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 | 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 | Annette Abell

Annette Abell | Age: 45 | President, Business Owner

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

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

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

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

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

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

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

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