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