What made you want to be a part of the #ReclaimBeauty project? 

"Reclaiming ‘ beauty' is such a personal journey and experience but it’s intriguing because there is this community piece too. I have always wanted to stand on my own and give confidence to others without thinking about what I might need from them, but almost to a fault at times. I am now learning that it’s okay to lean on my community - it doesn’t make me “less than” and oftentimes, they help by showing me what they are seeing rather than allowing me to keep hiding behind a mask or distorting my reality to feed that negative voice in my head. In being a part of this project, the community of warriors are helping me to look directly in the mirror and see me and i hope I can help inspire that in others."

How has the cultural perception of beauty influenced how you see yourself? 

"I love that technology has helped open my eyes to what ‘beauty' can be. I grew up in a small town and yes, I was one of those girls with all of the magazine cut-outs from my fashion magazines of all these famous women I aspired to look like. Tall, skinny, tan, and gorgeous…that wasn’t just a form of beauty, it was THE definition of beauty. I know there is resistance to different apps and photo sharing online but I am excited that these apps allow people like me to see real people (versus the photoshopped versions) and get exposed to different forms of beauty. You get the chance to see people from different identities, with different looks and expressions and at least it can open the door to the possibility that there is more than just one way to define beauty. Plus, it can help people feel comfortable in their own skin. When you see someone else being vulnerable it’s a good reminder of 'oh, they didn’t spontaneously combust…maybe I can do that too'."

What has been the hardest part of going on this journey to uncovering and celebrating your beauty?  

"I have been going through a 2 year journey living with chronic pain and hating myself and my body for all of its limitations. But also hating the progress that I lost because I am so limited. For the most part, I just wanted to feel this pain in isolation, going through it all alone. I mean that pain I experienced in and out, in it of itself, was so isolating. But when I was called out on Facebook to stand up and be a part of this project, it was a reminder that I need to step out from the shadows and begin to heal with the support of my community. And that is really scary. I am really good at making others feel better and putting myself last. Even in my job, I work alone, from home and behind a computer screen…sense the trend?…I resisted coming tonight on so many levels but I rose above my fear and told myself this needed to happen. And now, I can stand in the light and begin to work on the next level of the healing process."

How do you nurture and celebrate your beauty?

"A big thing for me is to begin to notice the negative self talk I say to myself. I wish I could say that leads right into stopping it but that is a much longer journey and sometimes all I can do is notice it, simply saying 'oh, here it is. I am being really mean to myself today.' I did this group exercise last year where we partnered up and looked in the eyes of our partner, saying aloud to them all of the negative self talk we tell ourselves every day. And even though I knew this wasn’t directed towards the other person, looking in their eyes and saying these things to them was so painful. And it really made me think, 'If I can’t say these things to someone else, even knowing it is just an exercise, then why I am okay saying them to myself every day?'

Another thing I am working on is celebrating the little things and realizing that doing whatever I am capable of in that moment is worth celebrating. Have you seen those things on Facebook…they are called something like 'Anxiety Awards' and they say things like 'congratulations, you put on pants today' or 'good job on leaving the house'? Well let me tell you, sometimes those are a legit win and I remind myself even if it is simply getting out of bed, I deserve to celebrate it. 

I am learning that my beauty lies in what I am capable of and celebrating my resiliency. I mean, we are some pretty magical creatures. And I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s a journey and not a smooth one. Life is filled with miracles but it ebbs and flows…it is not a smooth and easy line. And if it was, that wouldn’t be fun anyways."