The goal of the 30 Days of Gorgeous blog series is to show that women can be empowered through photography. Each woman has a unique story, but we can always find a strand that runs through every story and helps us feel a connection to our own lives. In order to discover each story, I sent all of the applicants a questionnaire with several open-ended questions like:
“What does being a woman mean to you?”
“What is your biggest fear of having your portrait taken?”
“When do you feel the most beautiful?”
I will never forget the day I received Teresa's application. I was in my basement office, stacks of paper all around me as I sifted through the questionnaires. I began to read Teresa's and was immediately hooked. Her words moved me to tears, but I was left feeling uplifted and inspired.
In October of 2016, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and underwent a bilateral mastectomy. By the time I photographed her in March of 2018, she had undergone 6 rounds of chemotherapy and 16 rounds of a targeted treatment with a drug called Herceptin. Two days after our photoshoot she was scheduled to complete her 17th and final treatment of Herceptin. She seemed excited for it. Something to celebrate!
Bitter and depressed is how some people might react if they were in Teresa’s shoes.
Back when she saw my Facebook post asking for applicants for 30 Days of Gorgeous, she signed up right away and filled out the questionnaire.
Her response to 'What does being a woman mean to you?' is raw and honest:
“I have lost both breasts , watched my hair fall out and have begun the journey of the different stages of hair growth . I would be lying if I said there weren’t days that I struggled deeply with my newfound womanhood. I have spent a lot of time sitting in God's stillness and being filled with the reminder that He can make broken beautiful! I have begun that journey ....and here I am seeing your [Facebook] post!! Wow! Coincidence....I don't this so!”
She might have wished that my 30 Days of Gorgeous campaign was 2 years earlier. Back then she didn’t have to worry about lymphodema in her right arm, the challenges of styling “new growth” hair or dealing with prosthetic breasts. She might have let negative thoughts take over, but she didn’t. She jumped in with both feet and said “yes” to being gorgeous just as she is today. Scars and all. She saw no fear, only opportunity in having her portrait taken.
“It would be one more step in reminding me that the cancer can make some changes to my body, but it can't break my spirit! Bring it on! I want to remind women that they can be beautiful at any age and no matter what challenges life throws them.”
Yes, yes, yes. THIS.
We are all beautiful. At THIS age, at THIS weight, with THESE scars. What you look like right now is part of your story. And that is beautiful.
Back in 2016, faced with cancer, Teresa did what most people would.
“Myself and my family were professionally photographed one month prior to my treatments. I wanted the photos to remind me that I can find my self again (I have looked at my picture throughout this process and keep saying, she will come back, only stronger).”
I love that she did not wait for her breasts to be reconstructed or her hair to reach its full length before stepping in front of the camera again. She simply waited until she was stronger. Now, she wants to share her story and show her strength to help inspire other women who are fighting their own battles. And, not just battles with cancer.
“I have also walked through a very difficult time in my marriage that had played a part on my self-esteem as a woman. It came to my attention that my husband had been unfaithful many times. I could have walked away and began anew but somehow we decided to dive into this. We had intensive counselling (one and half years weekly meetings as well as personal couselling). We have both grown and have managed to work through this. The breast cancer brought a whole new level to my self-esteem and once again I dug deep to realize I am beautiful! There is only one person in this world who can remind me to take care of me and that is me! It may not always be easy, but it is attainable, one step at a time!!!
With patience, detemination and love, even the most broken things can be salvaged.
Teresa told me about an exercise that she took part in that had great meaning to her. She bought a small ceramic bowl and shattered it to pieces. After painstakingly gluing each piece to make it whole again, she painted all of the cracks with gold paint.
“The Japanese say that broken objects are often repainted with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty! Hmmmm, maybe we should paint my scars gold.”
“I hope one woman will read this and impact her life for the better. So many woman have been through relationships and situations that make them feel less than and I still remember the day I had my photos taken by you and you truly made me feel comfortable in my own skin and when I saw the final product that is when I looked at myself for the first time in a long time and saw a beautiful woman! These photos were empowering to me as I fought a battle that strips a woman raw and it challenges you to the core to get up every day and remind yourself you are enough! I still don’t believe it was by chance I saw your post, I believe it was a gift and one I will treasure! Thank you for helping me see the beautiful person I am, I can confidently say that I am enough!! I would also like to add that [my husband] loves them too and said it was a hard to choose thank you Laurie!! Keep on doing what you do!”
''This experience has been amazing''
Ever wondered about a glamour session but not sure if it's for you?