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.