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 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 | 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

Man Crush Monday | Doug Gaudieri

Having the opportunity to feature Doug Gaudieri in our Man Crush Monday post is an incredible treat. Doug is the kind of man #mcm was invented for. A dedicated husband, loving father, and compassionate business man (owner of Rapid Print & Marketing), Doug puts his all into everything he does. I'm honored to be the preserver of some of his cherished memories. When I was picking out photos for this post, I was moved by how many shoots he and his family have done with me over the years. I am lucky to be his photographer, and also to call him my friend. But enough from me... let's hear the real story from his incredible wife - Danell...

"Doug and I met as young college students at Geneseo and were instantly smitten. The timing wasn’t right for a relationship and though I had a care-free and adventuresome spirit while Doug was focused and ready to take on the world with his fierce entrepreneur drive - there was no denying our strong connection. His clever wit and handsome smile won me over. Not long after graduating, Doug moved to Alabama while I lived in Syracuse. Our friendship continued to grow but I knew the only way to know for sure if this was THE guy was to make a move.

My defining moment - an offer from Doug to visit him in Alabama and road trip to New Orleans to see Pearl Jam in concert. After that trip, I packed up my car and moved down to be with him. There were so many unknowns at the time but somehow we always found each other. Proof of that – I was separated from Doug at the Pearl Jam concert and found myself on the ground in the mosh pit surrounded by crazed fans. Out of nowhere I felt a hand reach down and pull me up. That seems to be a theme in our marriage of 18 years. When one is down the other pulls ‘em up. It’s a balance we have that carries us through the daily challenges of juggling three kids, jobs, and everything in between.

Doug has many endearing qualities. He's always lending an ear to a friend or family member going through a difficult time. He’s encouraging and advises without judgement. He’s kind, patient, empathetic, and has such a generous heart. He continues to have a positive attitude even in the most challenging of times - and there are plenty with teenagers! He’s my soft-spot to land after a difficult day -my calming force.

I am grateful for the example he sets to our children through his dedication to work, family, and his faith. He continuously puts others first and encourages everyone to reach their best potential. I’m one of the lucky ones as he makes me want to do better and be better each day. Married for 18 years and together for 20 is no easy feat. The best life lesson that has kept our bond strong is to simply accept the other’s flaws and love that person for who they are. Doug loves unconditionally and is always there to lift me up when I'm down.

Our college days are a lifetime away, but that adventuresome spark hasn’t left either of us. Doug continues to inspire me to seek out adventures despite our hectic family schedule. Always reminding me of the importance to take time for myself and each other. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or an evening walk together, Doug makes me a priority. I feel just as adored today as the day we married.

His wit still has me laughing like a young school girl and his curiosity to always be learning something new inspires me. And though we’ve both grown and evolved, we have grown closer and are excited about our future. Doug is my best friend and my love. I love the life we have and continue to build together. Our journey of many more adventures awaits! Pearl Jam said it best…can’t find a betterman!"- Danell Gaudieri

Man Crush Monday | Bobby Pritchard

Today's Man Crush Monday is brought to you by Kristy Pritchard:)

"Bobby is one of a kind, he is my prince charming, my rock and my best friend. It is so hard to put eight years of friendship and love into words (especially because Bobby has a way with words more than I - But here it goes...).   Bobby and I met freshman year of college, outside of our advisers office. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but I remember going back to my dorm room to tell my friends that I met this really "weird" kid because I didn't know how else to describe it. Little did I know that chance meeting would be the start of something special and they all knew long before I did that he was the one.

Bobby can talk to anyone, make them laugh and feel special within minutes of meeting them.  His humorous personality is one of my favorite traits. Our wedding day was the best day of my life and it was all because of him. There are so many wonderful memories, but one of my favorites was our first look before the wedding.  Being able to have that special moment with no one watching meant the world. It's a moment that I will never forget. I also remember walking down the aisle to him, feeling overwhelmed with so many happy feelings, seeing all of our loved ones in one place and knowing that he was at the end waiting for me.  We were so wrapped up in emotions that when I reached him, we both leaned in to kiss and then realized it wasn't time yet. The day couldn't have been more perfect and filled with love! 

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Right now we are still enjoying being young and are getting the travel bug out of our system before we start our family.  We just got back from Ireland and are now planning a trip to Greece! I honestly believe that I am one of the luckiest people in the world; the adventures that we have had and the adventures that are yet to come wouldn't be the same without Bobby by my side! I will always be thankful that I am the one he chose to spend forever with." 

-Mrs. Kristy Pritchard

Real Women of Rochester | Shadi

Hi ladies - I'd like to introduce you to our next Real Woman of Rochester: Shadi! Following our RWOR format, today you will learn about Shadi via her pre-shoot interview - her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved.

Shadi: - Age 35 | Residence: Rochester | Education: Law Degree, and currently pursing an Administration Degree at U of R with a passion for Arts Integration in the classroom | Occupation: Teacher

Shadi and I met at a salsa night at Lovin' Cup, her smile and personality cut through the loud music with ease. I knew right away that this woman had a story to tell. We didn't talk about the weather or the music. We talked about being a woman, and what it meant to own that. She told me that she wanted to help inspire and empower women to love themselves – that it doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're married, have kids, that it's all about self love. She was one of the women that directly inspired me to start this project, so when she volunteered to be a part of it – I was elated.

HER WHY: Growing up as an Iranian-American, having a Middle Eastern background and parents that are conservative when it came to social conduct, how one expresses themselves and interacts with the opposite sex, my sister and I were limited in those areas by strict rules. My sister was the one who would find a way out of the rules while I was the one always trying to please my parents. I would look at her like, “Oh, I don’t have the guts to do that!” There’s always been a creative and very expressive side of me that remained dormant in the midst of following all the rules.

As we got older, my family didn’t talk about sex. We didn’t talk about dating. It was assumed that you didn’t do anything sexy. My parents placed the highest value in education, so my focus remained on academics. In the process, true womanhood and my creative side were not nurtured. Learning how to date was difficult. I ended up in unhealthy relationships and eventually realized at the core of it was not loving myself, and not being taught how to love myself entirely.

I knew I was intelligent, but I didn't know how to make healthy choices while dating. It was hard work and took a lot of self-reflection. I found that in terms of self-love and creating healthy relationships, the outside mirrors the inside. I'm finally in a really good place on the inside and I want it to vividly show on the outside.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: I’ve had guys say, 'you’re gorgeous', 'you’re beautiful,' but I've never really internalized that. This boudoir shoot is an opportunity for me to do so. Until you feel it and you believe it, once you see it for yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else tells you. I want to see it and say, “Yes. That’s art. That’s beautiful.”

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT? I’m afraid of not being myself. I don’t want this experience to be theatrical; I want it to be authentic and genuine. I’m not entirely sure what authentic looks like, but I know what it feels like and I want my photos to capture that authentic feeling from the inside.

HER MISSION: I think that embracing female sexuality, being 100% confident in yourself and not feeling ashamed of any parts of our body is true womanhood. I think that today's society and messages from my upbringing, very much say that’s a bad thing. The media says our bodies are for sex, and are used to compete against one another, but I’d like to change that definition – I think that it’s wrong. I think our bodies are works of art and we should be proud of them. They’re ours. I would like to validate and experience my art by having it portrayed through a beautiful lens.

My friend was an amateur photographer and for my 30th birthday she took pictures of me. I don’t think it meant what it means to me right now. It was like, “Oh, look at me, I’m 30 and I look good.” Now it’s much more about being as complete as a person inside and valuing myself. I don’t need anyone to validate me. I want to celebrate the inside on the outside.

PARTING WORDS: The power of collaboration with people who really love you and can mirror self-love is incredible. That’s why I’m a teacher now – I do that for my high school world history students. I moved from criminal and juvenile law because teaching is more preventative: and at that point meeting me my clients were already in a really difficult situation, so I wanted to go back to teaching because I thought I could make a positive difference in students lives. I’ve had so many people in my life that have shown me great compassion and kindness to me to help me get to the point of self love in my life, I wanted to help others on their journey to getting there too.

I feel like when you accept yourself and accept your own mistakes, when you can forgive yourself and bounce back, then you can forgive others for their mistakes and not take them personally. Not everything is a personal attack; you’re not a victim anymore. I’ve made peace with all my flaws and mistakes and I’m okay talking about them. To share them with someone else can bring peace to people to know that they’re not alone. To overcome those things, trust issues especially for me, to learn that there are good people, to get closer to people, to form healthy relationships, all of that has made me who I am and I’m proud of it. I want the lens to see me as someone who has truly overcome and represent my victory lap in being a confident, expressive woman.

Thanks, Shadi! Alright, Rochester - stay tuned for the reveal of her boudoir shoot next Wednesday...

Boudoir Testimonial: Anniversary Gift

  IMAGE & QUOTE POSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM CLIENT

IMAGE & QUOTE POSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM CLIENT

"My experience on the shoot itself was amazing. I had so much fun and it was so much more than I expected it to be. Natalie made me feel absolutely beautiful. I can't put a price on the value of my book- It’s one of the best gifts I was able to give my husband. He was in complete shock and could not believe I did this for him. He said it was amazing, and that he was so proud of me! Everyone at the studio is so fun-loving and sweet. They really made me feel so welcome and made this such a fun photo shoot. I will never forget my experience!"  - Boudoir Client

It's such a treat when clients allow us to share a few images and the love notes they write to us after their shoot! I love that her husband was proud of her for doing this - knowing it was out of her comfort zone. I am proud of her too! Hair & Makeup on this shoot (and every boudoir shoot we do!) is by the ever-talented Special Occasion Hair Design.    - Natalie

Jaron Wilson | Man Crush Monday

Carly & Jaron Wilson's love story as written by Carly Wilson herself...

"Stubborn, free-spirited New York woman meets selfless and patient Indiana man. I first fell in love with Jaron through music. I always accredit music when asked what brought us together. It was the first thing that bound us; the instrument that emboldened us and freed us of the everyday monotony. It is something we share exclusively. Jaron is my calming force; he is a soft voice when mine is too loud. He is the kindest man I know, continually showering me with words of encouragement. He is my greatest advocate. He is intelligent, always surprising me with his exceptional mind. I love him for his humility, his sense of humor, his open-mindedness, his loyalty to those he loves, his drive to push himself in all things, and his uncanny knack for making me the happiest, most fulfilled woman on the planet. I married him because he is exactly the person I want to be around every day of my life. He shows me a gentle and understanding love that I did not know existed." And if you haven't melted into a puddle yet.... "In the future I see us somewhere out west, with a lake, a grand backyard, and many little ones occupying that space. The greatest thing I could have done with my life is share it with this man, and the only thing that could top marrying him would be building a family together. I see us maintaining our individual pursuits while also growing from shared experiences. I have learned that everything seems a little brighter, a little better, with the support of someone you love. Jaron makes all things possible in love and in life."

Frances Cabrera | V.P. and Mom-To-Be

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Frances greeted me with a sweet voice and the most contagious laugh I’ve ever heard – I sensed immediately how pleasant and kind she is just through the phone. Rising to Vice President by the age of 28, Frances is a corporate queen at Barclays in Manhattan, doing environmental and risk work for the company: “ I’ve been at Barclays for four years. I started doing environmental sustainability for the company and have now expanded into looking at all sorts of risks within our corporate real estate portfolio. It’s been a fun and satisfying challenge navigating the corporate world in the company.”
Frances met Natalie while she was studying at RIT: “We did yearbook together, which is actually how we met,” she said. “At RIT I studied environmental technology and environmental management. I grew up in Southern Virginia – Virginia Beach – and in my seventeen-year-old rebellious state, I wanted to get away and be on my own, so I went to RIT. The snow was worth it – I really liked my program. I’d come back to my dorm room covered in mud after my field biology classes. It was fun to get my hands dirty.”
Natalie shot Frances and her now-husband’s engagement photo shoot after the pair had moved to Brooklyn to start their post-grad life. “My husband Joe moved to Brooklyn after graduation while I stayed in Rochester finishing my master’s degree. I followed after I got my degree. Those first few years in Brooklyn were an awesome adventure. We learned to navigate the city as a team. We did our engagement session in one of our favorite areas – Brooklyn’s Dumbo – it was much more abandoned at the time and its cobblestone streets mostly empty. Now it’s built up and filled with tourists, but it’s cool to have memories of what the area once was through the photos. The photos don’t just capture that special time in our life; they also show the progression of the neighborhood. I’m not one to enjoy having my picture taken, but looking back, I’m so glad I did it.”
Not long after Frances and Joe’s engagement shoot, Natalie shot their wedding in Puerto Rico – Frances’ parents lived there before moving to Virginia, so it was only fitting to get married on the beautiful island. “My family is from the San Juan area. It’s lovely there,” Frances explained. Natalie remembers, "it was incredible to see Frances and her family in their natural element, and then to see Joe's family so welcomed and become such a part of their world. All of this set in one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. It was truly a celebration of lives and families coming together as one. I also got to salsa dance with her dad, which pretty much made my life." she laughed.
Now, Frances and Joe are expecting their first child. After years of corporate living, Frances is looking forward to spending time being a mother, especially with her company standing behind her through it: “Barclay’s has been more than supportive. I’m excited to leave and be with the baby, but I’m also excited to see where else my work takes me once I'm ready to go back.”
This interview was conducted by our Marketing/Communications intern, Hannah McCarthy, a rising sophomore at Elon University in North Carolina.
 ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS AT DUMBO IN BROOKLYN - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS AT DUMBO IN BROOKLYN - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

 WEDDING PHOTOS IN OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

WEDDING PHOTOS IN OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

 MATERNITY & FAMILY SHOOT IN AUBURN, NY - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

MATERNITY & FAMILY SHOOT IN AUBURN, NY - NATALIE SINISGALLI PHOTOGRAPHY

Yuliana Yurkevich | Insurance Agency Owner

 Yuliana Yurkevich, Insurance Agency Owner

Yuliana Yurkevich, Insurance Agency Owner

Walking into her office, Yuli greeted us with a smile and an enthusiastic wave as she finished one of her many phone calls of the morning. Every minute counts when you’re a #girlboss, right? Showing her hospitable Eastern European roots, she kissed us on the cheek and welcomed us in. It was the first time I had met Yuli, and from the mere 45 seconds I had been in her presence, I could already see why Natalie and Whitney spoke so highly of her. From her posture to her demeanor, Yuli exuded love and gratitude - one of the first things she told us was, “I feel very blessed.” Perhaps the most amazing thing about her was the delicate and unmatched balance between confidence and humility. Being both grounded and successful will do that to you, I guess, along with an inspiring family of role models and their unwavering support.
      With $80 in their pockets, Yuli’s parents moved from Ukraine to the United States in search of the American Dream. Yuli was just 14 years old and in the midst of a pivotal time in a girl’s self-discovery. “It was tough, being a teenager and trying to adapt and blend in, and be normal I guess,” she told us. “I think the biggest dream that I had was probably to become someone. And not necessarily to chase “The Dream,” to make lots of money, but to become a strong woman - to become somebody who can learn and teach and just kind of evolve and continue growing,” she said. It’s 20 years later and she’s done just that. Yuli began working for Allstate as an employee, but after 8 years of hard work, dreaming and planning, she took the leap to start her own agency and landed with both feet firmly planted in the ground.
      “I’m still like, oh my god, I am a business owner, I have employees, and I’m shocked…in a good way. But I still shoot to get a bigger office, or to get more employees to show what I can bring and what I can do so we can be together and be positive and creative.”
      From the minute we stepped in Yuli’s office, the environment was clearly one of teamwork and support. “Issues, problems or happiness, we all face it together,” Yuli said, noting that she and her employees spend more time together than they do with their own families.  A small bulletin board sat near Yuli’s desk: the office vision board. Each employee had a section of it to place snippets of magazines, quotes, or photos. “It’s where we have the little things we want and it’s like, keep looking, we’re gonna get there, wherever it is. We’re a team.”
      Yuli sent us along on our day with swag bags full of pens and water bottles, huge smiles on our faces, and perhaps the most inspiring parting words of all time: “I think if you just keep dreaming, eventually those dreams come true. Keep going for it. Every day is a new challenge and you just gotta grab it and go with it.”

  Hannah McCarthy

 Hannah McCarthy

This interview was conducted by our new Marketing/Communications intern, Hannah McCarthy, a rising sophomore at Elon University in North Carolina.