group 6! women: raw. honest. loved.

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Listening without preconceived opinions.
That is what these nights are about.
This is not an easy task. In life, you enter a room, you assess who is there, you form your own judgments about them. It seems to be a natural place for our brain to go.
The difference about these nights is that you know you are about to learn some of the inner workings of these people…you’re going to get very real, very fast.
The idea is to forgo those assumptions, as you are certain to find out that either you are so far off, or there is a lot that has gone into making this person the way that they are, with this particular negative feeling that resounds in their being.

These groups cause us to open our minds a little bit more each time, learning what makes us each unique and also what makes us each so similar.

This has proven interesting enough in the past groups, but this one was unique in its own way, in that I had asked a beautiful transgender female friend to be a part.
There is a definite beauty, strength, and resilience to everything about Kristen. She was able to really make the struggle that so many transgender people experience personal and real to those of us who may not have been familiar with this. I trust that you will be as enlightened as we were by her words and the words of her family and friends who see her as such a role model and brave woman.

Another super interesting part of this project (that was really driven home in this particular group…so much so that I strongly felt the need to write about it) was the fact that it definitely seems to attract women who have experienced a certain lack of maternal love in their lives.

A daughter’s need for a mother’s love is one that is of prime importance.

That need isn’t lessened at all when the love isn’t there. The only thing that happens is the need is then combined with the horrible understanding that this one person who should love you unconditionally…
doesn’t.

This next part is going to be interesting/difficult/emotional for me to put down in writing for strangers, but it is time. So, here goes…

As this project has continued, and as I meet at least one or two of these maternally neglected women in every group, I really understand how much of a driving force that very issue has been in my own creation of the project. Growing up with a mother who “doesn’t know how to love” (as she once told me), but was quite adept at the criticism, the indifference, the humiliation, the abuse…caused me to live life always feeling unsure and doubtful.

Doubtful that I was deserving of love.
Doubtful that I actually should be experiencing any happiness from some amount of success…doubtful that that success can actually even be attributed to my own actions.
Doubtful that any happiness I may be experiencing is a happiness that will last.
Doubtful that I deserve it if it does.

I had internalized all of those negative messages as a child; as a daughter like any other daughter, who desperately needed that acknowledgement, that approval, that love from her MOM; I internalized all of that negative self-worth and have continued to carry it like a gigantic anchor pulling me underwater over and over again.

This negative self-worth and lack of confidence hasn’t always been visible to others. Sometimes I seem to compensate somehow in the respects of having a very outgoing, happy demeanor/personality. But, it is there. It is always there.

I must admit to myself now that I really used to feel that somehow there would be some magic age when I wouldn’t feel this way anymore, or there would be some magical day that my mother would suddenly discover that she could and should love her children (and grandchildren).
That doesn’t happen. At least, it doesn’t happen for everyone. It hasn’t happened for me, and I have come to terms with the fact that it won’t happen.

If you are one of these daughters that can relate, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you can’t, you are probably reading this with that frown that says, “You must be confused. MOTHERS LOVE. That’s just what they do. Your mother loves you. You need to repair this relationship.” As if it is in my power to do so. As if I would just continue the rest of my life without having a mom if I had another choice. I would love to have a mother.

It is a definite faux pas in our culture to say, as a woman, that you don’t have a relationship with your mother…that your mother is toxic. The natural, cultural reaction is to believe that a mother’s love is automatic and instinctual. It’s not something that I used to converse about regularly and is not typically something that I put out there for strangers to read.

Even writing this, besides that hesitation of publicly voicing such things, I have experienced definite feelings of uncertainty and fear…fear of making her upset if she was to read this.
Truth: she won’t read this. She has no idea I even do this project. I’d be surprised to know if she’s ever looked at one piece of my work as a photographer. And yet, my natural inclination is to care about her feelings…to fear her disapproval…to not wish to cause her any amount of pain, regardless of the pain I have always felt. It’s crazy. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

That is why I am writing this.

Period.

I have met a significant number of women who feel this very same way. And it’s time for some solidarity. It’s time to relate to one another and find strength in numbers…to know we’re not alone.

This seems to happen in every group. There are always a few women who bring up these feelings at some point. I’m never looking for it, but it finds me every time. That’s what happened with this group, group six (I’m not saying that all of the ladies felt this way about their mothers, but, when you have more than three in a small group of women, it’s enough to talk about). And I think it sort of blindsided all of us. And it resulted in some very emotional, very intimate conversation. Some very necessary conversation that felt, while sad, also very comforting. Somewhat healing.

So, I ask that while reading these ladies’ stories, you keep these topics in mind. Check your judgment at the start. Possibly leave your comfort zone. And open your heart.

And now, please meet the six lovely ladies.

angelins Angel~ “I led myself to believe this project would be so easy to do. I thought I knew what insecurities I had and could easily “pen” them. I’ve learned that it’s not knowing what I don’t like about myself; the hangup was putting them down on paper and seeing them in black and white, staring me in the face. Then I asked myself if I truly wanted to do this. That’s when it hit me…….insecurity!!!! I was insecure about sharing that part of me with other people and myself, afraid they would attach their thoughts to mine and feel the same. As my daughter and my cheerleaders have said……”New Year – New You”. I truly believe that. I’m always trying to be a better person, Mom, girlfriend, daughter, coach, sister, friend, etc. I’m so happy this project was pushed to the New Year. It has more meaning behind it for myself. In honor of my girls and myself, here are my insecurities:

Since childhood, I have been told I am fat, big-boned, husky, thick, etc. I have fought my whole life with those messages playing in my head. It’s a battle everyday to accept who I am and “love” me. It’s hard for me to try on clothes and not play the past in my head when looking at my “tire”. My second chin was the highlight of teasing all growing up. It still bothers me today. It’s the first to go away when I’ve lost weight and the first to come back when I’ve gained it back. Why couldn’t it have been my breasts or butt to do that? Not my face! Argh.

This leads me to my freckles. It has taken over 30 years for me to accept my freckles, that I’m stuck with them. There are days I love them, but I wish I didn’t have them. I love them when they cover up an acne problem or when they blend in to make me look tanned. Dating was always a challenge with men loving the brunettes and blondes more than the gingers with freckles. I’ve tried creams and lemon juice to erase them, like Mr. Clean’s scrubbing pad does to boo-boos in my house. I have finally found a man who loves them. Now, I need to love them.

I’ve been told I’m too serious and that I need to relax. I laugh and joke around all the time. I know sometimes I can be serious, but, is that how people really see me? Do they only see that side? Is that what I only let some see? I don’t want people to think I don’t like to have fun, because…..I DO!

These are the main insecurities that are constantly on my mind. My prayer is that Alana’s project helps change the way I look at myself. Like I said earlier, I’m always looking at ways to improve myself and be a better me.”

Angel’s friends and family:

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“Angel is a beautiful woman. She always brightens my day. Even when her day has been horrible, she smiles, praises the Lord, and makes you laugh. I never have to wonder how she feels about me or if I might offend her. She is straightforward and honest. What you see is what you get with Angel. I love that about her. I pray that she will be in my life as long as possible.” – Ryan

“Angel is beyond funny. She has such a passion for life and cares so deeply for everyone she meets. Her hugs are the BEST! She is a great mother and friend. I value the time we spend together. I pray she knows just how wonderful she is. Love, Mandi”

“Angel is a remarkably resilient person. She perseveres through every setback with strength and optimism.  As a mother, her protection and empowerment of her daughter sets forth an unquestionable example of true love.” – Hassan

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Ryan ~ “Unsure.
I am unsure what my major insecurity could be.
I am unsure that I am able to write this well.
I am unsure when faced with a task in a group. I know what I am to do. I have done it a million times. Yet, I find myself unsure, deferring to their expertise.
I am unsure how people will take my humor. I am unsure that I will be able to hold a conversation with someone I barely know at a party.
I am comfortable with who I am. I like me. I like me around my best friends. But, put me out there with the general public…coworkers, acquaintances, etc…and I am unsure that I will be me.
Ryan, Unsure I wrote this well.”

Ryan’s friends and family:

“My girl Ryan is a determined beauty. Her brilliant mind is moving at 150mph, and she is usually ahead of everyone. Creativity waits patiently for her time, and it has to wait a little longer behind Ryan’s passionate love for her children and husband. She is full of wonderful gifts to offer the world. And, most of all, she is loved by her Heavenly Father who made her to be His very own. He celebrates the wonderful woman she becomes even more than all of us who love her so deeply.” – Rebecca

“Ryan is an amazing woman! She is a go-getter and straightforward. I find her love of Christ and family unwavering and something I look up to. She finds a great balance in life, which is so very hard to do. She brings laughter to all situations and is super crafty. I treasure our friendship!” – Mandi

“So, Ryan. She’s one of the most welcoming people I know. She is just a genuinely sweet lady, always down to help out in any way she can. I have always felt totally comfortable around her. She’s funny, crafty, a great mom of three (also known as SuperWoman), and smart. She has a very reliable vibe about her, which sounds weird but that’s how I feel. She just seems very in reality. So glad she was one of my first friends in Washington.” – Mallery

“Ryan is…
A witty and extraordinary woman. She is extremely smart and ingenious. She thinks in a way that I admire; so creative. She is real. Not a phony bologna. Because she faces reality, it causes her to make good decisions for herself and her family. She appears balanced. I just love her hair…and her eyes…and her skin. I remember when I first met her, I just thought she had such a pretty face. She is ready for adventure and that is why I think I like her so much. My only wish is that I loved closer to her so that our kids could be best friends and I could hang out with her more. She is perfect for my brother. She is extraordinary.” – Sarah

“What can I say about Ryan that hasn’t already been said?
Ryan is an all around beautiful person! She knows what she wants and is not afraid to tell you. She is very creative and can help you think outside the box when working on a project. You might look at it and say, “It should be done this way.” Ryan takes a look at it, takes out a couple unnecessary steps, and makes it more simplistic than before. She’s a genius. Ryan has a smile that will light up a room with a laugh that is infectious. You can’t help but join in, even if you don’t know what’s going on. I treasure our friendship.” – Angel

“Ooooh, boy’s name. I love Ryan. She was the first to welcome me into The Significant Others of The Hooligans and/or Johnny Appleseed and the Red Delicious. She has never been anything but kind. She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. She is determined. She will work to get what she wants. If I haven’t talked to her in months but call her up and am all “I need adults!,” she’s all, ” You know how to make phone calls? Also, I’m already on my way with a bottle of homemade wine.” and is there in like half an hour. Big-bottom girls make the world go round. She is a wonderful mother; you can tell her kids adore her. She is faithful; to God, her husband, her family, her friends, even her acquaintances. You may not think you’re hot, or a good mom, good wife, or good person, but Ryan thinks you’re all of that and more and she’ll let you know. One of the best things about her is she doesn’t judge. She is a friend to all. She treats my family and other friends like they’re her own. She is crafty like MacGyver. She’ll make you a fabulous dress out of dental floss, Cheez-Its and a couch cushion. She is fantastic, sweet, loving, caring and just amazing. I love you Ryan!” – Becca

kristeninsKristen ~ “My name wasn’t always Kristen. I wasn’t always seen as a woman, although I have been in my soul since I was born. I finally stopped being one of the many faces I wore for most of my life; took off the mask, and six months ago started hormone replacement to become her. I have never felt more like the person I want to be, and as someone whose life was a ride that could be seen on the Richter scale, finally a calm has taken over.
Thinking about this subject is more of a look at the past versus the present and future. Before my transition started, I can honestly say my life was stifled by these insecurities: fears of loneliness, being unemployable, broke, homeless, friendless, shunned, and wondering if I had the fortitude to go through with it, knowing that it was coming either way. Most of these I have surpassed, yet some still remain. Now my main fears go to how I interact as a female – will I ever be seen as a true female, or just as a joke or weirdo? Will I ever pass fully amongst strangers? As someone who can confidently walk into any room and be myself, sometimes that’s the easy part. Seeing heads come together for whispers behind my back and people stuttering over pronouns when confused, I fear that this will never end, so I have to live up to even higher standards to show that I am real.
My fear is not that I won’t continue along this path, but that I will be alone in doing so. Will I ever be a normal girl? I am not a drag queen, streetwalker, insane, unbalanced person…am I seen as one? My decision has been accepted by my family and friends; they have all shown great support and none have walked away. Taking the next step in accepting myself and what is now the reality, is the challenge I face.”

Kristen’s friends and family:

“Kristen is really an inspiration to all transgender people. Men and women! How brave to finally become the butterfly you always knew you were after spending half your life in a conflicting cocoon! She is a kind person and always has a great compliment to share. She is funny and knows how to shine a light of laughter when her friends need it. Most of all, the beauty of Kristen is modestly unknown to her. Although obviously, and sweetly, insecure at times…all whom she befriends believe her to be an example of what a loyal, eager, and strong friend can be.” – Bridgette

“Kristen is a very amazing and diverse person. She is real and deep; completely nonjudgmental of everyone and completely accepting of nothing but love and positivity.
She’s going through a major transition and is learning how to accept a whole new person…it appears as if it’s like watching a 15yr. old discover everything for the first time…she is loved and supported through this major process.” – Alegra

“What to say about Kristen…well, I can’t talk about Kristen without talking about Chris, because I’ve known Chris longer than I have known Kristen; they really are one in the same for me and I love them both!!! So, with that said, let me tell you about Chris. I met Chris through my son Brian, because they were friends and bandmates. Chris has always been a big part of Brian’s life and always had a hug and smile for me!!! He and Brian shared so many fun times and some of the best were the podcasts; omg really…. it would put me on the floor laughing!!! “Ron Paul is Rock and Roll!!!” I also have a photo of Chris with Brian just a couple of hours before he died. They were so happy after playing that night! Chris never left my side the day of the memorial; he put black stripes on my face and gave me Brian’s caveman pelt to wear…long story.
Now, on to Kristen…I remember seeing changes happening and I sent Chris a text and that’s when Kristen and I talked for the first time…it was a beautiful, open and honest conversation. I support and love Kristen, and I’m proud of her that she is able to stand up and be whom she really is deep down in her soul!!! She has the same heart and spirit as when we first met and I just want to say: Kristen, I love you, I’m proud of you, and I know Brian is looking down and saying, “Oh yah, this shit is good!!!”” – Rosie

“Kristen and I have been friends for a long time. We have seen each other through many transitions and states in each other’s lives. She was so very brave to come out; she was so afraid that she would lose everything when and if she did. She lost a lot. I am so proud of her. Chris was tenacious. Kristen is tenacious tenfold.” – Kate

“Kristen has been a friend of mine for about fourteen years now. I miss her very much and am anxious to meet the real Kristen. I have always loved and admired her for her talent as a musician and tattoo artist. I miss our drunken play/real fights in the front yard. She has been there for me when I needed many times and I hope I have for her as well. She is a witty, smart, thoughtful, fun, wonderful human and I love her and am extremely happy for her to be comfortable in her own skin:) Love you, Kristen!” – Jo Lee

“I’ve loved Kristen every day of my life. Her charisma is like a heart magnet; everyone loves her and enjoys being with her. Kristen has the most contagious laugh in the whole wide world! And her quick wit puts people at ease and lightens even the heaviest of times. Her heart is more deeply sensitive than she likes to let on, which makes me so grateful she’s giving herself more permission and safe space to feel & heal the powerful emotions in her big beautiful heart. And her creativity knows no bounds! From music to tattoos to cooking, she’s always found a way to earn a living marching to her own beat. I’ll always love her creative free spirit.
Thanks for doing this, Alana. I hope you ladies have a lovely, meaningful & memorable night!
Warmly,
Jeni
(Kristen’s sister)”

“Hi Alana,
I’m Kristen’s girlfriend.
They say the best things come to you when you aren’t looking, and I wasn’t. I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time last November, and when our eyes locked, I knew I was meant to share my life with her – luckily, she felt the same!!! It may sound crazy but it’s true. After that, our motto was, “One week can change your life”. I can’t imagine not having this amazing person in my life, and I know I will be a better person for having known her – I already am.
Kristen is the kind of woman I aspire to be. She is smart, extremely focused, and driven… and so, so talented in so many ways (an incredible artist, chef, musician). Her drive is contagious, and if you don’t have it, she will instill that in you – that you have the potential to become what you never thought you could be, or could achieve. I feel like she’s made me a stronger person, with more drive and passion than I have ever felt, and I’ve only known her for a few months.
While I’ve been a female for 44 years, she has only been outwardly for less than a year. You would never know it. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have to live in a body that you know was not meant for you. She seems far more comfortable in her own skin than I have ever been. She is the most confident, beautiful, sexiest woman I’ve ever met…not to mention funny, encouraging and compassionate. One of my favorite things about her is the way she smiles when she thinks no one is looking, and the way she slowly bends over to pick something up when she KNOWS someone is watching! Discovering your body and femininity at her age must be so exciting! You’d think that I would remember that she used to be a boy, but it’s something I rarely even think about, and when I do, it’s like “oh, yeah…whatever.” She is so confident in her sexuality – and who could blame her with those beautiful eyes, petite frame, perfect curves and soft skin. I often ask her advice on girly things, and she doesn’t hesitate (even when it’s unsolicited) to tell me tips on applying make-up, how to get the most volume out of my hair, which shirt looks better, what earrings I should wear… etc.; and she’s always right, I think :)! I never had a sister or anyone to teach me those things (I’ve always been a bit a of a tomboy), but she definitely knows what she’s talking about!
Kristen has been through so many things in life, and lived through tragedies that would crumble a person – more than I would wish on my worst enemy. But, she is strong and resilient, and doesn’t dwell on the past and drown herself in negativity, which would be the easy way out. Just another testament to her inner-strength. Knowing what she’s endured and is going through in her transformation from male to female, makes her the strongest, most courageous person I’ve ever met. She says that transitioning was not the hardest or most courageous part – but having to live a lie everyday as a boy was. Still, I can’t imagine the emotional toll it must have taken, and I am so proud of the woman she has become because of it. Knowing what she’s been through, and continues to go through, makes my everyday problems seem so petty, and I’m grateful to her for giving me this new perspective on life. I can’t wait to see her continue to blossom and grow, and to be an active member in the transgender community. I know she is going to end up helping out a lot of women through their transition, and I can’t think of a greater role model.
In closing, I f#cking love this woman, and anyone who takes the time to get to know her will quickly recognize her strength and beauty as I do, both inside and out.” – Tammi

karlainsKarla ~ “I feel that most people misjudge me. I’m not hard, rude, or even mean, but those seem to be the words I hear most about me. Don’t get me wrong – I have a pretty tough exterior and love to poke shit, and try to do that with those that ‘get’ me and my humor. I’m sarcastic and witty with a crass sense of humor. I do have a hard time with people that refuse to use their brain and want myself or others to think for them.
I guess I’m honest to a fault, wear my emotions on my sleeve, and hate unfinished business, liars and cheats.
So, what that is interpreted as in most people’s views – that I’m a Fucking Bitch. Or just mean.
I may be one or the other on occasion, but very rarely together at the same time. As ‘mean,’ and ‘terrifying’ (did I mention that one?) as I am, it really takes a lot to make me mad. Anger is a waste of time, life is too short to be pissed about stupid shit.”

Karla’s friends and family:

“There really is no easy way to sum up Karla. She is loyal, fierce, kind, and generous. She is honest and sensitive, compassionate, and loving. Upon meeting her, you think she is absolutely radiant and then, if you are lucky enough to become her friend, the word “radiant” isn’t enough to describe her.
Karla is one of the most amazing mothers, not to mention women, that I have met. Every obstacle that life tries to throw in her path is met with determination, intelligence, and courage. She’s inspiring.
Karla is a great friend. Hell, great doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m so glad I became one of the lucky ones.” – Tina

“Brave.
Strong.
Honest.
Those are the first 3 words that come to me when I think of my sister.
Karla, you are one of the most amazing women I know. No matter what life has dumped on you, you have always learned from it and become a better, more determined person. You are an inspiring mother who has raised two of the greatest people I know. Over this past year, you have helped my daughter learn that it is okay to just be an individual and not to make excuses for who she is. You are beautiful, passionate, loyal and caring. I’ve always seen you as brave, strong and honest and I now know you also have a soft, squishy side too. I’m so glad you are my sister and that our family is finally coming together. I love you.” – Karissa

“When Karla told me about this project and asked me to write this for her, I was shocked for two reasons. First, she seems like the coolest person ever, with beautiful children and a great husband. She admitted that she had insecurities and was nervous about this project. What?? Karla?? She is so strong, sassy, and confident. She has such great style in the way she dresses, does her makeup and hair, and by the tattoos she has chosen. I really didn’t think she cared what anyone thought of her.
Secondly, I couldn’t believe that she was asking me to write about her. I mean, I feel like I’m so lucky every time she wants to chat with me a little. That she considers me a friend and trusts me to do this blows my mind. Really, she is the coolest. It’s like the coolest kid at school asked me to be their buddy for the field trip. I think everyone feels special if she wants to kick it with them. Gah, I would never say “kick it”, but, I just wrote it because I want her to think I’m cool enough for her… but now I’m thinking that it is a very uncool thing to say and she’ll know that. That’s how cool she is!
More seriously, Karla is such a good mom; you can see how much she loves her kids and what lengths she goes to for their health and well-being. I also admire that, although her love and trust has been abused in the past, she opens her heart to love and trust again. That takes strength. And Karla has plenty of that!” – Heather

“Karla has many, many positive and charming qualities! Karla and I have been friends for well over15 years, and I think of her as a sister more than a friend. She is probably one of the most honest and loyal people I know. Her witty sense of humor and straightforward personality are priceless! But Karla’s best and most important quality is the love she has for her children. There is no better quality than love, and Karla is full of it!!” – Jennifer

“Karla has always been strong-willed and sometimes hard to deal with as her mother. In spite of that, or maybe because of that, she has been a fantastic mother. To me she is a strong intelligent woman and I am proud to be her mother. Have always loved her and always will.” – Alithe

“Karla has an inner strength that can not be pinpointed. She did not have a family structure that was common; her Mother was one of the least “conventional” people I have ever met. Her father from another country and not accessible. But still this inner strength. Not from what we usually get to build from, but from within.
She accepts the unusual, doesn’t judge by the usual list, but interprets relationships in her own way. She can talk to anyone, get into any private party or group she wishes and then encourages everyone to over come their own boundaries. My life is richer and forever changed indirectly with her friendship. I found myself within a place I would not have found myself in without her. A conduit for me…. and I wish I could have had more time to learn more about the real Karla…I wonder who really does know the real Karla.” – Brandy

“My Darling Sweetheart
Karla is my wife because I appreciate, respect, cherish, and love everything about her. Some may say Karla is brutally honest; I don’t think that’s a bad thing (I kind of depend on it). It’s not an easy task to get into her heart, but, once you’re there, you’re in for good (and that heart is bigger than most could ever know or imagine).
I know that I’m a lucky man because I share my life with a woman who is not only my counterweight, (as I am hers), but is also someone who believes that hard work SHOULD pay off and that a sense of entitlement is an incurable disease (what I’m getting at is that Karla works hard, which is a very admirable trait as far as I’m concerned). I know that my wife is stronger, smarter, and braver than she gives herself credit for (well, she is very intuitive and she knows it)… but I don’t think she knows how much those around her know and admire her strong and adamant personality. Karla has a great sense of humor, and knowing how to use it definitely helps keep our relationship even and balanced.
I could go on and on, but, the bottom line is that we all learn the most from the hardest experiences in our lives. Therefore, I fully support your project knowing that Karla will get more from this experience than she is (afraid/anticipating) ready for. Don’t hold back; and, thank you… in my eyes Karla is the most beautiful woman (in any and all ways) that I have ever and hopefully will ever know.
Honestly and sincerely,
Nathan”

katieinsKatie ~ “When I was a little girl, I was shy…and painfully so, as a result of not looking like everyone else. This caused me to become an observer. I saw the way that people treated one another and it just made me even more afraid to interact for fear of being put under a microscope and judged. It wasn’t until my late teens or early 20’s that I finally began to come out of my shell. Now, in my mid-30’s I find myself toggling between yearning for social outlets and fearing them. When I am in social situations, I feel both physically and verbally clumsy. The wrong things come out of my mouth. I forget how to just sit or stand or navigate amongst people or do anything at all. There is a constant fidgeting and looking around the room to make sure nobody saw me do this or that embarrassing thing.
People scare me. The myriad of possibilities in any given relationship shakes me to my very core. I am constantly thinking about how people must hate me or think that I am stupid or hurtful, or that I don’t bring enough to the table. In the end, I feel that it’s best to keep socializing to a minimum. Then the loneliness battle begins and I to ask myself why I don’t fit in with anyone. There are no answers. There is no right thing.”

Katie’s friends and family:

“Katie is an amazing mother. She always puts Oliver’s needs before hers. She stays on top of his development and health. I don’t think I’ve ever met a happier little boy.
She loves life. She finds enjoyment in simple things. She also has a sense of adventure that makes her unafraid of new experiences.
Katie is the best roommate I’ve ever had. She is a great cook and isn’t afraid of housework. I always have fun hanging out with her at home.
She is smart, sweet and funny. Katie is great at figuring out a solution to any problem. She has a way of making people feel good about themselves. Her sense of humor can be a little cheesy but it’s always funny.
Katie is a very strong woman. She never gives up. Whenever life knocks her down she gets right back up ready for more. She has a very positive attitude. Her assurance that things will work out has given me confidence on several occasions.
She is very supportive of her friends and family. She is also very frank with them. She has told me when I was being an idiot or making a mistake but she has always stood by me.
Katie is a beautiful woman but she isn’t conceited about it. A lot of men are very attracted to her but she doesn’t take advantage of it. She doesn’t think less of people because of their looks.
Katie is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She is one of the most supportive and reliable people I’ve ever known. My life is better for having her in it.” – Joe

“Katie is interesting and always full of surprises. You see, she has a sort of dual personality, so
it’s like having two friends for the price of one.
On one hand she is sweet and bubbly, full of laughter, always ready to make the joke, and can somehow consistently find the words to lift one up when they’re feeling low. She is the ultimate cuddly, cookie-bakin’ mom that will kiss all of the boo-boos, and is equipped with art of being polite, gentle, and loving.
On the other hand she is this super smart, quick-witted, sex kitten, party girl who wants to get into the best kind of trouble and ultimately, have a good time. Underneath her charming purity lurks an intense sexual appetite that makes her down right irresistible to men; and even as a compact, concentrated dose of adorable, she packs a determination and strength that has brought her through some incredibly tough times. Nevertheless, she has taken them on, all on her own, and here she is today standing stronger than ever and ready to take on more.
Her cooking and especially her baking are outstanding. I look forward to Christmases where she has spent time making mountains worth of cookies. It looks and smells like a festive bakery explosion and fills me with the warmest most pleasant feeling of being home. Katie just wants everyone to be happy. She wants everyone to feel secure and safe, that they have had enough to eat, have enough blankets, and are comfortable and warm. One of my favorite parts of Katie is how she much she blossomed when she became a mother. She is the ultimate storybook fun mom, complete with apron and rolling pin. She stepped into the role like she had planned her whole life preparing for it. She gives everything she has to Oliver. On top of all the technical aspects of raising a child on her own, she makes it a priority to make sure that Oliver is having enough fun. They take trips to the zoo, children’s museum, and nature parks or just have wacky time at home. She is incredibly encouraging and rewards his victories more than she punishes his crimes. She is raising him to be a sweet, gentle, honest, and positive man. She is doing it the absolute right way in my eyes. Winning at motherhood.” – Rhi

“Katie isn’t just a great friend. Katie is the best kind of friend. There’s a comfort about her, an ease she has with herself, which makes it easy and comfortable to be around her.
She listens without judgment, smiles all the way to her eyes, and hugs with her whole heart. She’s trustworthy. I never worry about my secrets or my vulnerabilities when I share them with her, because I know they’re safe in her hands.
One of my favorite things about Katie is that she doesn’t take things for granted, and doesn’t just take things at face value. What I mean by that is that she’s not afraid to look closer or dig deeper. Too many people just skim the surface of their life, and just do the minimum they have to in order to get by, but Katie’s not like that. She loves to learn new things, whether it’s about herself or her job. She’s not afraid to work hard.
She is so strong. I’ve been so incredibly impressed with how she’s handled motherhood, and (sweet, smart, beautiful) Oliver is proof positive at how amazing she is at it.” – Kris

leahinsLeah ~ “My biggest fear is that it will never get easier and it will never get better. The random, weird things that don’t happen to most, happen to me on a regular basis. I always used to be optimistic and laugh about the absurdity of it. My motto was that if my life wasn’t full of chaos I would be really bored. I kept most of it to myself, unless I could spin it into a funny story. People close to me would make remarks about how they were having a problems but it wasn’t “Leah luck.” Regardless of whether I told people what was going on or tried to hide how hard of a time I was having, it took its toll. Friends got sick of it and turned their back on me. Now I’m 30 years old and my positive outlook is fading. My walls are coming down and I leak out negativity more and more. Over the years I have lost so many friends that I am terrified to even have them in my life. It doesn’t seem fair or beneficial to them. I feel like it is completely out of my control all around. I can’t control this ‘bad luck’. I can’t help not wanting to reach out. Sadly, my mask of trying to pull off being normal and happy is weakening and I am commonly labeled a bitch. When I was 11 years old a member of my family told me, “You were dealt a shit hand from the start and there is nothing that will change that.” I have always remembered that. The older I got, the more I understood it. My life is a poker game and I have a shitty hand I can’t fold and I can’t win with. I am left not only to worry about myself but how it will affect everyone around me. At times I feel like a outsider to my friends and family. When do I stop believing in myself and start believing what everyone else thinks?”

Leah’s friends and family:

“Leah has never known this, but as long as I’ve known her (since 2002) she has had the most sexiest legs, sexiest tits, and beautiful face that I have known amongst my friends and family… She’s one of the strongest person I know. She’s gone through a lot of shit but she sure knows how to deal with it. It may not always be right away, but she knows how to overcome it. Leah is one of the kindest, kindred persons I know – most giving, giving, giving, giving with all her heart person I know (and I mean she is the only person I know who has such a heart). Leah is so smart and creative – she will figure out how to do anything – she looks it up and reads about it…she will do it on her own: car, house, plumbing – you name it she can do it!!!!!!!!! If I ever feel at a loss with anything in my life…anything, and I mean anything…I know I can come to her!!!!!!! I know I don’t see you enough and we don’t hang around enough, but, I do love you, Leah, I truly love you!!!!” – Jessie

“First words that pop into my head when I think of Leah:
Independent
Strong
Spontaneous
Random
Sensitive
Supportive
Quirky
Fierce
Kind-Hearted” – Candice

“I’m so blessed to have met Leah. Life can be tough for her at times, but it amazes me how she never gives up. Leah is seriously the strongest, most determined person I have ever met. She has had more struggles in the last month than I have had in a lifetime; yet, she continues to stay strong and fights to become the best she can be. No matter what crazy events are occurring in Leah’s life, she still puts her friends’ minor problems ahead of her own. She has a heart of gold and will do anything for anybody. She is the definition of a true friend. She is an amazing listener and always has perfect advice. She is smart as a whip and can do anything she puts her mind to. Leah is one of those friends that are hard to find, I am so unbelievably thankful and lucky to have found such a true caring person to call my best friend. Thank you for always being here for me, Leah. You have made a huge impact on my heart and I am going to miss you a ton!
Love, Crystal”

“This is harder than I thought it would be. Not to find good things to write about my friend Leah…that part isn’t hard, because there are a lot of good things to say…the part that is hard is finding the right words to say about her, and where to start. This girl has so many layers…so many dimensions…and I find out new things about her all the time, still…after all these years.
I met Leah when I returned to Washington, about a decade ago. The first thing I remember thinking about her was how FUN she was, and how ALIVE she seemed. She was vibrant, energetic, and loud. No offense, Leah, but it’s not like you don’t know that the “loud” part is true 😉 Heh. Anyway, we started hanging out, mostly at Magoo’s. Ahhhh…good ol’ Magoo’s. We would drink, smoke, laugh and party, and I remember those days with much fondness.
We got to know each other better as time went on. I learned that Leah is fragile, while exuding a strength and perseverance that I can’t even understand sometimes. I learned that she is funny as shit and can laugh at herself, even when life is dealing her a craptastic hand. I’ve never met someone who just keeps picking herself up, dusting herself off, drying her eyes and moving on and getting what she has to get done, done, like Leah. She has had more than her fair share of obstacles, but every day she tries to be a better person, in spite of all that.
She also is constantly striving to be a great mom. When I was pregnant, we had a lot of talks about early motherhood, and she was in a great position to give good advice. At that time, she was a new mom to her year and a half old son and was able to share a lot of what she was experiencing as a fresh mom. She was also able to share a lot about the jacked up parts of being pregnant…that weird stuff no one tells you! It was so nice to be able to have her tell me “if this really not so awesome thing happens, don’t freak out. It’s gross or weird and it sucks, but it’s normal. And it won’t last forever.” And guess what? Most of those weird/gross things happened, and I didn’t have to freak out, because I had a friend that knew me well enough to know that it would be super helpful to be warned! ☺
But, back to Fox…she does the coolest stuff with and for this kid. He’s traveled to a bunch of cool places, had lots of exciting experiences, and has a ton of good pictures he’ll be able to look back on for the memories he might not yet retain. The craziest part is that she is doing this as a single mom. I don’t even pretend to know how hard that is. Shit, being a mom is hard enough with a supportive partner! But, she loves her son, and she shows him that love in a lot of admirable ways. I love how honest she is about being a mom…the crazy parts, the awful parts, the amazing and awesome parts, and how she feels about all of it. She is honest about her mistakes, and delights in her triumphs. I know her relationship with her son will grow to be stronger and flourish as the years go by.
Leah is a very caring friend. She always goes out of her way to make her friends and loved ones happy…gives the most thoughtful presents, makes sure something is planned for someone’s birthday so they feel special, sends Christmas cards every year. She is also supportive and shows a lot of love to those close to her. She is sympathetic and empathetic (sometimes maybe a little too much so…) but she can’t help it…she just feels.
Recently my 103 year old grandfather in California fell ill and was in a concerning situation regarding his care. Leah brainstormed different ways that I could be of help to him, and even offered to try to figure out a way to go to California with me if need be. I know she would have followed through with that, too, if it had come down to it. That’s the kind of thing she would do for her friends.
In closing, I love you, Leah. You are funny, clever, thoughtful, smart, an artist, a writer, a dreamer, a dedicated and loving mother, and a wonderful friend. I see beautiful things in your future, and hope you never forget your worth and the wonderful things about you. I am grateful and glad we are family, always, near or far. XOXOXO.” – Sylvia

“I am writing to you regarding Leah Cunningham. I have known Leah personally for 8 years, and have always known her to be an organized, responsible, and an easy going individual. I met Leah at Russell Investments where she and I became instant friends. I was new to the area as my husband was in the military and we had just made a move from Buffalo, NY to Ft. Lewis, WA.
Leah was there for me to listen to my stories of being infertile and wanting a baby and was there when I told her the good news that the fertility treatments worked and I was pregnant. Leah was there to hug me and offer compassion when my husband deployed to Iraq and I was 7 months pregnant, she was there for me no matter what the circumstance. I was lucky to have her as a friend then and I am lucky that we still remain friends now. Even though Leah and I do not speak as often as I would like I am happy that our paths have crossed, truly.
She is an inspiration to me, no matter what she was going though in life she managed to keep a smile on her face and still wants to make others happy. There was never a dull moment with Leah and her optimistic attitude became contagious you couldn’t help but smile too. Leah now has an amazing, beautiful little boy, Fox and she is the most fantastic mother. I remember when she came to visit me in my new home in Richmond, VA and she wanted to show Fox Washington, DC. She took picture after picture so one day she can show him all the fabulous places he has visited, I know she continues to do that whenever they go somewhere new. She is doing a great job and I admire her. I want nothing but much success and lots of happiness for my beautiful friend, because that is exactly what she deserves.” – Rachael

here are links to past groups:

Group 1, Part 1: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/
Group 1, Part 2: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/women-raw-honest-loved-part-2/
Group 2, TEENS!: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 3, 55+: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/55-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 4: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/group-4-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 5: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/group-5-women-raw-honest-loved/

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