding that I can conquer fear. One of our biggest setbacks. My saying is: “be scared and do it anyways”.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I’m happy 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Our ability to battle back. 

Thomas-Jenny-LBD-034-square.jpg

Real Women of Rochester | Ryan Shear

Shear-RWOR-035.jpg

Ryan Shear  | Age: 35  | Professional Fundraiser

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: Let’s begin with the fact that my name is Ryan. I have spent my entire life correcting people who make the assumption that I am a male until they meet me in person. I can see how some girls may get upset and grow to resent the name or her parents for giving her the name. Not me. I love my name. I embrace my name. I rock my name. Who made the decision that the name Ryan had to be limited to a boy? My parents certainly did not (actually, my older sister made the final choice) and I’m thankful for that. So, that’s where my journey began – as soon as I was born! The rest of my journey through womanhood, similar to many others, has been a rollercoaster of emotions; a constant battle with myself trying to figure out who I am. I struggled with body image for several years. I never saw myself the way others did. I was, of course, my own worst critic. I had low self-esteem and it took many years for me to come to terms with it. When I became old enough to date I found myself in back-to-back relationships that were all severely unhealthy. Couple this with low self-esteem and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. I endured years of emotional (and some physical) abuse and convinced myself that this was totally normal. This is love, right? As I was trying to figure myself out I would lose what little of “me” I had and find myself molding to whatever it was that this guy needed or wanted me to be. You would think that after the first relationship like this that I would have learned a lesson, right? I finally came to my senses when I was about 26. I spent 10 years in this never-ending cycle. Thanks goodness for a supportive family and many years of therapy. It would be very easy to look back on all of this and be angry, but I would not be the woman I am today if that were the case. I truly believe that every opportunity is a learning opportunity. If I can use my past to help better another girl or woman’s future, then you best believe that I will. I am so glad that I found the strength within to walk away. Now, instead of following, I lead. I speak my mind. I stand my ground. I am woman, hear me roar!    

Shear-RWOR-037-square.jpg

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

A: I’ll defer to the late, great Janis Joplin – “Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I was surprised at how comfortable and natural it felt. There I was stripping down in front of a (then) complete stranger to be photographed. Had I completely lost my mind? Well, if I had, I’m glad I did! Natalie has an amazing ability to get people to let their guard down. If I was being hard on myself because a little bit of fat was oozing out here and there, she first assured me that I was being crazy and then made me laugh in a way that enabled her to capture incredible photos. Wow – do I really look like that? Awesome. The experience was a huge boost of confidence.

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

A: Damn, girl! But seriously, I feel sexy and beautiful. I clean up well. 

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

A: Don’t be silly. We are all beautiful in our own ways. You will look back on these photos and be so glad that you took the time to do it. The experience alone instills confidence in a way that words just cannot describe. Do it. Do it now.   

Shear-RWOR-018.jpg

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

A: You are not alone. Stop thinking that the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Ask for and accept help from others. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty comes from within – confidence, strength and a great sense of humor are beautiful. 

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

A: Don’t rush things and take time for yourself. If you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, that’s okay. I’m 35, a new mom and I’m still figuring it out, but you know what - I'm happy, I’m loved and that’s all that matters.  

Shear-RWOR-015.jpg

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

A: You look great. You just got your driver’s license and you need to be having fun. You don’t need a boyfriend – you have plenty of time in life for that – you do you. 

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

A: Be kind. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Stop obsessing over your outer appearance and stop allowing others to make you feel poorly for who you are. Confidence is beautiful and will take you far in life. Additionally, speak your mind. Choose your words wisely and make your words count.

Shear-RWOR-043.jpg

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

A: I brought a tiny human into this world. Okay, so my husband helped, but I worked HARD. It still amazes me that our bodies are capable of everything that goes along with childbirth. I have a very, very low tolerance for pain and was terrified of labor and delivery. Fortunately, my body did its thing, I needed very little intervention and after one hour of pushing the hardest I have ever pushed in my life, my son arrived, which was a very surreal moment for me. I did it. My husband was beyond impressed with how well I tolerated the pain. About two weeks later I found out that he was trembling the entire time I was pushing! He was a rock for me, but it was kind of cute to hear him say that he was scared.  

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: My past self would tell my present self that I am crazy for how I am about to answer this question, but I truly feel beautiful after working out. A handful of years ago I started working out with a personal trainer. She helped me discover a physical strength that I never would have imagined. My confidence level skyrocketed as I found something that I really enjoy.  

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I am grateful to be a woman right here and right now. Our world still has work to do toward gender equality, but right now, it’s pretty cool to be a woman. I appreciate that we are emotional creatures who are able to sympathize with the pain of others or cry because we are laughing so hard. Our bodies can create and sustain another human life and then produce the nourishment needed for that baby to grow. That is pretty damn incredible. I love that I can vote, drive a car, dress how I choose…anything…I can do anything I want and I can be whatever I want to be – and that’s amazing.

Shear-RWOR-012.jpg

Real Woman of Rochester | Pia LoRusso

Pia LoRusso | Age: 41 | Profession: Brow Sculptor at browbiz.cm

LoRusso-Pia-42-square.jpg

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: I have always been one to color outside the lines.  When I was 5 years old, I was playing with a friend outside in my yard and I had a stick in my hand, waving in front of my friends face and my mom yelled out for me to stop before I hit her in the face... well I continued and eventually hit my friend in the face.  My mom came out and yelled at me, which in turn embarrassed me.  So I yelled back at her and stormed off to my room where I cried and cried. My mom came up to calm me down and she said to me ‘now what it is that I always tell you?’  She was hoping my response was... ’that you always love me’. I responded ‘don’t drink and drink and drive!’

Never following rules except to never drink and drive... I’ve always been a bit anxious and ADD but these are truly gifts!  it has given me more compassion (because I never want anyone to feel anxious) and has allowed me to notice everything, like feelings, energies in a room or situation... very aware of my surroundings.

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

A: Oh if you are anxious my dear.... look at it as a gift!  It gives you more emotional intelligence than you ever thought you could have!  Once you are on the other side of feeling bad (because the feeling always does go away) the magic happens!  

LoRusso-Pia-19.jpg

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: Just how beautiful Natalie made me feel!  Like deep down inner beauty.... whoa. It was such an amazing morning working with Natalie..

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

A: OMG - I can’t believe that is really me!

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

A: Everyone is beautiful. Everyone. 

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

A: Be easier on yourself, life is hard enough sometimes, give yourself more credit. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: It must come from the inside - true beauty cannot be photoshopped!  We never really see what other people see anyway.  because think about it... what do we see?  A one dimension reflection? That’s 2 whole dimensions that are missing!  Everyone sees us in 3D, but to look at our 1D of yourself?!? Believe the person that says you are beautiful- they see something you will never see!

LoRusso-Pia-36e.jpg

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

A: Always be kind, everyone has story that would break your heart. Look for the goodness in this world and that is what will always surround you. The universe has your back - seriously. what you put out there (including social media) comes back - put out kindness and love and compassion- that’s what you will get in return. Your fear is full of shit.

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

A: Some one is always watching you! (Not in a creepy way)  Be gentle with your words but fierce with your message. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women?

A: Everyone needs to know they have power!  One of my most favorite yoga teachers at breathe, Theresa, reminded me of the Viktor Frankl quote:

“Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor Frankl

In my career I am able to talk to all different types of people and when I tell people they have power, they look at me funny... kind of like I just gave them a gift that they never expected... For me, sometimes the goal of my meditation practice isn’t just to quiet my mind, but to give me a chance to pause, give myself some space to get my power.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Right after doing yoga!  Do it - then when you get in your car check out your reflection in your rear view mirror. It’s amazing- I can see my eyes are lighter. 

LoRusso-Pia-45.jpg

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything!  But mostly my boobs... (can I say that here?)

Real Women of Rochester - Tiffany

De-Boudoir-144.jpg

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: Wow! What a question! I guess that would have to start with what that means to me.  My whole life, I have been surrounded by strong women. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts and cousins have all shown strength emotionally and physically. To me a being a woman is, finding that strength within you to be yourself--to live freely. It is to be graceful with each challenge you face but with tenacity and confidence. It is to not cower in the shadow of a man.

 My journey starts with college. After many years of partying, and fulfilling my biology degree requirements I was left thinking what every twenty-something thinks, "What am I doing with my life? Is it even meaningful?" I had goals of being a doctor, and OB/GYN. I wanted to deliver babies and inform women about their sexual health. My passion was deep, but it was also clouded. After many attempts at standardized tests, denied applications and hours of shadow experience I had to throw in the towel. It's hard letting go, I wandered this earth pretty aimlessly. That time even though I had no career goals; I had goals of becoming the woman I have always envisioned myself, just without the job. It took work, to find my confidence, my drive, and myself. But like a strong woman, I pulled through. To be honest, I still have no clue what I am going to do for the rest of my life but that is OK. I will figure it out, or most likely it will appear in my life kicking and screaming.

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

A: To all the women worried about what they are "supposed" to be doing for the rest of their life:  Are you kind to yourself? Are you taking the best care of yourself? Do you leave conversations without doubt or feeling like you had to pretend to be someone? STOP with the smoke screen. Because the more we live authentically ourselves, the more we will be open to what we are actually supposed to do. And I am a firm believer in if we all do something we love, this world will be better off for it. Let your calling actually CALL you.

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

A: I love it! I love that even though I was lost at that point in time, I was still figuring out who I am. It is a time marker, it reminds me all that happened and all that is still left to be. 

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

A: Do you genuinely think that? Because even without seeing you, I know you are beautiful. Be kind to yourself, being you is what this world needs. Photographs are reminders of that. Let the world see how amazing you are. 

DeAlwis-Boudoir-110.jpg

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

A: It's ok to be lost. It is ok to not have every detail of your life figured out. Don't rush the process, but also don't wait for things to happen to you. 

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

A: Oh, girl! Men are not everything, you are everything and more. 

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

A: Don't take change for granted. You are all witnesses to a lot of changes happening, politically. Don't forget all the people that have had to fight for equality before you. Do not take anything for granted. 

De-Boudoir-160.jpg

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

A: Not knowing what my career is. I still don't, but my heart is open. I'm currently work for lululemon, and it has been such a great company to work for. Many people I work with say this company has helped them find what they are good at. So at work I take every opportunity to talk to interesting people, to do things i never would have done before. My hope is by putting myself out there and making myself uncomfortable, I will eventually find my dream career. Secretly, I would love to own a donut shop. But let's be honest, not many of them would make it into the case ;)

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

A: Realizing my value, realizing my inner strength and my possibility. It wasn't one experience but a collection of many. A year ago my husband Andrew got matched to a program in Long Island. Let me preface, I knew no one and had no job prospects. The only thing I knew about Long Island were the Hamptons, the horrible traffic and the ice coffee was good. Being in this new situation I made a conscious decision to just put myself out there and see what happens. I set low expectations but high standards. I definitely gained self-love, learned what I am good at and became inspired. I spoke up more, did things I never would have done, talked to random strangers. I think the moment you decide to step outside your fear, is the moment you give yourself a little more out of life. 

De-Boudoir-018.jpg

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Working out, because somehow my inner strength (my self-confidence, my lack of doubt, my fearlessness) is matched by my outer strength. It is pretty euphoric. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything, my body, my mind, and my soul. The fact that I get to dress the way I want. That I get to make love to my husband. I can be a mother someday and have a special connection with another human. My strength, we are so much stronger than men. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 5.54.48 PM.png

Real Women of Rochester | Natasha Scrivens

rochester-wedding-photographer2.jpg

Natasha Scrivens  | Age: 36  |  Profession: Pharmacist

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

When most teenage girls where worried about if the cute boy would be in their English class or what clothes to wear and how to do their makeup for school, I was faced with an entirely different problem in my early teens.  I remember laying in the back seat of the mini-van while my mom sped down the road to get me to the ER.  The doctor had called her moments earlier, my blood sugar was so high it was unreadable on their machines.  She was told I had to be admitted to the hospital ASAP. As I laid in the back of the car crying, it took too much energy to keep my eyes open - all I wanted to do was sleep.  What did this mean?  What was happening to me?  Was I going to die?  All questions that went through my head. I knew I was sick, I knew I didn't feel well.  While my friends where chasing boys that summer, I was in a hospital room learning how to test my blood sugar, draw up insulin and give myself shots to stay alive.  In many ways being diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic has molded me into the woman I am now.

rochester-boudoir-pictures3.jpg

I come from a family of immigrants.  I grew up listening to languages that most people do not recognize.  I have two grandmothers (and grandfathers ) who immigrated here as young adults.  Although both came from different countries, both left everything they knew for a better life.  Both women were/are strong willed and determine.  l carry on their determination.  I would not let diabetes hold me back in what I wanted to accomplish.  I've heard so many times I could not succeed in the path I was walking.  I would not listen.  Like my grandparents I knew anything was possible with a little hard work.

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

Hang on, things will get better.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

I was surprised by how comfortable Natalie made me feel.  I am one that likes to be covered up, so the thought of being in my bra and underwear and having my pictures taken was horrifying. Natalie's personality put me right to rest.  We ended up laughing through the shoot.  

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

I feel beautiful, strong, and sexy.  I also feel like passing them out to to all my classmates in middle school and high school that used to make fun of me.  

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

You are beautiful!  Everyone is different, our differences make us beautiful. 

rochester-boudoir-pictures5.jpg

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

Beauty can come in many forms.  You don't have to be blonde, blue eyes, and 90 lbs to be beautiful.  Beauty comes from the inside and how you hold yourself.  You can be beautiful in jeans and a sweatshirt or a gorgeous wedding gown.  

rochester-boudoir-pictures2.jpg

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

My hopes for the next generation of women is to hold high-power positions. Yes there are a lot of women already in high-power positions, but if you look at the top companies in the US they are mostly run by men.  There is no reason why a women shouldn't be running these companies.  My advice would be pull your shoulders back, chin up and get what you deserve.  You know you are capable of it, attack it! You deserve it.

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

It's okay to fail, and you are beautiful.  You will find someone one day, that loves you and puts up with all your short comings.  And listen to your parents, hard work when you are young will pay off when you are older.

rochester-wedding-photographer3.jpg

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

Nothing is easy.  If being successful was easy we would all do it.  Hard work and determination is the only way you will succeed.  Find something you love, make goals and work towards them.  You may fail, it may take you longer to reach them, but the feeling you get when you meet your goals is the most fantastic feeling in the world.

Q: When do you feel / have you felt most beautiful?

On my wedding day.  Or on date nights when I see my husband smile as he introduces me to his friends or co-workers.  

rochester-wedding-photographer4.jpg

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

The opportunity it has given me.  I can be the powerful woman at work that has the answers to your questions. I can be the competitive women that makes bets with you and does everything I can do to win.  And I can be the woman that walks into the room who turns heads. Strong, fierce and beautiful.  :)  

rochester-boudoir-pictures.jpg

Real Women of Rochester - Samantha Miles

Miles-Samantha-LBD-08.jpg

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: The first image of a woman in my life was my mother. She had eight children with my father. She is Mexican-American. He is a mix of Irish and Mediterranean roots. 

She home schooled my siblings and I. Watching her raise eight kids, I adopted the idea that I too, would have at least four kids. Until high school, I didn't really know what life was like outside motherhood. But my mom is such a dreamer, and she always encouraged me to go after anything I was passionate about. I respect her so much for that, because though she didn't know how to help me make my dreams come true, she was my biggest cheer leader in everything I did. 

In my teens, my mom introduced me to Oprah. I watched her religiously on my moms bed every day at 4:00 PM, enamored by her presence as a woman in media. I started watching other news outlets simultaneously, and became addicted to watching breaking news coverage on the front-lines. 

I had these ideas of being a correspondent, but had no idea where to start and no mentors, much less women to help navigate the world of TV news. So, I went after my other interest: hair styling. My father ran a women's halfway home, and I volunteered styling hair for women who stayed at the home. I interacted with women who had been through domestic violence and substance abuse. They truly did not believe they were beautiful. They taught me a great deal about women and self-esteem.

tryptic.jpg

At 17, I went to Cosmetology School. I learned how women can be each other's motivation, but we can also be each others harshest critics. In the beauty industry, physical beauty is everything. But it can also be a threat to women when they feel like another woman is more beautiful than they are. It was very eye-opening in how women sometimes miss out on great relationships when we envy each other's beauty.

In college, I competed in pageants, and eventually won the title of Miss Colorado. Pageants are a whole other ball game when it comes to "womanhood." It's an environment that can make women feel like if they don't win, then they must not be beautiful enough to be chosen for the title. Add more makeup. Get in better shape. If you don't win, it can make you feel like you're "not good enough." It's all pressure that comes with pageants. Through these experiences, I learned that for me, beauty as a woman is about being strong and healthy, and confident appreciating the body I have, and all that it is capable of. 

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

Self-awareness is really important to feel confident as a woman. Yes, we have our moments when we feel insecure, and we don't feel beautiful. But if you have a deep understanding of who you are and what's important to you, that will ground you and get you through self doubt and feelings of insecurity. Having a go-to routine that lifts your spirits if you're feeling down on yourself is a great way to bring your self-perception/appreciation back up.

Miles-Samantha-LBD-73.jpg

What surprised you most about your photography experience?

I've worked with photographers in the past, and always felt anxiety looking at the final product. 

Working with Natalie, I was surprised to enjoy the entire process, and really like the way I looked. She has a way of making you feel totally at ease, and you'll even catch yourself naturally laughing because it's such a fun experience. She has a way of holding up a "mirror" and saying "Hey, you're amazing. Let's capture your unique energy on camera."

Being photographed by a woman was a new experience as well. It made me realize how women can make those around them see each other in a better light. Natalie does that. 

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

It's refreshing. It makes you walk a little taller. Natalie manages to capture how friends and family see you. We as women tend to be hard on ourselves, but Natalie has a way of saying, "You're gorgeous. Celebrate being you." I really felt beautiful looking at my pictures, because it wasn't just posing like my past experiences. She captured my personality, my joy.

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

We are our own worst critics. Take a chance, and be open to experiencing seeing yourself in a new light. Guaranteed, being photographed by Natalie will be different from anything you've done in the past. You won't want the shoot to end!

Miles-Samantha-LBD-45.jpg

What message would you like to share with other women?

Be kind to yourself. Believe in yourself. Go after what inspires you, and really enjoy it. Know that femininity is a gift. Our presence changes the energy of a room. 

What are your thoughts on beauty?

Beauty is from within and the authenticity of the person that you are, and being proud of that and taking care of that. Your culture, all of your identities. Even your flaws, being proud of you is most beautiful. 

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

Reach out to women that uplift you. Get a mentor, someone who builds you up in a variety of ways. Practice good self-care, make sure you take care of yourself especially on days when you feel low. And never take the rejection of a relationship as a reflection on your beauty or worth or that something is wrong with you. We often try to change ourselves to make it work.

Miles-Samantha-LBD-97.jpg
Miles-Samantha-LBD-39.jpg

What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

I was battling eating disorders and self-mutilation when I was 16. I would tell myself to go easy on my body. I would say, "Stop downplaying who you are. Just enjoy being you. Dream big and really believe in those dreams and enjoy the simple things right in front of you." My mother has told me this a thousand times and I'm still learning! 

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

We're living in a time where there is a major shift happening for women's empowerment through media. It's incredible to see. This is a time when our voices are being amplified, telling our stories, demanding more respect. What a time to be alive as a woman, a time when telling our stories is quickly building into an uplifting movement spreading our truth around the world. Sharing your story of beauty and empowerment is going to add to our momentum. You will make a positive difference. You may not know how, but you will.

Miles-Samantha-LBD-70.jpg

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

I work in TV news, so over the years working in broadcast, I've learned to protect myself as a woman in the public eye. People have the ability to comment and criticize my appearance. That can be tough, as some comments are down right cyber bullying to try to make you feel bad about yourself. I learned quickly that I need to block out those hurtful comments to focus on my work. The criticisms online can be very distracting and damaging to self-esteem. It's a strange thing to hear mean comments from people you may never meet. I told myself early on that I will tune out those comments and only pay attention to feedback that will actually improve my work, my craft, which is good journalism that helps people. 

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

More experiences than I can write in a brief paragraph! I think if we pay attention and really be present in all areas of our lives, we can have empowering experiences often, so that your life just feels full and empowered. 

But, I will share two moments here. 

I studied abroad in Morocco and Tunisia during the Arab Spring Uprisings. I was the first woman in my family to travel outside of the country, and into North Africa during a time of revolution. Being a woman in these countries is exhausting. You are constantly trying to protect yourself from harassment. I was able to work with other women in the region to document how they were working to make sure women's rights did not go backwards during the revolution, and document their process re-writing the Tunisian constitution. It was a chance to help tell their stories at a turning point in history. I'll never forget this experience.

The other moment that was pivotal for me is going to Columbia Journalism School, an Ivy league. As a first generation college student, I clawed my way through college in Denver, and I never conceived I'd go to an Ivy League. Stepping foot on that campus was a moment to really believe the words: "You belong here. You are worthy." 

Miles-Samantha-LBD-58.jpg
Miles-Samantha-LBD-92.jpg

When do you feel the most beautiful?

Photo shoots are so much fun to play and just get lost in the art of photography and self-expression. But the other parts of life when I feel most beautiful is when I'm with close friends, just appreciating each others company.  Spending time with family, and feeling their unconditional love makes me feel beautiful. Family and friends are a reminder that beauty is not always about appearance, but it's a place of feeling love for each other. 

I also feel most beautiful when I'm with a loving partner, grateful for each other. 

What do you love about being a woman?

I love that we are dynamic creatures. Femininity is a gift, like a superpower. We see the world in a way that is infinite with possibilities. There are so many facets to us, and we can pretty much do anything. 

Miles-Samantha-LBD-73-logo.jpg