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!

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 | 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.