*Megan and Paula interviewed together and each graciously shared their stories with us and with each other. Be sure to check out Paula's amazing warrior page as well.

Kyira: “One of the main (questions) I do really like to start off with – which I know you have talked about seeing – is thinking about and surrounding what made you sign up for this project? … What made you actually decide to go in and sign up for it and show up today?”

Megan: “I guess, um, it’s more about stepping outside my own comfort zone at this point. And then thinking about it even deeper down, it’s like with Aubrey, my boyfriend’s daughter, she’s already getting self-conscious about things. And, like, you know if I’m straightening my hair for some, for work or whatever, she’ll be like, ‘I want my hair straightened.’ Or, ‘I can’t wait to get my hair dyed.’ You know, and stuff like that. And at that point, it’s not about her – I mean, it can be just that she thinks it’s cool. But there’s definitely points where I see it being, ‘I want to change this about myself.’ And she’s 7. And that’s, and I can think about being like that when I was 7 or 8 and there were definitely things that I was self-conscious about, but you really don’t want to think about it at that point as being self-conscious. You don’t understand that that is what it is. So …”

Kyira: “Well, and that’s so normalized too, you’re hearing all of these adults and teens and everybody having these thoughts and feelings so you’re like, ‘Well, this is normal. I’m supposed to not like myself. I’m supposed to want to do these things.”

Megan: “Right.”

Kyira: “Yeah, so for you it’s a lot of, like, sort of having this different layer of yourself now, being in that caretaker role and seeing the influence it has on someone else developing … and just getting more comfortable in you and just thinking about it another way.”

Megan: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “What about for you, Paula?”

Paula: “I think for me, I do quite a bit of social justice work in communities and we talk a lot about gender and we talk a lot about, you know, the stereotypes of what’s expected of women. And I remember looking at the, I watched a women’s movement maker’s video, and it’s kind of like, ‘Yay! Women are in the workforce! Women can do this. Women can do that. And they can take care of the house and be beautiful.’ Like there’s just so many expectations and so, for me it’s, I’ve never considered myself beautiful, but I’ve considered myself cute. And so it’s stepping out and it’s kind of like advocating for myself. It’s so easy to advocate for all my friends or anybody like, ‘You are so beautiful! How don’t you see that?’ But for myself, it’s very different. And then, um, I think the biggest thing – well, my mom was very, my stepdad, and this just came up in the photoshoot I never even thought about it – like I have a scar on my arm because when I was, you know, little and I needed surgery to have a cyst removed, my stepdad said she had to stay home and take care of my brothers. So I had to go an hour away to a hospital at the age, in kindergarten and get a surgery because she wasn’t allowed to take me. So for me, it’s also about women’s bodies, women’s advocacy, women being beautiful and being able to have rights. And then also I’m going through chemotherapy. January 25 I’m starting my first chemotherapy treatment for a cancer that’s treatable. But it’s still scary and it’s still high toxicity and I’m still gonna be infused with chemo for six hours. And, and I’m gonna shave my head and go with wigs and scarves because I don’t want my – I have an 11 year old and a 14 year old but they’re boys. And I don’t want them to see, cuz my doctor said that most people just do it that way cuz otherwise it comes out in patches. And I may not lose it, but she said I most likely will.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Paula: “And so, I had long hair a few weeks ago and I’m gradually going short. And now I’m gonna go no hair pretty soon. And, um, I just don’t feel very beautiful. I mean, I feel like I’m gonna have poison in my body for six months. And, um, so this was like the perfect timing. I’m reclaiming my body and my beauty right now before I get poisons injected into me (laughing). And even though it’s a very treatable cancer, it’s still scary to go through that, that chemo.”

Kyira: “And to be able to hold on to something, to reclaim it at different points throughout this process, so that it isn’t just that now you’re beautiful but when you have these chemicals in you you’re not. It’s, there’s this essence of you that will carry through that, and if you can hold on to that, regardless of how you look at those points, there’s beauty in each of those moments too.”

Paula: “Oh, Kyira, that’s so, like, what I needed to hear right now. Because for some reason it’s like an all or nothing. But it doesn’t have to be. Like I can, like, embrace that beauty in my new wig or my new scarf. So, yeah, I might be back if I can (laughing). I don’t know but …”

Kyira: “You can come back …”

Paula: “Every session! Here’s me now with this scarf! (Laughing.) Here’s me with no hair at all!”

Kyira: “And that’s the important piece is that, I mean, and I think hair is something that we culturally think about being required of, of women and of men, because I think there’s an essence of what you’re supposed to look like, male or female or however you identify.”

Paula: “Yes!”

Kyira: “And your hair and what that means – and without it, especially as a woman, you aren’t feminine.”

Paula: “Yes!”

Kyira: “You aren’t beautiful. You aren’t pretty. And that’s not a truth, but yet we perpetuate that belief as though it is. So you’ve been in a position for years you’ve been told this, probably inadvertently, but now you’re in a position where you’re not going to have it and it isn’t so much about the cancer or what’s coming in your body, it’s now I’m also losing this essence of my femininity.”

Paula: “That’s huge, that you just said it perfect. Because I, I thought to myself, ‘Well, my doctor said some people don’t get the high toxicity.’ But that’s really what you need, because of hair. And I’m like, I really thought about it because it’s getting closer, that’s so part of my identity. You’re right, and it’s what society has said. You know, the long, beautiful – or whatever. I guess I naturally think of long, but yeah. How many Barbie dolls have short hair?”

Kyira: “Right.”

Paula: “Or no hair! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Maybe that’s the next type of doll we need to make.”

Paula: “Yeah.”

Megan: “A chemo doll. (Laughing.)”

Paula: “Absolutely! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “And there is, I think, a power piece in the fact that you are choosing to cut your hair.”

Paula: “Yes.”

Kyira: “You are choosing to do this and there is a power in that where you can claim your beauty in the steps that you are taking and what you’re choosing to do versus this is happening to you. It’s, ‘I’m choosing to take my hair off now. I’m choosing to cut my hair and I’m going to choose to find the beauty in that.’”

Megan: “And that it’s just hair.”

Paula: “Absolutely. And I’m choosing to go short first, so it’s not an all shock. It’s empowering, thank you!”

Megan: “Yeah, because you’re right, hair does become your identity, even getting a drastic cut it’s like, ‘Oh, god, what did I just do?’ … But it’s just hair.”

Kyira: “Right. And that it doesn’t define …”

Megan: “Your personality …”

Kyira: “Exactly.”

Megan: “Or who you are.”

Kyra: “And you mentioned your boys, it doesn’t change who you are as a mom unless you let that strip you of your power and your identity. And that they will see the strength – they probably already are seeing the strength of what you’re doing in making these decisions, as much as you’re letting them into that.”

Paula: “Yes. That’s how I’m speaking to them about the whole process is through my hair.”

Kyira: “Absolutely.”

Paula: “That is how I am. I feel like it’s a good way that feels a little safer or like, ‘Now, this is what’s happening.’ Cuz they can see it.”

Kyira: “Yes. Absolutely. … So what do you think for both of you, if we could – I’m interested too if we can go there – because a lot of people, I mean, I think it has to do with the identities that we have and we hold and the pressures we feel in them. This is also something that I see a lot of men dealing with, but I think there’s this misperception that beauty is something that is only claimable for women. And if we take it a step further, only claimable for women that look a certain way. As opposed to it being for anybody that identifies as female, male or otherwise, long hair, short hair, no hair. How do you think culture has perpetuated that for you so that it has become such a finite box that we fit in if you’re gonna claim beauty or beautiful as a part of your identity?”

Megan: “I guess that’s it’s always been, when I was growing up it became – I guess I didn’t focus too much about beauty and like who I was on the outside until like middle school.”

Kyira: “OK.”

Megan: “Middle school’s like a huge changing point for me because at that time, my parents’ moved us across the city. So we were still in like the same city, but I was going to a different middle school than everybody I grew up with, like the comfort zone was gone. And so therefore I mean, like, and I’m not – I can be outgoing. I’m like an introverted extrovert, for sure, like I’m outgoing with people I know. And but if I’m just somewhere by myself, I’m very introverted. I’m not into, like, just going out and talking.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Megan: “So that was really challenging. But on top of that, once I made friends, it became like you had to become part of a certain group. And looking that certain way. And, um, and then once – and then that actually fell apart, because then like those people didn’t want to be friends with me anymore. So then like that became, well, I’ve been this person now for like the last year. Who am I actually?”

Kyira: “Right.”

Megan: “And then once middle school was over – I mean, middle school sucks for everybody. But like once middle school was over, I found, like I went back and saw the friends I had grown up with and then, like, met other people through that. And like, I guess I had stages where I was just like, ‘OK, well, I’m over this.’ You know, so screw this whole trying to fit in all of the time thing. But I…like you still have the perception of what you, of what is beautiful. And you can’t necessarily knock that out of you head, no matter how much you try.”

Kyira: “Right. So even if you try to push it off and, like, you know, basically like a, ‘fuck you’ to it, it still …”

Megan: “Right! It’s still there. And like, or like something else replaces it so I mean, like, I may not be dressing in all black and hot pink anymore, but now I, you know. Like even becoming part of sports. I mean, like, do you have the best sweat pants? (Laughing.) I mean, like you know, do you have the best clothes … are you putting out there who you are by what you’re wearing?”

Kyira: “Yeah. So there’s even, like, depending on the identities that you have or the cultural groups that you’re within – so being, like an athlete – there’s a hierarchy even within that. So it’s about the skill, it’s about the clothing, it’s about the persona that you have.”

Megan: “Yep.”

Kyira: “And without meeting that, you don’t get to claim, whatever the terms are, but overarchingly this idea of being beautiful, being at the top of whatever that is.”

Megan: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “Hm. Yeah, very true. And I think there is that even when you try to move into a different realm or, like, claim something different, there’s a whole new set of standards that come with every piece of it.”

Megan: “Absolutely.”

Kyira: “That’s huge.”

Paula: “I think it ties in a lot with class.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Paula: “I mean, because you really have to have, you know, growing up we could not afford clothes, you know. And so, yeah, I think class and beauty tie in very much so. And the standards. There’s like standards for men, as well. And my son is 5-foot-5, 250 pounds, and he is a freshman in high school. And, you know, he’s a big kid. And it hit, middle school was hell for him.”

Megan: “Yep.”

Paula: “In fact, he had to be homebound, home-schooled, you know for most of sixth grade because of how he was treated because of his looks. And he didn’t meet the standards.”

Megan: “Right.”

Paula: “So, I think society has systemic, you know, systems in place that – I guess look at our incoming leader, you know, that if you – so I think that class or power and wealth tie into beauty a lot.”

Megan: “Yes. Yes. Right. Well, and like what you were saying before about the whole, you know, like ‘doing it all’ woman. Where you can work and take care of the kids and take care of the home. But that’s like, it’s like the ‘Ivanka Trump syndrome’ now. Like she is everything to everybody. And how dangerous that actually can be.”

Paula: “Yes.”

Megan: “Because I mean like right now, my boyfriend has a daughter but we don’t have children. But I know that I’m, like, I probably will not be satisfied with being a stay-at-home mom. I know that that’s not, I mean, that I will not feel like – and not that, you know, if somebody is, that’s fantastic for them. But, you know, whereas my boyfriend has said, ‘I would love to be a stay-at-home dad. I’ll do that.’”

Paula: “Go for it! (Laughing.)”

Megan: “And I mean, I’m like, ‘Go for it!’ Because I’m, I’ll tell him, ‘You go for it!’ (Laughing.) And I mean that’s, and to hear him actually say that is a little refreshing cuz he doesn’t come from a – like he comes from a small town, conservative background where guys don’t do that, you know.”

Paula: “That’s awesome!”

Megan: “If anybody’s at home, it’s mom.”

Paula: “Yeah, so that’s awesome.”

Megan: “And so, and not that he – he didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home mom. Both his mom and stepmom worked. But, um, you know like the fact that he wants to do that, and it’s like, ‘More power to you. Go for it! That’s fantastic.’”

Paula: “That is.”

Megan: “Cuz I mean, like, the whole idea of being everything to everybody is overwhelming.”

Paula: “Right. And on the one hand, it’s like, ‘Yay, women’s movement. Boo, you can’t do all of it.’ (Laughing.)”

Megan: “Right.”

Paula: “I mean, I agree with it all if we have more, more males doing the other end of things. But I could never – I love my kids so much but I could never have been a stay-at-home mom.”

Megan: “Right. … And even my sister is, like, part-time stay-at-home mom. She works part-time during the week and then is home like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday with my niece. But she also will like take in other kids and nanny them those days. So I don’t even know if I’d be able to do that. Cuz, you know, you love your kids but …”

Paula: “Nannying would be really hard. I could never do that.”

Megan: “Taking care of everybody else’s kids? You love your kid, how much do you like everybody else’s kid? (Laughing.)”

Paula: “(Laughing.) Uh, no …”

Kyira: “So what would you say has been the hardest part? And it can be specifically to like those changes you’re talking about now, thinking about you being in that caretaker role and being a mentor and a model to Aubrey. It could be, you know, the next steps that you’re taking with your identity shift, you know, with the things that you’re going through, or just in general. What would you say has been one of, or the hardest part in kind of developing your identity and figuring out what it means for you to be you separate from all of those pressures from society?”

Megan: “I think being, I mean, as far as being a caretaker to Aubrey, being 26 with essentially a stepdaughter, you know, my boyfriend is 27, with a 7, almost 8 year old. There’s a lot of pressure there, you know, he was a teen father. There’s a lot of pressure there to put out there that we’re responsible adults.”

Kyira: “Oooh yeah.”

Megan: “And that, you know, like she’s, she’s dressed to a T all the time. She is not in hand-me-downs, and even if she is in hand-me-downs, they’re like good-looking hand-me-downs because …”

Kyira: “Because of that pressure.”

Megan: “Because of that pressure of that, you know, like we’re in our 20s with a 7-year-old child.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Megan: “That’s huge. And so, and putting it out there that we’ve got our shit together (laughing). You know, like, so …”

Kyira: “Oh, for sure.”

Megan: “I think I may feel that more than Tyler does. But that’s also me, being a woman and being aware of everybody else.”

Paula: “Yeah and I think for me, the question was how are we claiming our identities – is that what it was?”

Kyira: “Yeah, or what it means to you. So if you’re interpreting it in a way that is different or you want to take us down a different direction, go where it feels it’s like you’re being pulled.”

Paula: “Yeah, well, I feel like there’s a lot of identities. I mean, one of the things that I’ve really been aware of is my whiteness. Like when we talk about social justice and we talk about race relations and we might talk about work when we’re talking about different identities, so realizing all my privilege and also my identity as a woman and my social-class identity. Which I grew up very poor, but I have a different social class in, um, now not only am I a single parent, it still, I’ve moved I guess ‘up,’ whatever ‘up’ means. I have more money than my family did probably. And so, but there’s still that culture of poverty, which is, you know – and I’ve never been, like, there’s so many girlie things that I never know anything about.”

Megan: “Sure!”

Paula: “Like makeup, hair, clothes, fashion. You know, there’s just so many things that I didn’t really learn growing up, and that was because of my social class. So, Kyira, we’re talking about all the identities. I mean, one big identity I really think about that I never thought about before is my whiteness, you know.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Paula: “Um, because we don’t have to think about it on a day-to-day basis because – and the privilege that that allows me. So that’s one, an identity I’ve really been thinking about and having an awareness about and trying not to take as many privileges that are just given to me. Um, my identity as a woman, my identity as, uh, I guess a cancer – cuz I do identify the cancer will never leave my body but I guess I can live with it …”

Kyira: “Yeah, that’s part of your holistic identity now.”

Paula: “It is. It is a part of my identity – a single mom, and I think social class. I grew up in a very economically low social class, and so, in northwestern Wisconsin, a tiny town that is the size of my son’s high school (laughing). So …”

Kyira: “I’m with you on that!”

Paula: “Yeahhhh. And I don’t go back because the belief system, the identities there are very different. In fact, some of my family members will barely talk to me because I live in the liberal Madison. But I’ve lived here for, like, 30 years. And I’ve worked on campus for 30 years. So I feel like that’s part of my identity, too.”

Kyira: “But then you think about that, too, I mean there’s, there’s so much – is confliction a word? – confliction within those identities.”

Paula: “I like that word! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “If it’s not we’re coining it, right here!”

Megan: “We’re coining it! (Laughing.)”

Paula: “Confliction!”

Kyira: “But there’s so much of that, too, because I think also being a white woman carries a certain degree of standards that you are supposed to uphold that then get in conflict with economics, with the, or socio-economic status I guess. And thinking about just beliefs and ideals and the way that you are teetering those two lines, and how do I not – like you said, I don’t want to get your words wrong – not take too many privileges, or take advantage of some of the privileges of being white in our community …”

Paula: “Yes. Yes, at least stand up for other…”

Kyira: “Exactly.”

Paula: “I don’t know if stand up is the right word, but have an awareness that a lot of people don’t.”

Kyira: “So the pressures are different.”

Paula: “Yes.”

Kyira: “And I think to the degree of being allowed to hold on to some of the pressures that you’ve faced are very difficult and hard in a different way. And while, yes, there are a lot of privileges you have, it is okay to also honor your personal journey and struggles. So I think there’s a bonding aspect of that, of being aware of that and then also asking other people to maybe consider where they may be doing that in ways that you haven’t had the privileges in some degree of certain things sort of being handed to you or – I don’t know if I’m saying that in a way that makes sense, but I feel like there’s such a pull, then, of it’s such a hodge-podge of things that you’ve had to take in and endure based on all these different identities. And sorting that out and what that means to you, and then to be an activist and a voice for so many other people that don’t have that, there’s also a degree of you that can get lost in that too.”

Paula: “That’s true.”

Kyira: “So wanting to remember what you’ve gone through …”

Paula: “Yes, those pieces.”

Kyira: “Those pieces, and how hard it is – and still be able to be a voice for people that aren’t given the same opportunities in that realm. Is that, am I saying that in a way that makes sense to you?”

Paula: “Absolutely. It makes sense to me, Kyira.”

Kyira: “Cuz it just makes it hard.”

Paula: “It really does make sense to me.”

Kyira: “And it does, I mean, it feels like a lot to hold and a lot to sort out. And then to be in a realm where you are working so hard to create a voice for somebody where they’re probably sifting through all those same types of things, with different identity components but all of those same pieces of what does this even mean for me?”

Paula: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “So in that way, I think we’re all unified, too, trying to create a voice for others and there are definitely people and certain identities that we need to hold at the forefront of our efforts, like you said and knowing our privilege is necessary to being able to do that. But thinking specifically about you and honoring that journey for you, like you said, it’s so easy to create that for other people and say, ‘Oh, you’re beautiful. How do you not see that?’”

Megan: “But not for myself.”

Paula: “I mean, I think that’s – yeah. Especially for women, right? I mean, I am sure men have the same, some of the same things but I think it’s so easy for us, like even our best friends are people we look at or even here, we don’t know each other but we’re like seeing the beauty in each other. But sometimes it’s hard to see it in ourselves.”

Kyira: “Absolutely.”

Paula: “And that’s, I think, a lot of what this project does It’s that identity and that looking at ourselves and then how, how society and how systems – it’s not just, it’s every system, you know.”

Kyira: “Yep.”

Paula: “Everywhere you look it’s, you know, they definitely want – there’re standards for beauty, there’re standards that you have to, you will get ahead and you will be up here. And like you said, with the Trumps coming in, which sucks (laughing). I’m sorry.”

Kyira: “I missed that piece, so yeah, so there’s another layer to that, too.”

Paula: “But there’s a layer, like that wealth, that beauty, that working, that you know, oh my gosh, I guess it’s looking to that versus looking at the Obamas, who were a lot more real.”

Kyira: “And the safety in, I think, the vulnerability piece. So when we have people in positions of power, whether it’s political or otherwise that aren’t showing that vulnerability, and owning it and aren’t like, ‘I don’t know who I am every day either’ …”

Paula: “Yes.”

Kyira: “That makes it really challenging for people on a regular basis or, not a regular basis, the ‘quote-unquote’ normal everyday person to be able to say, ‘Wait a minute. But I’m really struggling and I don’t have it together because you’re perpetuating everyone is supposed to.’ And I think where the disconnect then comes in is a lot of people then begin favoring that mentality because turning inward is so damn difficult. And no one wants to do it. So for a lot of people it’s like ‘I would rather support people…’ – again, not necessarily even political, but ‘…where we don’t have to go there’. It doesn’t have to be that way. And that completely makes sense to me and I’ve been able to find a lot more empathy for people with very different belief systems that I do, regardless of what it’s about because it is, it’s that we’re told not to show vulnerability. So the idea of ever embracing it and showing we don’t have it together, we don’t want to do that because, again, we’re not supposed to or we’re weak. So we might as well embrace people that are gonna make it easier for us to hide and not show those things. So I’ve been mulling that over in the essence of what is beauty mean for an identity and how do you find beauty in people that hold very different beliefs and ideals than you do.”

Paula: “And it’s so about vulnerability, I think you’re right. If people can show that no matter what their beliefs are, they feel it’s more real and I can have some compassion and even empathy.”

Kyira: “Because you can find that connection point.”

Paula: “Yes. It’s, it’s connection. It’s connecting. And connection’s huge.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”                                     

Paula: “And you’re providing connection right here! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Right! There is something really unique about it, and I think it’s the idea of – somebody I was talking to about it this morning said, ‘I don’t feel like you’ve meticulously planned everything out to where it feels forced. It just has naturally happened.’ Everybody’s just kinda, she’s like, ‘I just feel connected to people, reading their stories, and I haven’t even met them.’ But it’s not what I’m doing, it’s everybody coming into this space and being willing to do that. Because you all could come in here and be like, ‘Here’s my answers. This is this. I’m not gonna go deeper.’ It has nothing to do with me. We’re just creating the space for people to do it. So I think it’s cool to see that and it’s drawing people out, willing to go there. Like you said, taking you out of the comfort zone and doing some of this. So when you think about…” (gesturing to Paula) “…so let’s say three, four months from now when you’re facing, you know, this whole new identity piece and trying to reclaim that sense of beauty, or…” (gesturing to Megan) “…the next time that you’re faced with something with Aubrey, or even just in general, and it does get, it pulls at you – what’s one piece of advice you want to give yourself in that moment so that you can find that strength that you’re showing here today?”

Megan: “I mean, I guess, I even had something like that last weekend. It was really stupid but I was, we were going to a Badger hockey game and like I was all ready to go. But we left the house and I was like, ‘I don’t have eye liner on.’ And that’s like the only piece of makeup I ever wear. It was eye liner, you know, and I’m just like, ‘Oh, my god, I don’t have eye liner.’ And a friend was driving us, so I can’t tell him to turn around and, like, take us back so I can put on eye liner. And like the entire way there I was slightly anxious, but then I was just like, ‘OK, but I’m going to a hockey game,’ at this point. But at the same time, I’ve now done where I’m at work, and I rarely if ever wear makeup to work. But I had to go to something, I had to go to something after work and I put on makeup. And I’m like, ‘Why, though?’ And it’s something so small as eye liner because I actually feel like I look tired without eye liner on.”

Kyira: “Really?”

Megan: “Yes. I don’t know why I’ve gotten to the point where …”

Kyira: “You’ve conditioned yourself to think that …”

Megan: “That that’s what I look like, apparently when I’m tired.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Megan: “But, you know …”

Kyira: “Probably because if you’re tired or you don’t have time, you’re not putting the eyeliner on.”

Megan: “Right. So like in the mornings when I’m not putting it on for work, it’s like because I’m lazy and if I would have to get up 5 minutes earlier, so therefore I’d rather sleep than, you know, put on eyeliner. And, you know like, if I’m feeling good, I’ll put it on after I work out or after lunch or something like that. But most days I’m not even thinking about it, but when I have to go out and, like, look put together or feel like I need to look put together, that is my go-to. And so, I mean like, for a couple of times when it’s not been available, like last weekend, it was like talking myself down. And I’m just like, ‘It’s fine. It’ll be OK. You’re hanging out with two guys that don’t care.’ You know. One of them lives with you. He sees you all the time without makeup. So I mean …”

Kyira: “Well, and I think it’s that piece, one, what you said about telling yourself, ‘It’s fine. It will be OK.’ But then, two, to ask yourself like, ‘In this moment right now, what am I giving up by holding on to this?’ Like, if you were to have worried about the eye liner the whole night, you probably wouldn’t have had as enjoyable of a time as you could have when you were able to talk yourself down and just be in the moment.”

Megan: “Right. Now, I mean, I didn’t look at myself the rest of the night in the mirror, but (laughing) … Whether that was like actual avoidance, or I just didn’t you know, like go into a bathroom but yeah …”

Kyira: “Well, and that notion too, of what does ‘put together’ mean, and is it somebody that can just be OK in your skin regardless of what it is, or is it that you have to have all those things. Sort of like your hair perfectly coiffed, and your eye liner on, or whatever, so yeah. I think that’s – and it’s cool to know that you’ve gone through it at one point, because you already have the strength to know you can do it again, maybe by choice, as opposed to …”

Megan: “As opposed to being forced to …”

Kyira: “Right. And like build that capacity, so now when you wear it, again it’s a choice because you want to.”

Megan: “It’s my choice, right.”

Kyira: “Not because you need to to be able to signify some, like, one, you’re not tired or you care or you’re ‘put together.’”

Megan: “Right.”

Kyira: “That’s huge. … What about for you?”

Paula: “I have a confession to make: I put eye liner on today (laughing). It said to prefer not to wear makeup. And yesterday I forgot …”

Kyira: “(Laughing.) You’re allowed to do whatever you want.”

Paula: “And then I forgot to put my eye liner on at work – yesterday I went to Walgreen’s and bought this cheap-ass shit and put it on! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “(Laughing.) So there’s a connection piece there for both of you!”

Paula: “Yeah! Right. I have very small eyes, and I barely wear any makeup. But eye liner and a little bit of powder, too. So I think, so for me in six months or so, I’m gonna look back and say, ‘Wow. You had a lot of courage and strength to come to #ReclaimBeauty and talk to Megan and Kyira and to get your pictures taken. And you still have that beauty, it hasn’t changed. Just cuz you don’t have hair and you might be going through something, it’s still there, you’re a strong person, um, we’re strong women. I tell you, I think having kids, when I had my own kids, my life – there were times when I didn’t brush my teeth because I was so busy. Or I would go to work with my shirt on inside-out. I mean, it just got to a point where I just, you know, um, I couldn’t do things because I was so tired, I just …”

Megan: “You got there and that’s what mattered!”

Paula: “Oh, hell yeah! And in some ways, it’s kinda like I’m lucky to just get out the door with kids, so… But yeah, I think just looking back at this moment and honoring and being intentional about, about claiming that courage and strength that we really do have and that we really are beautiful. And there’s many different forms and kinds and, like, I’m saying there’s that inner beauty, but outer beauty’s really important too in society. And my boyfriend always says, ‘You’re beautiful no matter what. You’re always beautiful.’ And that’s so sweet to say, and that’s awesome he says that. And he’s moving in, which is another life change after nine years, and my kids are like, ‘Uh, oh.’ (Laughing.) And I’m like, ‘Uh, oh.’ I live in this little, tiny like 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom, with me and my boyfriend and my two dogs and my two sons. So life’s gonna be changing a lot. But I also want to get to the point where I feel like I’m beautiful and I don’t need other people – not that I need him saying that, and sometimes I don’t believe it. Like, I want to believe it all the time.”

Kyira: “Right. And that’s where I was thinking in my head is like, what if you were to allow the possibility that what he’s saying might be true and not view that he’s saying it just because he thinks you want to hear it or that he’s your boyfriend or whatever. And when we can allow the possibility that someone else might see that, we can at least then think, ‘Wait, maybe I’m allowed to feel that way, too.’ You know, ideally it comes from us first, and then we let other people do it. But sometimes I think there’s strength in letting that be what it is in someone else and then pulling it in for us too.”

Paula: “Yeah, absolutely!”