*Ileah and Emily completed their interviews together. Be sure to check out Emily's beautiful profile as well.

Kyira: “What made you decide to be a part of this project, or why do you feel like it’s important to stand up and be a part of this project?”

Ileah: “For me, there are actually kind of a lot of reasons. I feel like this is just a really important project in that it’s important for everybody to realize that there’s some form of beauty for themselves, that we all have something about us that’s great. Um, so I have put on 30 pounds. I’m injured. I’m nowhere near where I was when I was younger. And when I was younger, I like to say I fit people’s expectations of, ‘You’re this size, you look gorgeous, whatever.’”

Kyira: “Right.”

Ileah: “And now it’s really hard for me to look at myself and still think that, even though it’s, I’m not that much different. I’m just trying to find myself again, really.”

Kyira: “Right, right.”

Ileah: “And it’s important to realize that you don’t have to be, you know, size 5 and muscular and look amazing all the time.”

Kyira: “Right. And there’s this misconception that everybody that does fit within that box is happy. And so happiness and beauty go together. So a part of it is also realizing that it doesn’t work that way.”

Ileah: “Right.”

Kyira: “So what you’re saying is trying to find yourself in a way that you can feel good about your inside and outside.”

Ileah: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “That’s really important, absolutely. What about for you?”

Emily: “I have a number of reasons. So do we have a lot of time? (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Yeah, remember? She’s got nowhere to go today! (Laughing.)”

Emily: “Yeah, right, perfect! I don’t work today either, so we’re good. (Laughing.) No, first and foremost, I’ve kind of adopted a new mantra of just, ‘Be fearless.’ And I’m slowly learning that being confident and courageous is, among other things, beautiful. Um, and I’m just really pushing myself to, like, accept myself. Cuz it’s so much easier to accept other people. I mean, why isn’t it that easy for myself?”

Kyira: “Yeah.”                 

Emily: “Um, and then, also, once Trump was elected, I took a photo of myself kinda just like in a similar setting…had this whole thing typed out and was gonna post it. Just to make it clear, you know, that no matter what anyone says, like bigoted people say…I’m beautiful. You’re beautiful. We’re all beautiful. You know, nobody can change that. Society shouldn’t control that. But I never posted it. And I think, especially now more than ever, it’s important to challenge the standards that society and all these systems we’re a part of set. Because they’re not the one and only, I don’t know how to just, like, box that we, you know like everybody’s different – like if we were supposed to be a certain way, we would all be manufactured and born that way. So that’s why we all have our individual, um, uniqueness.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Emily: “And then, finally, I guess I’ve always, um, I’ve kind of caught myself recently in the thought process of, uh, only thinking I’m beautiful when people tell me. And then, even then, sometimes I question like, ‘Am I really? Are they just saying that? It’s not true, blah, blah, blah.’ And I kinda, I don’t know why, just snap out of it, you know? Cuz even when people are like, ‘Oh, you’re beautiful. How do you not see this?’ I’m not gonna feel it unless I truly accept it and see it myself. So this is my first step in doing that.”

Kyira: “Yeah. And it sounds like you’ve been building up what that’s gonna look like for you in a variety of ways, in like a creative way. Even just taking that photo – even if you never posted it – taking that photo and writing things, that is courage, in and of itself. So it’s also redefining, what does that mean for you? And I think a lot of times we assume everyone else has to see what we’re doing for it to be courageous or beautiful or bold or whatever …”

Emily: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “When really, that was a step for you in a direction that was healing and furthering you on your journey.”

Emily: “Right.”

Kyira: “So it’s even that piece of allowing yourself to feel great even if no one else knew what you did or whatever …”

Emily: “Right, yeah. That totally ties in with the fact that I don’t need or really, nobody should need, somebody to be like, ‘You’re [blank]’ I mean, it’s nice to hear it. But if you don’t always accept it or feel it, you know, it’s not gonna change anything.”

Kyira: “Right. Absolutely. So, for each of you, when you think about culture and how culture has influenced the way that you have seen yourselves – you know, that could be the family culture, the place you grew up in. It could be the current cultural climate we’re talking about right now. How do you see that, any of those facets really, impacting your ability to feel beautiful, or the way that you see yourself?”

Ileah: “I guess, just looking at the media and all those things that say you need to be one way. And now that I’m not that way anymore, it makes it even harder for me to be OK with myself and the way I am. Uh, it’s just, I sometimes wish it wasn’t that way because it’s hard to look at yourself and be OK with how you are when everything coming at you says you’re not.”

Kyira: “Right. And when you talk about sort of the – I just envisioned the box that was painted for you, essentially, and like staying inside these lines. How early do you think you started to hear those messages from wherever that was?”

Ileah: “I don’t know, necessarily, that I noticed it when I was younger because I fit when I was younger. I realized it after the fact.”

Kyira: “Like the box was there, but it was never apparent to you cuz you were in it and so …”

Ileah: “Exactly. And now that I’m out of it, it’s that much harder because I knew how I was, so I feel like I should still be able to do that. But in reality, when I was younger I was a gymnast. I was size 5. Twelve hours a week, minimum, in the gym. You can’t do that as an adult when you have to work full-time and you have other responsibilities. Like, it’s just, it’s unrealistic and I feel like there’s just so much pressure.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Ileah: “And (pause) I just need to learn how to be OK with how I am.”

Kyira: “Well, and I think there’s a fine line of, ‘I’m just accepting I am me and I’m never gonna be in the box.’ Or realizing, or even exploring the possibility of, ‘did the box ever define anything that was valuable?’ I mean, was that just something that, like, somebody arbitrarily painted a line around and decided this is where we’re supposed to all go, when it actually doesn’t mean anything? Or does it actually equate to something that you won’t have anymore? And I think from my end hearing your story, I don’t hear that if you didn’t fit in this certain mold that you could never be happy or love yourself or be beautiful. I hear that you were told, unfortunately, from a lot of probably different people and resources that there is this thing that you’re supposed to fit into where you were promised and guaranteed those things, and that that’s actually a lie. So it might also be just like grieving the fact that you’ve been, I guess, lied to in a lot of ways. I guess actually where you’re at right now, it’s not even about accepting ‘I’m never gonna be that’. It’s saying, ‘I’m already perfect.’ Because that box was never real, you know.”

Ileah: “Yeah. That’s a big part of it. And, well, I mean the part about the strength, I think I do miss. Like that part of it I think was worthwhile. And right now I …”

Kyira: “Like the physical strength, you mean?”

Ileah: “The physical strength, yeah. I really miss that. I do want to get that part back. So that’s something to say, too. Because I’ve been injured so long, I have not been able to do anything I wanna do really, so ...”

Kyira: “Right. And then how to search for that, because it means something to you, without having to be tied to something else.”

Ileah: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “Yeah that sounds like such a difficult road to travel down. What about for you? … How do you think culture has influenced your perception of yourself?”

Emily: “I think a major, well, I think our society as of now is so social-media driven. Like that has become basically part of our culture. And I think as a result of that, beauty has become an industry and not a feeling. So you’re always – um, sorry, I don’t know how to phrase it. You know, you’re just like I, so, I didn’t really use social media until – I had Facebook in, like, middle school. That didn’t really count, though. And then I got more involved in, like, Snapchat and Instagram. And when I came to college and I noticed that, that’s when my insecurities got even worse. I’m like, ‘Well, should I be posing like this? Should I post this type of thing? Should I say this about myself?’ And then it kind of turned into a, you know, I see what my roommates post on Instagram vs. how they actually feel about themselves in conversation. So I’ve kind of felt that, um – sorry, I’m trying to gather my thoughts; they’re like all over (laughing).”

Kyira: “They’re definitely coming out in a way that is making a lot of sense.”

Emily: “Is it? OK! (Laughing.) I feel like I’m just not saying anything. (Laughing.) Well, so I think that’s turned into the conversations I’ve had with roommates or people who are close to me about, um, beauty standards or like just happiness and how they feel about themselves. And I guess, I think a lot of people don’t know that everybody has insecurities. Especially based on how social-media driven everybody is. You see that and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, they’re perfect. They feel great about themselves. Why don’t I feel like that?’ And then it kinda like just a cyclical process of. ‘Damn. I feel crappy.’”

Kyira: “Right.”

Emily: “Um, so then I think it’s important to, to have these conversations where you discuss either your insecurities or what you want to work on. And not necessarily celebrate insecurities, but celebrate your uniqueness and your differences.”

Kyira: “Yeah!”

Emily: “Because, like, those types of conversations are more important than – I don’t know, sometimes I think they’re better than the, ‘I feel good about this part of me.’ I think sometimes you really need to talk about the, ‘I feel bad about this part of me and that is okay.’ And no one does anymore.”

Kyira: “Right, right.”

Emily: “Exactly.”

Kyira: “And even this notion, I was just talking to somebody about this the other day, that there’s a difference in loving yourself at the point that you’re at and also loving the possibilities of where you can go, and being open to the fact that you can grow and change and evolve to be the best person you want to be. But it’s seen as like this choice where you can only pick one or the other. So either you have to hate yourself now and you always are striving for something different, or it’s that you’re supposed to love yourself for entirely who you are now.”

Emily: “Right.”

Kyira: “And so kind of what you’re talking about reminds me of that piece, of, like, embracing all these things that make you unique and being open to how that’s gonna grow and shift and change with you. And being OK with exactly who you are in this moment, even though that’s not perfect. So, yeah, and the social media piece I think is huge.”

Emily: “Oh, yeah.”

Kyira: “And it’s a very culturally driven system that contributes quite a bit to people feeling like they have to perform.”

Emily: “Yeah, I would agree.”

Kyira: “So what would you say has been the hardest part for each of you in the journey you’ve made to get to this point, because you’ve obviously both really thought a lot about these things and taken these steps to kind of get to where you’re at. What’s been the hardest part of that journey so far?”

Ileah: “Being patient with myself. Um, I mean, I’ve been spending the last three years in physical therapy just trying to get to where I want to be again. And like part of it is, in my free time I like to pole dance. It’s a strength thing. And I feel like it’s good for me, and I’ve made a lot of friends that way. But with these injuries, I can’t do that. And like she was saying with that disconnect, not being able to do that means I kind of, I don’t want to say I lose some friends, but I don’t get to see them.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Ileah: “I don’t get to talk to them. It’s not – it’s hard not being able to do that. So …”

Kyira: “The connection’s gone.”

Ileah: “Just trying to be patient with myself long enough that I can get back to where I wanna be. And being OK with it in the meantime is the hardest struggle.”

Kyira: “Yeah, absolutely. Emily, it sounds like some of that resonates with you, too?”

Emily: “yeah, absolutely and I don’t want to sound cliché, but I guess the hardest part  for me has been acceptance. I just feel kinda tired of, like, denying myself who I am and just, um, denying my beauty – both inner and outer. And I’m just, I don’t know, I’m just sick of the slander against the human body. It’s not fair to anybody. (Pause.) Um, sorry I lost track of what the question is (laughing) I have so many thoughts.”

Kyira: “No, I think so the main piece was what’s the hardest part for you in your journey.”

Emily: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “So, I mean, it sounds like that’s kind of what you’re highlighting.”

Emily: “Yeah. Um (long pause). Yeah, just the – cuz, I mean, I’m 21. I’m still young, so I shouldn’t be, like, feeling suffocated by what society says, you know. I still have ‘X’ amount of years in my life, and so, um, yeah, acceptance has just been the hardest part, I think. This is who you are. So I feel like the standards are always changing, you know. At first it was just as black and white as, like, too skinny, too fat. But now it’s like, your butt’s not big enough, your waist insn’t slim enough, um, you’re too bony or too strong or, like, buff. Why is there always too much or too little?”

Kyira: “Right.”

Emily: “Why isn’t it, like, just enough?”

Kyira: “Because the yardstick always moves.”

Emily: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “And it’s never gonna stop.”

Emily: “And that’s when, like you were talking earlier about the box, like how it’s painted and you either fit in it or you don’t. Well that’s made me feel like maybe the box isn’t real. It’s changing so often, you know. So if the box is a thing, why wouldn’t it just be standard?”

Kyira: “Right. And, like ultimately, who made that decision? Because it has changed.”

Emily: “Exactly!”

Kyira: “So has it changed based on the powers that be as they have fallen out of the box? They’re like, “Whoap! Paint it over here!’ Because there seems to be some people with a lot of power that dictate it for all of us …”

Emily: “Oh, definitely.”

Kyira: “Which is difficult for sure. (Pause.) So knowing that that is the case and the box is ever-moving, what would each of you say, you know, if you think about the next big hurdle that you hit, or the next time that something challenges that patience, or that ability for you to accept where you’re at –what message do you want to tell yourself in that moment to help you feel like you can overcome that?”

Emily: “That’s tough. That’s something I haven’t really thought about (laughing). I guess that is my next step, just figuring that out.”

Ileah: “I mean, I still like to go and watch my friends and support them in what they do. Because, I mean, they’re all great people too, and they’re gorgeous and they all have their own, you know, battle to fight with it as well.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Ileah: “Um, so I like to look at them as something to work towards. And it just helps to remind myself that I can get there. I just have to take the time, even when it’s hard.”

Kyira: “Yeah, yeah. And knowing that you will – not that you can, but you will get there. It’s that piece of, like, knowing that the light is there, and trying to rush to get to it is not as helpful as taking the steps you’re taking right now.”

Ileah: “Correct.”

Kyira: “Yeah. So how do each of you nurture your beauty from a day-to-day basis, especially in those really tough moments? Especially with, like you said, after the election and that was really something that’s affected you?”

Ileah: “On the hard days, I just usually, you know, just try to dress up a little more and be OK with how I am that way, just do something – do something that I enjoy … regardless of what that might be.”

Kyira: “Yeah. Right, like finding that little piece of joy and doing it …”

Ileah: “Right.”

Kyira: “In those days.”

Emily: “Yeah, I’m similar. And also just who I surround myself with on those days makes the world of difference to me. Um, and I’ve found that I also feel beautiful when I just can make people laugh or just, like, people are enjoying my company. So, yeah, on tough days I guess it’s just who I surround myself with.”

Kyira: “Yeah. For you and for them.”

Emily: “Yeah. (Laughing.) Hopefully for them!”

Kyira: “I am sure for them, too. Well thank you both so much for your time and for being a part of this project!”