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 | 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.