Real Women of Rochester | Juanita Medina

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When my dog is kissing me.

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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