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. 

Real Women Of Rochester | Sharitta Gross-Smith

Sharitta Gross-Smith | Age: 42 | Assistant Director, Student Development

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: My journey through womanhood was not linear. While I always knew I wanted to be an educator, somehow helping others in my community, as an introvert I did not consider the possibility of how that would come to fruition. My journey involved much introspective work that was helped along by an ability to artistically express myself through dance as a School of the Arts student. I'd like to think of my journey as still in progress, as my latest pursuit is a doctoral degree at St. John Fisher College. And to think that at one point my main goal was just to finish high school?

My maternal grandmother was a great part of my journey, encouraging me along the way with the following words: "You can be whatever you want to be. God knows the desires of your heart." She said it to me so much that throughout adversity I believed that it must be so. While embracing my womanhood, I became more and more fearless in approaching who I wanted to become. It made me take the limits off and I draw from her mantra sometimes daily.

Now I'm a selective extrovert. LOL

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

A: Forgive yourself. Often a decision is made based upon the information and emotion we have within a given time, not realizing how things might unfold. Part of living, learning and loving involves risk. If you stay with your arms closed to your chest for fear of hurt or failing, you will never embrace anyone or be embraced. This doesn't mean you approach situations with no thought or strategy, rather, it is a pass to live a little, realizing that the God of your choice is in control anyway. Be kind to yourself in your life's process. Always choose you first.

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

A: Much like our fingerprints, we are unique, making the interpretation of beauty quite individualistic. As women we are so intricately made and complex that embracing all that we are becomes a necessity when combating all the stereotypes within society of what's beautiful and what's not. Beauty is in the curvature of your neck to shoulder, your smile, the lines in the corner of your eyes...you embody beauty everyday. Own it. Embrace it. Work it (and the camera)!

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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 they kick a$$ and take names.

I'd advise them to find a mentor or several mentors, taking note of and respect for those who have come before them, as they can create a path of ease in a situation where you may not know how to navigate the landscape. Be specific when seeking a mentor (e.g..: career development, spiritual advisor, personal development), as that helps manage expectation and ensures that both parties are reciprocating as appropriate. And acknowledging the infinite benefits of diversifying your world. There is much to be enjoyed outside of the boxes we comfortably place ourselves in. 

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

A: Wait. Breathe. Slow down-it's a marathon, not a sprint. You'll figure things out in due time because you don't know what you're about to do, but it's going to be awesome since God authored your story. Stay present in the present, because as cliché as it may sound, you can't get certain moments back when looking so far ahead.

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

A: Take the limits off and don't measure your success against that of others. If you can conceive an idea in your mind, pursue it to the end so there will be no wonder or regret. Know that there will be naysayers and/or dream killers that will come with their proof positive examples of why 'it' won't work, but stand firm in who you are and wish to become. In part your life's purpose is to find your gifting and give it away to the extent that the world is left far better than when you found it.

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

A: Transitioning from human services to career services within higher education. The process was an exercise in humility and creativity that caused me to seek out those I could learn from and, in some cases, be coached by. It also reminded me that finding a job is indeed a job. I learned relatively quickly the importance of networking, requiring that I stayed ready for an opportunity as opposed to getting ready (which takes work!).

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

A: Wow--do I have to pick one experience? I've been blessed and fortunate to have several, past and recent. I'd say that one of the most empowering experiences was being the chair of 2013 YWCA's Empowering Women Luncheon .  I had an opportunity to assemble and work with some of Rochester's most talented, creative and resourceful women to achieve the ambitious goal of 2,000 people. We were faced with having to leverage media platforms in a way that we hadn't previously, while finding ways to better educate the community on this event. And we did it!

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: After a 90-minute deep tissue massage on a sunny day. Sun on my face, moon roof open and in that moment all is quiet, allowing me to just be.

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Knowing that I have the ability to heal with a smile or hug. That I can inspire young ladies just by the life that I lead and the mentoring that I provide. By being I can help someone else become and with any luck, they will exceed my and their own expectations.

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Real Women of Rochester | Lisa Ostrander

 

Lisa Ostrander   |  Age: 50  |  Profession: Pharmaceutical sales specialist

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: How much space do I have (lol) - my journey through womanhood has evolved. As a young girl I had a very clear vision of my life and what I wanted it to be. I wanted children, a husband, and  a successful career. I was not always sure I would have any of that. I have been a late bloomer throughout my journey. I went back to school at 32, started my amazing career in pharmaceuticals at 33, was married at 40, and had my daughter at almost 41. Prior to going back to college I had doubt that I was ever going to accomplish much in my life. The truth is that I did not feel I had a clear identity of who I was anymore. It had been mixed up in the relationships I was in, and those had been my focus. However, I had a desire in my heart to accomplish as much as I could. I am not really sure where I found the courage to go through the obstacles it took for me to finish school and break into a very difficult industry - but I did, and I persevered. I refused to give up and every door that slammed in my face made me more determined to keep going. That time in my life showed me that I had one quality that would carry me through my life above all else: courage. 

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

A: I have had a lot of experiences that have molded me into who I am today. I sometimes feel I could really write a book! For anyone going through any difficulties whether it is self-doubt or a career move and or cancer, which I was diagnosed with last May, the single best thing that helped me was having someone who would listen. We all go through seasons in life where we hit rough patches and speaking to someone who will simply be there to listen allows you to sort out your thoughts and be able to dig within yourself for the answers. And while it's helpful to have a listening crew, ultimately the momentum and action to create change has to come from within ourselves. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How comfortable I was. I felt confident and relaxed. Natalie did an amazing job of putting me at ease. 

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

A: Proud. Not because of my appearance, but because the image captured who I am today. It captured my true essence and that is what I wanted to portray.

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

A: First, this question makes me sad. I see many women struggle with self-esteem and it’s not an easy society we live in with so much emphasis on appearance which is a real thing, but I would share with women my favorite quote which is to "walk in faith and not fear". Beauty has such a spectrum . I teach my daughter that when she is around people to pretend everyone has a spacesuit on ...if you could not see their appearance- would that person still mean the same to you and would you want them in your life. Our exterior is only here while we are here. Our soul and the legacy we leave behind is what will shine on, and we all have something to share. 

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

A: It is never to late to chase your dreams and impact others lives. Do not let others discourage you from achieving what you desire, and have the courage to follow through. Also surround yourself with like minded people who will elevate you. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: This is a tough question. I am the only daughter in my family and as a young girl growing up, my father put a lot of emphasis on my appearance. As an adult looking back now and as a mom I know he did not do it to be harmful and that he was proud of me - but a lot of that commentary really stayed in my brain for a long time. For many years I felt that the value I brought was based on my appearance, and so I worked really hard at looking good. It was not until I was much older and began to get recognized for my achievements in my career that I was able to separate myself from that thought process . I do still work hard at taking care of myself and the truth is that there will always be that young teenage girl inside me remembering those comments, however the difference is that my appearance does not define me. It is just one part of the big puzzle that makes me who I have become .

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

A: To have courage. To not allow fear to hold you back from following the journey that was meant for you. Leap in, and take a chance - when you do amazing things will happen. I know this to be true because they happened to me!

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

A: I would tell my 16 year old self that your gonna have a rough journey and you will be tested in many different ways, and just when you think you may not be able to overcome a challenge you have to dig deeper - because you will overcome it. Don’t let fear stop you. It is going to hard and you will want to give up but don’t do it, and most importantly remember to live in the moment. 

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

A: Be prepared for every opportunity that comes your way and go for it. It was brought to you for a reason and you never know where it will take you. 

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

A: If I am being transparent it would be appearance. Unfortunately we still live in a society that judges you very quickly on how you look and so I have had to show both men and women that I deserve to be where I am. 

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

A: My most empowering experience has been speaking at the Angelo del Toro Hispanic youth leadership program in Albany. I was able to share with this amazing group of future leaders the importance of melanoma education. Being of Hispanic descent I always felt that I was "safe" - that melanoma would not occur in me, but it did and I'm lucky to be alive. Having these future leaders resonate with my journey and understand that they should advocate for their own health was so important to me. Cancers from melanoma have increased over the last 30 years and it all starts with education. When you are aware then you are prepared! One person dies every hour of every day from melanoma and Hispanics and African Americans typically get staged higher when diagnosed because they have missed the signs. I am absolutely moved to action to continue to help educate and continue to spread the message of awareness. Don't forget- it all starts with a skin check!

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: I feel the most beautiful on a Saturday morning with a great cup of Spanish coffee and reading the newspaper . 

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I love the possibilities that are still out there for women to make an impact in our community and in the lives of others. 

Real Women of Rochester | Jenny Thomas

Jenny Thomas  |  Age 42  |  Profession: Motivational Mentor

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: My journey was filled with hills, valleys, and mountain peaks. I lived under the radar and my worth for many years due to overwhelming feelings of rejection, and lack of identity. For many years I felt like a lost little girl looking for love and validation. I made a lot of mistakes; however I got married and raised (still raising) four children, and managed to attain the career (Nursing) that I felt I needed to be in. As an adoptee I always felt like a human question mark. I finally received the gift that I’d prayed for, and that was finding my biological family. Only, finding them didn’t bring the love and peace that I’d dreamed of. The quest to find the answers about myself brought me to a place of awareness and understanding. Realizing the answers that I’d sought, I’d always possessed. My journey unearthed my purpose and passions that had been buried by shame, and abandonment for most of my adult life. 

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

A: Let faith be your catalyst. Everything that you’ve endured has given you everything that you need to be the pioneer that you are. 

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: How fun and relaxing it was!

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

A: Empowered 

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

A: We don’t give ourselves permission to be our own kind of beautiful. Not the beauty that we compare ourselves to. Remove the labels and allow YOUR beauty to be released and exist. 

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

A: There is nothing that you’ve done, or endured that can cancel who you are destined to be. Don’t ever dim your light to fit in. Instead hit them with your high beams. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Physical beauty is totally subjective. Kindness, love, and the ability to make people feel special are the most beautiful.

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

A: I hope women will be innovators, and no longer live within limits. If you haven’t found where you fit in, create it.

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

A: I need you to know that you were born with purpose. There are no mistakes, and you will understand everything you’ve endured. I love you!

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

A: Don’t wait to be told how great you are. Know your worth for yourself, and if people don’t acknowledge that, let your success leave them with no choice. 

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

A: Realizing that what I initially chose as a career wasn’t ultimately what I was born to do. Overcoming the fear connected with “letting go” and becoming an entrepreneur. 

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

A: Understanding that I can conquer fear. One of our biggest setbacks. My saying is: “be scared and do it anyways”.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: When I’m happy 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Our ability to battle back. 

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Real Women of Rochester | Ryan Shear

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Ryan Shear  | Age: 35  | Professional Fundraiser

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: Let’s begin with the fact that my name is Ryan. I have spent my entire life correcting people who make the assumption that I am a male until they meet me in person. I can see how some girls may get upset and grow to resent the name or her parents for giving her the name. Not me. I love my name. I embrace my name. I rock my name. Who made the decision that the name Ryan had to be limited to a boy? My parents certainly did not (actually, my older sister made the final choice) and I’m thankful for that. So, that’s where my journey began – as soon as I was born! The rest of my journey through womanhood, similar to many others, has been a rollercoaster of emotions; a constant battle with myself trying to figure out who I am. I struggled with body image for several years. I never saw myself the way others did. I was, of course, my own worst critic. I had low self-esteem and it took many years for me to come to terms with it. When I became old enough to date I found myself in back-to-back relationships that were all severely unhealthy. Couple this with low self-esteem and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. I endured years of emotional (and some physical) abuse and convinced myself that this was totally normal. This is love, right? As I was trying to figure myself out I would lose what little of “me” I had and find myself molding to whatever it was that this guy needed or wanted me to be. You would think that after the first relationship like this that I would have learned a lesson, right? I finally came to my senses when I was about 26. I spent 10 years in this never-ending cycle. Thanks goodness for a supportive family and many years of therapy. It would be very easy to look back on all of this and be angry, but I would not be the woman I am today if that were the case. I truly believe that every opportunity is a learning opportunity. If I can use my past to help better another girl or woman’s future, then you best believe that I will. I am so glad that I found the strength within to walk away. Now, instead of following, I lead. I speak my mind. I stand my ground. I am woman, hear me roar!    

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

A: I’ll defer to the late, great Janis Joplin – “Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: I was surprised at how comfortable and natural it felt. There I was stripping down in front of a (then) complete stranger to be photographed. Had I completely lost my mind? Well, if I had, I’m glad I did! Natalie has an amazing ability to get people to let their guard down. If I was being hard on myself because a little bit of fat was oozing out here and there, she first assured me that I was being crazy and then made me laugh in a way that enabled her to capture incredible photos. Wow – do I really look like that? Awesome. The experience was a huge boost of confidence.

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

A: Damn, girl! But seriously, I feel sexy and beautiful. I clean up well. 

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

A: Don’t be silly. We are all beautiful in our own ways. You will look back on these photos and be so glad that you took the time to do it. The experience alone instills confidence in a way that words just cannot describe. Do it. Do it now.   

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

A: You are not alone. Stop thinking that the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Ask for and accept help from others. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: Beauty comes from within – confidence, strength and a great sense of humor are beautiful. 

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

A: Don’t rush things and take time for yourself. If you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, that’s okay. I’m 35, a new mom and I’m still figuring it out, but you know what - I'm happy, I’m loved and that’s all that matters.  

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

A: You look great. You just got your driver’s license and you need to be having fun. You don’t need a boyfriend – you have plenty of time in life for that – you do you. 

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

A: Be kind. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Stop obsessing over your outer appearance and stop allowing others to make you feel poorly for who you are. Confidence is beautiful and will take you far in life. Additionally, speak your mind. Choose your words wisely and make your words count.

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

A: I brought a tiny human into this world. Okay, so my husband helped, but I worked HARD. It still amazes me that our bodies are capable of everything that goes along with childbirth. I have a very, very low tolerance for pain and was terrified of labor and delivery. Fortunately, my body did its thing, I needed very little intervention and after one hour of pushing the hardest I have ever pushed in my life, my son arrived, which was a very surreal moment for me. I did it. My husband was beyond impressed with how well I tolerated the pain. About two weeks later I found out that he was trembling the entire time I was pushing! He was a rock for me, but it was kind of cute to hear him say that he was scared.  

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: My past self would tell my present self that I am crazy for how I am about to answer this question, but I truly feel beautiful after working out. A handful of years ago I started working out with a personal trainer. She helped me discover a physical strength that I never would have imagined. My confidence level skyrocketed as I found something that I really enjoy.  

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: I am grateful to be a woman right here and right now. Our world still has work to do toward gender equality, but right now, it’s pretty cool to be a woman. I appreciate that we are emotional creatures who are able to sympathize with the pain of others or cry because we are laughing so hard. Our bodies can create and sustain another human life and then produce the nourishment needed for that baby to grow. That is pretty damn incredible. I love that I can vote, drive a car, dress how I choose…anything…I can do anything I want and I can be whatever I want to be – and that’s amazing.

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Real Woman of Rochester | Pia LoRusso

Pia LoRusso | Age: 41 | Profession: Brow Sculptor at browbiz.cm

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: I have always been one to color outside the lines.  When I was 5 years old, I was playing with a friend outside in my yard and I had a stick in my hand, waving in front of my friends face and my mom yelled out for me to stop before I hit her in the face... well I continued and eventually hit my friend in the face.  My mom came out and yelled at me, which in turn embarrassed me.  So I yelled back at her and stormed off to my room where I cried and cried. My mom came up to calm me down and she said to me ‘now what it is that I always tell you?’  She was hoping my response was... ’that you always love me’. I responded ‘don’t drink and drink and drive!’

Never following rules except to never drink and drive... I’ve always been a bit anxious and ADD but these are truly gifts!  it has given me more compassion (because I never want anyone to feel anxious) and has allowed me to notice everything, like feelings, energies in a room or situation... very aware of my surroundings.

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

A: Oh if you are anxious my dear.... look at it as a gift!  It gives you more emotional intelligence than you ever thought you could have!  Once you are on the other side of feeling bad (because the feeling always does go away) the magic happens!  

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Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

A: Just how beautiful Natalie made me feel!  Like deep down inner beauty.... whoa. It was such an amazing morning working with Natalie..

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

A: OMG - I can’t believe that is really me!

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

A: Everyone is beautiful. Everyone. 

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

A: Be easier on yourself, life is hard enough sometimes, give yourself more credit. 

Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

A: It must come from the inside - true beauty cannot be photoshopped!  We never really see what other people see anyway.  because think about it... what do we see?  A one dimension reflection? That’s 2 whole dimensions that are missing!  Everyone sees us in 3D, but to look at our 1D of yourself?!? Believe the person that says you are beautiful- they see something you will never see!

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

A: Always be kind, everyone has story that would break your heart. Look for the goodness in this world and that is what will always surround you. The universe has your back - seriously. what you put out there (including social media) comes back - put out kindness and love and compassion- that’s what you will get in return. Your fear is full of shit.

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

A: Some one is always watching you! (Not in a creepy way)  Be gentle with your words but fierce with your message. 

Q: What are your hopes for the next generation of women?

A: Everyone needs to know they have power!  One of my most favorite yoga teachers at breathe, Theresa, reminded me of the Viktor Frankl quote:

“Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor Frankl

In my career I am able to talk to all different types of people and when I tell people they have power, they look at me funny... kind of like I just gave them a gift that they never expected... For me, sometimes the goal of my meditation practice isn’t just to quiet my mind, but to give me a chance to pause, give myself some space to get my power.

Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Right after doing yoga!  Do it - then when you get in your car check out your reflection in your rear view mirror. It’s amazing- I can see my eyes are lighter. 

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything!  But mostly my boobs... (can I say that here?)

Real Women of Rochester - Tiffany

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: Wow! What a question! I guess that would have to start with what that means to me.  My whole life, I have been surrounded by strong women. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts and cousins have all shown strength emotionally and physically. To me a being a woman is, finding that strength within you to be yourself--to live freely. It is to be graceful with each challenge you face but with tenacity and confidence. It is to not cower in the shadow of a man.

 My journey starts with college. After many years of partying, and fulfilling my biology degree requirements I was left thinking what every twenty-something thinks, "What am I doing with my life? Is it even meaningful?" I had goals of being a doctor, and OB/GYN. I wanted to deliver babies and inform women about their sexual health. My passion was deep, but it was also clouded. After many attempts at standardized tests, denied applications and hours of shadow experience I had to throw in the towel. It's hard letting go, I wandered this earth pretty aimlessly. That time even though I had no career goals; I had goals of becoming the woman I have always envisioned myself, just without the job. It took work, to find my confidence, my drive, and myself. But like a strong woman, I pulled through. To be honest, I still have no clue what I am going to do for the rest of my life but that is OK. I will figure it out, or most likely it will appear in my life kicking and screaming.

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

A: To all the women worried about what they are "supposed" to be doing for the rest of their life:  Are you kind to yourself? Are you taking the best care of yourself? Do you leave conversations without doubt or feeling like you had to pretend to be someone? STOP with the smoke screen. Because the more we live authentically ourselves, the more we will be open to what we are actually supposed to do. And I am a firm believer in if we all do something we love, this world will be better off for it. Let your calling actually CALL you.

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

A: I love it! I love that even though I was lost at that point in time, I was still figuring out who I am. It is a time marker, it reminds me all that happened and all that is still left to be. 

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

A: Do you genuinely think that? Because even without seeing you, I know you are beautiful. Be kind to yourself, being you is what this world needs. Photographs are reminders of that. Let the world see how amazing you are. 

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

A: It's ok to be lost. It is ok to not have every detail of your life figured out. Don't rush the process, but also don't wait for things to happen to you. 

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

A: Oh, girl! Men are not everything, you are everything and more. 

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

A: Don't take change for granted. You are all witnesses to a lot of changes happening, politically. Don't forget all the people that have had to fight for equality before you. Do not take anything for granted. 

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

A: Not knowing what my career is. I still don't, but my heart is open. I'm currently work for lululemon, and it has been such a great company to work for. Many people I work with say this company has helped them find what they are good at. So at work I take every opportunity to talk to interesting people, to do things i never would have done before. My hope is by putting myself out there and making myself uncomfortable, I will eventually find my dream career. Secretly, I would love to own a donut shop. But let's be honest, not many of them would make it into the case ;)

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

A: Realizing my value, realizing my inner strength and my possibility. It wasn't one experience but a collection of many. A year ago my husband Andrew got matched to a program in Long Island. Let me preface, I knew no one and had no job prospects. The only thing I knew about Long Island were the Hamptons, the horrible traffic and the ice coffee was good. Being in this new situation I made a conscious decision to just put myself out there and see what happens. I set low expectations but high standards. I definitely gained self-love, learned what I am good at and became inspired. I spoke up more, did things I never would have done, talked to random strangers. I think the moment you decide to step outside your fear, is the moment you give yourself a little more out of life. 

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Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?

A: Working out, because somehow my inner strength (my self-confidence, my lack of doubt, my fearlessness) is matched by my outer strength. It is pretty euphoric. 

Q: What do you love about being a woman?

A: Everything, my body, my mind, and my soul. The fact that I get to dress the way I want. That I get to make love to my husband. I can be a mother someday and have a special connection with another human. My strength, we are so much stronger than men. 

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Real Women of Rochester | Natasha Scrivens

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Natasha Scrivens  | Age: 36  |  Profession: Pharmacist

Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

When most teenage girls where worried about if the cute boy would be in their English class or what clothes to wear and how to do their makeup for school, I was faced with an entirely different problem in my early teens.  I remember laying in the back seat of the mini-van while my mom sped down the road to get me to the ER.  The doctor had called her moments earlier, my blood sugar was so high it was unreadable on their machines.  She was told I had to be admitted to the hospital ASAP. As I laid in the back of the car crying, it took too much energy to keep my eyes open - all I wanted to do was sleep.  What did this mean?  What was happening to me?  Was I going to die?  All questions that went through my head. I knew I was sick, I knew I didn't feel well.  While my friends where chasing boys that summer, I was in a hospital room learning how to test my blood sugar, draw up insulin and give myself shots to stay alive.  In many ways being diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic has molded me into the woman I am now.

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I come from a family of immigrants.  I grew up listening to languages that most people do not recognize.  I have two grandmothers (and grandfathers ) who immigrated here as young adults.  Although both came from different countries, both left everything they knew for a better life.  Both women were/are strong willed and determine.  l carry on their determination.  I would not let diabetes hold me back in what I wanted to accomplish.  I've heard so many times I could not succeed in the path I was walking.  I would not listen.  Like my grandparents I knew anything was possible with a little hard work.

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

Hang on, things will get better.

Q: What surprised you most about your photography experience?

I was surprised by how comfortable Natalie made me feel.  I am one that likes to be covered up, so the thought of being in my bra and underwear and having my pictures taken was horrifying. Natalie's personality put me right to rest.  We ended up laughing through the shoot.  

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

I feel beautiful, strong, and sexy.  I also feel like passing them out to to all my classmates in middle school and high school that used to make fun of me.  

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

You are beautiful!  Everyone is different, our differences make us beautiful. 

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Q: What are your thoughts on beauty?

Beauty can come in many forms.  You don't have to be blonde, blue eyes, and 90 lbs to be beautiful.  Beauty comes from the inside and how you hold yourself.  You can be beautiful in jeans and a sweatshirt or a gorgeous wedding gown.  

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

My hopes for the next generation of women is to hold high-power positions. Yes there are a lot of women already in high-power positions, but if you look at the top companies in the US they are mostly run by men.  There is no reason why a women shouldn't be running these companies.  My advice would be pull your shoulders back, chin up and get what you deserve.  You know you are capable of it, attack it! You deserve it.

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

It's okay to fail, and you are beautiful.  You will find someone one day, that loves you and puts up with all your short comings.  And listen to your parents, hard work when you are young will pay off when you are older.

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

Nothing is easy.  If being successful was easy we would all do it.  Hard work and determination is the only way you will succeed.  Find something you love, make goals and work towards them.  You may fail, it may take you longer to reach them, but the feeling you get when you meet your goals is the most fantastic feeling in the world.

Q: When do you feel / have you felt most beautiful?

On my wedding day.  Or on date nights when I see my husband smile as he introduces me to his friends or co-workers.  

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Q: What do you love about being a woman?

The opportunity it has given me.  I can be the powerful woman at work that has the answers to your questions. I can be the competitive women that makes bets with you and does everything I can do to win.  And I can be the woman that walks into the room who turns heads. Strong, fierce and beautiful.  :)  

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Real Women of Rochester - Samantha Miles

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Q: Tell us about your journey through womanhood

A: The first image of a woman in my life was my mother. She had eight children with my father. She is Mexican-American. He is a mix of Irish and Mediterranean roots. 

She home schooled my siblings and I. Watching her raise eight kids, I adopted the idea that I too, would have at least four kids. Until high school, I didn't really know what life was like outside motherhood. But my mom is such a dreamer, and she always encouraged me to go after anything I was passionate about. I respect her so much for that, because though she didn't know how to help me make my dreams come true, she was my biggest cheer leader in everything I did. 

In my teens, my mom introduced me to Oprah. I watched her religiously on my moms bed every day at 4:00 PM, enamored by her presence as a woman in media. I started watching other news outlets simultaneously, and became addicted to watching breaking news coverage on the front-lines. 

I had these ideas of being a correspondent, but had no idea where to start and no mentors, much less women to help navigate the world of TV news. So, I went after my other interest: hair styling. My father ran a women's halfway home, and I volunteered styling hair for women who stayed at the home. I interacted with women who had been through domestic violence and substance abuse. They truly did not believe they were beautiful. They taught me a great deal about women and self-esteem.

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At 17, I went to Cosmetology School. I learned how women can be each other's motivation, but we can also be each others harshest critics. In the beauty industry, physical beauty is everything. But it can also be a threat to women when they feel like another woman is more beautiful than they are. It was very eye-opening in how women sometimes miss out on great relationships when we envy each other's beauty.

In college, I competed in pageants, and eventually won the title of Miss Colorado. Pageants are a whole other ball game when it comes to "womanhood." It's an environment that can make women feel like if they don't win, then they must not be beautiful enough to be chosen for the title. Add more makeup. Get in better shape. If you don't win, it can make you feel like you're "not good enough." It's all pressure that comes with pageants. Through these experiences, I learned that for me, beauty as a woman is about being strong and healthy, and confident appreciating the body I have, and all that it is capable of. 

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

Self-awareness is really important to feel confident as a woman. Yes, we have our moments when we feel insecure, and we don't feel beautiful. But if you have a deep understanding of who you are and what's important to you, that will ground you and get you through self doubt and feelings of insecurity. Having a go-to routine that lifts your spirits if you're feeling down on yourself is a great way to bring your self-perception/appreciation back up.

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What surprised you most about your photography experience?

I've worked with photographers in the past, and always felt anxiety looking at the final product. 

Working with Natalie, I was surprised to enjoy the entire process, and really like the way I looked. She has a way of making you feel totally at ease, and you'll even catch yourself naturally laughing because it's such a fun experience. She has a way of holding up a "mirror" and saying "Hey, you're amazing. Let's capture your unique energy on camera."

Being photographed by a woman was a new experience as well. It made me realize how women can make those around them see each other in a better light. Natalie does that. 

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

It's refreshing. It makes you walk a little taller. Natalie manages to capture how friends and family see you. We as women tend to be hard on ourselves, but Natalie has a way of saying, "You're gorgeous. Celebrate being you." I really felt beautiful looking at my pictures, because it wasn't just posing like my past experiences. She captured my personality, my joy.

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

We are our own worst critics. Take a chance, and be open to experiencing seeing yourself in a new light. Guaranteed, being photographed by Natalie will be different from anything you've done in the past. You won't want the shoot to end!

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What message would you like to share with other women?

Be kind to yourself. Believe in yourself. Go after what inspires you, and really enjoy it. Know that femininity is a gift. Our presence changes the energy of a room. 

What are your thoughts on beauty?

Beauty is from within and the authenticity of the person that you are, and being proud of that and taking care of that. Your culture, all of your identities. Even your flaws, being proud of you is most beautiful. 

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

Reach out to women that uplift you. Get a mentor, someone who builds you up in a variety of ways. Practice good self-care, make sure you take care of yourself especially on days when you feel low. And never take the rejection of a relationship as a reflection on your beauty or worth or that something is wrong with you. We often try to change ourselves to make it work.

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What would you say to your sixteen year old self?

I was battling eating disorders and self-mutilation when I was 16. I would tell myself to go easy on my body. I would say, "Stop downplaying who you are. Just enjoy being you. Dream big and really believe in those dreams and enjoy the simple things right in front of you." My mother has told me this a thousand times and I'm still learning! 

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

We're living in a time where there is a major shift happening for women's empowerment through media. It's incredible to see. This is a time when our voices are being amplified, telling our stories, demanding more respect. What a time to be alive as a woman, a time when telling our stories is quickly building into an uplifting movement spreading our truth around the world. Sharing your story of beauty and empowerment is going to add to our momentum. You will make a positive difference. You may not know how, but you will.

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

I work in TV news, so over the years working in broadcast, I've learned to protect myself as a woman in the public eye. People have the ability to comment and criticize my appearance. That can be tough, as some comments are down right cyber bullying to try to make you feel bad about yourself. I learned quickly that I need to block out those hurtful comments to focus on my work. The criticisms online can be very distracting and damaging to self-esteem. It's a strange thing to hear mean comments from people you may never meet. I told myself early on that I will tune out those comments and only pay attention to feedback that will actually improve my work, my craft, which is good journalism that helps people. 

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

More experiences than I can write in a brief paragraph! I think if we pay attention and really be present in all areas of our lives, we can have empowering experiences often, so that your life just feels full and empowered. 

But, I will share two moments here. 

I studied abroad in Morocco and Tunisia during the Arab Spring Uprisings. I was the first woman in my family to travel outside of the country, and into North Africa during a time of revolution. Being a woman in these countries is exhausting. You are constantly trying to protect yourself from harassment. I was able to work with other women in the region to document how they were working to make sure women's rights did not go backwards during the revolution, and document their process re-writing the Tunisian constitution. It was a chance to help tell their stories at a turning point in history. I'll never forget this experience.

The other moment that was pivotal for me is going to Columbia Journalism School, an Ivy league. As a first generation college student, I clawed my way through college in Denver, and I never conceived I'd go to an Ivy League. Stepping foot on that campus was a moment to really believe the words: "You belong here. You are worthy." 

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When do you feel the most beautiful?

Photo shoots are so much fun to play and just get lost in the art of photography and self-expression. But the other parts of life when I feel most beautiful is when I'm with close friends, just appreciating each others company.  Spending time with family, and feeling their unconditional love makes me feel beautiful. Family and friends are a reminder that beauty is not always about appearance, but it's a place of feeling love for each other. 

I also feel most beautiful when I'm with a loving partner, grateful for each other. 

What do you love about being a woman?

I love that we are dynamic creatures. Femininity is a gift, like a superpower. We see the world in a way that is infinite with possibilities. There are so many facets to us, and we can pretty much do anything. 

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Real Women of Rochester | Lisa's Shoot Reveal

In case you missed the first part of this two-part story, read our "Meet Lisa" post first, and then enjoy the grande finale of her story and finished images below! :) I've also included some great resources at the bottom - both an organization that helped Lisa and her son through their struggles with his addiction, as well as a video of Lisa presenting her story to a committee of NYS Senators in hopes to reform our government's policies that provide help for those fighting addiction.

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT

"While I was nervous to call originally, when I came in the studio, Natalie made me feel completely right at home. All the nerves went out the door. I was just excited.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT

Honestly. I felt great. You feel glamorous, you feel good inside, good outside. I can’t say enough. And then when you’re showing me the pictures, I’m like ‘Wow! Let’s keep going!” I can’t explain the feeling. I felt so good. She made me feel so good! Like no one else has made me feel before, other than my husband.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS

I love this picture. It makes me feel proud. Empowered. I can’t explain it, I don’t want to say delicate, but It’s very soft. I want to come across as soft but tough. Feminine.

I love how sexy this photo is! I wouldn’t describe myself as sexy but that’s a sexy picture!

My husband loves this photo – it's on his desk. He says I look beautiful, confident, loving, approachable. Honestly, he loves them all, and so do I.  Sometimes I’ll be doing book-work at the desk and I’ll look at it and go “wow, that was so much fun! I wanna do it again!”. I love revisiting my images for a confidence boost. It was a such a great experience, honestly, it was! I tell everybody about it.

PARTING THOUGHTS

Never underestimate what you can do. Never tell yourself you can’t. Always tell yourself you can, and do it to the best of your ability. No matter if it’s a crisis, a new job, difficulties within your family, a health issue. Just never say you can’t do something - because you really can.  Growing up I was always very shy and quiet, I hid behind my mother. As I got older and I started to experience difficult things, and I found the fight in me. I've put myself in uncomfortable positions to overcome my fear. Even though I was scared out of my wits sometimes, there were things I had to do. So I just told myself I could do them – and then I did. For example recently, I had to talk on a heroin and opiate forum, and I had senators in front of me who wanted me to share my story in a nutshell. I was scared but I thought, I’m doing this. I need to do this for other people. There was not enough help when we went through this, and it was an incredibly difficult time. Even now, there’s people that need help and they still can’t find it. And that needs to change.

Since I've started sharing my story, I’ve gotten messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years and they’ve told me that they are struggling. They ask for advice, and I offer my experiences. I never want to tell you what to do with your child but I want people to know what I did, and hopefully they can benefit from what I've been through.

I take every day as it comes. I can’t look at the whole picture because I get nervous, anxious. None of that is good. So, today is today, what do I have on my plate today? I’m going to deal with it, and tomorrow is another day. That’s how I look at things. It’s good to prepare for the future, but I have to look at each day is it comes. Like today, when I came here for my interview, I didn’t want to be nervous, so I just showed up and did it.

I did this boudoir shoot for my husband thinking only of him , but I realized after I did the shoot it was something I needed for myself as well. I spent so much time working to survive,  raising my two sons which always came first and dealing with one that was an addict - I forgot about myself. In these images I saw something in me I never saw before, a very strong, tough woman. I’m so thankful that Natalie brought that out of me during our shoot, so glad we've become friends through this new journey, it’s been a wonderful experience I'll never forget!"  - Lisa

Resources:
The group that helped her son: www.teenchallengeusa.com              
The video of Lisa speaking to Senators about her experience, lobbying for more resources to be allocated to addiction support:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECzhxzkL0no&feature=em-share_video_user > Lisa starts at 1:39:40

Real Women of Rochester | Meet Lisa

NOTE FROM NAT: The moment I met Lisa, I was thrilled she had booked a shoot with me. Not only is she a clearly well-put together and beautiful on the outside, but I immediately sensed a depth and quiet resolve about her. She opens with an incredible smile and a strong hug - and quickly warms into a great conversation. I started Real Women Of Rochester well after her shoot was completed, but as soon as I started thinking of women I'd like to feature - Lisa was on my short list. Not only was her life story compelling, but she had such an earnest desire to share it for the benefit of others. So without further ado, I'd like you to meet Lisa....

Lisa Thompson, 51, Hair Salon Owner & Stylist: Studio Valencia Hair Design

HER WHY:  "I decided to make the call and do a shoot for my husband's birthday. He’s always so encouraging and inspiring to me, I decided I wanted to do something nice for him. After my shoot, Natalie asked me if I'd like to be a part of her Real Women project.  I said yes, because I want to help and encourage anyone who’s going through a really tough time - for me it was my son's drug abuse. If I can help somebody stay strong to get through the storm, even if it’s just a sentence or a few words to give them hope. There are so many resources out there that can help, but back when I went through this, you just didn’t talk about it. That needs to change.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I think beauty comes from the heart, it radiates through. “Beautiful” has many definitions - it’s not just a physical thing. There is inner beauty in so many people. I truly think beauty is within. As a hairstylist , it makes me feel good to know that I’m there to make my clients  feel good in many ways. By my conversations with them, I hope that I make them feel beautiful for who they are, not just what they look like.  I like to bring out what I see in them - to encourage them to see how beautiful they really are when they’re not feeling good about themselves or going through a tough time.  I have so much compassion for people, especially people who are going through hard times that they can’t control. If I can even just say two words to make them feel better, I have accomplished my mission.  We’re all here for a purpose, and my purpose is to make people feel good within. That’s what I gotta do.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: I’ve never had very good self-esteem, even though people think I do. I’m very hard on myself. I try my best but deep inside I think we all have an inner critic.  I searched the web, I saw Natalie’s name. I clicked on it and this great website came up with gorgeous  pictures. I’m like “this is what I wanna do.” I thought about it, and thought about it - the unknown is very scary. It took me a couple weeks to call!

HER MISSION: Drug addiction is a big issue we're dealing with this in this day and age, and at the time I was going through it, very few people were talking about it. My son was a functioning addict for ten years. He had a great job and worked hard, you’d never know he was abusing drugs, but I did. It started with pain pills that I found in his room. Towards the end he was doing heroin and crack.  He’d try to get clean on his own, I’d see a difference, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for days.  It’s a terrible pattern. You have to remind yourself, their behaviors are not your child, that’s the drugs. I know a lot of parents feel they have to save their child by giving them money or what they need when they abuse drugs because they feel they are helping them, and just maybe they will stop.  No, you must let them feel what they’ve done to themselves as hard as it is - if you don’t you’re just helping them stay on drugs. There is a fine line between enabling and supporting. As a parent we always want to support our child, take away the pain and make it all better. But if they’ve chosen this road, they need to feel the consequences with no support. It’s a gamble. It’s up to that child  to say, ‘I hit rock bottom. I can’t do this, I hate my life and what I’ve done to myself, I miss my family.’

It was a difficult journey. I got divorced after 16 years of marriage, my ex became addicted to pain pills under a physician’s watch, and everything went downhill from there,  I became a single mom. My son started abusing pain pills and other drugs after my divorce, it was a very emotional time for me. At one point I kicked him out of my house because of his behavior, I had my rules and he rebelled. I had to look out for his younger brother. I worked 2 jobs which I loved, and it helped me financially because I didn’t get child support due to my ex not working.  I worked at United Airlines, would get up at 3 in the morning and work the morning shift. My job duties included ticket counter, gates, de-icing the airplanes and loading them with luggage and mail - whatever my job was that day. I worked till 10:30am, would eat and get changed and then go the the salon until 7pm at night. I took every day as it came.

A turning point in my life was when I reconnected with a childhood friend, who is now my husband. He became the key to rebuilding my life. He pushed me to open my business, and he was so uplifting.  I was unhappy at the salon where I was, and he told me “I know you can do this” when I was doubting myself. I was 40 when I started my business, and I thought at that age that I couldn’t do it.  My business has been going strong for ten years now. Me and my stylists are a family for each other, and my clients call it Cheers! We’ve all been doing hair for 30+ years.

After years of struggling, my son went to a year and a half faith-based program. Now, he has been clean for 4 years. The one month of treatment that is often offered isn’t going to solve the problem, and neither is 6 months. People don’t realize that once you get out of rehab, you’re not cured. You have to reprogram your mind and your habits. Lots of people relapse, and you have to stay strong through that. He surrounded himself with good people. He’s very driven, he’s like his mother!  I’m grateful for that because I want both my sons to be independent - and they are.  He says he doesn’t have any desire to do any drugs which is a miracle. He’s been on the Dean’s list three years in a row. He has formed a support group at school and revisits his rehab not to far from his college and speaks to other men  going through addiction.

PARTING WORDS: There are two keys I always live by; I have very strong Christian faith, and so the first is Philippians 4:13 which says ‘I can do all things through Christ’. Also, my parents always said ‘You can do anything you put your mind to’. Those two keys really stuck with me so when I looked at something I thought I couldn’t do, I would focus on those two phrases. I did it."

Thanks Lisa for so bravely and honestly sharing your story - we can't wait to see your boudoir images next week! :)  - Natalie

Real Women of Rochester | Cindy's Photo Reveal

Last week Cindy shared the story of her life's journey with us, and why she wanted to be a part of the project. This week, we have her images accompanied by her thoughts during every step of the process, as well as what her images mean to her!

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: I try not to have expectations so that when I go into things it’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is. I can never know what’s going to happen, so I don’t want to have an expectation. It helps me from getting nervous or anxious, I just take it for what it is. That's been my outlook since I was 20 and went to study abroad in Scotland by myself. That prepared me for many things in life. I was completely on my own. As soon as you think things will go badly, it usually will go badly. And if you think it will go well, then you might be disappointed. Before my shoot I knew I had prepared the best I could, and therefore I felt ready for whatever it would be.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: How fun it was! It was exciting and freeing and I felt very comfortable during the shoot. I didn’t know what it would be like, but like I said I felt very prepared. I knew what clothing and jewelry I was going to wear, and I loved all the new things I brought - I had everything I needed. I never would’ve picked out the blue set, but the woman at Victoria's Secret (Charlie, in the Greece mall!) picked it out. And she was right. I love it! I have to write her a thank you card.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: It’s so hard not to compare yourself to other people, especially with bathing suit season upon us. But I look at these images and I think to myself, 'why haven’t you worn a bikini? Why haven’t you ever invested in that? You look good!' I wonder what my hesitations were – looking back now, I don’t get it. It really does make me feel very good about my body and that it’s a strong, healthy body. This body has had two kids. It makes me feel good, ya know? I’d never had my hair and makeup done so that in and of itself was great. I’ve always done spa stuff as a form of self care. I get massages every month, facials, pedicures, manicures. I consider that maintenance, and I consider that health; taking care of myself physically. This was exciting for me, because now I think maybe I will get my hair and makeup done more, and maybe I will do some more photography in the future. It opened up a whole other arena of feeling good about myself! Same with the shopping component - I had never purchased nice underwear before this. I'd always buy the exact same underwear. I thought - 'Why bother? No one sees it'. Now I see the value. Why wouldn’t you wear something pretty underneath your clothes? The whole process was so fun for me. Going into the shoot I was hoping to see myself as beautiful – and that was absolutely met. I love the proportions of my body. I love my legs, and my neck too. Sometimes I don’t realize how confident I am or how I can present myself. I forget my own strength.

PARTING THOUGHTS: I wanted to be a part of a community of women who celebrate and empower each other. It is so in line with what I do for a living as a wellness coach. I help people identify a wellness plan for their life. I love working with people in their 30s, because so many things happen in your life at that time; getting married, having kids, buying a home. We have such a healthcare issue and a savings issue in this country. If you’re not saving and you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re going to be in dire need when you’re in your 60s, and you’re not going to be able to live the lifestyle you dreamed of. If you don't have your health, all of your money will go to wellness and medical expenses. So my purpose is to educate people early enough in their life to make those changes. I help them create a plan based on their goals, and I serve as their accountability manager to help them get to where they want to be. I didn't find my purpose until later in life, but all of the information I have gathered in my twenty years of education and knowledge - including my business degree, my massage therapy degree, and me being a researcher into wellness prepared me for this- my ultimate path in life.

I would highly recommend women do this for themselves because I think stepping outside of yourself, and to be able to see yourself from another person’s perspective is a great way to change your own belief system about yourself. You rarely get to see yourself through another person’s eyes. I think this is a glimpse of that in a safe, comfortable, positive way. You get to see yourself in a different light; in a way that you never will again in your life. It’s a much more intimate experience than just having a head shot done.

And for the record, here's the head shot she originally called me for to promote her wellness business, which we did during her boudoir shoot as well ;)

Real Women of Rochester | Cindy

Cindy has many wonderful qualities, but one that really stood out to me upon meeting her is that she's very present. Authentic. She's standing in front of you, meeting you right back, and there's no where else she'd rather be. She's an incredible listener, gives the best hugs, stands tall, and for lack of a better term - really has her sh*t together :) I've enjoyed getting to know Cindy immensely, I hope you all do as well...

Cindy - 40, Residence: Rochester. Wellness Advocate, Corporate Convert and Energetic Entrepreneur (cindysessentials.com)

 Cindy | Cindysessentials.com

Cindy | Cindysessentials.com

HER WHY: My life changed completely about four and a half years ago when I went to a home class to learn about Essential Oils. At that point in my life I was working as a Human Resources Consultant. My commute was about an hour each way and just like most people I was juggling working, being a mom, wife and had lost a piece of who I was.

My initial focus for going to the class was to learn more natural ways to help my daughter who had asthma. I am also a Licensed Massage Therapist, so natural wellness has always been my passion. Little did I know that getting a membership that night would not only transform our family’s physical health, but also allow me to tune in to and follow my life’s purpose.

Fast forward 4 years and I am looking for head shots for my business, but kind of knew that Natalie also did boudoir photos. I had cut my safety net of consulting two years earlier and hopped on the entrepreneur roller coaster. When I talked with Amy, she told me Natalie doesn't focus on headshots, but she does do boudoir and that I could add on a headshot to that type of shoot if I was interested. My friend had done boudoir photos, and it was a very special experience for her. It had always been in the back of my head, (and my husbands after I mentioned it to him) and I decided that I might as well do it!

It was my way of telling myself it was okay, because I was getting headshots out of it, but ultimately it was a 40th birthday gift to myself and I knew it would be a pretty awesome Father’s Day gift!

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I am beautiful at forty. I wouldn’t have been able to say that earlier in my life. I was known as the nice one, smart one, athletic one, but not the beautiful one. Funny how other people’s perception starts to work inside you. For the past forty years, I identified with those characteristics and didn’t really think about beauty. I didn’t wear a lot of dresses or makeup or ever buy frilly underwear and very feminine clothing. It just didn’t feel right. This past year I started a program called Dressing Your Truth with Carol Tuttle and I started to recognize that what I wore really did have a lot to say about who I am. Prior to the class, I would wear black, white, grey and navy blue. After recognizing which type I really was inside, those colors and styles actually were presenting a false picture of me. I am a Type 3. My words are Active, Reactive, Textured, Angular, Rich, Substantial, Dynamic and Swift. Interestingly enough, on the color palate, black, white, grey and navy are absent! I started shopping differently, trying new clothing and I felt so much better.

My idea of beauty is to know who you are and take care of yourself. Beauty is understanding your strengths and realizing your potential, in all areas of life. Beauty is being healthy. It takes time and effort to peel away all the layers of what society, your family, and your friends think of as beautiful. When I was younger, I thought I had to fit into a mold or prove something. I now realize, I am me, I am perfect and the more me I become, the more beautiful I am! When you take care of yourself, your outside is going to reflect it. People tend to radiate a certain glow when they are healthy. That is what I want to teach people.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: Being exposed. I do not wear bikinis, I rarely wear shorts. I own one pair. I don’t wear sports bras without a shirt - my stomach is never exposed. I tend to cover up. I don’t know why, I don’t think I have an awful body. I've just never thought the world needed to see it? Being exposed, in particular, is very vulnerable. I knew once it’s out there, it’s out there. Deep down I think there is also that little voice in the back of your head that says, “What will other people think?” I want to break free from that thinking all together so I decided to go for it!

HER MISSION: I saw the other women who are on the website and I was so impressed with their strength. I want to be part of a community of women who celebrate and empower each other. I think it’s very special to have your picture taken by a professional photographer first off and then even more evocative when you have on less clothes than you normally wear. I loved working with Natalie because she is an artist and for that small moment, I was her canvas. It’s very empowering. There are so many things that degrade women in our society and tell them not to be beautiful, not to express themselves fully and that shouldn’t be the case.

I want other women to see it as that, and want them to feel empowered to do it themselves. By me revealing myself, I hopefully give others that strength. I think the line from Maryanne Williamson’s poem, Our Deepest Fear sums it up pretty well, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I want us all to recognize the power we have inside.

PARTING WORDS: I mentioned earlier that in the beginning I felt like I needed an excuse to book the session, I did it to get some headshots and as a Father’s Day gift. I now know that wasn’t the case. I wanted this experience for me. To have this experience and give it to myself is not something that most women allow themselves. It’s unfortunate because a lot of us (me included) would only book a session as a gift to their partner. What you don't realize is that once you get here, the experience is really yours. And that's a magical gift. The resulting outcome (a book) may end up being theirs, but it’s also yours. It’s a great gift to yourself and I think you realize that during and after your shoot.

 

Real Women of Rochester | Erin's Shoot Reveal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Women of Rochester | Erin

Erin is one of the strongest, warmest,  get-shit-done kind of women I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Her laugh is infectious, and I am so glad she has come into my life. She spent a great deal of her adult life helping others, and was eager to be a part of this project.

Erin - 37, Residence: Rochester, Product Associate

HER WHY: I have found that often women don't support other women, and to me that is one of the biggest mistakes that we can make. It's not a competition, we all can be winners. Whenever there is an opportunity to elevate women and who they are as their true selves, not what someone else makes them to be, that is a home run. That's what makes me so excited about this project. I think that when you take the time to reach out and connect other women and you're empowering other women, you're also doing something for yourself. There's a gift in that.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I'm not a hair-and-makeup girl. So to be able to be that, even for that brief moment of time, was a lot of fun for me. Do I look like that everyday at my desk? Absolutely not! However, I saw myself in a way that I know other people do, and to be able to see that and appreciate it in a way I don't think I ever had before was a big deal. Whether I'm wearing a sexy nighty or a dress, I think that's irrelevant. It was the actual experience in itself and how that allowed me to view myself in a more positive light.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: In my head I had this image of what it had to be; garter belts and corsets. I was nervous because of that feeling of not knowing what you don't know. And then that slowly eroded over time as I learned more and became more comfortable with the process, and sat down with Natalie. And then I was like, “this is a piece of cake." It was just the fear of the unknown and that I would not be able to be authentic to who I was.

HER MISSION: I'm beyond 10 pounds overweight. Although I jokingly refer to myself as a plus-size model (I haven't modeled anywhere!) but I am comfortable in my own skin. I feel like being able to participate in this experience makes you aware of your body in ways you never were before, definitely in a positive light and not a negative. I can go to the pages of Vogue and I'm not going to see someone who looks like Erin Julian. But now I will have a book where I can see myself in a way that is both beautiful but also something I am incredibly proud of. Why wouldn't you want to do that for yourself?

PARTING WORDS: I don't know exactly why it's so hard for women to feel like they're “enough." I could give you a laundry list but I don't think it's adequate. I'm definitely someone who has struggled with my weight my whole life. I weighed 85 pounds when I graduated high school, and I thought I was overweight. Frankly, how f*cked up is that? I never grew up in a household where I felt like I was inadequate or not pretty or not the right size. I have loving, amazing, super generous parents that never made me doubt that. But I do think there's something in the outside world where we're often compared to people, where it's a competition. It doesn't matter if it's men or women, it just breeds an unhealthy atmosphere. It's like, “I'm not tall enough.” Well guess what? You're 4'10”, you're never going to be tall. Then it's “my hair would look so much better if it was blow-dried straight today."You say all those little things to yourself and it may not even be one particular outside influence, I think we're just inundated. Sometimes it's well-meaning friends. I have definitely experienced it in the corporate world also. I think it's epidemic - maybe that's a strong word, but I do. 

Real Women of Rochester | Nikki's Shoot Reveal

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: I was excited,  but still wondered if I had the right outfits. I fretted over what to bring for a week and a half! Natalie gave me some ideas and I was able to look at some of her other pictures, and when I got back home I was like, “okay, is this going to work?”. That’s why I brought so much stuff to my shoot!

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: Natalie made it really easy. She put the bra, the panties, the shoes together from what I brought. She immediately knew what she wanted to work with, and I agreed. As for the makeup and hair - I had never been made up like that in my life, so it was great! Chrissy was really nice, too. It just made me feel even more beautiful and put me in the mood to have fun (the mimosa’s helped too!). I felt very comfortable during the entire process, and I felt even sexier as the shoot progressed.  Natalie gave me direction on where to look, how to look, what to do with my hands.  Some of the poses are hard to keep your balance for, I almost fell on my face! But Natalie showed me shots on the back of the camera and I thought, “these are looking good, I pulled it off!” I absolutely loved it.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: Natalie asked me to describe the woman (me) I saw in this photo…. I said ‘Wow, first of all, she’s beautiful. She’s rocking it. And she looks really confident and strong’. These photos reinforced the positive thoughts I’d had about myself. It was tough getting to that point. Growing up I always felt awkward and gawky and skinny and weird. My husband just makes me feel beautiful. He always gave me self-confidence. And I think, too, over the years, with having the kids, I felt better about myself. Now after the shoot, I feel even more empowered. Even more sexy. I tell everyone, ‘you know I’m a model now, don’t you? I’m a top model, now!’. My husband is worried I’m going to be impossible to live with now.

I really love my tattoo. There’s a woman in there - I’m the tree. And growing in the roots is my husband and my sons’ names because they’re my foundation -  they help me grow. Especially the boys, because of the difficulty I had to have them. They made me, they changed me. I’m a better person now. I am who I am because of them.

PARTING THOUGHTS: I have infertility issues- endometriosis. At 21 I was told I would never have children, and I felt devastated. Everybody is supposed to easily have kids and I wondered, ‘what’s wrong with me?!’. I felt alone and very isolated. The one thing that is supposed to be fun in marriage, the romance is totally gone from because here is the thermometer, here is the chart, let’s do this! The fertility process is so hard on your body, you pump you full of drugs- you go to the doctor constantly. I got pregnant a few times… and then I’d go in so they could check my levels. They’re supposed to be doubling if you’re pregnant. Then they call you one day at work, to tell you the numbers are going backwards, so you know you’re having a miscarriage. And you’re at work, like, ‘okay, thanks’. As you get older and you’ve been married for a while, there’s always that question, “When are you going to have kids?”. But you don’t want to share your problem with anyone. I never ask anyone who doesn’t have kids when they plan to have kids, because I know. It would hurt so bad if they’re trying. It’s just that question, it’s a stab in the heart.

I was told I couldn’t have children, but I did. It made me feel beautiful to have my kids. I want other women going through infertility issues to know not to give up. We knew, even if we couldn’t have kids biologically, that there was always adoption or fostering. Someway, somehow, I was going to make it happen. There’s always hope. You have to believe in yourself, build a good friend base, have someone to talk to and share with. I come from a household and family of strong females. If you get us together, watch out! That strength was instilled in me. Us young women in our family were taught that you don’t really NEED a man - do for yourself, have for yourself. If you have a man, that’s great. But don’t ever lose yourself.

Real Woman of Rochester - Nikki

When you first meet Nikki you sense a quiet confidence about her. Within 1 minute of knowing her, you know her laugh and smile can fill an entire room. For me, one of the most striking things about her is the beautiful relationship she has with her husband and sons- evidenced not only by how lovingly she speaks of them, but by her tattoos commemorating their love (but I'll save those details for the photo reveal next week!). She's the "Queen Bee" and she puts it - "even the cats are male!". It's obvious the love for the queen is well-earned and reciprocal, and her journey of gaining self-confidence is firmly rooted in her family.

Nikki - 43, Residence: Rochester, Co-Owner / Office Manager at Unified Electric

HER WHY: "I've always been interested in doing something like this. I'm in my early 40s, and I feel more comfortable in my skin than I've ever been – more so than I did in high school and in my 20s. People always told me I was too skinny, and I believed them. Friends and people at school would call me “Ethiopian” and “anorexic”. It really hurt, I always felt bad about myself. Now at 40 I feel much less pressure to look a certain way than I did back then. I've had space to grow, and between having kids and being with my husband, I feel more confident in myself.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: Everyone always said that when I got older, I'd put on weight - but it didn't happen. It was always as if everyone was just waiting for me to get fat. When I became a mom, it changed both my body and how I felt about it. I was now a mother and a nurturer. Motherhood also physically allowed me to gain weight. I was 27 when I became pregnant with our first son, and at that time I weighed 86 lbs. I was able to gain 50 lbs – I enjoyed it! It made me feel better, even though I did end up losing all of it after I had him.

I think "sexy” comes from confidence. It’s all about being comfortable in yourself, and feeling good. My husband makes me feel sexy. Even though we've been together 20 years (and known each other for 26), he makes me feel sexy. He still looks at me like I’m the most beautiful person in the world. He’s supportive of everything I do, he's my rock.

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT: I have a baby pooch, but that's about it. I'm really just excited. I can't wait to see these sexy pictures of myself! When I first head about it I had no idea what exactly you do or don't wear! But I went to the website and I liked what I saw, and now I am just so excited. My husband said I'm going to be impossible to live with after this!

HER MISSION: I think people might hold back on commenting on someone being overweight because it's not socially acceptable to do so, but people freely will put it out there if they think you're too thin. It made me hate myself and hate my body when I was younger. I thought my arms were too skinny, so I wouldn't wear anything besides long sleeve shirts. I always felt like my boobs were too small because people said they were “egg-shell” sized. If someone calls you "anorexic", there's no good response. I would tell people “I eat all the time, I just can't gain any weight”. The response was always “oh, boo hoo... you're too skinny, must be hard”. But it was hard. I want to try to help other women who have been told they are too-thin, or too anything really. It can be hard and frustrating at time, but all you can do is healthy and happy and comfortable in who you are.

PARTING WORDS: I’m excited, and my husband is excited for me. I hope to just have fun, and end up with some sexy images of myself to give to my husband!"

Real Women of Rochester | Keri's Shoot Reveal

In case you missed it, here's a link to last week's post on Keri and why she wanted to be one of our RWOR ladies (for the record, in my head I pronounce this "RAWR!"). Today's post details what Keri had to say about the entire experience of her shoot, and what her photos mean to her!

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: "When I initially called Natalie I was like 'HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT'. I saw her ad about 6 times before I called. I showed up to my shoot early because I thought I'd chicken out if I didn't leave my house. When I arrived at the studio I was in a vulnerable state of mind. It's a risk to be taking a lot of clothing off! But from the moment I walked in, the energy was great – they made me feel safe and comfortable. The only anxiety I held onto was knowing that these images would be out somewhere in the world, and I didn't want to disappoint Natalie and her hopes for the project.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: It’s like theater. You’re creating a personae. With hair and makeup, false eyes lashes and wardrobe suggestions, we took me to this next level. The makeup wasn't scary or strange, I just looked like the best version of me. The scariest part was the very beginning. I put on the first outfit in the changing room and thought – 'OK....... I’ve got to walk out at some point!' Once we started shooting, it became fun.Natalie would turn the camera around to show me the shots – and I knew it wasn't BS when she told me I looked great. I looked and felt glamorous and beautiful.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: I look like I've got my shit together. I look like a boss. It makes me feel powerful. The woman in (this photo, below) is in control of what she's doing, and she knows who she is. It makes me proud. It's the best me. Maybe this is how other people perceive me [editor's note: it's how I perceive Keri!].

When I see these photos it's not “I'm not this”… it's “I AM this”. They make me think about what I am, not what I'm not. It's affirming to think that it's not a fluke.... I looked at 120 pictures, and I liked 90 of them. That's crazy amount of photos where I thought “wow – I look awesome”.

My favorite photos are not when I'm wearing anything crazy or even lingerie, but when I'm in my husband's shirt. This section is my favorite because I love my face and my eyes especially. I feel like this is the most authentic to how I might actually be, when I'm hanging out or goofing around with my husband.

I like that I had a full choice in what I brought, it was all things I actually wear. They didn't dress me in someone else's clothes and tell me what to wear, I picked things I felt good in. In some ways, this type of shoot is subscribing to what society is asking of us, but we also have the choice and I empowered myself by choosing what I think I look best in. This whole process brought out the best me – it wasn't changing what I looked like – It just accentuated my best parts. I also love the simplicity in the images - there are no props. The focus is completely on me, I look very much like 'me'- and I look pretty damn good. I feel proud of my body.

PARTING THOUGHTS: Doing this shoot helped to make me start noticing my attributes, not my flaws. I’ve always struggled with my weight. I would always look in the mirror and nitpick the stupidest things that no one would ever pay attention to. After going through this whole process, I've been able to stop being so critical. I love my eyes, and I can notice them more now. I've started to pull back from so much hate speech towards myself. While I initially wanted to do a boudoir shoot as a gift for my husband, it ended up as a gift for myself. I didn’t even feel this beautiful on my wedding day. I left feeling like I’m a bad ass. It was a natural high. Every women deserves to have a moment where they feel like a complete rock star.

I've struggled with infertility, I can't have children. I've put my body through a lot trying to conceive – hormones and steroids. I've had ectopic pregnancies. You start to think that you are not worthwhile, because your body can't do something that you see so many other women being able to do. It is nice to see value you in myself again. Seeing my body as something to be proud of, instead of something that's frustrating or disappointing. Being infertile 100% feels like my fault. My husband gets upset with me when I say that, but I feel like it's because my eggs are past expiration. It's heartbreaking to expose yourself to that entire process, trying to do everything that you can, and have it not work out. You feel like your body is letting you down, and it's easy to feel less feminine when something very tied to your womanhood isn't working. It's powerful for me to see my body in a beautiful way, and that even though I can't have a child and that my extra pounds are still there, my body is still worthwhile. When I look at these photos I feel like I own my body, instead of being ashamed or disappointed by it. My body is mine, and I am proud of it." - Keri

Real Women of Rochester | Keri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Real Women of Rochester | Kelly’s Shoot Reveal

In case you missed it, here's a link to last week's post on Kelly and why she chose to be a RWOR. Now, here's what she had to say about the experience of her shoot, and what she plans to do with her photos.

IN HER HEAD BEFORE THE SHOOT: "I need a drink! Haha... I was excited! I wish I had lost a little weight before it, but I'm not shy. I wasn't concerned about anyone seeing me during my shoot. I overpacked, so I felt prepared and relaxed. Everyone at Natalie's studio is lovely, plus there was wine....

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT: I'm such a plain-jane, I like to see a different side of me sometimes. I was nervous to get my makeup done, my family doesn't even recognize me when I wear makeup. I love how it turned out though, and the false eyelashes were fun. There was one shot that was crazy.... I was up against the wall, my hip hurt. I was like 'hurry up Nat'! She's super sweet though, so it was easy. The shoot was exactly what I expected, plus some additional furniture moving. Natalie moves a lot of furniture during her shoots!

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS: They show a side of me I'm not used to seeing. When you go through life it's chaotic and busy, and I'm a plain-jane kinda gal. I think especially at 41, it can be hard to look at yourself and see something sexy. It was awesome to see that. It's funny, my husband always tells me I ooze sex-appeal, but I don't feel like that at all. It's nice to see what he sees.

 "If I had to describe that woman, I'd say she looks confident and hot. She's also rocking some awesome shoes." - Kelly on her left photo

"If I had to describe that woman, I'd say she looks confident and hot. She's also rocking some awesome shoes." - Kelly on her left photo

 PARTING THOUGHTS: This shoot was exactly what I wanted it to be, I feel like it was a success. You see so many photos of women that have chosen not to be rebuilt – and it's wonderful for those women to share those images, it is very empowering for them. However, when young women diagnosed with breast cancer see only that depiction of a breast cancer survivor, it can be scary for them. I like that these images can show those women another option. I'm looking forward to posting these images on my Fight Club of Rochester facebook page for survivors and fighters, so they can see a happy and sexy survivor.

Doing a boudoir shoot is definitely something I would recommend for anyone, especially someone who's been through cancer. I know a young woman who is a survivor, and she's always very nervous about dating and what potential partners may think of her body. I think doing a boudoir shoot is an opportunity to see yourself in a different way. Having scars across your chest does not define your sexuality.

I think back to how I felt about my body at different times in my life. When I was young I was unhealthily thin, but I thought I looked fat. The thought of taking my clothes off in the locker room was absolutely mortifying. Then after having a baby, I hated the way my breasts looked - I was very insecure about them. Now after having cancer, I look back and realize I should have been happy with what I had. No woman is ever happy with who they are, and that's gotta change. So now, I look at my body and say 'This is what you have, be happy with it. Get your head out of your *ss and enjoy it".  - Kelly

Anyone who knows and loves Kelly would not have found this post complete without the closing swear :) Kelly - thank you for your honesty, your humor, and the awesome work you're doing with Fight Club of Rochester. That's it for this week Real Women of Rochester, come see us again next week!