I Woke Up Like This

For Anyone Who Doesn't Love Who They Are

I Woke Up Like This #039

I'm sorry if it seems I've been absent lately. As do many of you, I struggle a lot with maintaining my life. Trying to manage my fibromyalgia has taken up a lot of my energy. 

Anyways, I just wanted to say that this woman is brilliant. Fierce. Sexy. Humble. Proud. Brave. And kind. 

She sent me an email when I was in Colorado shooting all of these sessions I've been posting. I looked at my phone, opening the email, and read a message from a woman with PCOS and MS asking me to drive three hours away from Denver into the mountains to shoot her. Of course, I agreed to do it. And man do I treasure this day. The beauty in her, the beauty of the location, and her story are all special to me. Above all, we related in terms of pain. She was the first person to actually reach out to me about my pain, knowing it all to well herself. So, thank you woman. You are an inspiration. And I hope we meet again soon!

Be Kind To Yourself, 

Jillian

////// BEFORE SHOOT //////

How would you rate your self-esteem?

Between a seven and an eight. 

What goes into that?
The positive thing is that I've always appreciated my wit, which kind of sucks because of the MS. It makes your mind slow down. I like feeling like I'm different. I've always tried not to go with the normal flow of things. Like my parents were ordained and licensed ministers and everyone in my family is religious. By the time I was twelve, I was questioning why I should take it all in faith. To me there was no proof of an existence of a God. 

Why did you want to participate?
Because I can relate to a negative body image. I have PCOS. That causes weight gain, facial hair, infertility, so growing up everyone used to pick on me for having a mustache and a beard. I would go one week being 148 pounds and three weeks later I would be 175 pounds. 

Explain what PCOS is for the readers. 
It's Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The short of it is your pituitary gland overproduces insulin, which for some reason affects the ovaries, and causes them to produce extra testosterone. Testosterone in a woman will cause infertility, weight gain, depression, facial hair, acne, abnormal periods. Sometimes I'll have one for three months, sometimes I'll won't have one for three months. 

What would you rate your pain level at daily?
Between the PCOS and the MS, probably at a constant five and some days its an eight. It's frustrating having that because when I was a kid, I wanted to be a Mom and someone elses significant other. I tried a bunch of treatments, they put hormones. Sometimes with the PCOS I feel more like a guy, in my personality and what affects me. When they put me on progesterone and estrogen; I felt like I was loosing my mind. 

/////// AFTER SHOOT ///////

So how is your self esteem now? 
I'm about a 67/10 right now. 

Why?
It just feels good to be able to be who you are and not be ashamed of it. 

What was your favorite part?
It was sitting up on the ledge of the porch.

What is your favorite body part?
Idk my eyes I think, people always say they're really intense and you can see spark in them. 

Least favorite?
Definitely my lips. My labia majora. 

Why? 
When I was younger it was really nice and perfect and symmetrical. When I was 18, someone, who I thought was my friend, raped me. I kept trying to fight him off but he was a big guy. He reached down with his right hand and grabbed my left side to get me to stop. When he did that, he tore it. 

How did that change sex for you?
It was hard for me for a long time to be a guy. Because I looked down there and saw what that guy had done to me and what was taken from me. Anytime a partner would be down there, I thought he would notice.  Like, "There's something wrong with you and it's ugly." 

Did you get justice?
No. I was so ashamed. You know, like I said, my parents were religious. I thought by telling them; it would be my fault. Of course, it's victim mentality. We always think it's our fault. But if an bowling ball ever did fall out of the sky and land on him; I'd be okay with it. 

A lot of people never report their rape because of that victim blaming mentality. 
It's that right wing, southern mentality that leads that to happen. I wore a high necked shirt, I should be able to where a tank top or a burlap sack...the guy shouldn't touch it. It was just a breath of relief that he wasn't around me anymore in that same small town. 

How has that affected the way you look at your body today and in the past?
In the past, I just felt disfigured. Hideous, basically. There were some guys that would say it was beautiful and they didn't notice anything wrong with it. But my mind, every partner I was with, that was at the top of my mind. Now, I think when you get older you look back on certain things and you come to a point where you don't use someone else being a jackass as a reason for you to bring yourself down. There is an acceptance. I guess just when you get older, you see things differently. You realize the past is the past and you can't let that define who you are in the future or present. 

Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
Being a feminist isn't about the stereotypical male idea of being a feminist. It's not being a butch woman who just hates on men. That'd be like me calling every man an asshole, it's a stupid ideology. Not based on any real research. There is not empirical evidence to support that ALL feminist are butch man haters and ALL men are assholes. 

How was middle school?
I was homeschooled. We played with the kids in the neighborhood. My brothers and them would pick on me big time. They'd call me Sasquatch. It was endless. The kids in church were the worst. They picked on us, and me, but we were really poor. I wasn't wearing guess jeans like the other girls and had a mustache, I was always poked fun at and left out. 

Even when you explained it was medical?
I didn't even get an answer until I was eighteen because my parents didn't have insurance. When I was thirteen I started getting heavy periods, I couldn't move and we couldn't go to the doctor. 

Recently, I went on a sibling outing thing with my two brothers. This girl in her twenties was their complaining about her children and I jokingly go,"I'll take em" and she goes, "Why don't you get some of your own?" and I go, "Well, because I can't have kids." My brother goes, "What why?" and I didn't say anything. My brother looked at him with this incredulous look and makes the gesture towards the facial hair and goes..."That's all from the disease she has."

It's all to easy to ignore a persons suffering when you can't see it.
Pretty much. I had a friend who never wanted to have friends. She wanted to become a computer animator. She wound up having kids right away, then my sisters had kids, and then the meth addict four doors down walking with her baby....her house exploded a week later from the meth lab. 

And how does that feel to you?
It pisses me off. People like that, who don't even deserve to have a kid can have seven of them but I'm a responsible intelligent human being that would provide a great home for a child and I can't have one. It's true, people will be super insensitive. You'd think they could deliver it a little softer.

You think it's a good idea to stress to friends that you're sensitive about it?
Oh, they know. They knew. People ask you what you want to be as a kid. I said, I want to be a wife and a Mom. To not have that only thing I wanted in my life, that's a sore spot. But people get caught up and forget to stop and consider the people around them and how their actions affect everything. 


It goes without saying that people should be more sensitive and aware of friends and family who are infertile.
It's really just being considerate. Using common sense. It's like a friend who hates mustard and of course you're not going to make them a sandwich with it. And you'll remember that because they're your friend. People forget to consider how much what they are doing and saying will effect other people.

Is there any last message you want to leave with the readers?
Someone I was working with in town, we stayed late to have a drink and talk. I was showing my fiance a picture of a 65 mustang with the front clip of a 04 mustang put on it because we're both car enthusiasts. I work on cars, I come from a family of mechanics. And the owner comes over and starts joking about me not knowing anything about cars. Soon enough, he was heated and angry that at the notion that I knew more about cars than him...because I'm a woman. Those were his words. "There is no way, because you're a woman." I looked at him, I asked "What's lift and duration?" and of course he goes...uh...I knew a few years aog I can't rememer. I ask, "What's compression? 11 to 1? What does that mean?" And he didn't know. So, my take on feminists is that I am feminine. I am a woman. I like being soft. I like have curves, wearing high heels, and lipstick. I deserve the same respect if I can do something as well as a man or better. That's from both men and women. Because there were woman looking at me with disgust for working in logging and a typically masculine job. I'm still a woman, but don't say I can't do the same things you do. 

Do whatever your passionate about. If someone looks down on you, or says you can't do it, laugh in their face and prove em wrong. 

I Woke Up Like This #037

How was you rate your self esteem?
It totally depends on the day but I'm going to say a seven. 

Why are you doing this project?
I used to be very comfortable with my body and then I had a kid and my weight fluctuated. After my kid, I became a webcam model. I ended up getting super heavy right when I started that. You can see the fluctuation in getting very heavy in the webcam industry versus being smaller. It was less to do with the guys, but more to do with my fellow girls in the webcam community. 

How so?
When I first started, I would go to the conventions and meet all the girls and we would cam together. It was much easier to meet girls and have a good chemistry. When I got heavier, I went to a different convention and these same girls wouldn't cam with me anymore. They said,"I didn't fit the aesthetic of their room anymore." 

I went to a cam girl mansion, and that was when I found that out. It was insane. So that killed my self-esteem. I ended up then losing all of that weight. Went to another convention just recently, and everyone was trying to rip me apart to get me to cam with them in their rooms. 

You could just see it in my community. That's probably the first time I ever felt bad about my self-esteem in terms of my weight. 

Are you nervous?
I would say yes, more about the interview process. This is the first time being myself instead of a stage name naked on cam. 

Whats your self-confidence like now?

Either. 

Why?
I feel like you have a really great way of making people feel comfortable but also doing the interview and all this feels really good to get myself out there. Also, the other women in the project. 

What was middle school like for you?
My home life was not the best in middle school. We moved to tennessee. That was the longest I was ever really in one place, we were there for about four years. I was always out with friends, those were my family. Because I was bullied in elementary school, I was never mean to anybody. I had friends in every group. I did everything I could to rebel against my mother. So wearing all black, marilyn manson shirt, skater pants, ect. I started getting into death metal and smoking weed and having sex, all in middle school. It was the first time when I started getting boyfriends so I felt I had good self-esteem at that time, just not at home. Which got me into trouble, so I was always grounded. That's when I met my best friends from today. 

We just had our third middle school reuinion. We were all the bad kids, we got expelled back in eighth for adderall. There was like twenty of us. 

You mentioned elementary school wasn't the best, tell me more about that.
There was groups in elementary school, where there was popular kids. There was a group of cheerleaders and everytime i would come around them or anything there was one girl who would spit at me and say, "Ew. Why is she anywhere near us? She shouldn't be here." They told me it was because I didn't wear jeans. 

So, this was purely appearance based? 
Yes. I went to thrift stores and was wearing sweatpants. So that one girl who didn't want me there asked, "Why is she here?" and the girl who brought me said, "Because she's my friend." And we're still friends to this day. It was that time where I really started missing school and spending time in the nurse office. 

Did you ever face any sexual abuse as a child?
Yes. When I was nine, I was molested by my babysitter. He played the friend route, he would come over and bring my family dinner and really try to get up close to show he wasn't a threat. So my family really trusted him. It didn't start in the beginning, he did a lot of grooming to make sure I was comfortable. Taking me out, all that good stuff...nonetheless I didn't find out it was an issue really until he was going to move to Kansas and he kept saying, "You're not going to tell anybody about this right?" And I had so many friends that would come to his house. The pool guy noticed that every time kids came into his house, he would close his blinds. So he was the person who alerted the authorities that something was going in.

So, this was a serial molester?
Yeah. He would watch a lot of child porn so when the police would try to get his laptop he would tell them it was out for maintenance. At first, I trusted him and lied to my Mother when she asked about it. He ended up moving away after that and it had to have been two weeks after when my Mom first asked me. I had started grinding me teeth really badly. Then one day, we were in the living room, I just blurted out, "YEAH. It happened!" and we had a big cry session. 

You're doing so well, so calm and comfortable talking about this. 
Immediately, I never blamed myself because my Mother was such a support system for me. She told me he was sick and that it wasn't my fault and I believed it. When I grow up, and when I meet people I would tell people that right off the bad. It was like, there were no secrets about me so it was very freeing. 

I think often times, victims/survivors of molestation are pressured to erase it from their past through not talking about it.
This guy, he is currently one of Colorado's most wanted. He ended up being in the system for a while and complying but then he just fled. He did it to another girl in 2001, he's now one of Colorado's most wanted.

How has this affected the way you look at your body, past and present?
In the past, I was a lot more shy. And felt a lot of guilt in the beginning. These days, I just kind of say "Fuck Him." I'm not going to let him rule my life, he has nothing to do with me. I'm my own person. He has no rule over me, would be a better way to say it. My main concern now is to make sure it never happens to my daughter. 

How has that changed the way you raise your daughter?
I am extremely selective over who gets to be around my daughter alone. I almost have an issue. Now that I stay at home, we don't do daycare, when we meet someone who gives off vibes I don't want them to even be in my own life. There are only two men she is allowed to be alone with, my husband and my step-dad. 

Let's lighten the conversation, let's talk about feminism? 
It's had to really put it into a category. I grew up in the nineties but in a really cool time. Our sexuality was more accepted, our friends were all different races. I'm glad to live in a time where women are gaining rights and becoming more equal. You see these hard core feminism, where we're almost going opposite and a man can't say. We call all men misogynistic when they say anything, even agreeing with feminism. That initially turned me off. That was the first time I ever saw this.

You only see the most radical people in each movement making the headlines.
Yes. I used to believe that feminists must not like me when I'm so open about my body or I enjoy my role at home cooking. 

But now?
But now I found my place in it with other like minded women, especially with this project being about body positivity. That's such a big thing to each individual woman. 

I recently learned about intersectional feminism. It's essentially the belief that while we take our own sociological factors into consideration, we must also  consider how others social foundations such as race, sexuality, disability, class, gender, ect  effect their treatment in society and struggle for social justice. We have to think about how it all fluidly connects when we advocate for feminism.  
Initially, that's what threw me off from feminism. I can't tell someone how to live their life because I have been in their experiences. Gender roles are very hard when we have different cultures. 

Exactly, while one type of feminist would fight for no gender roles, it might be a vital part of someones culture that they enjoy. 
Mhm. 

What is your favorite body part?
My lips. They're the same as my mother, now that I see my daughter has them I love their shape. They never change. It's the one body part I don't have to worry about getting bigger, or smaller, or stretch marks. 

Least?
Currently now, my stretch marks. I'm learning to love them every day. It's still so fresh and new, I've only had them for five years. I used to hate having them on my ass in middle school. Now that I have a daughter, I dont wanna watch her go through the same body issues i watched my own family go through constanty asking if I looked okay, not wanting our picture taken because they aren't wearing makeup even though it would be creating a memory for us.Anytime someone walks into a bathroom, looking in the mirror and saying how gross they look. I have to learn to love my body completely. That's why this project is so important. Because I need to see myself without my shield up. 

Any last message for the readers?
This has been a really fun experience. It's always good, when you're comfortable, to push yourself. Find that thing you don't like about yourself and turn it into something you love. Because its uniquely yours.

I Woke Up Like This #036

There will be times in your life when you become someone you'll regret being.  

When you're judgment is clouded by love, insecurity, or the need to be wanted. It's thanks to friends and family, who stand up for your right to reach the highest level of happiness you can, that we are able to overcome these temporary versions of ourselves. 

We learn. And grow. Slowly. 
And sometimes never. 
Which, I think, is the scariest of all. 

The thing that hit me hardest about this interview was how is related to my current life struggles. I've watched quite a few friends struggle to see who they've become from being in unhealthy relationships. Struggle to the point that I've ended one of my closest friendships. Which, has obviously been on my mind every day. It's hard losing a friend to something so complicated. 

But seeing this woman after she got out of her relationship with a loving husband, who totally encouraged her to do this session, gave me a little peace. Peace in my heart that maybe my friend would find the love I felt she deserved in someone like this woman has. 

Whatever it may be, I just keep finding myself in every woman I interview. A little piece in every story I share, and I thank the universe every time a woman sends me a message telling me how much they relate to the women I interview. I think, relation is the strongest human bond. And it brings me immense joy to be a curator of that. 

Be Kind to Yourself, 

Jillian
 

What is your self-esteem level out of ten and what goes into that rating?
I would say an eight. I think, not allowing any negative thoughts to take root in my head.

What kind of negative thoughts?
I would just say, basically putting myself down. Being a bully to myself.

What kind of things would you say to yourself?
I would talk to myself in a way that I would never talk to another human being ever.

When did that change for you?
Probably around the time that I got married. I would say, it was something that I’ve always struggled with in different forms over the years. It was exhausting, and my husband would compliment me and I would deny it. He would want to compliment me less, and I decided to put my foot down and say enough.

Why did you want to participate?
I think that it is incredibly important work that you’re doing. It is so needed because I feel so strongly that other women need to see other women, other than what’s usually portrayed in society. Every lump, or perceived perfection would be out there for everyone to see. To show that and say very proudly, “I’m okay with myself”

Which is rare.
Yes, it took me a really long time to get here. But I’m very happy to be here.

What do you think causes low-self esteem?
Like I said, I’ve always struggled. When I was younger, anxiety would creep up and I’d relive every conversation in middle school worried that I had said the wrong thing or someone thought I wasn’t cool. As I got older, as I became aware of my body, it was too easy of a transition from beating myself up over what I may have said to also including my body not being what I thought it should be.

Do you think this is an important facet of society to focus on? Changing the way others see themselves?
Absolutely. 100%. Projects like this are a good start.

They start a conversation.
I mean as far as adults, the conversation needs to start younger. About accepting yourself as you are. My Mom did a really good job trying to instill that in me. It just took a couple of years to come back out.

Do you think that your anxiety played a major role in your self-esteem?
I do, because I think anxiety, by definition, takes every worry and doubt and makes it even more so.

If there was one thing you could tell a person who doesn’t seem to understand anxiety, what would that be?
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” –Plato

Not just for people understanding that you’re fighting a hard battle, but understanding that everyone else is too.

Have you ever faced sexism? If yes, tell me about your experience.
Yes. My experiences with sexism are all too common in this day and age. Professionally, thinking that I’m the assistant to who they are meeting with, rather than the person who they are meeting with. Being in a situation where I show emotion, and having that emotion dismissed because I’m female. “Oh, you’re just a girl”. Which is a particularly hard one for me, because I tend to be emotional. Not in a negative sense, but I am sympathetic and empathetic.

Honestly, I’m proud to be that way because I honor what I feel

Do you feel like you lack control? 
No. I do feel in control, I don’t feel out of control. I’ve had to learn that just because you feel that emotion doesn’t mean you should act on it.

And many people think that women can’t control their emotions, when in reality we are born and raised with the ability to recognize that we shouldn’t act on every one of these.
Yeah. Whatever emotion you’re feeling….honor and respect it. Do some searching as to what the root is and go from there to figure out it’s meaning. Whatever you’re feeling is justified, but you have to give yourself time and space to figure it out.

I think the worst thing anyone could do is talk themselves out of feeling what they feel. Nothing good comes from repressed feelings and emotions. It’s going to be hard, but lean on the people you have around you.

Are you a feminist?
I would say yes, though I don’t think I’ve ever assigned that word to it. I would say yes in that, “Do I feel the sexes should be equal?” Absolutely. But even more so than that, I feel very strongly that women are so powerful and we do ourselves a disservice when we attack one another. We’re all guilty of seeing a woman and judging her, playing the comparison game, which is the most dangerous thing we can do. I feel strongly that we should be more kind to each other, and band together.

Have you ever had an unhealthy relationship?
Unfortunately, yes. To be in a relationship means trusting another person with your wellbeing and it’s unfortunate that, that trust is misplaced at times.

You mean, trusting the wrong the person.
Yeah, giving too much effort and energy into something deep down you know isn’t the best situation for you. Hoping you can fix it, or they’ll change. Or even worse, thinking that it’s your fault.


Did you think it was your fault?
At times, yes I did.

What made you realize it wasn’t?
I had seen a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and shared with her a fight that this person and me were having at the time. Watching her reaction, a non-bias reaction that came from a place of love and support for me, was eye opening to what I had justified in this relationship.

When you care about something, it’s amazing what you will convince yourself is okay behavior.

Do you have any role models that have helped you grow as a person? Tell me about them.
Absolutely. My Mom, first and foremost, is the kindest most compassionate woman I’ve ever met. Those two traits are two I try to live everyday. My husband, for sweeping me off my feet and showing me the love that I deserve. And then I’d I have a really great close group of girlfriends that do a phenomenal job of empowering, listening, and encouraging one another.

Good friends are priceless.
Yeah, it’s total girl power stuff. But I mean, it’s so important though.

We often poke fun at girl power as this dainty feminine joke, but in reality is a bonding mechanism for women to empower each other with.
Yeah.

Is there any last message you’d like to leave with the audience?
Be kind to others but most of all yourself. In her TED Talk, I think Brene Brown says something like, “You are worthy of love and belonging. No matter what.” That. Just, that. 

I Woke Up Like This #027

Discrimination runs high in this country. 

Most of us are born into the bodies we want to be in. 
We are sexually attracted to the opposite sex.
We only love one person at a time.
If we're women, we are femme. 
Men, we are masculine. 

But the minute you break any of these cardinal rules...you're now sentenced to discrimination and judgement by society. 
You can no longer walk down that mountain town road with your partner, because the men walking on the opposite side of the road are spitting hateful slurs because you're partner is the same sex. You have to live in fear that someday, someone might not just run their mouth but instead after you. 

See, it's not always extreme either. It can be everyday things, like your parents refusing to acknowledge the right pronouns you prefer as a trans-woman. Sometimes you spend days just desperately wondering why you are the way you are. You wonder why, while it hurts nobody, your sexuality is so important to others.

And not only that but the legal discrimination. 
No, you cannot get married. 
No, you cannot adopt a child without jumping through hoops
--even after seventeen years together. 
No, you won't get this job. 

You pay taxes, you donate your money to charity, you go to church, you've never stolen a dime, never had a parking ticket, never touched drugs or committed a crime...yet you're treated like a criminal because you love someone that's "unconventional" to the rest of the world. 

These things, these horrible things, are endured everyday by the LGBT community. For as long as I can remember, I've fought for their rights and to end discrimination. It pained me to hear this woman's story. The fear she felt, simply by holding her partners hand in public, shook me to the core. 

Can you imagine feeling that way?
Knowing that simply holding someones hand could not only get you dirty looks but threaten your life? 
To know that hatred that strong exists, it breaks my heart. 
This set is for every LGBT reader out there who is struggling right now. 
No matter what you identify as, you have every right to exist and be happy on this planet.
You are beautiful, handsome, fierce, passionate, and strong.

Be Kind to Yourself, 

Jillian 
 

I woke up like this project fine art photography 27-12

// PRE-SHOOT QUESTIONS //

How would you rate your self esteem from 1-10?

I would say an eight. But that's not always the case, especially not two weeks ago. 

What happened two weeks ago?
I had a little freakout about doing this. I tried on some bathing suites in those horrible horrible lights. I had a meltdown. But I already told my daughter I was doing this. And she doesn't know about my struggles with self-esteem because I'm really careful about what I say about myself around her. So she has great self-esteem because she should since she's amazing, but I think it's because you dragged myself down or took myself apart in front of her lie my Mother did. 

It's amazing how much the way your mother treats herself, effects the way your children treat themselves. It formed a lot of my choices as a parent. 

How nervous are you at this moment?
Pretty nervous but trying not to give too much space to it. 

What is your biggest fear in doing this project?
If I had to be totally honest it would be that something that I don't like about myself would get highlighted, thus confirming how I worry about my looks. Like, "Op, yepp. I was right. There it is."

// AFTER SHOOT QUESTIONS //

How is your self esteem now?

Really good! I would have to say a ten! I didn't expect that...

How has it changed?
I guess I just don't feel like the stuff I was worrying about matters. I didn't think about it while we were shooting. 

What typically goes into your self-esteem? 
I've had to cultivate it. That's an intentional uphill battle. Either I cultivate an eight, or slide down to a zero. There is no middle ground. It's a conscious decision. 

When you went through that breakdown, what things were saying to yourself about your body?
I looked dumpy and terrible and my stomach looked awful. If I looked as as bad as I think then I'm also a worthless person. I'm a feminist, so I don't believe that mine or anyone else's appearance is tied to their worth but it's hard to completely edit that message out of your head.

Tell me about your sexuality.
I am queer. I identify as a lesbian but I like queer better because its more expansive. I'm attracted to trans-women and trans-men and gender queer people and cis-women. And occasionally cis-men. 

So you just love?
Yes! Some people would say I'm pansexual but my love for cis-men is so minimal that it's just a much smaller proportion in relation to my attraction to women and gender queer people. 

How has your sexuality affected your self-esteem?
Once I came out as gay, I went through a lot of the transitions that most people go through with my gender identity and had an idea of what lesbians are supposed to like and wear. It took a years before I identified as fem for my gender expression. It took a long time to identify my fem-identity. 

My fem-identity is really important to me personally and to my sexual orientation. 

What was middle school like for you?
Wretched. My Mom left when I was twelve, right before I turned thirteen. She said she was going for a walk and she didn't come back. She did eventually, but she just kind of dropped everything and left. Not surprisingly, I'm the oldest of four, that had a big effect on my mental health. Depression, ability to focus in school. It wasn't a fun time, I really thought it had a direct correlation to how ugly I felt I was at the time. 

How did you feel about your body in middle school?
Um...I was experiencing sexual abuse at the same time. So my ideas around what constituted sex in the first place was pretty messed up. What constituted desirability. I didn't understand women as people who acted on their sexuality, I saw them as being acted upon. And I thought that was normal, I didn't think that was wrong. 

Tell me about the sexual abuse.
There was a boy who was a little older than me at church, my dad was a pastor at the time. His father too. There was a kid at my school who was expelled at my school, I think of him with sadness and I have to wonder what was happening with him to make him act that way. He spent a lot of time in class saying I was ugly under his breath towards me, and he had a lot of violent fantasies that were sexual and based on my undesirability. How ugly and gross I was to him. I asked the teacher to be moved but nothing happened until he actually jumped up and grabbed my crotch in the middle of class. That's what it took for her to actually do something because before then she wasn't listening. 

It's so weird how teachers won't listen to kids when they have these claims. 
It's really infuriating because there is no way I'd come up with something like that out of nowhere. That was my experience with every incident that happened during my school years. That was fourth grade to be clear. That's what I mean when I say he was a child. 

How does this affect your self-esteem to this day?
There are two parts of it. One, obviously those experience directly informed my perception of self. And that's a struggle that hasn't ever gone away. I'm pretty logical a lot of the time, but there is only so much logic. 

Theres only so much logic you can apply before your head takes over. 
Yeah. So that struggle is what it is. The other part...some of the things that have happened have been so dark and so gruesome and lonely that if I can emerge out of that and have my daughter and raise her without those things in her life. Then theres not a whole lot that can touch me anymore. Instead of it making me fearful of loving people, I think it's made me value the people I love even more because of all the good people and things in my life now. 

Let's talk about feminism. 
Lets. 

Are your a feminist, if so why?
Yes. There is nothing else that could make sense for me. There is a lot of talk about what the word means and you know I think at its most basic it's equality of the sexes and equality of the genders. Acknowledges that people don't exist in a binary is important. Specifically, I'm a full spectrum doula. So I co-founded a doula collective that works to support people through any choice. Parenting, adoption, abortion. And so just supporting women, not just cis-woman, but women in particular, self-identified women are really important to me. 

What is a doula?
Usually when they say they are a doula, it's an emotional and physical support primarily for women who are giving birth. Sometimes afterword just helping them out and being there after the baby is born. Full spectrum are relatively new. From my group, it's just radical acceptance of all the choices that a person can bring into the choice whether or not to have a baby. We are developing a prison doula program to support incarcerated pregnant people when they give birth and after when they have to relinquish their child. And also, abortion doula's. We also have a program for women when they are getting their abortion done to have a doula there. 

It's hand holding, explaining the procedure and having someone who is just attentive to them. They are popping up all over the country. Abortion doulas, full spectrum doulas, and it's really exciting to see. 

How has your age affected your self-esteem?
I just turned forty and I've heard people say how great it is when you get older. I thought it was a wonderful sentiment but I didn't really buy it. But it really is true. The only thing that I would turn the clock back for is to maybe not chose a few boyfriends and have more time but other than that i wouldn't change for anything. I feel more like my whole self and I feel like I understand more of what I offer to my relationship and my work and my child. I have a much more complete sense of self. 

The way your body has changed, you mentioned making a point to show your stretch marks during our session? How else do you celebrate and feel about your body?
My femme identity and my choices in clothing and makeup are very rooted in my queerness. And then being multiracial. I dress in ways that emphasize the things I like about myself. I don't dress like a forty year old mother with a teenager should dress and I don't give a shit. And I wanna say, because it's important, it's NOT about looking younger than I am. It's about dressing in a way that feels good and cultivating a style that feels happy and sexual and authentic. 

What is the worst instance of discrimination you have ever encountered?"
I went to visit my partner while she was doing campaign work in a mountain town. We were just walking around normally, holding hands. People were furious at the sight of us. They were glaring with a kind of anger that I've never seen people behave with before. They were actively putting their arms around their children and walking them away. We weren't denied service but our change was slammed on the counter at us. People were angry AT us when we went to buy a tea.

A group of men after dinner, really big men, just the look on their faces when they saw us walking down the street was just pure fury. And because of how prevalent that response was in that town, it was one of the first moments I was fearful for my safety as a gay person. I've been plenty fearful as a a woman, but I realized that probably no one would help us. And that was really scary. We went back to our car and spent the rest of the time in the hotel room. 

People don't realize how much that affects someone. Person after person just disgusted with the sight of you...it was terrible. When I left her and went back home I just cried knowing I had to leave her in a place like that. 

People seem to underestimate the amount of discrimination in this world.
There are still places where we can't feel safe. We were just holding hands. It was just because we were lesbians. 

Any last message for your readers?
Especially for people who are younger, the things about yourself that you think are so bad, or that you don't like, you're going to look back and think, "Why was I worried about that?Why did I waste time in my head worrying that?" I think that a lot of women take themselves apart in ways they would never to do other people.

We shouldn't do that to ourselves. 

I Woke Up Like This #026

Femininity to me is being strong with who you are, embracing who you are. It’s being a mother, it’s a businessperson, it’s whatever you wanna be. Whoever you wanna be. Not letting anyone tell you you’re not good enough, or don’t have the right skills or you’re not smart enough because of your gender.

This dear lady was kind enough to be the first Mother to participate in this project. But she isn't just a Mother, she's this intensely warm person. The kind you feel comfortable resting your read on right after you meet her, crying together during this interview proved she is easy to trust. My favorite part of this session was hearing the quote above. Because often times, women feel hindered by their gender. Defeated by the wage gap, shameful for enjoy sex casually, or inferior in traditionally masculine workplaces. What this woman told me, was simply this.

Fuck that mindset. 

Pardon my french, I am quite the sailor sometimes, but really! Fuck it! Forget about all the things that you only THINK hold you back. Woman or man. Do what you love to do, do it better than anyone else, and be proud of your accomplishments. Because you are not your gender limitations, you are a limitless ball of potential and you have the power to evoke change in your everyday life simply by empowering others as well. Support yourself, support others, and live on.

And most importantly, be kind to yourself.

-Jillian 

/// BEFORE SHOOT ///

What level is your self-esteem at from 1-10?
Nine.


That's awesome!
I worked to get here.  It didn’t come easily.


Are you nervous?
Not as nervous as I thought I’d be. I was more nervous thinking about coming here, then I got here and it feels more exciting. More than nervous.


Why did you want to participate in this project?
It’s an important project. I believe in positive body image, spreading the word of respecting yourself and loving yourself. That includes me. I’m still a work in progress myself. This project is an opportunity to be a part of a bigger picture. To be able to spread this message to the world.  


With all the blogs, social media interaction, and so on…body positivity is important to me.

/// AFTER THE SHOOT ///

What is your self-esteem level now?
Still a nine point five.  


How did the shoot affect your self-esteem?
It definitely lifted it, because I don’t look at pictures of myself naked. I don’t even have a full length mirror. Not afraid to be naked, or see myself naked. It’s just fascinating to see through your lens.


How has your body affected your self-esteem throughout your life?
By third grade, I was wearing a bra not because I wanted to but because I needed to. No one else in my grade was wearing a bra at that point.

How did that make you feel?
Very self-conscious. I felt like a bit of a freak, I definitely felt fat. I was already getting the curvy hips, the belly. And most of my friends were thin. Limber. Athletic. All my friends could do cartwheels. Everything I tried to do in respect to that with my body wasn’t on the same page. My body was holding me back from doing things.

What did that teach you about being fat when you were little?
I started finding other parts of satisfaction in my life. I turned to creative paths, things that didn’t require my physical body to be limber and fit and physical tasks. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t active, I was always playing softball and I was a very active kid. I just always felt like I couldn’t get to that level of athleticism that others couldn’t reach.

How old where you when you first began negative self-talk?
I would say sixth grade, eleven or twelve year old. It was my first year attending public school and I didn’t have to wear a uniform. I felt out of place. I wasn’t popular. Boys only liked me because of my boobs. Girls didn’t like me because of my boobs.


You run a body positivity blog, tell me how that began?
I went through a divorce about five years ago now and my marriage had been very emotionally damaging to me. When I finally made the decision to get out of the marriage, I found a renewed sense of self that I had not experienced for decades.

What caused that new sense of self?
When I was married, my husband was the dominating person in the relationship. Emotionally, he was overpowering and belittled me. Verbally, little jabs that put me down. He never complained about my weight, but we did not have a close intimate level like a husband and wife should. It wasn’t satisfying. He didn’t treat me like he desired me, there was not intimacy or romance between us. He wasn’t physically attracted to me.

How did that make you feel about your body?
I did not like my body. I liked myself as a person but I was ashamed of my body. I sort of retreated into myself, wore baggy clothing to hide all the rolls and the curvy. I just didn’t want to acknowledge my own body.

Do you have children?
Yes, I have a son. I sat down and told him what it entails. That it’s going to be online, in a book. The first thing he said to me was, “GOOD! We need more of that”.

What is the biggest struggle you’ve faced in your life thus far?
Being comfortable in my own skin. I think I’m almost there. My biggest hope is to inspire people to be comfortable in their own skin. It opens up a whole other pathway to happiness. Discovering your own inner and outer beauty is the key. I’ve had many friends through the years tell me they look up to me because I don’t come off as someone with low confidence. I don’t worry about what other people think about me, for the most part. I don’t base my decisions based on what other people might think of me.


Are you a feminist, and why?
Yes. I know that there are a lot of women who claim not to be feminists because there is a lot of negative attitude about it. That feminists are just aggressive, man hating, don’t want to be mothers, and I don’t think that’s it at all. Its making sure that all women are seen as vital people in this worlds existence. Women have just as big as a part in this world as men do. I’m not man hating, I’m not afraid of being sexual. Femininity to me is being strong with who you are, embracing who you are. It’s being a mother, it’s a businessperson, it’s whatever you wanna be. Whoever you wanna be. Not letting anyone tell you you’re not good enough, or don’t have the right skills or you’re not smart enough because of your gender.  

Any last words for the readers?
My mantra is that I try to live an extraordinary life, even in ordinary circumstances.

I Woke Up Like This #024

Once upon a time, I thought I was a boy. I dressed like a boy, my only friends were boys, I played with boys toys, and my favorite activities included fishing with my Grandpa and playing with my hot wheels in the dirt cracks of our front yard. Putting me into a dress meant accepting the inevitable fate that it would be destroyed when I was done with it and anything pink made me cringe. Needless to say, I was a tom boy. Aka a young female child who enjoyed stereotypically male gendered activities and clothing. 

I never once felt bad for enjoying these things, as my Mother is the type of person who will hand a little boy a barbie over a truck any day, so I had the support. I soon grew into a sporty girl, and transitioned into a femme young tween. From there, I only really ever wear dresses and makeup is one of the few things I find therapeutic. Now, these changes happened because my parents supported the hell out of me being whoever I want to be. But there are children with parents who aren't as accepting. Who will tear that barbie out of their little boys hands and even ridicule them for their choice at the time. And that stays with a child, that shame. The shame of being who they are, aspiring to be who they want to be rather than what society tells them to be. They are made to feel guilty for being who they are by the most important people in their lives; their parents. 

"Growing up as a girl, I was really into math and science. I didn’t want to play with dolls. I wanted to play with trucks and army men. Growing up and feeling ashamed of that was really stupid."

This is not to say that Amber's parents were this way, but there was a societal pressure on Amber to feel shame for enjoying what we consider traditionally masculine interests. And it's this shame that disproportions the amount of females in the math and science industry. It's been made abundantly clear that there is a severe imbalance of females to males in this field and to me, it has a lot to do with what we encourage and allow our children to explore at a young age. Let your little girl play with trucks, because one day she might build their engines. Make math and science interesting to them no matter their gender. 

In the United States, we put so much emphasis on who we allow our children to become as they grow up. Can you imagine the potential of children if we encouraged them to always chase their dreams, that there are no boundaries in life holding them back, no matter how out of the gender expectations box they are? We need that diversity. So parents, I beg you to be the parent who is proud of their son whether he loves putting makeup on or he aspires to go into finance. Proud of your daughter when she enjoys playing with hot wheels more than she does playing dress up.

Life is far too short to tell someone how to live it, let your children make these choice for themselves and try your damnedest to support them through their journey to adulthood.

And as always, be kind to yourself.

-Jillian

/// BEFORE SHOOT \\\

What is your level of self-esteem from one to ten?
Sixish. That’s pretty damn high for me.

What goes into that rating?
This morning my boyfriend gave me a pep talk; I was concerned about my half eyebrow. I have thyroid issues, where I lost my eyebrow. He gave me a little reminder, and then knowing that I’m doing this for good reasons to help other people think they’re amazing too.

What made you want to participate?
It’s weird because it’s changed. At first, it was more of a challenge to myself to force myself to get comfy with how I look. And then I was like, now I have to work out a bunch because the internet will see me. Then I was like, “Well, you know what. Nevermind. That’s the entire reason I’m doing this.” I was considering tatting my eyebrows on, and working out. I talked to my man and friends and they told me that’s the opposite of what the point of this is. Be awesome. Be you. Don’t change things you don’t like about yourself.

Now it’s turned into I love myself so much that I want to show other people how you can be in your mid-thirties and change your entire perspective and be super in love with yourself. Not give a shit about the little things you see as imperfections.

/// AFTER SHOOT \\\

What is your level of self-esteem now?
Like a nine, or more. Haha.

How did this shoot affect your self-esteem?
It made not think about what I look like, but just about how much fun we were having. It felt really fucking good to be outside naked too. That was awesome! And then just you not telling me to pose sexy. Just about being bare, enjoying being here.

What is your favorite part of your body?
As of right now, my legs. Oh wait, my arms. Hahaha. It depends on the time of day.

What is your least favorite?
Boobs. Because when I was in high school they were D’s and now they’ve deflated into A’s. There not as up there as they could be. They remind me of sad baboon boobs.

What do you do in your daily life to increase your body positivity?
I love working out to see how much stronger I can get. What my body is capable of. That’s really been the one thing that’s made me appreciate the parts of me that I’ve hated before.

Are you a feminist? And if so why?
Hell yes! Why not?! Why the hell should anyone feel like they are better or worse than anyone else for any reason. Gender, sex, any reason.

Would you say your definition of feminism is equality for all?
Yes. Growing up as a girl, I was really into math and science. I didn’t want to play with dolls. I wanted to play with trucks and army men. Growing up and feeling ashamed of that was really stupid. I felt like I couldn’t get a good job in accounting because I don’t have a penis. Even though I’m equally as capable of doing my job. I just don’t know why it’s beaten into us that men are better than us. Women are great too. They both are.

I don’t understand why people can’t just be appreciated and recognized for their brain and their talents rather than what genitals they have.

How have gender expectations affected you?
I have super short hair. It’s assumed I’m butch. It’s stupid that a fucking haircut can make people assume that.

I get a lot of comments from family memebers about being in my thirties and not having kids. And I’m like…no. Not really happening. In past relationships it’s been, ‘You cook. You clean. Look pretty all the time.’ And now with Shaun, it’s like…he did the dishes. He grew up with his Mom and sisters so both do the dishes and clean. It’s like…well wait you’re the man. I’m supposed to do this. It’s opened my mind to just how silly gender expectations are. Why can’t people just do whatever the fuck they want with their life not based on what society expects them to do because of their gender.

Tell me about a time you’ve experienced sexism.
Just working in accounting, having male co-workers who do exactly the same thing I do with the same experience or even less, and they make $20,000 more than me a year. And then me being expected to fill in as a receptionist because everyone wants a happy girl on the phone when that’s not my fucking job.

How will your boss react to this answer?
Next week is my last day.

That’s great! So you can be your own boss and make that additional $20,000 you should have been making.
Hell yes!

It seems like that’s the only way women can get equal pay these days.
Yepp!

Do you struggle with mental illness in anyway?
Absolutely. For my entire life since before kindergarten. I’ve had major anxiety about pretty much everything. I’ve gone through pretty severe depression recently. I’ve tried to self medicate for the first thirty years of my life through exercise, drugs, alcohol, or food.

Which form of self-medication was the least healthiest for you?
Food. One of my major ways of coping with anxiety was procrastinating with eating. I used food as my only friend. If I was nervous about something the next day, I’d stay up and bake a batch of cookies and eat the entire batch of cookies. I wouldn’t think about my stress, just the food. I’d wake up the next morning feeling physically and mentally terrible because of that.

Nervous eating leads to a lot of body negativity. Living in your head after you know you’ve consumed something out of anxiety, that it will add to your weight and decrease your mental even, is very common and a very hard habit to break.
I would just sit there and say, “Oh sometimes you just need a treat. Oh, I just had one…I can eat more and be fine.” Twenty minutes later I’m eating the entire batch and then I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to get fat, I’m more stressed than I was before I ate, because my stomach is super pissed. I have sugar shakes. And ugh.’ Then I go to bed, wake up feeling super bloated with not appetite. Because I consumed an entire days worth of calories before bed. And then I work out super hard as punishment because I binged.

It’s just this never ending cycle.
It just happens over and over.

Would you consider that an eating disorder?
Hell yes. Binge eating disorder is probably the most under acknowledged eating disorder out there. Just because you’re not starving yourself doesn’t mean you have a major mental health issue.

Have any formal treatment for it?
Recently, I got onto Zoloft. After I freaked out and didn’t go to work for three weeks because of my anxiety. I decided that it was time to do something about it. I got on Zoloft and I’ve never felt this amazing. I’m like this magical version of myself that can actually talk to people and leave the house without being afraid of everything that can happen. I started eating like a normal person. It’s made me not put nearly as much pressure on my physical appearance. I feel like my body is just a vessel for my soul and personality.

What is your definition of beauty?
Authenticity. Just being who you are, not trying to change your appearance or actions or views or anything just to seem more acceptably beautiful to the general population.

You mentioned wanting to tattoo your eyebrows before this session. Do you still feel that need?
No, I think that’s silly. I had thyroid issues that made the outer edges of my left eye brow just disappear. I feel like I have to draw them on everyday.

What was high school like for you?
I was the chubby, redheaded goth kid. You can imagine how well that went. I was super quiet, super self-conscious. I hated my red hair and died it black for years and years. I wore a wig the entire sophomore year because I wanted short straight hair but I had long curly red hair. I would wrap my long braids up and put them under the wig. That was weird.

In retrospect, how you feel about that type of behavior in yourself and others?
Now that I look at it, I think it’s silly obviously. But now I look at it, and think…maybe I wasn’t as self-conscious as I thought. Because I was comfortable enough to wear a wig to high school. I’m glad I got it out of my system then.

Most people assume the need to change things like hair, skin color, and any other aesthetic is shallow or unessecary. I think your perspective has changed mine. 
Yeah like now, I haven’t touched my hair for ten years until a month ago. And I’m finally confident enough to bleach my hair and dye it purple. It’s not like I don’t love my red hair, it’s just I thought it would be fun.

Did you hate your red hair before?
Hell yes.

But now your hair is just an accessory, it’s not who you are inside. It’s just a decoration.
Yes, just like makeup or playing with clothes. It’s all just fun art. I see my body as a canvas. If I want to look like a punk rocker, Ill look like that. If I want to look like a 20’s librarian, I will. I am fucking art.

How has this project changed you?
It made me excited about being naked. It made me feel like maybe I could make people think and change they way they feel about themselves in a good way. Strangely, before it even happened…it gave me a shit ton of confidence. Because I knew I’d need it. It’s still pretty scary getting naked. But now I wanna do it again because I’ve never felt grass on my bare ass, my boobs have never seen the sun. Feeling the sun on every part of my body was so cool.

Any last words for those reading?
Jillian is fucking amazing. (I swear I didn’t prompt this answer) I never thought it was possible to love myself, just know it’s possible to love yourself. You’ll find something someday. It won’t come from another person. It won’t come from loosing weight and finding a significant other. It comes from yourself.