Kyira: “So what was it like for you to do the photoshoot?”

Ashley: “Refreshing.”

Kyira: “Really?”

Ashley: “Yeah”

Kyira: “Awesome! How so?”

Ashley: “Honestly, that is, like, the first time that I have ever shown my stomach publicly.”

Kyira: “Oh my gosh.”

Ashley: “Literally. The very first time. Only my family has seen me without a shirt.”

Allison**: “Or your man.”

Ashley: “Yeah and Darrell. And…plus with the wind today…it is just felt nice.”

Megan: “And it’s private so it’s not like a stranger can see you.”

Allison: “Yeah I mean same thing with me. I haven’t, I mean I have been a big person my whole life. My whole family is fat. I just have a fat family. Both sides. Everybody is just big. And I remember when I was about 10, I had a two piece. And even at 10, I mean I was thin at that time, and even then I didn’t feel like I belonged in a two piece. I mean I was just a little girl, you know, in a little frilly sort of 2-piece and I was just so uncomfortable. I was just 10 years old. That is how early this shit starts.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Allison: “But you know it’s…”

Ashley: “I remember having a 2-piece at 8 or 9 years old and I remember i was just enjoying myself like, ‘oh I'm just swimming’ and then I remember hearing some comments from other kids and that was when I was like, comparing my body to all of my friends. I mean, like I even knew i was a different size in Kindergarten. And since Kindergarten I have had self confidence or self image issues.”

Kyira: “Yeah and I think that is the hard part is like, there is a bind of is it something inherent in the culture we grew up in or is that something within us. I mean because as you were talking about that, I felt the same way. I mean in high school, all of my best friends were the ones in sports bras and spandex and I was the one in an oversized shirt and basketball shorts at practice not fitting in. And not that that is anyone’s fault at all but those messages I told myself and were reinforced in society eventually led me to develop an eating disorder for almost 10 years. I mean just because I wanted to constantly look like everyone else. And I mean like where did that message come from that the only way to be worthy is to look a certain way or that only some people get wear the frilly 2-piece and it is alright?”

Allison: “I mean, and I feel like an eating disorder can be a whole lot of things. Like my issue is that I take a daily medication for being depressed. And I feel like for me, the hardest part when it comes to food is to not, when I am sad, just stuff myself with food. Like when I am down in the dumps or when, like our friend just passed away a few months ago, it is hard not to just want to sit at home and self destruct. And like for me, I wanted to do this because I just had a baby and because I figured why the hell not. And like, I have never done anything like this before.”

Kyira: “And that feels important to because I think so many times, like, there have been a few other woman I have interviewed who have had kids and they talk about loving their body when they were pregnant or for giving them their child but then as soon as they had the baby, they hated what their body had become. And it’s like this super big switch between two worlds where you are suddenly filled with so much shame. “

Allison: “Right now I am up, from when I got pregnant, I am up 35 pounds still, post baby…”

Kyira: “Yeah and you just had a baby, what 2 months ago? 3 months ago?”

Allison: “He just turned four months old. SO…(laughter)…I am starting not to have an excuse anymore. But, then I broke my leg. And so as soon as I wanted to get back doing what I could atthe gym, I broke my ankle. Which, talk about the hugest set back imaginable. And like now, I can’t even imagine jogging with this metal in my leg right now. Its going to take a really long time for me to heal.”

Kyira: “And that is a sense of powerlessness because you don't have that much control over your body’s healing and knowing when you will be ready again.”

Allison: “Yep…” (sigh)

Kyira: “So how do you think the culture that you grew up in impacted the way you saw yourself growing up?”

Ashley: “Well it wasn’t until just recently what was subconsciously embedded in ourheads is to always dress for other people - only a handful of people, I feel like, really dress for themselves, Everyone else dresses for other people, we are always trying to impress other people.  And it wasn’t until just recently I decided that that was bull shit and was like, why, why should I do that for everyone else? Why should I care? And so I decided to start to dress how I wanted. Like, if I want to wearsweats, I am going to wear sweat.”

Allison: “Yeah, and I think it is the older i get the less I care, too. So I think getting older can be a good thing. But I mean for me, I mean my parents weregreat but I have been called fat since I was a little kid. And like, bothmy parents were fat and so…”

Megan: “Your parents called you fat?”

Allison: “Oh yeah…”

Ashley: “My grandma always fat shamed me.”

Allison: “Oh yeah, I mean my mom still…to this day.”

Megan: “Actually that is a good point. I mean every time someone else has said something about my weight they have always been heavier themselves and it is like, you should know better than to say that to someone. I mean, because I am sure that has been said to them.”

Allison: “Oh yeah, I mean one time, I remember, I was 9 years old and I was eating a big bowl of ice cream and…kind of laying on the couch just like hanging out and my dad sees me and goes ‘There goes queen tut again and her ice cream’ and…”

Kyira: “What??”

Allison: “Oh yeah and I remember that day, like to a tee. To this day it has stuck with me. And like, my mom was over yesterday and was like, oh you look like you lost a bit of weight and I am like, ‘what do you want?’…Because of course she was over to get something from me. And like, my parents are good people but I don't think they realized that when you say things to kids, it sticks with you.”

Kyira: “Hell yeah it does. And especially from parents bc like when you are a kid, that is when you are told, that like parents are supposed to provide you unconditional love and such and so like, at least for me, I feel like it hurts a lot more from parents or caregivers rather than like kids.”

Allison: “Yeah and I mean I was teased in school too, but like, I think my biggest problem was that i went to a private high school my first year. I went to Dominican high school for my freshman year and when you go to a school like that, it is a daily fashion show. I mean because there were no uniforms or anything, you could wear what you wanted, and it was like ‘uhhhh…’ and I decided that wasn’t right for me so that is when I ended up pulling out of that school and I ended up going to high school of the arts and graduating from there. And that is what exposed me to people I never got an opportunity to meet…gay people…black people. I mean I grew up in the suburbs and wasn’t exposed to people of different identities and it was so nice to have the opportunity to see people who were not all like me and see value in everyone and celebrate everyone. I was never teased at the school. Not like Dominican. At Dominican, it was kind of ugly. And now that I get older, I can see all of that. I don't know, like at 31, I now feel like an old person…”

Ashley: “But we are not. We’re not”

Allison: “I mean I feel like I grew up, had a kid and now…”

Ashley: “And I feel like that is the social pressure we face…like, ‘oh now you are 30, your ovaries are drying up’ and…”

Megan: “Yeah, like what is that?”

Ashley: “I do not know. It’s like, if i want a kid I want a kid. And if I am 50 when that happens, I will adopt. It’s just like, leave me alone. It has nothing to do with anyone else.”

Kyira: “Right and it’s like everyone else seems to feel like they have the right to impose their views on you. Allison, how has your perception of self changed since you became a mother?”

Allison: “Hmm…I mean it is hard to have ‘you’ time. It is hard to feel like yourself because you feel like all you live for now is the kid. And like, I love my kid but i feel like that can become dangerous and I have to work hard to maintain my own identity as well. So now I focus n things like still having date night or, I don’t know, anything that is just for you or you and your partner. And honestly, I think it is made harder by the pressure of as soon as you have the one kid, everyone starts asking when the siblings are coming and it’s like, you know, I can have however many kids I want and they will be just fine no matter how many siblings they have. And honestly, I think this is it. I don’t think I want another kid. And people will have to learn to be okay with that.”

Ashley: “See I think that is where my brother came from too. This idea that I wouldn't be okay as an only child. And I wish I could go back and be like ‘No, I don't want PJ’…(all laugh)”

Megan: “Yeah and I mean having a newborn is hard. I mean it gets easier over time but still, it is taxing. And honestly, I don't think there is anything wrong with having one kid. They will be just fine. I mean come on, there are a lot of only children that are just fine!”

Kyira: “And Ashley, you said you are getting pressure overall to start having kids?”

Ashley: “Yes, yes. Like, it is not a joke. I mean my mom, oh my God. I mean, the other day I was with my parents, just the four of us, and sitting down at dinner they were like, we have to tell you something. ‘Every time you say that you don’t want to have kids, we get very sad’ and it’s like, ‘hello, you have another kid that ca have kids, why is this on me?’ It is a lot of pressure. Especially from my parents to have a kid. And it is like, no I just, I don't want one. And why can’t you just accept that. Like this is my choice.”

Kyira: “Yeah and it is interesting because I am sure they don't really think about what kind of pressure that puts on you and like, it comes from this loving place o just, ‘we will all be so happy and it will be great’ and sometimes you just want to say, ‘What would it be like for me to be enough as I am right now without any pressure?”

Ashley: “Exactly. And I mean my dad comes from a family of 13 and my mom has 3 sisters and I think for them, coming from larger families, they both think that bigger families and siblings leads to happiness and it is like, no. I mean this is a new century. A new time. This is not at the forefront of happiness anymore.”

Kyira: “Right and you get the choice in how you grow and develop your family.”

Ashley: “Right and like, I get to decide the things I will be happy with. I mean, like I said before, my grandma thinks I would be happier if I lost weight. My parents think I would be happier if I had a kid. And it’s like, no, not really. I am fine. All I really want to do is travel the world. That is what would make me happy.”

Kyira: “So it also, sometimes becomes this idea that other people’s ideas of what would make you happy put pressure on you to the point where you don't get to choose the things that would make you happy?”

Ashley: “Yes, absolutely.”

Kyira: “So I know you both said before that the pressure to look a certain way and fit in starts at a young ago. If you could have told your younger self something that you have learned, now to help stop some of that pressure and hurt, what would you have told yourself?”

Ashley: “Don't listen to other people. That is the main thing I would have told my younger self. Do not listen to other people’s criticism because it does not matter. What you think and feel about yourself is the only thing that matters. But, like there were days, like in school, and this is so petty, but if my hair was not how I wanted it, my whole day would be ruined. Just because I would read that as like, ‘uh my hair looks like shit and everyone is going to notice and look at me and my whole day is going to suck’. And it’s like, I just wish I wouldn’t have cared so much.”

Kyira: “So it wasn’t really that you cared that your hair didn’t look a certain way. You thought everyone else would care and judge you for it?”

Ashley: “Yeah, exactly. I mean same with my clothes. And, when I had bad acne, I mean that was pretty bad too. I mean, I guess puberty overall was hell.”

Kyira: “And it is so interesting because we were never in the same, like, group of people that we hung out with. And like I didn’t start in school with everyone. I joined the group in middle school. But like, I don’t remember any of that about you. I remember you being very quiet and nice person whom, any time I talked to you, you were always nice to me. Like I remember those things about you but nothing like what you are describing. I mean I do recall you had really awesome hair at some point…”

Ashley: “Purple with the white streaks?”

Kyira: “Yes. Yup. I remember that. But I mean that is probably the only thing I really remember about your look. SO I wonder if anyone else we went to school with would even notice the things you are talking about like the acne or hair or whatever.”

Ashley: “Yeah I mean I used to always think like someone will point out my imperfections, everyone must know. But in reality, I bet no one even noticed.”

Kyira: “Yeah, not at all. It is interesting though because we tend to talk pretty bad to ourselves and assume everyone else is thinking and saying the same things. Allison, what would you have told yourself?”

Allison: “Um, just take it a day at a time. Just because Monday sucks doesn't mean Tuesday is going to suck. And I mean, I think telling myself that there is life after high school and, if you choose to, you don’t ever have to see any of those people again…(laughter)…Yeah, so it is just good to think about taking life one day at a time and not panicking about all of the little things we tend to get caught up in.”

Kyira: “Yeah I feel like hat is so important to remember that there is life after high school. I mean I feel like it is so hard for so many people to even fathom that there is something greater and they lose themselves in the chaos of high school and trying to be something they think everyone wants them to be and, yeah, I think it is just important to remember that.”

Allison: “Yeah I mean, and I don't know. High school was hard but there was so much more so far. I mean I had a really interesting decade in my 20’s and now I am in my 30’s and I feel like, looking back, high school, for me, was to grow up, my 20’s were for me to learn my lessons, and my 30’s are for me to live my life.”

Kyira: “So what would you say, when you look in the mirror on a daily basis, what do you see as beautiful in yourselves or what do you try to nurture to help you celebrate your beauty?”

Ashley: “Physically?”

Kyira: “It can be whatever feels good to you.”

Ashley: “Physically, I love my eyes. And, yeah that is usually what I focus on most, like, I don’t know. Physically I love my eyes. Uh, that is also why I am doing this because there aren’t a lot of things I love about myself and there aren’t a lot of things like, I am trying to learn to love my imperfections because I spent two decades hating my imperfections. I mean, that is another thing about getting older. I just start to think like why, why did I stress over all of the things I thought I needed to do to please everyone else? I mean, and another thing about high school is that, like we had the American dream pounded into our head since elementary school. Like, you have to go to college. You have to get the house. You have to get the awesome car and the white picket fence.”

Kyira: “Yeah…and the 2.5 kids, and the dog…”

Ashley: “Right…otherwise apparently your whole life is going to be in shambles and you might as well not exist. That was what it felt like.”

Kyira: “Right and then when you are someone who starts to feel like, you know I am not sure if this fits for me and when all you have been told is that if it doesn’t fit, something is wrong with you, you start to internalize that message.”

Ashley: “Yeah and that was the same even with college. I mean I went to like 5 colleges and nothing stick. I mean I didn’t know, I still don’t know, what I want to do but there was so much pressure from everyone else that I needed to find what it was I wanted to do and it better involve college.”

Kyira: “Right and so it makes it hard to even try on different hats and possibilities when everyone is watching you and passing judgment on what you are doing. Do you feel like, so you talked about this experience and doing this and just like, feeling really good. How are you feeling about the end piece, so seeing your photos? Seeing your words transcribed?

Ashley: “Honestly, I am excited. I mean I am turning a new leaf and getting a new start and I think this is a great way to start figuring out who is Ashley. I mean, because right now, I don't know who Ashley is.”

Kyira: “Right and to be able to find her with a love and openness where you don’t hold judgment for who you are or where you want to go.”

Ashley: “Yeah. Exactly. I mean I am to the point where I am just like, ‘I can’t hear you.’ I need to find me. Before, Ashley was there for everyone else. Now is the time to find out who I am and be there for me.”

Kyira: “And to see that, as you go on the journey, the people around you who get excited and support you, because they really want to meet that person, the real you. So, what would you say, Allison, how are you feeling about the next piece?”

Allison: “Kind of nervous. I don’t know. I have never really had any photos taken of myself. It’s going to be interesting to see how it looks, how I look.”

Kyira: “What is something you would want to keep from today and hold on to tell yourself if you see the photos and you do start to get anxious?”

Allison: (pause)…”Enjoy how you look now because things fade over time…”

Kyira: “So being able to enjoy the beauty that is there?”

Allison: “Yeah and I mean, because everyone has positive and negative thoughts and flaws and I mean, everyone has things that they don’t like, But we have to learn at some point that it is not all bad. I mean, do I hate how I look? Absolutely. Am I bummed I am still up 30-some pounds since the baby? Yeah. But I work hard to not feel ashamed about any of that. I keep focusing on how to make the small steps and changes every day and try to keep myself from the emotional eating and negative coping strategies. I mean and part of the problem is that, according to my doctor, I am perfectly healthy. I mean they tell me, yeah I would like you to lose a little weight, but i have a physical done every year and they tell me I am perfectly healthy. I don’t have diabetes. I don't have high blood pressure. I don't have any major ‘typical fat girl issues’. I can tie my shoes. I can have sex. I can do things. I mean it sucks being big but if this is the hand i have been dealt then I have to just role with it. It is what it is.”

Kyira: “And what would it look like to flip it from aspiring to look like anything other than how you look and to be okay with where you are at and who you are now. Like to be able to say that if I look different, like if you lose the 30 lbs you mentioned wanting to lose, you can love yourself then but you could also love yourself equally now?”

Allison: “I can’t even begin to imagine that. I really can’t. I don't know. It’s weird. It is weird how just…that there are different, I mean having a kid changes you on all planes…everything is different after you have a kid. And it kind of sucks. And it is hard not to feel like I have lost myself in all of that.”

Kyira: “And I mean, that time back there today taking your photos, that was just for you. So I wonder if being able to take that with you so when you see your photos you can remind yourself this was just for you and is only about loving you for exactly who you are in this moment.”

Allison: “Yeah, I hope so. We will see.”

Megan: “Well the thing is like the fact that you did it was beautiful. It was beautiful.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Allison: “Doesn’t really feel that way.”

Megan: “Well I mean, that is cause we just did it but…I mean the thing is that for a lot of people, even just the idea of doing something like this would make them so uncomfortable they would have never even considered it.”

Allison: “See I have never been like that.”

Megan: “Yeah,  so that is beautiful.”

Kyira: “Right, that courage and awareness.”

Megan. “I mean you have confidence others don't all have.”
Allison: “I suppose I do.”

Ashley: “Yeah I mean if you would have asked met 2 years ago to do this, there would have been no way I would have done it.”

Megan: “Right, so just the fact that you are owning your beauty is beautiful.”

Kyira: “And that, where both of you are today is already enough. Like you are both already beautiful without having to change anything.”

Allison: “It is hard to feel that way.”

Ashley: “Yeah and I mean that is from 20 to 30 years of telling yourself the same self sabotaging stuff. And I mean, society is just like, suffocating.”

Kyira: “Right and the idea of one person standing there and saying I am not going to take all of that negativity into my life can feel overwhelming. And I think the beauty in this project is that neither of you are standing alone. We are all standing united in this and stepping forward to remind each other and ourselves that we are already worthy of love and a celebration of ourselves."

**Allison and Ashley did a joint interview, each with their own photos. Check out Allison's pictures here.