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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