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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Team NSP's Thoughts on Beauty, Womanhood and Boudoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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

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

Alyssa DeWitt | Age: 33 | Digital Image Specialist

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

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

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

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

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

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

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Real Women of Rochester | Ayanna Jackson

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

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood.

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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

Real Women of Rochester | 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 | Erin's Shoot Reveal

In true RWOR fashion, today we are sharing the photos from Erin's shoot and her thoughts on them! Previously you got to meet Erin and hear about why she wanted to be a part of our Real Woman of Rochester project. This is one of my favorite posts yet.... Erin really hit the nail on the head of what boudoir is all about and why we all need to appreciate ourselves and eachother as we are. 

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: When I made the initial call I was terrified. I was like, “oh my gosh do I really want to do this?”. All that self-doubt. Will they even want to photograph me? I had the studio page open in my web browser for days before I even made the initial call because I just kept waffling back and forth. The day of the shoot I remember coming up the elevator thinking, “Oh crap!”. But then all of that just started to fade. I spent so much time preparing for the shoot, and I felt really well-prepared. The style guide I was given and the consultation with Natalie, helped me to feel prepared. Being able to get your hair and makeup done, which is something I don't do (I don't wear makeup to work, just special occasions)-- and I certainly don't do my hair -- that was such a special treat in itself.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: I just let it all go and took direction from Natalie. I knew that I was in very capable hands and I felt safe. It was really fun and what I loved the most was that no matter where we were, no matter what the backgrounds were, they were complimentary to who I was and they spoke to my style and who I am. Even after the brief consultation I feel like Natalie was able to really pick up on the spirit of who I am. So to be able to see that throughout the process of that morning just made me more excited as we were going through. 

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: I sat down to a slideshow set to music, and I just sat there and cried. My reaction was, “Wow - I'm really pretty!”. And I thought, “gosh- other people, including my (now ex-) boyfriend in fact view me that way every day, and why don't I?”. And that's what that moment was about. It was like, “you're alright, Erin”. Having that moment, it was just amazing.

Knowing that it's me in these photos, I'm still in awe of that. Hindsight is everything, the whole shoot looks so candid and lovely. But what I love about it is that it IS me. It's overweight Erin, which is totally okay, but I don't see any of that. I just see someone who is very comfortable in this amazing moment. I will unabashedly show my pictures to anyone who is interested. I love the app Natalie made for my phone because when I'm out I can be like, “Want to see my boudoir photos? Just stand by!”. It's so fun to see some people's responses. Some people think Erin Julian would never do something like this. But everyone says, “Oh my gosh, I think these pictures are amazing! I should totally do that!”. And I tell them, of course, that they should!

PARTING THOUGHTS: A big part of the reason this was such a great experience is because of the images that I have to reflect back on and look at with a sense of pride. This is who I am. I like to share that message with folks around me, and as a result a lot of my friends have booked shoots with Natalie. Ultimately, my friends booked shoots because of how my shoot made me feel. That was more important to me (and to them) than the actual resulting photos. I think everybody should have an experience where they are proud and excited about who they are, and feel gorgeous, because we all are. This embodied all of that for me. To think that a year later I still have that feeling... it still excites me! I still want to tell people about it and encourage them to do it so they can have that experience – I think that's huge.

I originally booked the shoot as a gift to my boyfriend. I never thought a boudoir shoot was something you would do for yourself, until I did mine. After having the experience myself, I thought, “why didn't I do this sooner? Why didn't you do this for yourself?”. It's such an empowering experience. And I never could have imagined that it would be until I was in it. Gosh, if someone reads this and thinks to themselves, “I should do this for me, and not for somebody else” then that's a win, because it's an experience we should all have.

I feel like if my participation in this project can have a positive impact on someone, whether they decide do a boudoir photo shoot or something else for themselves, then that's worth everything. I am not ashamed of these pictures, there is nothing scandalous about them. That is part of this project. We have to objectify women less and realize that we are human beings, these are our bodies, and we are beautiful. If this project can do that, then it's a win. I would put all my energy in that. There is power in that. We should all be proud of who we are.

Woman Crush Wednesday | Elaina Fiammi

I don't always get the pleasure of meeting my boudoir client's husbands, but since Elaina attends basically every event we have at the studio and we've since became friends - I've gotten to meet the happy recipient of Elaina's boudoir album and her partner in life. Dion is an incredibly caring and kind husband, and he jumped at the opportunity to be able to share their love story on our blog.

"Elaina and I met at work eight years ago, and I instantly knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. When we were planning our wedding, photography was extremely important to us. So important, in fact, that we actually spent our initial wedding budget on it alone. (Oops!) So when Elaina told me that as part of my wedding gift she was giving me a set of boudoir photos, my initial reaction was naturally “we’re spending more money on photos?!” She meant to keep her gift to me a surprise, but she was just so excited about the shoot that she had to tell me all about it.

On our wedding day, I had been waiting for my groomsmen to get ready practically all day. Our limo was scheduled to arrive at 3PM, and the tuxedo bags were still hanging from the closest door at 2PM. Right before we left, I opened her gift. The pictures were stunning and flawless. I got lost in the book and suddenly my friends were waiting on me. My best man had to force me to put the book down and remind me that the limo was waiting to take us to the wedding. He filmed the whole process and the ensuing video was rather hilarious. In the end, the gift was almost as much for her as it was for me. She loved how beautiful it made her feel, loved the comfortable process, and absolutely loved working with Natalie.

I will admit that this was extremely difficult to write. Not for the lack of words, but quite the opposite. How do I quickly encompass all love I have for my beautiful wife? Time and time again, I started… and no matter how I twisted the words or told the story, I always came to the same conclusion. I love my wife utterly and completely. She makes me laugh more than anyone I know. She gives me purpose and fills my life with hopes for the future and dreams to be shared. She makes me a better man. I call my wife my angel because, in so many ways, she saved my life from what it might have been without her." - Dion Robinson

[NOTE: Elaina approved her boudoir images for my website at an earlier date! This post was a surprise for her, her images being public was not :) ]

Real Women of Rochester | Keri

Hi ladies - I'd like to introduce you to our next Real Woman of Rochester: Keri! Following our RWOR format, today you will learn about Keri in her pre-shoot interview - her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved. Next week we will share her resulting boudoir photos, and her reaction to them!

NOTE FROM NATALIE: Keri is one of the most caring, nurturing, honest, insightful and intelligent women I've met. Based on these traits, I was not surprised to find out that she is a teacher, and that she loves what she does. I have no doubt that she is a phenomenal educator. She has a unique ability to distill things down to their very core - cutting through all the nonsense. Not only that, she's incredibly quick and sharp with wit and humor, making her funny as heck. I am honored that she has decided to share her insights and experiences as a woman with us, I am sure they will hit close to home for many other women out there!

Keri: Age 39 |  Residence: Rochester, NY | Occupation: Teacher

HER WHY: "I was attracted to this this project because you were looking for women of different body types. A lot of women have a preconceived notion that you have to be a certain body type, I have to look like a model in order to do this, to feel beautiful enough to do this, or for someone to want to see these photos. I'm very atypical in the model world – my body is not what someone would think of as a model's body – and I wanted to break that stereo type. I’m not a size two, and I can still feel really beautiful, and my photos still have value and that I have value.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I would never say some of the horrible things I've said to myself to anyone else I know. Why is it OK to say that to ourselves? We've been taught to do that to ourselves. Women as a whole are so critical. We are our own magnifying mirror - and sometimes women try to make themselves feel better by cutting other women down. I don't think men do that. They don't criticize other men's bodies.

A lot of our physical appearance is controlled by genetics, and there are few things you can do about that. As Kumbaya as it sounds, you have to learn to love who you are. You get back from the world what you project into it – and if you're constantly concerned about how you look, people will pick up on that. I think doing a shoot like this can give you the confidence to say – Ok, I'm not perfect. But I'm pretty darn good - and just go with it. We're always our own worst critic.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: I've seen boudoir shoots in the past, and they’ve seemed trashy to me. I’m a teacher, and someday, I hope to be a mother - I don’t want questionable images of me out there. I agreed to do a shoot because Natalie's boudoir photos are artful and tasteful, and none of them are pornographic - in every level of disrobe. The other component is that I am also afraid of the way I look. It’s like bathing suit shopping - who wants to be in hardly any clothing, fully lit and look in the mirror? I know how to dress for my body, but how do you 'undress' for your body?

Part of me is excited by sharing my pictures, I hope other women will look at them and say “Wow – that's beautiful!” or “Wow – I could do that!”. Part of me is scared to be rejected. I'm not a size two. I hope people will see beauty and not criticize me.

HER MISSION: I want to do this shoot to be an example of a woman who isn't what we hold up as the quintessential ideal of beauty. - someone who isn't perfect; someone who is flawed.; someone has been told she wasn't pretty because she's too [ fill in the blank ]. I want to do it for those women. You don't have to be perfect to be beautiful. I want to empower other women. I don't want women to think they have to look like models to feel beautiful.

PARTING THOUGHTS: This shoot is forcing me out of my comfort zone. In real life I'm REALLY shy. Being in a social setting where I don't know anyone is terrifying to me. The idea of coming here to taking my clothes off for essentially a stranger, is also very scary. This studio feels like a brave space though, where you can be brave. I am going to be brave.

 

Real Women of Rochester | Shadi's Shoot Reveal

Hello Real Women of Rochester followers! Last week you got to meet Shadi and hear why she was so excited to be a part of our project. We interviewed her after her shoot when she came in to see her images for the first time. Here's what she had to say about the experience of her shoot, and what her images mean to her...

IN HER HEAD, BEFORE THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“I was excited, I knew it was going to be such a fun day. I got to let my real self – a side of me that doesn’t get to be shown often enough – come all out in the studio… shamelessly. It was such a welcoming environment to flaunt your womanhood. I can’t do that at work, or at the grocery store. I can do it at the salsa club, but I don’t want to be inviting to the wrong kind of attention – it can easily be judged or misunderstood, and I don’t think that’s fair. I’m intelligent, I’m deep, I have substance to me, and I’ve worked hard. I’m a credible person. I feel like society tells us you lose credibility when you exhibit your womanliness, and that’s not fair.

I think women can frequently be more judgmental of (other) women than men are. A lot of women buy into what our role as women “should” be according to our male-dominated society. We have to overcome multiple layers of restraint as a gender to unleash ourselves and each other. I think we need to build more avenues in which we can be comfortable and real. Natalie's studio was really that venue for me. I loved the feeling like myself during the entire experience.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

I was so excited. I was like, ‘Let’s just let it all loose!’ I’m comfortable with this side of me, I just don’t get to enjoy it very often. It was fun having Natalie to facilitate the entire experience because we talked, we laughed, we shared the afternoon together. It was better to share this side of me with another person. Being a woman is art. Your body is part of your art form, and it is more beautiful when it’s shared. It’s like a painting or a great poem - speaking that poem theatrically or sharing that painting is valuable and should be admired. It can be a cause for inspiration and growth.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS:

The woman I see in my images is really happy. She’s free, comfortable, relaxed. She has a lot to look forward to. She’s confident, strong, non-judgmental of herself. She’s prepared for the world. She’s shameless.

The shoot makes me feel like I have it in me to openly show this side of myself more without reservation or doubt. It’s definitely boosted my confidence in publicly displaying all aspects of myself and feeling really good about it. It makes me care even less about what people have to say about what a woman can and can’t do. Just the way I walk, or talk or stare you straight in the face - I have more confidence in doing things the way I want to.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

To publicly, shamelessly show my womanhood was a challenge at first. My career goal is to be a high school administrator. I found myself thinking about how students and other administrators would react. Now, I don’t care what anyone thinks. If you’re not going to hire me for these pictures, I don’t want to work for you anyway. I want to work for people who believe in equality for men and women and who are not going to judge me based on my true self expression. I’m so passionate and supportive of the arts, and this is an art form for me; this is a statement that I stand by. I’m not turning this off for anything - this is my victory lap. I’m coming home to myself, and I can't get lost anymore. Bring it on world."

Real Women of Rochester | Shadi

Hi ladies - I'd like to introduce you to our next Real Woman of Rochester: Shadi! Following our RWOR format, today you will learn about Shadi via her pre-shoot interview - her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved.

Shadi: - Age 35 | Residence: Rochester | Education: Law Degree, and currently pursing an Administration Degree at U of R with a passion for Arts Integration in the classroom | Occupation: Teacher

Shadi and I met at a salsa night at Lovin' Cup, her smile and personality cut through the loud music with ease. I knew right away that this woman had a story to tell. We didn't talk about the weather or the music. We talked about being a woman, and what it meant to own that. She told me that she wanted to help inspire and empower women to love themselves – that it doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're married, have kids, that it's all about self love. She was one of the women that directly inspired me to start this project, so when she volunteered to be a part of it – I was elated.

HER WHY: Growing up as an Iranian-American, having a Middle Eastern background and parents that are conservative when it came to social conduct, how one expresses themselves and interacts with the opposite sex, my sister and I were limited in those areas by strict rules. My sister was the one who would find a way out of the rules while I was the one always trying to please my parents. I would look at her like, “Oh, I don’t have the guts to do that!” There’s always been a creative and very expressive side of me that remained dormant in the midst of following all the rules.

As we got older, my family didn’t talk about sex. We didn’t talk about dating. It was assumed that you didn’t do anything sexy. My parents placed the highest value in education, so my focus remained on academics. In the process, true womanhood and my creative side were not nurtured. Learning how to date was difficult. I ended up in unhealthy relationships and eventually realized at the core of it was not loving myself, and not being taught how to love myself entirely.

I knew I was intelligent, but I didn't know how to make healthy choices while dating. It was hard work and took a lot of self-reflection. I found that in terms of self-love and creating healthy relationships, the outside mirrors the inside. I'm finally in a really good place on the inside and I want it to vividly show on the outside.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I’ve had guys say, 'you’re gorgeous', 'you’re beautiful,' but I've never really internalized that. This boudoir shoot is an opportunity for me to do so. Until you feel it and you believe it, once you see it for yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else tells you. I want to see it and say, “Yes. That’s art. That’s beautiful.”

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT? I’m afraid of not being myself. I don’t want this experience to be theatrical; I want it to be authentic and genuine. I’m not entirely sure what authentic looks like, but I know what it feels like and I want my photos to capture that authentic feeling from the inside.

HER MISSION: I think that embracing female sexuality, being 100% confident in yourself and not feeling ashamed of any parts of our body is true womanhood. I think that today's society and messages from my upbringing, very much say that’s a bad thing. The media says our bodies are for sex, and are used to compete against one another, but I’d like to change that definition – I think that it’s wrong. I think our bodies are works of art and we should be proud of them. They’re ours. I would like to validate and experience my art by having it portrayed through a beautiful lens.

My friend was an amateur photographer and for my 30th birthday she took pictures of me. I don’t think it meant what it means to me right now. It was like, “Oh, look at me, I’m 30 and I look good.” Now it’s much more about being as complete as a person inside and valuing myself. I don’t need anyone to validate me. I want to celebrate the inside on the outside.

PARTING WORDS: The power of collaboration with people who really love you and can mirror self-love is incredible. That’s why I’m a teacher now – I do that for my high school world history students. I moved from criminal and juvenile law because teaching is more preventative: and at that point meeting me my clients were already in a really difficult situation, so I wanted to go back to teaching because I thought I could make a positive difference in students lives. I’ve had so many people in my life that have shown me great compassion and kindness to me to help me get to the point of self love in my life, I wanted to help others on their journey to getting there too.

I feel like when you accept yourself and accept your own mistakes, when you can forgive yourself and bounce back, then you can forgive others for their mistakes and not take them personally. Not everything is a personal attack; you’re not a victim anymore. I’ve made peace with all my flaws and mistakes and I’m okay talking about them. To share them with someone else can bring peace to people to know that they’re not alone. To overcome those things, trust issues especially for me, to learn that there are good people, to get closer to people, to form healthy relationships, all of that has made me who I am and I’m proud of it. I want the lens to see me as someone who has truly overcome and represent my victory lap in being a confident, expressive woman.

Thanks, Shadi! Alright, Rochester - stay tuned for the reveal of her boudoir shoot next Wednesday...

Real Women of Rochester | Katrina

Hello Real Women of Rochester followers! I'm excited to present to you Katrina, our very first RWOR. She was the first person to respond to my post, and the first lady to get herself into our studio for her interview, and the first shoot! Today we are sharing her pre-shoot interview -  her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved. Katrina, I can't thank you enough for your honest and candid reflections, and am SO glad to have you be a part of this project. So without further adieu, meet Katrina....

Katrina - Age 24, Residence: Rochester, Development Associate |  Masters of Music Performance and Literature

Katrina walked into the studio after a long day at work sporting a huge grin. You would have thought she’d won the lotto. But no - she was just that excited to be a part of our Real Women of Rochester project. Katrina is a recent graduate, with a masters degree in  music performance. When she’s not at work, she runs, cooks, and performs on the weekends with her adorable violinist boyfriend.

HER WHY: I was in a relationship for four years that wore me down and made me feel like I had nothing to offer. Once I was out of that relationship, I was able to see myself clearly. I look back at photos taken during that time period and I think - wow, I was beautiful, but I didn’t realize it because I thought so little of myself. I look different now: I’ve gained weight and I’m a few years older.  Years from now I want to look back at this time and place and say, “Yes, I was beautiful.” I want to believe that about myself now, and I need some help crafting that perspective. I hope that this boudoir shoot will help me with this.”

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT? I  feel like maybe I might not have anything to give - that perhaps all the women I’ve seen on your website just showed up ready to be photographed. I consider myself a confident person but I feel pretty lost in this world of boudoir photography. I’m really looking forward to letting Natalie and her team work their magic.


HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: A few months ago I realized I was walking around sucking in my stomach all day. When I finally exhaled, I felt like I hadn’t taken a deep breath in forever. I want everyone to be able to take a deep breath, regardless of whether they feel thin enough or pretty enough. I want to be part of a movement that encourages everyone to be comfortable in their bodies.

HER MISSION: I am a survivor of rape. It took me over a year to realize what had happened to me, and more than two years after that to stop accepting blame for it. (That second part is still a daily battle.) I became inspired to run the Chicago Marathon to raise money for women in African countries who are often assaulted on their multi-mile journey to collect clean water, and in order to really make an impact in my fundraising, I shared my story. I wore a sign on my back during a half marathon in Rochester that said, “Today I run for survivors of rape like me.” I put my story on Facebook and in my alma mater’s newspaper, and that’s how everyone found out what had happened. My family and friends found out via Facebook, because that’s how I needed to tell my story. Telling other people what had happened was one way to remind myself that what happened to me was real, is not my fault, and that what someone did to my body without my consent does not total the sum of the person that I am.

PARTING WORDS: My body belongs to me and only me. Making the decision to do a boudoir shoot is one of many ways that I have chosen to own my body and to continue making empowered decisions around that ownership. I hope that by sharing my story, I can inspire other people to feel ownership of their bodies as well.  

Stay tuned for the reveal of her boudoir shoot next Wednesday...

Announcing: Real Women of Rochester

Being a boudoir photographer provides me with a unique insight into women's lives. I'm equal parts photographer, psychologist, big-sister-playing-dress-up, and a new found friend. There's something about taking off the daily armor of clothing that breaks down the walls we put up between ourselves and the outside world. What's left is beautiful, honest and most of all - real. Over the years, I've had candid conversations with the many women I've had the privilege of photographing. I let them do most of the talking. These women have experienced many things: the raw beauty and pain of motherhood, infertility, miscarriages and adoption. Some found love after hope was forfeited, or have spent their life feeling overweight or underweight. Some have endured domestic and sexual abuse. The most consistent and disheartening part of these conversations was that at one point, every single woman felt isolated and alone through these struggles. I realized so many women share this common sentiment in navigating through the journey of womanhood. The women’s ages, ethnicity and backgrounds varied but every woman felt isolated, or worse. Some felt harsh judgement or shame about what she was going through. Many felt like their negative experiences were their fault, and that it was a reflection of their lack of womanliness and it affected their sense of sensuality, and self-worth. Many felt that they were less of a woman because of what they had been through.

Hearing so many beautiful, inspiring and courageous women express such similar sentiments felt like a call to action. Reflecting back on these conversations, I realized that not only was it cathartic for these women to feel heard without judgment, it was also an incredible learning experience for me. I felt like I was gaining lessons in womanhood. So many women go through the same things, and I didn’t realize how prevalent and common many of these experiences are. It lead me to believe that other women could benefit from these stories as well.

Not really knowing how to start - I put out a non-model casting call on Facebook for a boudoir shoot in which I would have permission to use the images on my blog, and asked if they would be willing to share a story of their journey through womanhood to go along with it. I hoped I would get a few volunteers. I ended up with 55 responses in 12 hours. The number of incredible stories I received absolutely amazed me. I remember thinking “Wow.... women have been waiting for this”. And that's when Real Women of Rochester was born.

Included in the first chapter of this project are six women ranging from ages 24 to 45 with different careers, upbringings, ethnicities and personalities. Each woman has a compelling story that they were willing to share for the benefit of other women. In the coming months I will be sharing with you the the stories of the women I photographed in hopes of creating a new kind of sisterhood in Rochester. You will see a headshot of each woman as they look on a regular day (sidenote: I dislike the term “Before” shot because it implies there were things that needed to be fixed). You'll get to hear why they wanted to be a part of this project, what their journey through womanhood has brought them, how they felt right before, during and after their boudoir shoot with me, and finally their photo-reveal reactions will be paired with their favorite images.

So, whats the best part? YOU - the women of Rochester get to help shape the direction of this project. The future is unwritten. Your feedback, ideas and comments will shape this project's trajectory! My goal is to discover what's possible when we gather our hearts, minds and bodies as a collective force.  Let's find and celebrate our beauty and strength, and empower ourselves to empower those around us. This is a project by women, for women. Remember ladies, we are never alone.

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The Comment section below is open -click to leave your comments! I'm looking forward to your feedback :)

Boudoir Testimonial: Anniversary Gift

IMAGE & QUOTE POSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM CLIENT

IMAGE & QUOTE POSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM CLIENT

"My experience on the shoot itself was amazing. I had so much fun and it was so much more than I expected it to be. Natalie made me feel absolutely beautiful. I can't put a price on the value of my book- It’s one of the best gifts I was able to give my husband. He was in complete shock and could not believe I did this for him. He said it was amazing, and that he was so proud of me! Everyone at the studio is so fun-loving and sweet. They really made me feel so welcome and made this such a fun photo shoot. I will never forget my experience!"  - Boudoir Client

It's such a treat when clients allow us to share a few images and the love notes they write to us after their shoot! I love that her husband was proud of her for doing this - knowing it was out of her comfort zone. I am proud of her too! Hair & Makeup on this shoot (and every boudoir shoot we do!) is by the ever-talented Special Occasion Hair Design.    - Natalie

Frances Cabrera | V.P. and Mom-To-Be

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Frances greeted me with a sweet voice and the most contagious laugh I’ve ever heard – I sensed immediately how pleasant and kind she is just through the phone. Rising to Vice President by the age of 28, Frances is a corporate queen at Barclays in Manhattan, doing environmental and risk work for the company: “ I’ve been at Barclays for four years. I started doing environmental sustainability for the company and have now expanded into looking at all sorts of risks within our corporate real estate portfolio. It’s been a fun and satisfying challenge navigating the corporate world in the company.”
Frances met Natalie while she was studying at RIT: “We did yearbook together, which is actually how we met,” she said. “At RIT I studied environmental technology and environmental management. I grew up in Southern Virginia – Virginia Beach – and in my seventeen-year-old rebellious state, I wanted to get away and be on my own, so I went to RIT. The snow was worth it – I really liked my program. I’d come back to my dorm room covered in mud after my field biology classes. It was fun to get my hands dirty.”
Natalie shot Frances and her now-husband’s engagement photo shoot after the pair had moved to Brooklyn to start their post-grad life. “My husband Joe moved to Brooklyn after graduation while I stayed in Rochester finishing my master’s degree. I followed after I got my degree. Those first few years in Brooklyn were an awesome adventure. We learned to navigate the city as a team. We did our engagement session in one of our favorite areas – Brooklyn’s Dumbo – it was much more abandoned at the time and its cobblestone streets mostly empty. Now it’s built up and filled with tourists, but it’s cool to have memories of what the area once was through the photos. The photos don’t just capture that special time in our life; they also show the progression of the neighborhood. I’m not one to enjoy having my picture taken, but looking back, I’m so glad I did it.”
Not long after Frances and Joe’s engagement shoot, Natalie shot their wedding in Puerto Rico – Frances’ parents lived there before moving to Virginia, so it was only fitting to get married on the beautiful island. “My family is from the San Juan area. It’s lovely there,” Frances explained. Natalie remembers, "it was incredible to see Frances and her family in their natural element, and then to see Joe's family so welcomed and become such a part of their world. All of this set in one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. It was truly a celebration of lives and families coming together as one. I also got to salsa dance with her dad, which pretty much made my life." she laughed.
Now, Frances and Joe are expecting their first child. After years of corporate living, Frances is looking forward to spending time being a mother, especially with her company standing behind her through it: “Barclay’s has been more than supportive. I’m excited to leave and be with the baby, but I’m also excited to see where else my work takes me once I'm ready to go back.”
This interview was conducted by our Marketing/Communications intern, Hannah McCarthy, a rising sophomore at Elon University in North Carolina.
ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS AT DUMBO IN BROOKLYN - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS AT DUMBO IN BROOKLYN - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

WEDDING PHOTOS IN OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

WEDDING PHOTOS IN OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

MATERNITY & FAMILY SHOOT IN AUBURN, NY - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

MATERNITY & FAMILY SHOOT IN AUBURN, NY - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

Yuliana Yurkevich | Insurance Agency Owner

Yuliana Yurkevich, Insurance Agency Owner

Yuliana Yurkevich, Insurance Agency Owner

Walking into her office, Yuli greeted us with a smile and an enthusiastic wave as she finished one of her many phone calls of the morning. Every minute counts when you’re a #girlboss, right? Showing her hospitable Eastern European roots, she kissed us on the cheek and welcomed us in. It was the first time I had met Yuli, and from the mere 45 seconds I had been in her presence, I could already see why Natalie and Whitney spoke so highly of her. From her posture to her demeanor, Yuli exuded love and gratitude - one of the first things she told us was, “I feel very blessed.” Perhaps the most amazing thing about her was the delicate and unmatched balance between confidence and humility. Being both grounded and successful will do that to you, I guess, along with an inspiring family of role models and their unwavering support.
      With $80 in their pockets, Yuli’s parents moved from Ukraine to the United States in search of the American Dream. Yuli was just 14 years old and in the midst of a pivotal time in a girl’s self-discovery. “It was tough, being a teenager and trying to adapt and blend in, and be normal I guess,” she told us. “I think the biggest dream that I had was probably to become someone. And not necessarily to chase “The Dream,” to make lots of money, but to become a strong woman - to become somebody who can learn and teach and just kind of evolve and continue growing,” she said. It’s 20 years later and she’s done just that. Yuli began working for Allstate as an employee, but after 8 years of hard work, dreaming and planning, she took the leap to start her own agency and landed with both feet firmly planted in the ground.
      “I’m still like, oh my god, I am a business owner, I have employees, and I’m shocked…in a good way. But I still shoot to get a bigger office, or to get more employees to show what I can bring and what I can do so we can be together and be positive and creative.”
      From the minute we stepped in Yuli’s office, the environment was clearly one of teamwork and support. “Issues, problems or happiness, we all face it together,” Yuli said, noting that she and her employees spend more time together than they do with their own families.  A small bulletin board sat near Yuli’s desk: the office vision board. Each employee had a section of it to place snippets of magazines, quotes, or photos. “It’s where we have the little things we want and it’s like, keep looking, we’re gonna get there, wherever it is. We’re a team.”
      Yuli sent us along on our day with swag bags full of pens and water bottles, huge smiles on our faces, and perhaps the most inspiring parting words of all time: “I think if you just keep dreaming, eventually those dreams come true. Keep going for it. Every day is a new challenge and you just gotta grab it and go with it.”

 Hannah McCarthy

 Hannah McCarthy

This interview was conducted by our new Marketing/Communications intern, Hannah McCarthy, a rising sophomore at Elon University in North Carolina.