Real Women of Rochester | Erin Julian

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

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

A: It gets better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything!

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Real Women of Rochester | Shaquana Divers

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

A: I am proud of you! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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

Real Women of Rochester | Ayanna Jackson

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

Real Women of Rochester: Breanna Banford

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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

Real Women of Rochester | Amanda Wattie

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

A: Happy!

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

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

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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

Real Women of Rochester | Ilana Griffo

Ilana Griffo | Age: 29 | Illustrator & Designer

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

A: Every. Body. Is. Beautiful. 

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

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

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: What's not to love?! 

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

Real Women of Rochester | Fatima Banister

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

Real Women of Rochester | Jessica Lewis

Jessica Lewis | Age: 32 | Communications Specialist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love the strength of being a woman.

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Real Women of Rochester | Annette Abell

Annette Abell | Age: 45 | President, Business Owner

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

Real Women Of Rochester | Sharitta Gross-Smith

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

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

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

Now I'm a selective extrovert. LOL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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Real Women of Rochester | Lisa Ostrander

 

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

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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. 

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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. 

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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 . 

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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

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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. 

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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Real Women of Rochester | Ryan Shear

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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!    

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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.   

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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Real Woman of Rochester | Pia LoRusso

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

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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!  

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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!

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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. 

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

Real Women of Rochester | Natasha Scrivens

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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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.  :)  

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Real Women of Rochester - Samantha Miles

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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." 

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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. 

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Real Women of Rochester | Lisa's Shoot Reveal

In case you missed the first part of this two-part story, read our "Meet Lisa" post first, and then enjoy the grande finale of her story and finished images below! :) I've also included some great resources at the bottom - both an organization that helped Lisa and her son through their struggles with his addiction, as well as a video of Lisa presenting her story to a committee of NYS Senators in hopes to reform our government's policies that provide help for those fighting addiction.

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT

"While I was nervous to call originally, when I came in the studio, Natalie made me feel completely right at home. All the nerves went out the door. I was just excited.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT

Honestly. I felt great. You feel glamorous, you feel good inside, good outside. I can’t say enough. And then when you’re showing me the pictures, I’m like ‘Wow! Let’s keep going!” I can’t explain the feeling. I felt so good. She made me feel so good! Like no one else has made me feel before, other than my husband.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS

I love this picture. It makes me feel proud. Empowered. I can’t explain it, I don’t want to say delicate, but It’s very soft. I want to come across as soft but tough. Feminine.

I love how sexy this photo is! I wouldn’t describe myself as sexy but that’s a sexy picture!

My husband loves this photo – it's on his desk. He says I look beautiful, confident, loving, approachable. Honestly, he loves them all, and so do I.  Sometimes I’ll be doing book-work at the desk and I’ll look at it and go “wow, that was so much fun! I wanna do it again!”. I love revisiting my images for a confidence boost. It was a such a great experience, honestly, it was! I tell everybody about it.

PARTING THOUGHTS

Never underestimate what you can do. Never tell yourself you can’t. Always tell yourself you can, and do it to the best of your ability. No matter if it’s a crisis, a new job, difficulties within your family, a health issue. Just never say you can’t do something - because you really can.  Growing up I was always very shy and quiet, I hid behind my mother. As I got older and I started to experience difficult things, and I found the fight in me. I've put myself in uncomfortable positions to overcome my fear. Even though I was scared out of my wits sometimes, there were things I had to do. So I just told myself I could do them – and then I did. For example recently, I had to talk on a heroin and opiate forum, and I had senators in front of me who wanted me to share my story in a nutshell. I was scared but I thought, I’m doing this. I need to do this for other people. There was not enough help when we went through this, and it was an incredibly difficult time. Even now, there’s people that need help and they still can’t find it. And that needs to change.

Since I've started sharing my story, I’ve gotten messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years and they’ve told me that they are struggling. They ask for advice, and I offer my experiences. I never want to tell you what to do with your child but I want people to know what I did, and hopefully they can benefit from what I've been through.

I take every day as it comes. I can’t look at the whole picture because I get nervous, anxious. None of that is good. So, today is today, what do I have on my plate today? I’m going to deal with it, and tomorrow is another day. That’s how I look at things. It’s good to prepare for the future, but I have to look at each day is it comes. Like today, when I came here for my interview, I didn’t want to be nervous, so I just showed up and did it.

I did this boudoir shoot for my husband thinking only of him , but I realized after I did the shoot it was something I needed for myself as well. I spent so much time working to survive,  raising my two sons which always came first and dealing with one that was an addict - I forgot about myself. In these images I saw something in me I never saw before, a very strong, tough woman. I’m so thankful that Natalie brought that out of me during our shoot, so glad we've become friends through this new journey, it’s been a wonderful experience I'll never forget!"  - Lisa

Resources:
The group that helped her son: www.teenchallengeusa.com              
The video of Lisa speaking to Senators about her experience, lobbying for more resources to be allocated to addiction support:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECzhxzkL0no&feature=em-share_video_user > Lisa starts at 1:39:40

Real Women of Rochester | Meet Lisa

NOTE FROM NAT: The moment I met Lisa, I was thrilled she had booked a shoot with me. Not only is she a clearly well-put together and beautiful on the outside, but I immediately sensed a depth and quiet resolve about her. She opens with an incredible smile and a strong hug - and quickly warms into a great conversation. I started Real Women Of Rochester well after her shoot was completed, but as soon as I started thinking of women I'd like to feature - Lisa was on my short list. Not only was her life story compelling, but she had such an earnest desire to share it for the benefit of others. So without further ado, I'd like you to meet Lisa....

Lisa Thompson, 51, Hair Salon Owner & Stylist: Studio Valencia Hair Design

HER WHY:  "I decided to make the call and do a shoot for my husband's birthday. He’s always so encouraging and inspiring to me, I decided I wanted to do something nice for him. After my shoot, Natalie asked me if I'd like to be a part of her Real Women project.  I said yes, because I want to help and encourage anyone who’s going through a really tough time - for me it was my son's drug abuse. If I can help somebody stay strong to get through the storm, even if it’s just a sentence or a few words to give them hope. There are so many resources out there that can help, but back when I went through this, you just didn’t talk about it. That needs to change.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I think beauty comes from the heart, it radiates through. “Beautiful” has many definitions - it’s not just a physical thing. There is inner beauty in so many people. I truly think beauty is within. As a hairstylist , it makes me feel good to know that I’m there to make my clients  feel good in many ways. By my conversations with them, I hope that I make them feel beautiful for who they are, not just what they look like.  I like to bring out what I see in them - to encourage them to see how beautiful they really are when they’re not feeling good about themselves or going through a tough time.  I have so much compassion for people, especially people who are going through hard times that they can’t control. If I can even just say two words to make them feel better, I have accomplished my mission.  We’re all here for a purpose, and my purpose is to make people feel good within. That’s what I gotta do.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: I’ve never had very good self-esteem, even though people think I do. I’m very hard on myself. I try my best but deep inside I think we all have an inner critic.  I searched the web, I saw Natalie’s name. I clicked on it and this great website came up with gorgeous  pictures. I’m like “this is what I wanna do.” I thought about it, and thought about it - the unknown is very scary. It took me a couple weeks to call!

HER MISSION: Drug addiction is a big issue we're dealing with this in this day and age, and at the time I was going through it, very few people were talking about it. My son was a functioning addict for ten years. He had a great job and worked hard, you’d never know he was abusing drugs, but I did. It started with pain pills that I found in his room. Towards the end he was doing heroin and crack.  He’d try to get clean on his own, I’d see a difference, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for days.  It’s a terrible pattern. You have to remind yourself, their behaviors are not your child, that’s the drugs. I know a lot of parents feel they have to save their child by giving them money or what they need when they abuse drugs because they feel they are helping them, and just maybe they will stop.  No, you must let them feel what they’ve done to themselves as hard as it is - if you don’t you’re just helping them stay on drugs. There is a fine line between enabling and supporting. As a parent we always want to support our child, take away the pain and make it all better. But if they’ve chosen this road, they need to feel the consequences with no support. It’s a gamble. It’s up to that child  to say, ‘I hit rock bottom. I can’t do this, I hate my life and what I’ve done to myself, I miss my family.’

It was a difficult journey. I got divorced after 16 years of marriage, my ex became addicted to pain pills under a physician’s watch, and everything went downhill from there,  I became a single mom. My son started abusing pain pills and other drugs after my divorce, it was a very emotional time for me. At one point I kicked him out of my house because of his behavior, I had my rules and he rebelled. I had to look out for his younger brother. I worked 2 jobs which I loved, and it helped me financially because I didn’t get child support due to my ex not working.  I worked at United Airlines, would get up at 3 in the morning and work the morning shift. My job duties included ticket counter, gates, de-icing the airplanes and loading them with luggage and mail - whatever my job was that day. I worked till 10:30am, would eat and get changed and then go the the salon until 7pm at night. I took every day as it came.

A turning point in my life was when I reconnected with a childhood friend, who is now my husband. He became the key to rebuilding my life. He pushed me to open my business, and he was so uplifting.  I was unhappy at the salon where I was, and he told me “I know you can do this” when I was doubting myself. I was 40 when I started my business, and I thought at that age that I couldn’t do it.  My business has been going strong for ten years now. Me and my stylists are a family for each other, and my clients call it Cheers! We’ve all been doing hair for 30+ years.

After years of struggling, my son went to a year and a half faith-based program. Now, he has been clean for 4 years. The one month of treatment that is often offered isn’t going to solve the problem, and neither is 6 months. People don’t realize that once you get out of rehab, you’re not cured. You have to reprogram your mind and your habits. Lots of people relapse, and you have to stay strong through that. He surrounded himself with good people. He’s very driven, he’s like his mother!  I’m grateful for that because I want both my sons to be independent - and they are.  He says he doesn’t have any desire to do any drugs which is a miracle. He’s been on the Dean’s list three years in a row. He has formed a support group at school and revisits his rehab not to far from his college and speaks to other men  going through addiction.

PARTING WORDS: There are two keys I always live by; I have very strong Christian faith, and so the first is Philippians 4:13 which says ‘I can do all things through Christ’. Also, my parents always said ‘You can do anything you put your mind to’. Those two keys really stuck with me so when I looked at something I thought I couldn’t do, I would focus on those two phrases. I did it."

Thanks Lisa for so bravely and honestly sharing your story - we can't wait to see your boudoir images next week! :)  - Natalie

Real Women of Rochester | Cindy's Photo Reveal

Last week Cindy shared the story of her life's journey with us, and why she wanted to be a part of the project. This week, we have her images accompanied by her thoughts during every step of the process, as well as what her images mean to her!

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: I try not to have expectations so that when I go into things it’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is. I can never know what’s going to happen, so I don’t want to have an expectation. It helps me from getting nervous or anxious, I just take it for what it is. That's been my outlook since I was 20 and went to study abroad in Scotland by myself. That prepared me for many things in life. I was completely on my own. As soon as you think things will go badly, it usually will go badly. And if you think it will go well, then you might be disappointed. Before my shoot I knew I had prepared the best I could, and therefore I felt ready for whatever it would be.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: How fun it was! It was exciting and freeing and I felt very comfortable during the shoot. I didn’t know what it would be like, but like I said I felt very prepared. I knew what clothing and jewelry I was going to wear, and I loved all the new things I brought - I had everything I needed. I never would’ve picked out the blue set, but the woman at Victoria's Secret (Charlie, in the Greece mall!) picked it out. And she was right. I love it! I have to write her a thank you card.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: It’s so hard not to compare yourself to other people, especially with bathing suit season upon us. But I look at these images and I think to myself, 'why haven’t you worn a bikini? Why haven’t you ever invested in that? You look good!' I wonder what my hesitations were – looking back now, I don’t get it. It really does make me feel very good about my body and that it’s a strong, healthy body. This body has had two kids. It makes me feel good, ya know? I’d never had my hair and makeup done so that in and of itself was great. I’ve always done spa stuff as a form of self care. I get massages every month, facials, pedicures, manicures. I consider that maintenance, and I consider that health; taking care of myself physically. This was exciting for me, because now I think maybe I will get my hair and makeup done more, and maybe I will do some more photography in the future. It opened up a whole other arena of feeling good about myself! Same with the shopping component - I had never purchased nice underwear before this. I'd always buy the exact same underwear. I thought - 'Why bother? No one sees it'. Now I see the value. Why wouldn’t you wear something pretty underneath your clothes? The whole process was so fun for me. Going into the shoot I was hoping to see myself as beautiful – and that was absolutely met. I love the proportions of my body. I love my legs, and my neck too. Sometimes I don’t realize how confident I am or how I can present myself. I forget my own strength.

PARTING THOUGHTS: I wanted to be a part of a community of women who celebrate and empower each other. It is so in line with what I do for a living as a wellness coach. I help people identify a wellness plan for their life. I love working with people in their 30s, because so many things happen in your life at that time; getting married, having kids, buying a home. We have such a healthcare issue and a savings issue in this country. If you’re not saving and you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re going to be in dire need when you’re in your 60s, and you’re not going to be able to live the lifestyle you dreamed of. If you don't have your health, all of your money will go to wellness and medical expenses. So my purpose is to educate people early enough in their life to make those changes. I help them create a plan based on their goals, and I serve as their accountability manager to help them get to where they want to be. I didn't find my purpose until later in life, but all of the information I have gathered in my twenty years of education and knowledge - including my business degree, my massage therapy degree, and me being a researcher into wellness prepared me for this- my ultimate path in life.

I would highly recommend women do this for themselves because I think stepping outside of yourself, and to be able to see yourself from another person’s perspective is a great way to change your own belief system about yourself. You rarely get to see yourself through another person’s eyes. I think this is a glimpse of that in a safe, comfortable, positive way. You get to see yourself in a different light; in a way that you never will again in your life. It’s a much more intimate experience than just having a head shot done.

And for the record, here's the head shot she originally called me for to promote her wellness business, which we did during her boudoir shoot as well ;)

Real Women of Rochester | Cindy

Cindy has many wonderful qualities, but one that really stood out to me upon meeting her is that she's very present. Authentic. She's standing in front of you, meeting you right back, and there's no where else she'd rather be. She's an incredible listener, gives the best hugs, stands tall, and for lack of a better term - really has her sh*t together :) I've enjoyed getting to know Cindy immensely, I hope you all do as well...

Cindy - 40, Residence: Rochester. Wellness Advocate, Corporate Convert and Energetic Entrepreneur (cindysessentials.com)

Cindy | Cindysessentials.com

Cindy | Cindysessentials.com

HER WHY: My life changed completely about four and a half years ago when I went to a home class to learn about Essential Oils. At that point in my life I was working as a Human Resources Consultant. My commute was about an hour each way and just like most people I was juggling working, being a mom, wife and had lost a piece of who I was.

My initial focus for going to the class was to learn more natural ways to help my daughter who had asthma. I am also a Licensed Massage Therapist, so natural wellness has always been my passion. Little did I know that getting a membership that night would not only transform our family’s physical health, but also allow me to tune in to and follow my life’s purpose.

Fast forward 4 years and I am looking for head shots for my business, but kind of knew that Natalie also did boudoir photos. I had cut my safety net of consulting two years earlier and hopped on the entrepreneur roller coaster. When I talked with Amy, she told me Natalie doesn't focus on headshots, but she does do boudoir and that I could add on a headshot to that type of shoot if I was interested. My friend had done boudoir photos, and it was a very special experience for her. It had always been in the back of my head, (and my husbands after I mentioned it to him) and I decided that I might as well do it!

It was my way of telling myself it was okay, because I was getting headshots out of it, but ultimately it was a 40th birthday gift to myself and I knew it would be a pretty awesome Father’s Day gift!

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I am beautiful at forty. I wouldn’t have been able to say that earlier in my life. I was known as the nice one, smart one, athletic one, but not the beautiful one. Funny how other people’s perception starts to work inside you. For the past forty years, I identified with those characteristics and didn’t really think about beauty. I didn’t wear a lot of dresses or makeup or ever buy frilly underwear and very feminine clothing. It just didn’t feel right. This past year I started a program called Dressing Your Truth with Carol Tuttle and I started to recognize that what I wore really did have a lot to say about who I am. Prior to the class, I would wear black, white, grey and navy blue. After recognizing which type I really was inside, those colors and styles actually were presenting a false picture of me. I am a Type 3. My words are Active, Reactive, Textured, Angular, Rich, Substantial, Dynamic and Swift. Interestingly enough, on the color palate, black, white, grey and navy are absent! I started shopping differently, trying new clothing and I felt so much better.

My idea of beauty is to know who you are and take care of yourself. Beauty is understanding your strengths and realizing your potential, in all areas of life. Beauty is being healthy. It takes time and effort to peel away all the layers of what society, your family, and your friends think of as beautiful. When I was younger, I thought I had to fit into a mold or prove something. I now realize, I am me, I am perfect and the more me I become, the more beautiful I am! When you take care of yourself, your outside is going to reflect it. People tend to radiate a certain glow when they are healthy. That is what I want to teach people.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: Being exposed. I do not wear bikinis, I rarely wear shorts. I own one pair. I don’t wear sports bras without a shirt - my stomach is never exposed. I tend to cover up. I don’t know why, I don’t think I have an awful body. I've just never thought the world needed to see it? Being exposed, in particular, is very vulnerable. I knew once it’s out there, it’s out there. Deep down I think there is also that little voice in the back of your head that says, “What will other people think?” I want to break free from that thinking all together so I decided to go for it!

HER MISSION: I saw the other women who are on the website and I was so impressed with their strength. I want to be part of a community of women who celebrate and empower each other. I think it’s very special to have your picture taken by a professional photographer first off and then even more evocative when you have on less clothes than you normally wear. I loved working with Natalie because she is an artist and for that small moment, I was her canvas. It’s very empowering. There are so many things that degrade women in our society and tell them not to be beautiful, not to express themselves fully and that shouldn’t be the case.

I want other women to see it as that, and want them to feel empowered to do it themselves. By me revealing myself, I hopefully give others that strength. I think the line from Maryanne Williamson’s poem, Our Deepest Fear sums it up pretty well, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I want us all to recognize the power we have inside.

PARTING WORDS: I mentioned earlier that in the beginning I felt like I needed an excuse to book the session, I did it to get some headshots and as a Father’s Day gift. I now know that wasn’t the case. I wanted this experience for me. To have this experience and give it to myself is not something that most women allow themselves. It’s unfortunate because a lot of us (me included) would only book a session as a gift to their partner. What you don't realize is that once you get here, the experience is really yours. And that's a magical gift. The resulting outcome (a book) may end up being theirs, but it’s also yours. It’s a great gift to yourself and I think you realize that during and after your shoot.