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

"I have Crystale Lind to thank for that. LOL. I saw her photoshoot with you guys and I thought it was spectacular and something compelled me to want to be part of it. I’ve always struggled with my self esteem and my perception of self and my own 'beauty'. I haven’t seen the images yet, but I’m almost kind of dreading them because I know I’m immediately going to start nitpicking at the flaws that I see. I hate myself in photographs because I feel like I’m smaller than I look -  I know I have curves, but I also have that extra tummy fat and jiggle and extra chin that accompany those curves…  I’m not pinup curvy.  I would love to be, but I’m just not."

As a woman in the armed forces, how do you feel your sense of self and ability to feel and call yourself beautiful was affected?

"I think I have taken from my Marine Corps experience the ability to embrace the idea that being strong is beautiful. I had to do a lot of changing when I got out of the Marine Corps.  When I was in, I was one of the guys. My shop was wonderful in that they didn’t really see sex, they saw a uniform.  I was treated incredibly well by all of those men and I know that they would’ve done anything for me if I had gotten into trouble or someone had last then good intentions.  I still maintain a few friendships from that time today and that was ten years ago.  I had difficulties maintaining the required weight while I was enlisted… I was actually anorexic during boot camp. I was eating about 500 cal a day and working out very hard because it was Boot Camp, all while trying to get down to the maximum weight my height standard allowed.  When I left Paris Island, I weighed 145 pounds and have not weighed 145 pounds since then….  As a matter of fact, when I started powerlifting, I had more than 145 pounds of lean muscle on my body.  I weigh about 100 pounds more today than I did when I left boot camp…  I feel big, but I’m also not SUPER upset about it because that asked my body to do some pretty incredible things with powerlifting.  I don’t like looking at myself naked, I hate shopping for clothes, I hate pictures of myself, but not to the point where I’m obsessed with changing how I look because for me, that’s not a good reason to do that.  I could very easily slide right back into that anorexic state and achieve weight loss, but I won’t intentionally 'diet down”'or make cuts with any specific diet.  I guess to answer this question, I have never really felt beautiful, so the impact the military had on my perception of beauty, was pretty much nonexistent I suppose."

You talked about your self image being shattered well before your military service?

"Yeah, my self-hate for my body started long before the Marine Corps. It became ingrained in me by my stepmother. She was evil. My father physically abused me throughout my teenage years, almost killing me and seriously injuring me twice. The people that were supposed to love and protect me made me feel worthless. And then I was sexually assaulted at 16, which stripped me of what sense of self I had left. This was then reinforced and perpetuated during my active duty. I was raped while I was in the Marine Corps by one of my NCOs. I was actually in the emergency room, sick with strep throat, delirious with a high fever, and he came into my room, lifted up my hospital gown, and proceeded to penetrate me. I didn't consent. I couldn't have. A few days later, he came to my room and told me that I should keep what it happened between us in the hospital private because he was married - insinuating I had somehow consented. I felt sick in my body."

What resilience you have in being able to come through such complex and repeated trauma. I can imagine you spent a lot of time feeling numb from everything. How did you manage to begin to heal?

"I spent a lot of time in therapy and I’m still in therapy because I know that I have some cognitions still very much associated with this experience.  I did numb out a lot - so much so that I have very little memory from the age of 13 until about the age of 22.  I can look at pictures and sometimes memories get triggered, whether they're good or bad, but even my time in the Marine Corps… People will ask me for stories or they’ll say, 'OH!! Do you remember the time when…'  and I’ll have to say no and the look on their faces is just disbelief.  My biggest part of healing came about three or four years ago when I finally told people about my past and what happened while I was enlisted.  Also, having contact with my step mother’s family has helped immensely because she has cut them off for not seeing the world her way.  They’ve been amazing because they’ve really validated the experiences I had growing up because some of them are so horrible I wasn’t not actually sure if they were real or not…  so, not only did they confirm for me how terrible it was, but they also confirmed to my mother how terrible it was,  which I know is really hard on her because we were separated during that time and she couldn’t do anything to protect me, but it helps that other people know how bad it was because it makes it more real for me and that validation of my life experience is healing."

What assumptions do people make about you based on some of your identities (female, tattoos, veteran, etc)?

"LOL! I get a lot of men assuming I’m a lesbian….  Which is flattering for me I suppose and kind of keeps their ego intact if I reject them, but the package in general that I present to the world is one of a very strong woman.  I have masters degree, two Masters licenses, I’m working on a doctorate, I work almost forty hours a week, I go to school full-time, I power lift, I have tattoos, and I was in the Marine Corps…  that can be a very intimidating package for some men.  They also assumed, when I was single, that I was single because I’m intimidating, that is if they don’t first to assume that I am a lesbian because of the package. My very own sister actually said that to me over the summer. She said she thought that I was not 'ladylike' enough to attract a good partner. Thankfully, I have found a wonderful partner who loves and supports me and everything that I’m doing. He loves my nerdy, strong, independent, brilliant, self. The words I hear more than anything when people give descriptive words about me to my face is 'You tough'. I’m a bigger woman, I have muscles (underneath fatty padding), I have tattoos, and I can give a look that insinuates I should be left alone or else.  It comes in handy given the work settings I anticipate myself being in, so I don’t mind that that look works."

How has working in a prison changed your perception of beauty?

"It has definitely made me appreciate my physique in a way I didn’t think I would. I wear clothing that is too big - it’s baggy and hides my shape.  And yet, despite my attempts to hide my body, I get a lot of comments on it because there are just some things you can’t hide.  Working in prisons has actually led me to be a more conservative dresser, both in my personal and professional lives.  I see people going through some of the worst times of their lives and it has really opened up my heart and soul to the human experience, which I think impacts my perception of what I consider beautiful."

You talked about your tattoos being a way that you celebrate your body through art but also that it brings you closer with the kids you work with. Tell me about that and how it contributes to your sense of beauty?

"So, I decided to get tattoos that would allow me to bring myself closer to children in general - my own and others - because they can color them in.  I work with some very traumatized children that benefit greatly from that type of contact.  I found that they love to paint them especially the ones in my arms because those are the most accessible. The ones in my back aren’t super accessible, but the ones on my arms are very visible.  Initially, I got them with the secondary idea of having my own children be able to lay on the floor with me and color on mommy, and that is something I still very much looking forward to.  I love looking down at my arms or looking at my back and seeing this amazing artwork that I’ve decorated myself with. It’s one of the things I love most about my body and one of the things I look forward to continuing to evolve with.  With the crappy self-esteem that I have, I can look at my tattoos and say there is something on my body I do consider beautiful. I do have my tattoo artist to greatly thank for decorating my body because he does amazing work and the relationship that I have with him and the vision that he has for where we’re going with my tattoos is fantastic. I’ve always found tattoos and other body modifications to be incredibly beautiful and it was always something I knew even from a younger age I wanted to do for myself, so now that I’m a point in my life where I can afford to adorn and decorate myself in this way, I do it as often as possible."

How do you celebrate and nurture your beauty?

"I almost didn’t answer this question because I don’t feel like I have an answer for it.  LOL. I think now that I'm with somebody who I feel incredibly comfortable with, it's easier for me to embrace and celebrate and nurture the beauty that I have. I think I’m attractive, he does too.  I’ve recently really gotten in to make up and the wonderful things make up can do and I love playing with it, because it really changes your face and gives you an opportunity to explore different facets of beauty.  As a said before, I don’t diet; there are no restrictions for me in terms of what I cannot eat, so I honor my body in that way because it means that I’m not withholding anything from it."