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 | 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 | 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 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!"

Woman Crush Wednesday | Elaina Fiammi

I don't always get the pleasure of meeting my boudoir client's husbands, but since Elaina attends basically every event we have at the studio and we've since became friends - I've gotten to meet the happy recipient of Elaina's boudoir album and her partner in life. Dion is an incredibly caring and kind husband, and he jumped at the opportunity to be able to share their love story on our blog.

"Elaina and I met at work eight years ago, and I instantly knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. When we were planning our wedding, photography was extremely important to us. So important, in fact, that we actually spent our initial wedding budget on it alone. (Oops!) So when Elaina told me that as part of my wedding gift she was giving me a set of boudoir photos, my initial reaction was naturally “we’re spending more money on photos?!” She meant to keep her gift to me a surprise, but she was just so excited about the shoot that she had to tell me all about it.

On our wedding day, I had been waiting for my groomsmen to get ready practically all day. Our limo was scheduled to arrive at 3PM, and the tuxedo bags were still hanging from the closest door at 2PM. Right before we left, I opened her gift. The pictures were stunning and flawless. I got lost in the book and suddenly my friends were waiting on me. My best man had to force me to put the book down and remind me that the limo was waiting to take us to the wedding. He filmed the whole process and the ensuing video was rather hilarious. In the end, the gift was almost as much for her as it was for me. She loved how beautiful it made her feel, loved the comfortable process, and absolutely loved working with Natalie.

I will admit that this was extremely difficult to write. Not for the lack of words, but quite the opposite. How do I quickly encompass all love I have for my beautiful wife? Time and time again, I started… and no matter how I twisted the words or told the story, I always came to the same conclusion. I love my wife utterly and completely. She makes me laugh more than anyone I know. She gives me purpose and fills my life with hopes for the future and dreams to be shared. She makes me a better man. I call my wife my angel because, in so many ways, she saved my life from what it might have been without her." - Dion Robinson

[NOTE: Elaina approved her boudoir images for my website at an earlier date! This post was a surprise for her, her images being public was not :) ]

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 | 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!

Real Women of Rochester | Kelly

Kelly: 41 | Residence: Pittsford |  President of Fight Club of Rochester, Inc.

Kelly's personality is the first thing you notice about her. It literally precedes her by about 10 feet, hits you in the face with energy, fills the entire room you're in and then some. I remember meeting Kelly about a year before she applied to be a part of this project, at the annual Gilda's Club of Rochester Bachelor's Auction, and thinking immediately that I would photograph her some day. Or at least that I wanted to :) When she applied and told me about the work she was doing through Fight Club of Rochester and her mission of helping breast cancer survivors like herself feel beautiful again, I knew our meeting was more than chance.

HER WHY - I’m a different person than I was 6 years ago. When I got cancer, I went through chemo, lost my hair, had my breasts removed, had my hair grow back (with a little bit of grey), rebuilt my breasts twice and until recently was on the estrogen regulator Tamoxifen (imagine PMS times 100, daily). But when you have cancer, it is sometimes your job to make others feel better. I found that by not letting cancer define me in a negative way, I was able to take better care of myself. I tried to find the good in every situation, so other people could see it positively through me. I have experienced some great positives. I loved when my hair grew back in beautiful curls, and now I have bigger boobs and don’t have to wear a bra. I’ve made wonderful friends and started the Fight Club of Rochester, a non-profit organization that raises money for organizations who support cancer research and people living with cancer in the Rochester, New York area.

There is a photo going around the internet of breast cancer survivors with their shirts off. None of them are re-built. These are strong and courageous woman willing to put themselves out there. I want to offer a different perspective. I chose to rebuild my breasts. They are fake boobs, with fake nipples, but I was 34 when I lost them, and still wanted that part of my life and body back. I want to show people that you can be yourself again after cancer.

HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY & BREASTS: Perhaps at a certain age there is no need to care about having boobs anymore, but I was 34 and still wanted to rock a bikini. I’ve rebuilt mine twice, initially after my mastectomy in 2010 and then again in 2014. The first doctor I went to didn’t give me a lot of options and I hated the way he reconstructed my nipples. He didn’t hire a real tattoo artist, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the shape. As I started to do more outreach, I was spending a lot of time talking to women about how they could feel whole again. At the same time, I didn’t like what I had going on under my own shirt. I went in for a consult with a new doctor, simply to discuss my nipples, but after that discussion, I decided to have them completely redone. Now, I’m really pleased with the result – my bust looks more natural under clothing, and I feel much more like myself. 

WHAT SHE'S NERVOUS ABOUT: I don't have any anxieties about doing a shoot. I like the idea of people reading about my story, I think this will be fun. I don’t frequently have any specific reason to be sexy. I've been with my husband for almost 14 years, and he thinks I'm sexy without me really having to try.  I recently turned 41. I’ve always had the mindset and sense of humor of an 18 year old, but I've definitely changed since I hit 40. I've always loved going dancing, but now I just want sit at home and drink wine in my pjs. This will be a fun opportunity to feel sexy again.

HER MISSION - It’s really easy to find the bad and scary side of cancer if your only resource is the internet. Before I was diagnosed, I had the perception that breast cancer was always a torturous process and very few survived. I didn't have much information to go on. But every time I would make it through a benchmark in the treatment process, I would think, “That wasn’t that terrible. High five to me.”  I have found that talking to someone with an upbeat attitude makes it easier for you to have an upbeat attitude yourself. I love when someone reaches out to me to talk about the process. I can take their sadness and help them knock it off the table. We say “Ok, this is now your part-time job. It’s a shitty part-time job. And you’re going to do it, and get it done with. These are the steps and the resources you need to rock this out."

PARTING WORDS: Reach out. Ask questions. In any situation, what you don’t know is the scariest part.

 

Real Women of Rochester | Shadi's Shoot Reveal

Hello Real Women of Rochester followers! Last week you got to meet Shadi and hear why she was so excited to be a part of our project. We interviewed her after her shoot when she came in to see her images for the first time. Here's what she had to say about the experience of her shoot, and what her images mean to her...

IN HER HEAD, BEFORE THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“I was excited, I knew it was going to be such a fun day. I got to let my real self – a side of me that doesn’t get to be shown often enough – come all out in the studio… shamelessly. It was such a welcoming environment to flaunt your womanhood. I can’t do that at work, or at the grocery store. I can do it at the salsa club, but I don’t want to be inviting to the wrong kind of attention – it can easily be judged or misunderstood, and I don’t think that’s fair. I’m intelligent, I’m deep, I have substance to me, and I’ve worked hard. I’m a credible person. I feel like society tells us you lose credibility when you exhibit your womanliness, and that’s not fair.

I think women can frequently be more judgmental of (other) women than men are. A lot of women buy into what our role as women “should” be according to our male-dominated society. We have to overcome multiple layers of restraint as a gender to unleash ourselves and each other. I think we need to build more avenues in which we can be comfortable and real. Natalie's studio was really that venue for me. I loved the feeling like myself during the entire experience.

IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

I was so excited. I was like, ‘Let’s just let it all loose!’ I’m comfortable with this side of me, I just don’t get to enjoy it very often. It was fun having Natalie to facilitate the entire experience because we talked, we laughed, we shared the afternoon together. It was better to share this side of me with another person. Being a woman is art. Your body is part of your art form, and it is more beautiful when it’s shared. It’s like a painting or a great poem - speaking that poem theatrically or sharing that painting is valuable and should be admired. It can be a cause for inspiration and growth.

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS:

The woman I see in my images is really happy. She’s free, comfortable, relaxed. She has a lot to look forward to. She’s confident, strong, non-judgmental of herself. She’s prepared for the world. She’s shameless.

The shoot makes me feel like I have it in me to openly show this side of myself more without reservation or doubt. It’s definitely boosted my confidence in publicly displaying all aspects of myself and feeling really good about it. It makes me care even less about what people have to say about what a woman can and can’t do. Just the way I walk, or talk or stare you straight in the face - I have more confidence in doing things the way I want to.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

To publicly, shamelessly show my womanhood was a challenge at first. My career goal is to be a high school administrator. I found myself thinking about how students and other administrators would react. Now, I don’t care what anyone thinks. If you’re not going to hire me for these pictures, I don’t want to work for you anyway. I want to work for people who believe in equality for men and women and who are not going to judge me based on my true self expression. I’m so passionate and supportive of the arts, and this is an art form for me; this is a statement that I stand by. I’m not turning this off for anything - this is my victory lap. I’m coming home to myself, and I can't get lost anymore. Bring it on world."

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...

Real Women of Rochester | Katrina's Shoot Reveal

So here's the part you've all been waiting for - the photos! Last week you got to meet Katrina and hear why she was so excited to be a part of our project. We then interviewed her after her shoot when she came in see her images for the first time. Here's what she had to say about the shoot itself, and what her images mean to her...

IN HER HEAD, BEFORE THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“The night before the shoot, I was super terrified and stressed. I spent about 4 hrs putting things together, shopping for new clothes,  working and reworking outfits. I felt like nothing I had was fully put together. And then minute I walked in - it was completely fine. Funnily enough, the mimosa really helped me calm down. Natalie started sifting through my clothing and I was immediately whisked away to get ready. Knowing you’re in the hands of professionals eases the anxiety a lot.

After hair and makeup, I felt like a model. You know when you’re a little girl and you dream about going to a castle and getting dressed up like a princess and shown around? Doing this shoot was a lot like that! I got to be dressed up and pampered. I felt like I was exactly what I needed to be.”

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IN HER HEAD, DURING THE BOUDOIR SHOOT:

“I felt like I was exactly what Natalie wanted in a model - like she didn’t want to be photographing anything or anyone else. I think when you get semi-naked or sexy in front of people there is a desire to be accepted. You’re putting yourself out there to be seen. It felt great to come here, be sexy, and feel immediately safe, appreciated and special. It was nice to feel like Natalie was really getting something from what I was giving.”

HER THOUGHTS ON HER BOUDOIR PHOTOS:

“That woman is sexy, confident, she’s have a blast doing whatever she’s doing and she feels like the most beautiful person in the world.  I don’t look at myself in the mirror and see that regularly. It’s still hard for me to look at these photos and see them as being myself.” 

boudoir-pictures-rochester

I love the blanket images. They feel really luxurious. I’m not wearing anything, so nothing can fit wrong. The images look really cozy and I look comfortable in my own skin. It doesn’t uncover or accent anything that I don’t like about myself. Nothing that I’m wearing is making a statement - it’s just me there.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

“People hate models because their world always looks so perfect and everything is beautiful for them. But I kind of get it now. In these images, everything is perfect, I’m the princess and this is my happy place. We don’t go through our lives living in our happy place, so it’s amazing to see it represented here. I feel like I can go to my happy place when I see these pictures. I think that if I look at these photos enough, I’ll start to think believe I can do this on my own. It’s an example of a way I can be. It’s something you want to be when you look at models, but it’s something I want to be when I see it in myself.

The point of these photos is not to tell the story of my life. It’s partially my life and partially the parts I feel like representing. I’m celebrating what’s good. We’re multifaceted people. I really believe in empowering women to be all the different parts of themselves. As a female who’s had to overcome sexual assault, I wanted to embrace my femininity and encourage other women to do so.” - Katrina

 

Real Women of Rochester | Katrina

Hello Real Women of Rochester followers! I'm excited to present to you Katrina, our very first RWOR. She was the first person to respond to my post, and the first lady to get herself into our studio for her interview, and the first shoot! Today we are sharing her pre-shoot interview -  her thoughts on womanhood, beauty, the project, and why she wanted to be involved. Katrina, I can't thank you enough for your honest and candid reflections, and am SO glad to have you be a part of this project. So without further adieu, meet Katrina....

Katrina - Age 24, Residence: Rochester, Development Associate |  Masters of Music Performance and Literature

Katrina walked into the studio after a long day at work sporting a huge grin. You would have thought she’d won the lotto. But no - she was just that excited to be a part of our Real Women of Rochester project. Katrina is a recent graduate, with a masters degree in  music performance. When she’s not at work, she runs, cooks, and performs on the weekends with her adorable violinist boyfriend.

HER WHY: I was in a relationship for four years that wore me down and made me feel like I had nothing to offer. Once I was out of that relationship, I was able to see myself clearly. I look back at photos taken during that time period and I think - wow, I was beautiful, but I didn’t realize it because I thought so little of myself. I look different now: I’ve gained weight and I’m a few years older.  Years from now I want to look back at this time and place and say, “Yes, I was beautiful.” I want to believe that about myself now, and I need some help crafting that perspective. I hope that this boudoir shoot will help me with this.”

WHAT IS SHE NERVOUS ABOUT? I  feel like maybe I might not have anything to give - that perhaps all the women I’ve seen on your website just showed up ready to be photographed. I consider myself a confident person but I feel pretty lost in this world of boudoir photography. I’m really looking forward to letting Natalie and her team work their magic.


HER THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY: A few months ago I realized I was walking around sucking in my stomach all day. When I finally exhaled, I felt like I hadn’t taken a deep breath in forever. I want everyone to be able to take a deep breath, regardless of whether they feel thin enough or pretty enough. I want to be part of a movement that encourages everyone to be comfortable in their bodies.

HER MISSION: I am a survivor of rape. It took me over a year to realize what had happened to me, and more than two years after that to stop accepting blame for it. (That second part is still a daily battle.) I became inspired to run the Chicago Marathon to raise money for women in African countries who are often assaulted on their multi-mile journey to collect clean water, and in order to really make an impact in my fundraising, I shared my story. I wore a sign on my back during a half marathon in Rochester that said, “Today I run for survivors of rape like me.” I put my story on Facebook and in my alma mater’s newspaper, and that’s how everyone found out what had happened. My family and friends found out via Facebook, because that’s how I needed to tell my story. Telling other people what had happened was one way to remind myself that what happened to me was real, is not my fault, and that what someone did to my body without my consent does not total the sum of the person that I am.

PARTING WORDS: My body belongs to me and only me. Making the decision to do a boudoir shoot is one of many ways that I have chosen to own my body and to continue making empowered decisions around that ownership. I hope that by sharing my story, I can inspire other people to feel ownership of their bodies as well.  

Stay tuned for the reveal of her boudoir shoot next Wednesday...

Announcing: Real Women of Rochester

Being a boudoir photographer provides me with a unique insight into women's lives. I'm equal parts photographer, psychologist, big-sister-playing-dress-up, and a new found friend. There's something about taking off the daily armor of clothing that breaks down the walls we put up between ourselves and the outside world. What's left is beautiful, honest and most of all - real. Over the years, I've had candid conversations with the many women I've had the privilege of photographing. I let them do most of the talking. These women have experienced many things: the raw beauty and pain of motherhood, infertility, miscarriages and adoption. Some found love after hope was forfeited, or have spent their life feeling overweight or underweight. Some have endured domestic and sexual abuse. The most consistent and disheartening part of these conversations was that at one point, every single woman felt isolated and alone through these struggles. I realized so many women share this common sentiment in navigating through the journey of womanhood. The women’s ages, ethnicity and backgrounds varied but every woman felt isolated, or worse. Some felt harsh judgement or shame about what she was going through. Many felt like their negative experiences were their fault, and that it was a reflection of their lack of womanliness and it affected their sense of sensuality, and self-worth. Many felt that they were less of a woman because of what they had been through.

Hearing so many beautiful, inspiring and courageous women express such similar sentiments felt like a call to action. Reflecting back on these conversations, I realized that not only was it cathartic for these women to feel heard without judgment, it was also an incredible learning experience for me. I felt like I was gaining lessons in womanhood. So many women go through the same things, and I didn’t realize how prevalent and common many of these experiences are. It lead me to believe that other women could benefit from these stories as well.

Not really knowing how to start - I put out a non-model casting call on Facebook for a boudoir shoot in which I would have permission to use the images on my blog, and asked if they would be willing to share a story of their journey through womanhood to go along with it. I hoped I would get a few volunteers. I ended up with 55 responses in 12 hours. The number of incredible stories I received absolutely amazed me. I remember thinking “Wow.... women have been waiting for this”. And that's when Real Women of Rochester was born.

Included in the first chapter of this project are six women ranging from ages 24 to 45 with different careers, upbringings, ethnicities and personalities. Each woman has a compelling story that they were willing to share for the benefit of other women. In the coming months I will be sharing with you the the stories of the women I photographed in hopes of creating a new kind of sisterhood in Rochester. You will see a headshot of each woman as they look on a regular day (sidenote: I dislike the term “Before” shot because it implies there were things that needed to be fixed). You'll get to hear why they wanted to be a part of this project, what their journey through womanhood has brought them, how they felt right before, during and after their boudoir shoot with me, and finally their photo-reveal reactions will be paired with their favorite images.

So, whats the best part? YOU - the women of Rochester get to help shape the direction of this project. The future is unwritten. Your feedback, ideas and comments will shape this project's trajectory! My goal is to discover what's possible when we gather our hearts, minds and bodies as a collective force.  Let's find and celebrate our beauty and strength, and empower ourselves to empower those around us. This is a project by women, for women. Remember ladies, we are never alone.

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The Comment section below is open -click to leave your comments! I'm looking forward to your feedback :)

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

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

Katie Carey | Rochester Ceramicist

 Katie Carey (katiecareyceramics.com)

Katie Carey (katiecareyceramics.com)

A note from Natalie: Katie is one of those incredible humans that once you meet, you just want to be around all the time. Her laugh is infectious and her outlook on life always unique, interesting and entertaining. Her contemporary ceramic work is very much like Katie herself - a bright spot in your day. Check out her website to see her modern, well-designed and at times hilarious work for your home and life.

 Photos by: Natalie Sinisgalli

Photos by: Natalie Sinisgalli

And now! Enjoy this interview with the artist herself, courtesy of our intern Hannah McCarthy.

Natalie and I pulled into an industrial part of the city full of brick buildings with uniform windows lining each sturdy wall. Katie Carey, a local ceramist and good friend of Natalie and Whitney's, came outside to lead us up to her studio. The spacious room with plenty of gorgeous sunshine poured in between the dusty, sun-faded window panes. In preparation for my interview with Katie, I perused her website, a beautifully curated collection of her ceramic works. From mugs to “adult chia pets,” as Katie so accurately deemed them, Katie has brought her business motto to fruition: her pieces are well crafted, functional, and made to enhance the home experience.
In the back of her studio sat all of her equipment while pieces of her work lined one of the walls. With a setup this professional, you’d think this career part of her lifelong plan, but it was quite the opposite: “After I graduated from college, a friend and I wanted to do something before our new professional lives. We decided to go live on a farm through WOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). This farm had artist studios for pottery, weaving, and woodworking. I was introduced to pottery there. I completely fell in love. I loved the little pottery shards that were around, the different glazes and the way you use your hands. It’s been addicting.”
      Several years later, Katie’s hands are still covered in clay. Her passion got her started, but her dedication and stubbornness have kept her going: “It’s kind of a difficult skill to get at first but I was really determined. It’s interesting to see the progress - In past jobs, I couldn’t really measure my progress. Output was more mental and their were no permanent objects. With ceramics, I have a progression from when I started years ago and it’s captured forever in time. I can see so clearly that I’m getting better at something or that I learned something. It memorializes a piece of time.”
      Opening her own studio was a huge leap of faith for Katie, but her journey to get to that point was what prepared her: “ This has been the first year that I’ve had my own space and equipment. In the past, I've done residencies where I was part of a group so I had their support. You have to be a little crazy and say, “I’m just gonna make it work.”
      What’s next for Katie on this incredible journey? "Ideally I'd like to be more integrated into a community, whether it be through teaching, outreach programs, or administration.  I think being in the studio alone for a lot of hours is not sustainable for me. It's glamorous in theory but artists' solitude is not something I strive for. "Maybe I’ll become a soul singer," she teased with a laugh.
This interview was conducted by our new Marketing/Communications intern, Hannah McCarthy, a rising sophomore at Elon University in North Carolina.