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

I think everyone believes at a very basic level that we take beauty in our world for granted on a regular basis. When you get the opportunity to stop, take a breath and enjoy a beautiful sunset for example, your response is usually "Why don't I do this more often?” When it comes to seeing the beauty in ourselves, well, it's easy to shrug off it's importance. As a culture, we don't take compliments well, we often feign embarrassment or humility when talking about appearance, sometimes we take ourselves out of the game entirely because it just takes too much energy to be vulnerable and truly take pride in who we are. I think the Reclaim Beauty movement is important because personally I usually fall into that last category, but on a global level this is a conversation we need to have in the current climate of hate and intolerance. We need to be able to appreciate the beauty in ourselves before we can appreciate the beauty in others.

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

From the time I started middle school, my parents' friends would tell them "Oh she's gonna be trouble!" I had long legs, big, blue eyes, I liked to dye my hair and I took pride in my personal style, often dressing above my age. I have also always been comfortable around the opposite sex. This combination led to some issues with friends and in relationships. My friends either through resentment or misunderstanding, would criticize me for my looks. "You try too hard.” "Who do you want to impress?" "They are only talking to you because of how you look/dress." I also grew up in Christian church culture which tells you that "beauty is fleeting" and spending too much time or thought on your looks was a sin. "You don't want to make those boys stumble, do you?" This combination made me grow wary of drawing attention from appearance, especially from the opposite sex. I am also keenly aware that some people reading this will think "wow first world problems," right? But the simple idea of being told NOT to embrace your beauty, is fairly confidence-killing, fear-producing, self-doubt-encouraging, self-hate-growing and ultimately life-changing.

Another thing these experiences taught me at this age was "beauty will always be expected from you." As in, "your worth is tied to your beauty -- You better keep it up!" When my body started changing near the end of high school, when we didn't have as much money for clothes and I couldn't afford to dye my hair -- I thought I would let everyone down, that they would lose interest in having me as a friend, girlfriend or even family member. So my solutions: Gaining weight? Stop eating and exercise more. Not enough money? Borrow clothes, work more hours. But God forbid anyone know this "beauty” wasn't effortless. I had to stay the same laid-back, go-with-the-flow, stereotype-avoiding girl or they'd be on to me. So - stop eating? No, control my eating. Exercise more? Well, yes, but only at night when people don't know you're doing it. Work more hours? Well, better just add some babysitting to the part-time job so you don't look desperate. Borrow clothes? Only with an excuse or exchange.

While I have gained some perspective and healing over the years, I look forward to the day when it will finally feel comfortable to hear someone recognize something beautiful in me and when I can completely let go of the idea that my worth as a woman is based on effortless, outward beauty.

How do you nurture and celebrate your beauty?

I do a few things to nurture and celebrate my beauty. I have found that it is much more rewarding to feel beautiful based on choices made rather than things you're born with. For example, I have fallen in love with tattoos. I have learned that people will always have opinions about your tattoos, but they are something entirely yours that only you appreciate their meaning and beauty to the fullest. Even with nothing on, I feel awesome. Instead of focusing on body parts that I'm not a fan of, I focus on my tattoos. Another "beauty choice” is that I still take pride in my clothes and hairstyles. I continue to rebel against having one type of style or dress code that I stick to. I wear clothes that fit my mood and comfortability. I change my hair constantly for the same reasons. I setup a photoshoot for my birthday this year (28) because I thought - its fun to dress up and you shouldn't need to get married or have a kid to deserve a photoshoot. I also try to recognize that in spite of the things I see as flaws, I know that God and others sometimes appreciate or even cherish those things.