It’s been said that women are the most untapped resource of talent in the world. I believe this whole-heartedly. I’ve stood by women who have gone through incredibly challenging times and watched them rise from their ashes to become even stronger. This strength is what inspires me and other women to have courage, to step out in faith instead of fear, and to love so deeply it changes the world.
International Women’s Day started in the early 1900’s in Europe to raise awareness for women’s rights and to protest against sex discrimination. It’s been celebrated in more than 100 countries since then but it wasn’t until March 8, 2011 that the United States recognized it. In 2011 President Barack Obama called Americans to mark IWD on their calendars as a way of reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history.
What an incredible day that happens to fall on my birthday… coincidence? I think not! I’ve always been a feisty one who stands up for what she believes in… it’s an honor to have been born on a day that celebrates ALL women!
I’m celebrating IWD this year the best way I know how; sharing the stories of strength from a few women I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. The idea came to my a couple weeks ago… I wanted to get a group of women together from all ages, all walks of life and take a huge portrait. I called my beautiful friend Meghan of Rise Photo Co and then we called Katherine Elaine another talented photographer and friend, texted a bunch of inspiring women, gathered them together at Witty Studios , dressed them in the beautiful designs by Rylee and Cru and then took the most epic photos of their strength and beauty. It was beautiful to witness and an honor to be a part of. In this group we have my own mother- a women’s rights trailblazer in the 70’s, women who have lost babies, struggled with infertility and self-worth, eating disorders, childhood cancer, mental illness, divorce and more incredible feats of strength. I asked a few of them to share a story from their life of when they learned they were strong. I hope you feel encouraged by their stories of strength.
For all the women in the world who’s voices are silenced by oppression, we stand and share our stories for you.
Bianca + Perry
I had to grow up fast. My father died suddenly when I was 11 years old. My mother had to work to support me and my older sister. By my senior year in high school I had my own apartment and I needed a job. A friend of mine had a job that I really wanted – bagging groceries at the local Dale’s supermarket; it had benefits, paid well, and worked well with my school schedule. The only problem was that it was a job offered only to boys…. literally the position was called “box boy”. “Box boy”? What about “box girl”? I knew I could work circles around those boys, push more carts, bag faster and be more polite to the customers than any of them. But the store manager told me he was sorry but “the box boy job is for boy’s only”. But “sorry” wasn’t the right answer. So I showed up at that store every day for a month. My strategy was that the manager would have to hire me just to get rid of me. I’d sit in the store for an hour or two to show him how serious I was. I guess I don’t need to tell you but I got the job and with that I, in 1971, became the first “box girl” in LA county and thus changing the position from “box boy” to “box person”. My convictions gave me the courage to challenge the glass ceiling for grocery store baggers and gave me the opportunity to not only serve store shoppers but to play what turned out to be an important role in creating change. I felt strong and empowered. I stood up for myself and my convictions and I really did prove that girls are just as strong as boys.
A time in my life when I felt the strongest was when the road map (you know the one where it says after high school you go to college and then after college you get married blah blah) when that road map ended and I had to forge my own path. After college, I had no job lined up. But I did have this dream of living in Jackson Hole, WY simply because it was absolutely breathtaking. So I bought a one way ticket, packed my bags and went. I landed in the airport and it suddenly dawned on me what I did and I then I was completely terrified. But the terror gave way to courage as I realized where I was and that I had done it!! Pioneering is in my blood. My mom came here from Korea and didn’t speak any English, and also didn’t know a soul. But she came with hopes and dreams that have over time been fulfilled.I didn’t know my own strength until I took a step into the unknown. Another time in my life that I felt the strongest was when I chopped off all of my hair. I mean like get-the-clippers-out pixie cut my hair off…. it was symbolic. I had spent so much of my life in hiding, in survival mode, from verbal abuse, molestation, a dysfunctional family. I was done hiding. So I chopped it and I felt freedom! It gave me strength and that gave way to new hope.
Ember: I feel strong when I lift rocks and when I’m brave.
My first true experience with death was losing my baby boy, Noah Samuel, while almost 15 weeks pregnant. Having 2 boys already, it took a little while to get my husband on board to try for a third baby. When I was pregnant with my 2nd son, I heard God tell me loud and clear “you’ll get your girl, just wait.” Having a daughter was something I held near and dear to my heart, and I trusted God would answer His promise to me, one day. When I got pregnant with Noah, we didn’t know yet if he was a boy and at his gender ultrasound we found his little heart no longer beating. He was born a few days later, perfectly formed yet so tiny… this began a year long journey to heal my heart.
While I had so much peace in knowing God needed Noah more than me; he truly brought so much restoration for our family. My heart still ached for my baby boy and I couldn’t quite understand the whys. In life we may never understand the whys. But I spent many months trying to understand, reading books and growing closer to God than I had ever been before. It’s the dark times that beg us to cling to God rather than run from Him, it’s in those times we see His loving character. I walked around like a ghost the year after I lost Noah. I wanted to be present but I just couldn’t be. I had a breakthrough moment with God and I felt alive again. I experienced my first fresh breath since my loss and my heart was restored. It didn’t feel broken apart anymore but broken open to withstand pressure….It was amazing.
Three months later, we celebrated Noah’s birthday and it was so special to be able to honor him and his place in our family. Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant and I heard God whisper, “it’s her, she’s coming.” I knew He meant my Gemma was coming, the daughter I always knew I would have. And here I am weeks, if not days, away from meeting her and I can’t help but shout thanks of praise to my God for giving me the strength to endure the agonizing parts of life as they make the sweet parts so much more meaningful and special. I’ll always be thankful for my Noah, who has changed me for the better and made me the mother I am today.
I was 20 weeks and 4 days pregnant with my 3rd baby boy. I had just had my 20 week appointment and saw our perfect, healthy baby boy on ultrasound. Then, just a few days later on March 5, 2016 I experienced PPROM, preterm premature rupture of membranes. In other words my water broke way too early, before my baby was even “viable.” I was given the option that day to induce and “terminate,” which was the only was to ensure that I did not develop an infection. That was not an option I was willing to choose. I knew I had to dig down deep for every bit of strength, hold tight to my faith, and fight for my baby. I was determined to stay pregnant until he was “viable” and well beyond that to give him the very best fighting chance at life. I knew together my son and I were going to be strong and fight. That’s exactly what we did.
For the next 8 weeks I was on bedrest in the hospital and my baby continued to stay in my womb even without any amniotic fluid. During the 8 weeks we were told by many, many doctors that no matter how long we stayed pregnant and how big he continued to grow we wouldn’t know how his lungs were developing and if he would ever take a breath after delivery. Still I knew I had to be strong and keep fighting.
At 28 weeks and 2 days our miracle baby boy, Gideon Andrew, was born via emergency csection and he did take a breath! He needed a lot of support from the amazing NICU team for the first 2 months of his life, but he came out fighting and he’s never stopped. Even at 10 months when he caught Influenza A and pneumonia at the same time he didn’t stop fighting. His little preemie lungs had trouble fighting the infections, which sent him into cardiac arrest without a heartbeat for 15 minutes, but still he never stopped fighting and neither did I. Again, we had doctors tell us that he probably wouldn’t survive or ever live a normal life after this, but we stayed strong. He made a miraculous, full recovery. Gideon is without a doubt the strongest little human I know and he’s shown me just how strong I am. It’s so true that you never know how strong you are until it’s the only option you have. Thanks to my journey with Gideon, I will never doubt my strength, the power of leaning into my faith, and what can happen when you trust both.
Being raised by a single Mom, who suffered from bipolar, I learned early to shove my needs to the shadows. I learned to be strong because … she wasn’t. Then one day, (by design I’m sure), my strength failed me and I was completely broken. All my coping mechanisms failed me and I was very much like the ‘gutter people’ who scrap for survival, but my clothes were nicer. My story was middle class. Yet my heart was shattered just like theirs and my past left me with no reserve. It was good that I came to the end of my rope. Then I went to Africa. I heard the stories of women who surprisingly wanted to hear my story too. My spirit was lifted and my heart recovered. It was other women who rescued me. Their amazing resilient family-focused hearts were just like mine and they didn’t need to be comfortable or prestigious to own their power. They just had it. Deep down. So I found mine in the sacred circle of feminine souls who were brave to show their pain and release their burdens. Together we found comfort and affirmation. The things that came to us in life, the unexpected strikes that hit our shores like a house burned down, a child killed in war, a failed marriage… these seemed for a moment to take us down. Yet, If we were fortunate enough to hang in there to rediscover a hidden fortitude which moved us forward from the ashes with grace, beauty, and a lifted head, we found our power again. God gave it to us. Our own daughters will watch the stuff of fairy tales – we won’t hide it from them. They will make their own stories. With curled hair and eyelashes and colorful attire and conversation. We are women and we do what we do in style. Our insides are glorious. Together we discover what we offer the world. LIFE. LOVE. BEAUTY. STRENGTH.
As a girl, I never understood any part of me to be strong. I grew up shy, intimidated, fearful and unsure of myself in just about every situation. I was the one in the back of the room afraid to raise my hand and speak up. You know, the girl who doesn’t know where she wants to grab a bite to eat and takes 1000 years to pick out an outfit. Because, hello..insecurity!! It wasn’t until facing some of life’s greatest challenges that I was able to even find the strength inside of me. The strength to endure and face the fear of childbirth, the strength to face postpartum anxiety, the strength to admit I need to get help with my kids, the strength to live out my life’s purpose, face rejection from friends, let go of people pleasing, pursue my dreams, build a business, find a therapist, run a company, lead women to health and freedom, mentor entrepreneurs. The list goes on. I think strength goes unrecognized until it’s called out of you. It’s called out in the moments where we are tempted to put on a face, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and hold it together. And instead we recognize it’s an opportunity to be real and vulnerable and admit that we need help. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend, crying on her shoulder about how I thought I was further along in my journey to strength. “Why am I crying ONCE again?” I sobbed to her. She kindly reminded me that voicing how you feel shows great strength. Now I can see even as I continue to walk out this journey of life, fight this battle with Lyme disease and raise my babies while raising up a business, that strength isn’t about being strong and pushing through. Strength is about being real and vulnerable. It’s about being seen and truly known in the places where we feel the most weak that makes us strong. Finding that place is deeply freeing.
When I think about how I am strong, I am tempted to write out a list of physical accomplishments varying from athletic awards to birthing my babies naturally…the stereotypical woman-power stuff. Yet the type of strength I am most proud of myself for is finding my inner strength to show my weaknesses. I went a lot of my life believing the lie that to be strong was to not show emotion in order to exude strength for the ones that I loved. It led me to a place of isolation, anxiety, and the temptation to control how my life was going to turn out. It created a crippling fear of letting people down. When I realized that true strength lies in surrender, health started to flow in. I want this for you too! You are worth being known, fully known. You are strong enough to be truly seen. If I can do it – you can too. This freedom has led to the unfolding of me helping so many other women find true wholeness. It’s the strongest and bravest thing I have ever witnessed, over and over again in women. When we are weak, we truly become strong.
The thing I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is true strength comes from rising through pain. My world came crashing down when my son was diagnosed with autism 10 years ago. I felt unequipped and so uncertain of our future. The way I was able to rise above the crushing pain was through a faith outside of myself. A faith in a God that was the definition of love and was strong on my behalf. A God that gave me purpose through pain to make me stronger. I rise through my pain to strength because of his unfailing love for me. I pray I can point my children to that same strength.
There was a time in my life when all I thought about was food and exercise. I’d obsess over what I’d eaten earlier, what I was going to eat, what I would eat if I wasn’t trying so hard to be so thin (and therefore feel in control of something in my life). My daily workout was a non-negotiable—not because it felt good or because I was taking care of my health for the sake of self-care, but because I was terrified to think about what might happen if I didn’t spend 2 hours at the gym. I was eventually diagnosed with anorexia when I was 19 years old, and looking back I can see how my obsessions were really just a way to cope with parts of my life that I didn’t know how to deal with and process. I’m thankful that I can now look back on that chapter of my life from a place of health—mentally, emotionally, physically. The reality is, not everyone recovers from their eating disorder, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any illness. I’m truly grateful that I was able to come out on the other side of it, and that God ultimately used it to make me stronger. Because of that experience, I’ve committed to using my voice and influence to champion body positivity, speak out against the damage dieting and eating disorders can have on both physical and mental health, help women see more beauty in themselves and in their bodies, and remind us all that what we look like is the least important thing about us.
I come from a long line of strong, independent women. My grandma turns 100 this year and is as spry as ever. She got a masters degree from Columbia and had her pilot’s license during a time when women weren’t exactly encouraged to have an education or career. My mom put herself through graduate school while my sister and I were small children. She worked tirelessly to grow her therapy practice while raising children with no family nearby to ease the burden of childcare or to offer her a moment of self-care. I grew up surrounded by women who broke glass ceilings and have always known that I wanted to be just like them: strong, kind, supportive… and to do all of that with a good sense of humor. My goal is to raise my daughter with a strong sense of self who won’t let anyone tell her she can’t do something because of her gender.
I have often found strength in my life in the places where I have been tested or pushed to the edge of fear. One such experience was putting myself out there in the form of fundraising for a record. It was terrifying baring such vulnerable places of my heart and inviting people to come into my narrative, for better or worse. Success or failure. I stepped out on the edge of my self – all my comforts and safeties removed, and it was there that I found incredible resilience. It wasn’t so much a “raising of funds” but more a “baring my soul” that really defines my risk. And I found I could weather the sabatouervoices, change the narrative and do things I didn’t before think possible.
My Little Brother Did Not Want To Die.
These days, I feel like I have one foot in my old world, and another foot kicking at the fact that I have to be in this new world of grief. Just like that, I lost my brother, the witness to my life, but simultaneously I gained a village of compassionate humans. From his village of friends, who also crave a piece of him, to my community of friends who understand both grief and addiction because they, too, have experienced the loss of someone near and dear to them. We have this one life, and I’m grateful for the endless efforts of family, friends and even complete strangers who are helping me plant seeds of healing. Humanity has a funny way of surprising us when we need it most.
My little brother did not want to die. In fact, he’s probably in the same state of shock that so many of us are still experiencing. I’ve chosen to tell this tragic story with hopes that others will better understand the implications of drugs. If you know someone who is dabbling, doing them recreationally, or enjoying their post-op pain meds a little too much…. STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND HELP THEM. Do what you can to educate them. Tell them Scott’s story. I give you permission. It’s my duty, and I am just scratching the surface. I would give anything to hear him say “Sissy” just one more time. Don’t wait! Act now! Together, I know we can help save a life.
Thank you for reading these beautiful stories. I hope you feel encouraged to fully love who you are and never put a limit on what you can do. You are stronger than you think and capable of it all. Happy International Women’s Day!
Photography by Katherine Elaine .
Production by Meghan Branlund.
Clothing by Rylee and Cru.
The white dress I’m wearing is by Suunday.