Suicide. Insecurity. Self-Esteem. And the power of communication. Group 11 – Decorah, Iowa Teens!








the girls and I.


the girls and Leslie.

“I am so excited to be able to be talking to you about the wonderful things you are doing! I just wanted to ask you a few questions and if you have anything extra that you think might be helpful, feel free to let me know. I just want to know how/why you started doing this? What made you get inspired? How has your life been affected since you began this project? I’m really interested in the entire idea behind it and hope to hear from you soon!”

And so began my interaction with a 17-year-old high school student in Decorah, Iowa.
What began as simple research for Becca’s end-of-year presentation on the subject of self-esteem soon resulted in the apparent need for the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to travel across the country, from its base in Tacoma, WA, to six female students in the small town of Decorah, population 8,000…give or take a handful.

Why Decorah? Why Becca, Leah, Teressa, Olivia, Rebecka, and Myla?

Becca reached out to me in December of 2014 for this assistance with her presentation. We exchanged emails, I explained to her why this project started in the first place…we talked about the subject of bullying, and how this project has had an effect on how we view ourselves and how we view others. How those who participate tend to become more open as people, less judgmental of others, with a renewed sense of self-worth – how insecurities lose their power. We planned to FaceTime soon and really talk about a few of these things, instead of just emailing.

And then January 13th, 2015 happened. 

Jason, Adrian & Raidyn.

Jason, Adrian & Raidyn.

Raidyn Culp became a victim of suicide. Raidyn was fourteen years old. He was the only child of a friend. A friend of twenty years. Adrian was pregnant with Raidyn at the same time that I was pregnant with my daughter, Ravyn, fifteen years ago. We hadn’t remained necessarily close with each other over the years, but we were also not separated by much. The news of Raidyn’s death gutted me. Immediately, a couple of friends and I went to be by Adrian’s side. We cried and laughed and cried some more. We listened. We spoke of the heartache that lies in all of the unanswered questions…

I was due to respond to another of Becca’s emails around this time. I found myself kind of hiding from life for about two weeks and didn’t know quite how to function as a normal person again. If there is anything that my friends and family know about me, however, it is that I am an open book. I lay my heart out; I take chances that others aren’t going to stomp on it. I would rather share the deepest feelings that are at my core than have you wonder why I’m acting a certain way. It is how I work. It is how I interact. It is how I function. This was no different. I needed to share with Becca what had just happened, as I had sort of disappeared. And so I did. Here is where life took a turn…

Becca responded with what would be the most heartbreaking news: “Our town knows the feeling of loss. My freshman year we lost a girl named Melody in a car accident. The following year, a boy died from a town nearby, but he was well known here. A few months later, a girl in the grade below me committed suicide. The next year, a girl in our grade and a boy who had graduated two years before both committed suicide. This year nobody.. but the feeling that it might happen anytime is very great. Our community is one giant family. We are such a small town and everyone knows each other. What you are doing is bringing so many people together.”  (***EDIT***It was pointed out to me afterward that one of these girls’ perceived suicide was not that, but, a very unfortunate accident. I understand the importance of noting that for her friends and family.)

WHAT??! I know suicide is a problem, but, three suicides in their small community in a matter of less than two years?? I began really reflecting. I graduated from high school almost twenty years ago. If I looked back and three people from my high school community had committed suicide SINCE we’ve graduated high school, I would consider that too many. In TWENTY YEARS. So, this news just slowly tore a hole in my heart.

And then on March 5th, it got worse…

I received another email from Becca: “This project now means even more to me than it ever has. On Sunday I was informed a friend of mine from a different town had committed suicide.”


I couldn’t believe how my heart was breaking for this girl.

“We Snapchatted a few times recently. The other day I sent him a snap chat that was never opened and now it never will be and now I know why.”


“The moment my stepdad’s mom told me, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. I cried, a lot. At first I thought I was being over emotional because we haven’t been close lately, but that’s just the thing. People don’t realize how many people they affect, along with others not realizing how much the people around them actually affect themselves either. The past week this is all I have been able to think about. I hope that through this project I can teach others about their effect on themselves and others and how important relationships are. Everything you are doing is very helpful and I appreciate all the time you have given me.”

What in the world had I done that was helpful?!?!  I felt the opposite. I felt helpless. The hole in my heart grew and I couldn’t digest what she was going through.

Becca and I were able to FaceTime fairly quickly after that email. Seeing her (sort of in person) endeared her to me even more. Where I thought I cared for her before, now I saw her personality, I listened to the inflections in her voice, I read the heartbreak on her face. This girl and I would be forever connected.

Soon after this, I spoke with my dear friend Leslie. We have been friends for twenty years…Leslie is very close to Adrian. She had been spending countless hours at Adrian’s, comforting her after the loss of Raidyn. We spoke about Becca, about Decorah and the surrounding community, and we knew that something needed to be done. Leslie shocked me by suddenly saying, “You need to go there. You need to take this project to them.” The second the words came out of her mouth, I knew she was right. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but, I was determined to figure it out.

Things began to snowball…into the best, largest, most perfect snowball ever. On March 27th, I asked Becca if she would be interested in getting a group together…she was at first very hesitant, as she had been experiencing many changes in the dynamics of her friend relationships of late. Typical high school stuff. As she thought about it, though, she got more and more excited to do this. I thought this group may happen sometime in the next few months or so. As these girls were completing high school and would be going off to college, we realized there was an impetus to do this group much sooner than we thought, however. In a matter of days, a group was formed.

Meanwhile, I had been updating followers of the project online, regarding Becca and our interaction. I knew people in my community already cared deeply about her and what she was going through. I decided to put that positive energy out into the Universe and see if we could all band together to make this group happen. Let me tell you, my community is amazing. These people came through and paid via GoFundMe for us to get to Iowa. These people cared enough about these girls and the struggles they were having…these girls they had never met in this town they had never heard of. I love all of these people so much.

This group took place on Sunday, April 27th. Exactly ONE MONTH from the point in which I asked Becca if she’d even be interested in forming a group.

Anyone who has been involved in a group knows that you come into it with a certain level of nervousness…a certain amount of awkwardness. Really not knowing what to expect. Imagine how these girls must have been feeling…why in the world was this blue-haired woman coming across the country to their super small town with her friend and her equipment in tow?? Why did she find it important to do this with them?? That level of nervousness was apparent in the immediate energy surrounding us. As happens in every group, however, this soon faded. With the first insecurity read, you could feel the apprehension melt away. Becca began reading and the room came together. The understanding, the shock at how much they could all relate to what she was saying…it was powerful.

The evening went on to reveal the pattern I had been heartbroken to see over the last month, as they sent their insecurities to me…THEY WERE ALL. THE. SAME. Not enough. Never enough. Not important. NOT ENOUGH.

The discussion began to unfold. We talked about the loss they have experienced in their community. I think the saddest part for me at that point was realizing how commonplace loss had become for them. They spoke of it in a way that seemed separated. Surely a mechanism in protecting oneself, but, it hit home for me. And then they really started to share their feelings…and they were angry.

Teressa had recently earned her Gold Award with Girl Scouts after becoming concerned with the suicide rate among young people. She did much research in and out of the community and produced a website that can be found here. She shared that there were high schools in surrounding towns that had experienced multiple suicides over the last fifteen years. 7 in one town, 9 in another…etc. As we spoke about this, all of the girls began to get fired up. We spoke slightly about bullying, but what they really wanted to focus on was the pressures they are under as teens. I don’t want to pick on their high school, as it is just one among many high schools that may be missing something important here, but this needs to be discussed. The girls spoke about how they have many supportive teachers, but, there are so many overall school pressures: about awards there for being 4-sport athletes, about awards for many giant academic achievements…about how, if you’re not measuring up, if you may not be able to succeed in all of these various avenues, you may get lost along the way. You may get swept under the rug a bit. The focus is on the achievers. The focus is on what makes the school look good. Test scores! Sports! Grades! College prospects!

And then a child does get lost along the way. And, for whatever reason…be it an inability to measure up to the high standards and expectations, mental illness, bullying; a combination of all?…they find it easier to escape their life. To end it. And the school sends a standard letter out to parents, in effect: “‘So-and-so’ passed away on ‘such-and-such’ day, etcetera…” and encourage the parents to maybe talk to their kids about it…

This is where I get enraged a bit. High school is COMMUNITY for these teens. Yes, the responsibility lies with us as parents to discuss everything with our teens, but, when a death happens among their community…a community that we as parents can only slightly be a part of…should it not be discussed THERE?? Where is the assembly to discuss suicide? Where are the classes that focus on the topic? Why must the teens seek out a counselor in order to discuss this? Maybe one in twenty teens is compelled to actually do that. WHY ISN’T IT A TOPIC THAT IS DISCUSSED? Are we treating it like we once treated (sometimes still do) the topic of sex? Maybe if we don’t mention it, they won’t do it…

Well, I call bullshit.

I’m tired of this.

And I’m tired of talking about suicide and having numbers thrown at me. I’m tired of words like “percentages”. I’m tired of statements like, “Well, actually that’s pretty low compared to the national average.” The fact that we even have to talk about a “national average” when it comes to the subject of children taking their own lives…that instantly feels like I swallowed an anvil. It makes a giant pit in my stomach and I find it hard to breathe.

Don’t you find it hard to breathe?

It’s time for a change.

When visiting the lovely town of Decorah, I had many citizens there ask me what brought us to town. And I told them. I told them all of this in not as many words. And they reacted. They were happy to hear that we were there for that reason. They agreed that this is a huge problem. They also wondered aloud why this isn’t a topic that is discussed. And they endeared themselves and their town to Leslie and I for life. This is a special place. And, because of them, I get to write this blog. And my community has grown. And the girls’ community has grown. And these lovely ladies will forever be a part of our lives. I am indebted to both those here in Washington that cared enough to get us to Iowa, and to those in Decorah that made us feel right at home. Especially to these six. You are forever family to us, Becca, Leah, Teressa, Olivia, Rebecka, and Myla. Thank you to you ladies for being so brave and honest, and to your parents for raising such AMAZING, inspiring, selfless individuals. Here are your stories.

***Becca and I were privileged enough to be interviewed on Iowa Public Radio last week regarding all of this. You can listen to that interview here: Building Self-Esteem Through Photography (Thank you SO MUCH to Iowa Public Radio – to Charity Nebbe & Emily Woodbury for deciding this was an important enough subject to talk about! Thank you to Craig Steuer for alerting them to the project!)


Becca’s words ~ “Justsomegirlll_ is my name on twitter and Instagram. I chose this name when I first started my twitter, when I was about 11 years old. Ever since I made it, the name stuck. Most people can hear the name and relate it back to me, but nobody knows the reason I chose it.
I chose the name because I truly believe that I am just that. There is nothing special about me, I’m just ordinary. I am an average to below-average girl who is average to below-average at everything and that’s all I will ever be. People will jokingly use the name to address me. While they think they are being funny, it’s actually just a reminder of what I hate most about myself. I’ve proven this insecurity to be true, which is why it makes it even harder. When friends and I have got into conversations about topics like insecurities, mine, being just another person, has been brought up. This then leads to them trying to prove me wrong and failing. Sure, they can name a few things I’m okay at, but that’s it. I know I will never be the best at something because that is nearly impossible – there will always be someone who is better. My point of proving them wrong is not to think I need to be better than everyone at things, but the fact that I am just average or below average at everything and anything I do. Most peoples’ twitter names are just their names or something catchy; however, mine is my biggest insecurity.”

(I asked the girls a few other questions, too…)

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“Not being enough. Everyday, all day, teens struggle with the competition of being the smartest, prettiest, strongest, quickest, etc. From school to work to sports, everything is a competition.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

Losing so many people that when someone who actually does care comes along, it’s close to impossible to actually let them in and believe someone could actually care for a person who was left by so many other people. It makes it hard not to believe that maybe I am just an awful person.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“No matter how bad things seem to get, how much you struggle with grades, how many people end up changing, life gets better and the people who truly care will always be there.”

Becca’s friends and family:

“Rebecca is a very outgoing young lady. She loves to work with others. She is very helpful to all. She is a very positive person. Looking to help others when possible. She is strong headed too. She knows what she wants and how she wants to do it.” – Wayne

You are an extremely genuine and amazing friend. I remember when I first moved here any didn’t have many friends, but you always would talk to me and we have remained close friends ever since! This is something I admire about you. No matter what anyone else thinks, you will always be kind and be a friend to those who have none or are suffering. You see beauty in everyone and it’s clear you believe everyone deserves to see it in themselves. I love how caring of a person you are. I love how you can always tell if I’m feeling a little down, or more happy than usual, and act in a way which makes me feel better. You have an amazing ability to read people. Thank you for being an amazing friend for all of these years!

“Rebecca has so many great traits that she doesn’t even realize. She’s intelligent, beautiful, and a great friend to have. I can tell her anything and know she will keep my secrets. She tells the truth and always makes me feel better when I need someone to cheer me up. She has gorgeous hair and can wear any outfit and look amazing. She has her own style and is her own person.” – Alicja

“Becca you are absolutely wonderful! From the first time we met I felt like I could really open up to you and be myself around you! Not only are you crazy beautiful, you have a wonderful personality and bring so much joy to my life. I picked a couple awesome traits that you have and wrote them down to make you smile if you are ever having a hard day.
You are so real and I appreciate that so much about you, it’s so hard to find someone who is genuine and who says what they feel. I love how you aren’t afraid to be who are and I can always count on you to be 100% honest.
You’re such a fun person to be around! You always have positive things to say and you always have a smile on your face, even on the hard days. I admire your strength so much – it makes me stronger to see you push through the hard things in your life and inspires me to be strong.
I also admire your independence, your persistence and the hard work that you do for yourself and the people around you. You honestly care so much about your loved ones and put so much time and energy into keeping them happy! You are selfless and it’s incredible to see someone who genuinely cares so much about the well-being of others.
You are one of the few people who accepts me even with my weirdness and quirks…that means so much to me and shows that you are accepting of others, which just adds to the list of awesome qualities that you have. I hope that we can always be here to uplift each other and eat great sushi together 😉


You are an amazing individual and I feel so blessed to have been given you to guide. You are such a remarkably beautiful, very loving, caring, smart young lady. You are so insightful, talented and giving. All the accomplishments that you have made up until now are remarkable. Although I gave you guidance in your middle school years and pushed you to get your homework done, I have not had to in your high school years. You have taken the reigns and flown, soared and greatly surpassed my expectations all on your own. I can’t wait to see you continue to grow and mature over the years.
I know there have been times when we have not always seen eye to eye but in time I hope that you understand why I did or said what I did. I know you’re an amazing young lady and very smart but sometimes as a teen it is easy to go with the crowd. Sometimes I think that you have, but you knew your boundaries and knew when to bow out.
Just please don’t shut me out. Keep me in the loop and please share with me your hopes and dreams. I do love and care about you so much and I think sometimes you don’t know just how much. Please know that you can always come to me and talk. If you just need an ear, just say, “Mom, please don’t talk just listen.”
My fear for you is that you don’t appreciate yourself as much as you should and you don’t have high self-esteem. You sell yourself short and allow your self-worth to be measured by others. Stand tall, baby, and know that you are worth far more then I think you see your self-worth to be. I know it’s hard to see past what others do or say sometimes. Your peers can be so cruel, both the boys and girls, and sometimes that influences your decisions.

Take the time now to have fun at college. Study hard, get involved in as many activities you feel that you can handle without jeopardizing your studies and set your goals. Where do you plan to be in the next 5 to 10 years? What do you want to do, be and achieve in life? Set your sights and don’t let go, ‘cause you can do it. You, my lovely child, can do and be anything in this world that you want to be.

I love you so much!



Leah’s words ~ “I have many insecurities, but the one that bugs me the most is never feeling like I am enough. I am very involved in school and have friends from multiple friend groups, but I always find myself asking to join other people. I am never the one being asked to do something. And when I am with others, I constantly feel like a bother and a hindrance to them. A “best friend” at the time even told me it was a chore for her to make me feel like I was included when we hung out. Ever since then, my self-esteem has become even worse. I wish I didn’t feel so unworthy of people’s time or attention. I wish that just for once I could feel like I am good enough again.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

I think the main issue teens deal with today is pressure. I mean sometimes your classes are hard enough in the first place, right? And on top of your studies you still have pressure to maintain a social life both at home and with your classmates. Teens are so influenced by media these days that they feel pressure to have a “perfect” image. They feel pressure to act, walk, or laugh a certain way in order to fit and be accepted by others. This is just plain stressful and ridiculous. It’s energy wasted! I wish that teens knew being unique and true to their own personality is way more interesting to others and creates a more enjoyable life.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

Realizing the fact that people change. I have gone through all of my school years never having a set group of friends. Sometimes I find this enjoyable. I don’t have to worry about starting a new class or going to lunch by myself since I have an array of friends from different “cliques”. But even though I remind myself that I shouldn’t worry, I still fret about going new places. I become anxious wondering if I am going to fit in. And with moving to college this coming fall, I am afraid of this even more. After my best friend quit talking to me just a few months ago, I constantly think about what-ifs. What if we run into each other on campus? What if she’s telling people things about me that aren’t true? What if I don’t have a best friend at college? What if I lose a friend like this again? What if I really wasn’t worthy of her time or friendship? Thoughts like these are always nagging at me. I know friends aren’t always there for you when you need them. But I take these experiences as a way to learn. I will always be there for any friend of mine.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

Be your own best friend. People will try to shake you and people will push you to your limit until you can’t take it anymore, but how strong you stay is what makes you. And through all of that, your friends will come and go. Possibly even your best friend. But know there are people who love you and you are not alone. Even at your darkest and scariest times, remember there are others who may be looking up to you for the same reasons you think you aren’t good enough. When you feel broken, remember that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Do for yourself the same that you would do for a friend who is hurting.”

Leah’s friends and family:

Amazing :)” – Maddie

“Dear Leah,
You are amazing. Your fun spirit, smiles, and laughter are a joy to be around. You’re funny. You’re supportive, caring, accepting, and generous. You are wise, courageous, thoughtful, smart, talented, spunky, and unique. You are absolutely beautiful on the outside and inside! You inspire me. I love you always!” – Lucas

“Leah likes to offer help all the time to help me farm, especially with the livestock. I love her “street smarts ” sense of a lot of outdoor things. She is such a capable person in so many things.” – Alan

“I love her unconditionally. She has a loving good heart. She is kind, thoughtful, considerate, sensitive, and good-willed. She cares for her family, friends, animals, and our environment. I admire her strength to help others, to try to help herself, and to continue forging ahead. I appreciate her humor, spirit, spunk, and sense of adventure. I admire her for her courage to not compromise her integrity. She is strong and determined. She is beautiful inside and out, and is a delight to see grow up and gain poise and confidence.” – Michele

teressainsTeressa’s words ~ “I think my biggest insecurity would be that I am not perfect. I understand that nobody can be perfect, but I try so hard to do everything that I can to be the best that I can be. For some reason, every failure, even a small one, makes me so upset. I want to be good at everything I do, and I want people to look at me as someone who accomplishes things. I am always trying to get the best grades, work a lot, look good, have everyone like me, and earn every award available to me. After everything, it still seems like I do not do enough to be the person that I want to be.”


 What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“I definitely agree with a lot of people who say that media is a huge problem. Also, other girls definitely make girls feel bad about themselves. So many times it is not enough to just be yourself, you have to be like everyone else. A lot of things turn into a competition. Girls feel like they have to be prettier or funnier or smarter for other people to like them. Also, the media just further contributes to making girls feel like they can never measure up to the girls in magazines or on TV. Overall, girls just feel like they have too much to live up to especially in the physical looks category.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

“My toughest time in high school is probably right now. I am very uncertain about what I want to do with my life and am having some difficulties making plans for next year. Honestly, I am just very stressed.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“Have fun. Don’t take anything too seriously. Take chances. Try everything once. It is so important to just be yourself, find people who care about you and do what you want. Grades are important, but don’t stress over them. Just work as hard as you can, and accept that it is not possible to do everything. High school will be some of the best years of your life. Even though some times will be hard to get through, the great moments you have will make it all worth it.”

Teressa’s friends and family:

“Teressa, you’ve been my best friend for what seems like forever. You’ve always made me want to be a better person. You’re definitely the smartest person I know, and I love the way you use your knowledge to help others out. You’re not only kind and generous, but you’re also down to earth. Your perseverance is admirable and someday I hope to take the punches as well as you do. I want to thank you for always being a great friend to me.” – Mckenzie

“Teressa has been my good friend since the middle of middle school. Regardless of what people think, she had the best style of clothing and was an amazing trendsetter. She has the highest goals and strives to achieve them. Her dedication to being the best is inspiring and it’s amazing to watch. She has learned and grown so much in the past four years. The amount of issues she has pushed through is amazing. She has thrown herself into school and it has shown. I hope her future is bright and I can’t wait to see what she becomes. She is stunning, strong and beautiful.” – Talia

“Dear Teressa,
I know that you struggle with feeling accomplished and feeling significant. You know that I do not understand you blight. I do not understand this because you are the most ambitious and determined person I know. You have accomplished more in high school than some people do in four years of college. You have more college credits than Dave (my roommate) will after a year of education. To polish your work off, you have done so impeccably. You have maintained a 4.0 GPA while taking all these classes. You are destined for greatness in whatever area of life that you apply yourself. I wish that you could see yourself in the eyes of another. Teressa is a determined, willful person. When she sees a wrong or a task she will tenaciously pursue her objective. The best side of Teressa is that she easily can relax and be a goofy person <—-[you should use this word at least one point in your process describing her, she will love it :)]. She can go from dead serious to complete comedian, keeping everyone on their toes. Teressa is the whole package.” – Nick

“Teressa is a very motivated young lady. From early on, she has challenged herself by setting high goals and striving to reach them. Even though pushing herself and working very hard, she has managed to achieve a balance between school, work, family, and friends. She has managed to stay well grounded even with the pressures of being a teen and especially with the recent stress of trying to figure out future plans. She is bright, beautiful inside and out, and is able to see the positive in everyone.” – Tiffany

“Her willingness and determination to go the extra mile. Her inner and outer beauty. Finally challenging herself to be the best she can be!” – Dan


Olivia: “From the time I was a little girl, I’ve always tried to hide any flaws that I have. I constantly compare myself to others. I’ve always wanted to be the best but I feel like I can never do it. I feel like I fall short of everything. There is always someone nicer, smarter, or funnier than I am. I feel like people look at me and see all of the things I am not. I’ve been in some bad places. I’ve gone overboard while trying to make myself better. A few years ago I stopped eating in an effort to make myself better, I’ve pushed myself to spend hours at the library to get better grades, I’ve stared in the mirror for hours on end and asked myself why I can never be the best. My biggest insecurity is that I am never enough.”


What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

Teenagers have a lot on their minds in this day and age. We are just expected to be one thing. We should be great daughters, sisters, friends, athletes, students, readers, writers, speakers, workers and so much more. With all of those thoughts flying through our heads there’s a strong possibility that we feel we feel we fall short in some category. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve come home crying to my mother about not feeling adequate. Girls are cruel. There’s no if ands or buts about it. Even my friends have tried to tear me down before. Some days I’ve really felt as if I was alone in this world.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“It has taken me a really really long time to realize this…Everyone feels insecure in their own ways. A lot of the time when a girl says something catty about you, it’s because she is feeling bad about herself. Don’t let anyone have the power to make you feel bad about yourself. You are the only one who truly knows your own thoughts and intentions.”

Olivia’s friends and family:

“Olivia, you are one of the sweetest people I know. I’ve always admired how humble you are. You take bad situations and turn them around, by adding humor to the situation. You’re talented and passionate, and honestly I’ve never met someone who walks the line between bubbly and annoying so well! You’re optimistic and inspiring, and definitely genuine. You’re beautiful and I love and appreciate your friendship.” – Mckenzie

“Olivia Claire,
Hi Beautiful! I was asked to write a letter to you about all the amazing qualities you have, and honestly, I’ve had a hard time figuring out where to start! There are so many inspiring qualities that I’ve seen in you over the years. You exude beauty, kindness, happiness, and a certain warmth. People are drawn to your sweet smile that lights up a room in seconds. You make people comfortable and because of this, you’re the girl that everyone wants to know and be close to. You are truly a good person deep down in your soul and that’s something that isn’t very common anymore! Focus on never losing that.
You are such a smart person! I’ve watched you become a driven, hard working young woman and I couldn’t be more proud. It amazes me how much effort and energy you put into everything you do. Having gone through cheerleading, school, and work with you, I know that there’s nothing you can’t do! I’m excited for you to get to experience college. I feel like you will really get your chance to blossom, grow, and shine when you enter that next chapter! Not that you don’t shine already! 😉 There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you will be beyond successful in everything you do!
I know you have your insecurities. Everyone does! But I want you to know without a doubt that you are absolutely perfect! You’re strong and beautiful, and if anyone tells you differently, they’re wrong. And stupid. 😛 I want you to always remember that you have so many people who are unconditionally on your side. No matter what’s happening in life there are always people to turn to and ways to make it better. I am always just a phone call or text away if ever you forget your worth.
As you take on the next few big steps in your life, know that you are loved. You are beautiful. You are strong, and inspiring, and flawless! I love you, baby girl! Never stop being you! ❤
“Olivia is a very important part of my life, and it’s sometimes hard to say these things in person. She is someone that you can be open and honest with, and probably knows me better than I know myself. She is the most dedicated person I know, which only motivates me to be better myself. It’s difficult to see her be hurt from what she doesn’t show or talk about. However, that will not distract her from striving. She is full of energy and is an overall lovable person. You are sensitive and bright and altogether beautiful.” – Talia

“Words to describe Olivia…there are so many things that I admire about this young woman. She is outgoing, wise, spirited, trustworthy, determined, loving, fair, intuitive, kind, respectful, beautiful, insightful, energetic, compassionate, dedicated, efficient, hard-working. Olivia is a great leader due to being motivated, enthusiastic, courteous, honest, dependable, vibrant, and supportive. She will accomplish great things in her future, as she is independent, bright, intelligent, talented, logical, adventurous, warm, generous and brave. I feel so blessed to have a daughter that is so vibrant, affectionate, courageous, vivacious, and so incredibly accomplished. Olivia is so loved by those who know her. And I am so blessed to call her my daughter.” – Heather

Rebecka’s words ~ “I have a nagging insecurity that I am not important. As long as I can remember, I have always felt like the least important person in whatever group setting I am in, whether it be friends, work, or activities. Even today, a time where I have significantly improved on most of my insecurities from early teen years, I feel like I contribute little to nothing and that the group dynamic, whatever it may be, would not change without me. I always find myself saying things and being ignored and doing things without appreciation. While these findings may be figments of my imagination, they are very real to me.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

Having to strive for perfection in every aspect of life and then becoming more self-conscious once they realize attaining perfection in every aspect of life is impossible.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

I had an awkward time from freshman year to the beginning of sophomore year. I was still pretty new to Decorah and was struggling to make friends (thankfully now I am blessed with the best friends possible, it took time but it was so worth it!), on top of battling a severe eating disorder and anxiety. All of these combined drained everything I had emotionally, mentally, and physically and it definitely hurt my relationships.”

What advice would you give other teen
s starting high school?

“People will always be mean. These people will not get far in life with this attitude and are not people you need in your life. Worry about your own opinion and the opinions of those who care and are looking out for you.”

Rebecka’s friends and family:

“Rebecka is the best friend who I wish I’d had all my life, but showed up just in time when I needed her the most. Now, despite anyone in my life who will walk away from me, I know Rebecka will always be at my side. If I text or call her at 2 am crying, I know she won’t mind. She’s supportive, encouraging, and understands my problems like no one else does. Even if we get in a fight, I know she still loves and cares about me. Even when she doesn’t approve of my decisions, she will still support me, but doesn’t put up with my bad behavior. She lets me know when I’ve messed up and won’t help me justify my mistakes, which I need and appreciate. She keeps my feet on the ground when my head is in the clouds. She’s more than my best friend—she’s my sister, my soul mate (of friendship). I would defend her in any circumstance because I know she would do the same for me. She’s warm and everyone likes her, and those who don’t must not know her very well. She’s witty, clever, and undoubtedly smart. She’s one of the bravest girls I know. Despite all of the struggles that she faces herself, she still puts others first. No matter what she thinks of herself, I know that she is one of the most beautiful, smart, funny, caring girls I know. It breaks my heart that she doesn’t always believe that that is true. She’s responsible, but crazy fun. She’s a beautiful person inside and out, the best kind of friend to have, and she will thrive in whatever she chooses to pursue in life. There’s nothing that I value more than her friendship.” Annalise

“I admire Rebecka’s outgoing personality, her humorous wit, and the way she sticks to her beliefs. Also, I appreciate her love of makeup, clothing, and celebrities as we bond over those greatly. She’s beautiful inside and out and no matter what we do together, I always have a good time with her. I admire her ability to make friends wherever she goes.” – Maddie

“Where do I even begin? Becka moved to Decorah in 8th grade and we have been super close ever since. We have gotten a lot closer as the years have gone by. Our hangouts used to just consist of going to Mabes and eating buffalo chicken wings but our friendship has moved on to bigger and better meals. Now she even makes me mac n’ cheese. That’s true friendship right there.
Becka is the one friend I have had all through high school. I don’t know how many times I have gone to her for support and she knows exactly what to say. Without her I don’t know what I would do. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have stayed at her house. I mean, I walk in and her dad says, “Welcome home!” With me living so far out of town, she constantly lets me spend the night. This helps me so much more than she could ever imagine. From gas money to just all that driving time that takes away from the sleep I need on nights I have early-bird the next morning, I know I can always count on her. I remember the morning she was leaving for her semester abroad in Sweden last spring, I was not ready for that at all. I went to her house that morning to catch her before she left and I couldn’t help but cry. She kept telling me to stop. When she left, I gave her a small heart locket necklace and she still wears it almost every day. Through losing close to all my friends just earlier this year, Becka stood by me through the whole thing. I think everyone should have a friend like that.

Becka is one of my best friends and I love her to death. Even the tiniest little things can be appreciated; helping me with French, letting me borrow her computer, teaching me how to do makeup, always listening to my rants on bad days, never telling anyone my secrets, the list goes on and on. Becka has constantly been there day or night for me and she always pushes me to be a better person. Our friendship might have started with hot wings and it might have just turned into mac n’ cheese and endless bowls of cereal but the amount of friendship in the middle of all that and the things we have been through truly shows how great of a friend and person she is, and I could never even put into words the appreciation I have for her.” – Rebecca

“Rebecka is incredibly funny – definitely one of the funniest people I know. She is kind and loyal to her friends. She is compassionate and has a strong sense of fairness and justice. She realizes the world is not the place it should be, and she wants to work to make it better. She is more conscious of what is going on in the world than most adults twice her age.
She is a gifted speaker – incredibly articulate for someone so young.
She has a strong sense of self and a healthy self-confidence.
She is a loving daughter who enjoys spending time with and talking to her parents. I have not encountered too many teenagers who seek out their parents’ company. I will miss that when she goes to college.” – Todd

“Dear Rebecka,
In the past year we have become really close and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that. You are a loyal and supportive friend. But even people around school who are not your friend are drawn to you. You’re confident, hilarious and kind to others. I don’t even know how many people I have heard say that they don’t know you but they would love to. I have no doubt in my mind that you will succeed with flying colors in any endeavor. Thank you for being you.

I appreciate your great sense of humor and sassy attitude. I love that you know what you want and go after it. Your love of animals shows that you have a big heart. Of course, you’re also so, so beautiful. I’m proud of how you turned your life around and how you are now helping others do the same. You’re a great role model and an all-around great person.
It’s fantastic that you already know what you want from life: doing what you love with lots of freedom. Go for it!
You are perfect, just the way you are. You look exactly the way you’re supposed to look and have the talents you’re supposed to have. When you smile, the world becomes brighter. Your laugh means all is well in the world.
Dad and I lucked out when we had you. 🙂

Myla’s words ~ “My biggest insecurity is probably the feeling I hold inside of myself of not being good enough for the people that I have loved and love. I have had so many falling-outs with people i’ve been close with and they all have ended up saying very cruel things about me. I take all of these things people have said personally because I truly cared about them. No matter what, i will always feel like it was my fault that people left me, and it’s hard to hold all of the negativity projected on to me by these people. When people you love tear you down its very hard not to start believing you really are what they are saying. You start to believe you are a horrible person and it just ends up hurting not only your self-esteem but has a huge impact on how you view yourself as a person.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“I think the biggest issue is probably the amount of time that teens spending cutting each other down. We are all going through the same stuff and it would be so cool if, instead of tearing down those around us, we uplift each other and spread positivity.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“My advice for people who are starting high school is to take everything a day at a time. Realize that many things will change as you grow and that is totally okay. During high school it’s okay if you fall out of relations with some of your close friends, its bound to happen because everyone is growing up and taking different paths in life. Don’t get too attached to any relationship with a significant other unless it feels 100% right. Know that guys will always be there. Focus on yourself and doing well in school but also have some fun with your friends and go on some cool dates. Make friends that are from all different corners of life and it will help you have a greater appreciation of individuality.”

Myla’s friends and family:

“You are adventurous! You have a great sense of humor. You are strong – in your passions, your dreams, and your opinions. You are loyal, creative, and have great integrity. You are beautiful inside and out!” – Pam

“Brightness, intuitive intelligence, creative, a very good friend and listener, supportive daughter, has an eye for excellence, cuddly. – Mary

“To my little sweetheart,
I am honored that you asked me to take part in this project. I was noticing the last time I saw you how much you have matured since I had seen you previously. I am so proud of the beautiful, thoughtful and compassionate young lady you have become. You are so hard-working and responsible. You are mostly gentle with your little brother. You listen and learn from your big brother. You are a support to your mother. You love your dog and care for animals and nature. You are loving and caring to all, and that is a gift. You are creative and intelligent. You are serious and silly!
I want you to know what an amazing young woman you are. I want you know that you are very loved. I want you to know that you always deserve to be treated with respect. I want you to know what a gift and a joy you are to me, to your family and others. Allow yourself to dream and reach for the stars.
With All of My Love,
Your Aunt Suzy”

“Dear Myla,
I admire you for how caring and understanding you are of those around you. You seem to always be willing to go out of your way for those who are in need of help. I have always appreciated how hard you work in whatever you do and how you always find a way to complete what you start. Another thing that I have always admired is your artistic ability. I think that you got all of the good genes for artistry since I’m still stuck drawing stick figures. Most of all I’m so glad and so honored to call you my sister. Love ya.” – Ames

“Dearest Myla, there are many things that I love about you. You are extremely smart, you are honest, you know how to be real with friends, and you are warm and loving only when it comes from the whole of you. You are never a fake. You are trustworthy and I love that you are open with your mother. You are loyal to your family and pets.” – Kim


I asked the girls’ friends and family to answer a couple other questions, as well. (Thank you to all of you for writing in! This project doesn’t work without you.)
Here are their insightful responses: 

What do you think is one of the main issues facing teens today?

“Teens are always constantly comparing themselves to others. They feel that they will never be quite smart enough, or quite pretty enough, or quite good enough for someone else. There’s a struggle for acceptance and a struggle to fit in.” – Annalise

“Negativity among friends and family.” – Wayne

“Insecurity and lack of confidence with the way they appear or act. Also, apathy and ignorance about issues in general.” – Maddie P.

“There’s too much pressure on teens today to be the most skinny, or the prettiest, or the most athletic. People aren’t really encouraged to do what they want to do. Then when they get the courage to do what they love, they can be put down for it.” – Maddie D.

“I think one of the main issues facing teens is separation from nature.” – Tabita

 “Peer pressure to do things that they are unsure of, but, they do anyway because they don’t want to be the odd man out. Sex, drugs, speeding…” – Katarina

 “Self-esteem is definitely a big one. Lots of teens face media and culture that tears down what teens think about themselves, especially girls. The media is so misogynistic and sexist that it keeps girls from thinking of themselves as people, and instead as objects, which is so sad.” – Mckenzie

“I think one of the main issues facing teens today is the pressure to be perfect in so many different areas. I think being on the team is just as accomplished as being in the number 1 or number 2 spot on the team. All members are needed to support number 1 and 2 athletes.” – Heather

 “I believe the main issue is that teens really care too much about what others think. This is a hard biological check that all teens must overcome at some point. The feeling of belonging is of utmost importance to the mental well being of a teen. For these reasons, teens get caught up in what others are doing and thinking. Teens must stay true to themselves.” – Nick

“A wide range of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.)” – Todd

“Peer pressure.” – Pam

“I feel that social media is a major issue in a teen’s life. Because of magazines and TV shows, we all have this idea of what we’re expected to be. We see other girls who have qualities we admire and feel bad that we don’t have that. We are programmed to compare ourselves to others. To feel inadequate when we feel we don’t measure up to someone else. There’s such a slim window of who and what is considered beautiful, when, in all reality, confidence in who you are is what makes us flawless.” – Sydney

“Competitive society” – Mary

“I believe teens must try so hard to be “perfect.” There is so much pressure on them.” – Olivia

“I believe that girls put a lot of pressure on themselves whether it is about their weight, insecurities, or faults. This can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and many other issues.” – Talia

“To me, all teens seem to feel like they are not good enough. We live in a society of pressures for success, money, happiness, and togetherness. Through the struggle to achieve these pressures, we become more self-conscious and are filled with the need to achieve the perfect life.” – Rebecka

“I think a big issue is constantly pushing teens to do more, achieve more, and work harder. In Decorah, kids are drilled about the “Decorah Way”. This means doing things well, displaying good sportsmanship, and being a role model. It has also pushed kids to be involved in many activities and groups and to excel in everything that they do. Some kids feel that they can’t do as well and so give up. Teressa has been able to do well academically, but even with taking enough classes to enter college midway through her sophomore year, having a 4.0 GPA, a 33 on her ACTs, her girl scout gold award, and being involved in many other activities as well as working as a CNA and lifeguard, this was not enough to earn herself her dream of making it into an Ivy League college.” – Tiffany

“I think the main issue facing teens today is body image. There’s so many kids and even adults that hate their appearance and body because of what the media portrays as “attractive”.” – Alicja

“One main issue teens face today is media’s negative influence on teen’s worth, self-esteem, body image, and confidence. There’s too much pressure towards growing up too fast in terms of how a young lady should act and what she should do, and how she should look…” – Michele

“Self-doubt, too much self-consciousness, pressure from society and peers.” – Lucas

“Abstinence from sex.” – Alan

“I think one of the main issues facing teens today is the fear of not being accepted or loved by others or not belonging.

Others issues teens are facing include:
Low Self Esteem
Family problems/communication issues
Stress about school, friends, family, sports or activities, future
Peer pressure to engage in substance use and premarital sex
Bullying” – Suzy

“In today’s society there are countless numbers of impossible expectations set for teens. These expectations are set by family members, media, peers, and even ourselves. When teens inevitably are unable to reach these impossible expectations they feel as though they have let themselves and those around them down. This creates insecurities and a lack of confidence in many teens.” – Ames

“Peer pressure.” – Kim

“Pressure from adults to succeed.” – Dan

 If you are out of high school, what advice would you go back and give yourself?

 I would tell myself that I am far stronger than I think I am, and that the terrible things happening right now won’t matter in a few years. If anything, they’ll have shaped you into a better person. Don’t keep struggling to fit in with your “pretty, popular friends.” They are NOT your friends because a friend doesn’t repeatedly kick someone once they’re already down. Ignore the classmates who call you crazy, because they don’t realize how beautiful your mind is and how blessed you are to be able to feel so deeply. These kids, this school, this town is so insignificant and does not define who you will be. One day, you will find people who deserve and appreciate all the love and friendship you have to give. You do matter, and you are most certainly good enough.” – Annalise

“Be more positive and be more outgoing. Never say you can’t do something. Always try and see what happens.” – Wayne

“Don’t care what others think of you!” – Tabita

“Stay in school. Don’t be too excited about getting married, you have your whole life ahead of you. Plan for the future by saving money, setting goals and following through with those decisions.” – Katarina

“I would give myself the advice to be more involved in activities, clubs, sports, fund-raising etc. I have seen how involved my daughter has been and it has made her so incredibly efficient and so well-rounded as a person.” – Heather

“I believe the main issue is that teens really care too much about what others think. This is a hard biological check that all teens must overcome at some point. The feeling of belonging is of utmost importance to the mental well being of a teen. For these reasons teens get caught up in what others are doing and thinking. Teens must stay true to themselves.” – Nick

“Try to be more comfortable in my own skin and embrace my passions and own my own voice.” – Todd

“What you are experiencing right now will not define the rest of your life!” – Pam

“I would tell myself to embrace who I am. Don’t hide in the shy shell you’ve created over the years. You have every potential to be beautiful and happy if you just let yourself. Also, don’t rely on others to give you reassurance that you’re good enough. Because most of the people you currently surround yourself with will not come through when you need them most. Be strong, be independent, and you will find the people who make you better!” – Sydney

“Be gentle, patient and kind to myself” – Mary

“Well I am almost out of high school…and looking back at my first few years I would give myself a hug and tell little Olivia that everything will turn out for the best. I would tell her not to worry so much.” – Olivia

“I would say to have fun and not take life and school quite so seriously.” – Tiffany

“Take time to think about what I want for myself instead of worrying about pleasing others all the time. Be nice to others, but that doesn’t mean I should let people walk all over me nor do we have to be aggressive. It takes strength to stick to your beliefs, but it’s worth it.” – Michele

“Don’t worry so much about what others think of me; that doesn’t matter. Be myself. Be thankful for my experiences, find and focus on the joyful aspects of everything that comes my way. Make good use of my time; do what I will regret the least in the future. Enjoy the journey.” – Lucas

“Don’t experiment with alcohol.” – Alan

“I was really afraid to make mistakes for fear of looking “Dumb” so I would tell myself that it is OK to make mistakes and that we learn from our mistakes and often grow from our mistakes. I was always my own worst enemy so I would tell myself to look at my strengths rather than my deficits.” – Suzy

“I would tell myself not to worry as much about what other people think.” – Ames

“To be true to myself and keep open communication with my wise mother.” – Kim

“Enjoy every single day.” – Dan

If you are still in high school, what advice would you give others who are starting?

“Stay true to your beliefs while keeping an open mind. High school is where you form your true self and find who your true friends are, but it’s not the end. There is so much more after high school, don’t sweat the small things. Also mental/physical health comes before grades.” – Maddie P.

“Don’t freak out too much, and don’t let what other people say get to you to a point where you constantly are hating on yourself.” – Maddie D.

“Be Yourself! Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. Don’t do things just because other people want you to. These four years do not define you!”

“I would tell high school girls that it is very important not to worry about what others think. The most important opinion is what you think of yourself.” – Olivia

“People are always going to be mean. If someone is judging you or is saying mean things about you, I know it is hard to push it aside. I want you keep in mind that these people will not be going too far in life with that attitude, and if they are behaving that way towards you, they are not at all someone you need in your life. Love yourself first. How you feel about yourself is what matters.” – Rebecka

“Stay away from as much drama as possible and be friends with as many people as you can. Be your own person and be kind to everyone.” – Alicja

Links to past groups can be found here:

Why this project began
Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)
Group 10 – Couples!

















Can you help us take the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project across the country?

Get the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to teens in Iowa!
Can you help?

Even the smallest donation helps and is greatly appreciated.

Recently, this Tacoma, WA based project was contacted by Rebecca, a high-school senior that lives in the small town of Decorah, Iowa.
She had found the project through a friend and Facebook and hoped it could possibly make some sort of change for teens in her area.
Rebecca is very familiar with loss in her community – when we originally became acquainted, their community had dealt with the death of five young people over only the last few years – two to accidents, three to suicide.

Since our original contact, Rebecca lost yet another friend to suicide just a couple of weeks ago.
She and I recently got to FaceTime about self-esteem, its effects, suicide, and the RHL Project.

I am excited to announce that there is now an opportunity for us to go to Iowa to do the project with Rebecca and six of her peers.
If you are able to help us in any way toward this cause, we and this group of teens would greatly appreciate it.
We need to round up funds for this quickly, as this group needs to take place at the end of April.
We’re very excited about this opportunity!
Please share if you feel so inclined.

Please go here for the GoFundMe Link: Get the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to Iowa!

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As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit.  I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read.  We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read.  So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing.  I even downloaded  a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story.  What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined.  What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about.  You can find that here: Women. Raw. Honest. Loved. Group 1. 

Today’s number: #19 – Maya, from the Teen group.

(p.s. the word “group” starts to look super bizarre after you’ve typed it so many times…)



“My insecurity is not being perfect. I try my best in school but hardly ever get straight A’s. I’ve been playing the violin since 4th grade and I’m in the back of the second violin in Youth Symphony. I also can be really mean and make others feel bad even if I didn’t mean for it to be that way.”

Maya’s friends and family:

“Dedicated to schoolwork, Musically talented, Piercing Brown Eyes, Generous, Fun, Entertaining, Loving, Feisty, Beautiful, Clever, Trustworthy, Confident, Aiden (my son) loves her, Genuine.” – Jessica

“Has great charisma, Very easy to talk to, Creatively passionate, Wonderful Musician, Looks great in anything, Charming, An old soul who is wise for her years.” – Sadie

“I have known Maya since she was a little girl, so I have many impressions of her. My most vivid, oddly enough, is of her at a distance from me, at the age of twelve or thirteen, running in an orchard at dusk. As the light was fading I could only make out her silhouette. Other children were running around frantically trying to find a hiding spot or something, but Maya was being so perfectly Maya. Moving gently and thoughtfully. Leaping higher than the others (just for the joy of it and because she could), Shifting quietly and with grace. Making her way without sound. A little woodland creature.
The other most vivid memory that I have of Maya is from when she was no more than six. She had come to our house with her little sister and the children were outside playing in the garden. I was doing the thankless job of polishing the main stairs in our house and I was moving stair by stair as I polished. I thought I was alone in the house as I could hear the children outside calling to one another. When I heard a sound above me I looked up suddenly, and there was little Maya. Her sweet face so serious and earnest, she asked if it would be ok if she stayed with me while I worked. I don’t think she was unhappy or upset with the others, just that she preferred to watch the methodical process and have a quiet conversation. We worked slowly and carefully on those stairs, not saying much, but working together happy and peaceful until the others came in.
Maya: Gentle, thoughtful, quiet, graceful, serious, earnest, happy, peaceful, loyal, wise.” – Megan

“Brave, Tenacious, Intelligent, Honest, Beautiful, Creative, True to her heart, Silly, Runs fast, Jumps high, Best camp bed-maker ever!” – Natalie

“Elegant, Determined, Dedicated, Strong, Full of Promise, Slyly Funny, Whip-Smart, Thoughtful, Stunningly Beautiful, Sweetly Shy, Compelling.
Maya is an amazing young woman. She is talented in areas that aren’t supposed to be compatible — music & engineering, humor & stoicism. She is incredibly smart, but she also strives to achieve – so her accomplishments are that perfect combination of dreams & desires plus true effort. I think Maya is going to accomplish great things — things we can’t even imagine right now.” – Shannon

“Maya is a force to be reckoned with. She is fearless and brave and knows what she believes in. Maya is one of those kids who can be terrified or intimidated on the inside, but, take a deep breath, square her shoulders, and walk into any situation as if it is just a stroll in the park. She has a calm and logical way of approaching life that is so refreshing. When she finds something that interests her, she is passionate about her commitment to it – whether it is the violin, building robots, drawing, playing piano or high-jumping. If you are lucky enough to be Maya’s friend, you will have a steadfast and dedicated companion. Maya just might rule the world someday, and we might all be better for it. I am proud and honored that she is my daughter.” – Shari

a brief 30 seconds of your time…

May I make an ever-so-brief request of you?

It was recommended to me that I start a Facebook page for the women’s project…which will likely serve as a pretty decent hub for it – promoting interaction, feedback, friendliness, you know… – so, will you go give it a like to show your support?
And to keep yourself informed of more activity, of course.

And spread the word! Help me make this project grow, please and thank you!

I really appreciate it. If you were here, I’d buy you a beer. (maybe…as long as it’s not everyone that views this…that could get outta hand.)

(TEEN version!) women. raw. honest. loved.


Remember being a teenager?

Especially being a teen girl…
Ugh. The skepticism. The self-doubt. The pressure to be prettier, thinner, funnier, more athletic, smarter, more popular…the list goes on.

Now, take those feelings and maybe multiply them by 100.
With the pressures induced by media and social networking adding to those already crappy feelings they are prone to have about themselves, I would hate to be in these girls’ shoes today.

I went on a field trip this year with my daughter (who is days away from turning 13, and is just now tiptoeing {CONFIDENTLY, I might add} through these waters), and my eyes were opened WIDE as to what she deals with among her peers on a daily basis. Thankfully, the particular group of girls that I had in this group were pretty level-headed girls…smart, fun, goofy girls in seventh grade…acting like seventh graders. But, as I looked around on the bus I observed LOUD, crass, mean, gossipy girls all around. Girls who were wearing layers of makeup. Girls who were doing the best to make their school uniforms as revealing as possible. Girls who seemed quite sexualized already, sadly, at their age. I’m not saying these girls are the majority, but they make up a good number. And I could see many girls around them desperately seeking their approval, hanging on their every word…trying hard to be their friends. And this was just on a couple of bus rides…only a smidgin of a glance into a middle-school girl’s everyday world.

My heart hurt a little bit.

And it scared the crap out of me.

How does this pressure affect my own daughter? Is she really as level-headed as she seems and can rise above it all, or is there a part of her that gets confused about all of it and feels the need to be like everyone else? Will her own insecurities then do as mine did – become a nagging voice in her head always bringing her down? Or will they not only possibly bring her down, but turn her into another “mean girl”, one who takes these pent-up insecurities out on other girls and women along the way? How do I stop this?

I do understand that the feelings…the insecurities…are somewhat inevitable.

But, the outcome? I don’t think the outcome needs to be the same.

Well, I sort of put those thoughts after that field trip out of my head for awhile.
Until I did the original women’s project with my own peers.
Originally, I wanted a change because of that very apparent fact about women: that we have a tendency to internalize our insecurities and then, in turn, take these things out on other women, disparaging them, ruining lines of communication and support between ourselves and other women that we should instead be seeking.
Interestingly enough, that evening we ended up realizing that most of these insecurities have had their roots for a very long period of time. Generally starting or building up significantly around the times we were these girls’ ages.

So, it was decided: the next project needed to take place with girls in this age group.

Because, not only did the original project achieve the objective: to check ourselves before we disparage another woman…to think about this night, and these women, when a negative thought about another woman crosses our mind…to remember that we don’t know the struggles that that particular woman may be dealing with…that she has friends and family who love her, and that there are probably numerous reasons why they love her unconditionally…
but, it also had a few unexpected benefits: we each have come away with a bit more love for ourselves, not so much of a focus on the nasty messages in our heads, and opened lines of communication with our loved ones. How awesome would it be if we could have done that yeeeeeeears ago?!

So, after brainstorming with a few of the ladies from the initial women’s project (Rachel, Jamey, and Rhi), and with their help (THANK YOU, LADIES!!!!!), the stage began to be set for the teen project.

Our hope was that these girls’ insecurities would not have too much of a root yet, but, that maybe the evening could promote among them an understanding and acceptance of their own peers and an appreciation of what makes they themselves individual and unique – which can hopefully promote empowering thinking, and not only prevent a bullying of others, but encourage them to stand up for others when they see this happening.

Well, here is how the night went down…
The girls arrived little by little. There were some super quiet, super shy, sometimes awkward introductions made, as I only knew two of these girls personally. The rest had only corresponded briefly with me via phone and email about the project. It was obvious that they were nervous. Honestly, it was obvious that all of us were nervous. Rachel, Jamey, Rhi, and I all sorta kept looking at each other like “this should be interesting…”, and then decided to have a glass of wine before beginning…allowing us to relax a touch, and allowing the girls to get to know one another a little (as many of them had just met for the first time as well).
We found it pretty cool when suddenly we realized that all of the girls had disappeared into Isabella’s room (for this project she will further be referred to as Izzlebizzle – her request) 🙂 to chat and giggle as teen girls do, subsiding their own nerves a bit.
We let things evolve as so, finally rounding the girls up downstairs to begin things.

And so, we started chatting.
I explained a bit about the project…the beginnings of it, what compelled me to start it, my personal experiences behind it. The other ladies did a bit of explaining what it’s meant to them since our project night. And then we turned it over to the girls…who didn’t really have questions, but were on the same page as us…understanding where we were coming from, excited, and maybe a bit apprehensive to address this topic.

Let me just mention here that we were dealing with some SUPER AMAZING, super intelligent, broad-thinking, empathetic, mature young women, as you will soon find out…

We showed them a couple of clips from the documentary “MissRepresentation“, as it speaks a lot about both media and society’s pressures on girls to look and act a particular way, often inadvertently (and sometimes advertently) discouraging girls from being themselves, from taking leadership roles, from finding importance beyond body image, etcetera.

I had come to the interesting realization, in preparation for this evening, that most of these girls’ shared insecurities had nothing to do with the physical. This was incredibly impressive to me, while also making me curious.
Is this actually the case?
Are they really not hung-up on/somewhat obsessed with physical appearance?
Is our society and media maybe putting so much pressure on personal appearance that these girls have already recognized it for how shallow it is and risen above??? If so, AWESOME.
OR, is this the age they’re at…where, seeing as this project would be public…they didn’t really want to call attention to these things?

I still cannot share that answer with you. The answer I’m going with is the first one. They’ve risen above. That is my hope.

In any case, please appreciate these girls’ honesty. Most of these insecurities were read with hesitation in their voices, cracking tones, falling tears, emotions on their sleeves.

I am inspired by each and every one of them. I’m positive that you will be, too.

And now, meet the girls (ages ranging from 12-17)…

*The process in which I did the photographing for this was the same as for the initial project, which was explained in the first blog posts, found here:

mayamaya ~

“My insecurity is not being perfect. I try my best in school but hardly ever get straight A’s. I’ve been playing the violin since 4th grade and I’m in the back of the second violin in Youth Symphony. I also can be really mean and make others feel bad even if I didn’t mean for it to be that way.”

maya’s friends and family:

“Dedicated to schoolwork, Musically talented, Piercing Brown Eyes, Generous, Fun, Entertaining, Loving, Feisty, Beautiful, Clever, Trustworthy, Confident, Aiden (my son) loves her, Genuine.” – jessica

“Has great charisma, Very easy to talk to, Creatively passionate, Wonderful Musician, Looks great in anything, Charming, An old soul who is wise for her years.” – sadie

“I have known Maya since she was a little girl, so I have many impressions of her. My most vivid, oddly enough, is of her at a distance from me, at the age of twelve or thirteen, running in an orchard at dusk. As the light was fading I could only make out her silhouette. Other children were running around frantically trying to find a hiding spot or something, but Maya was being so perfectly Maya. Moving gently and thoughtfully. Leaping higher than the others (just for the joy of it and because she could), Shifting quietly and with grace. Making her way without sound. A little woodland creature.
The other most vivid memory that I have of Maya is from when she was no more than six. She had come to our house with her little sister and the children were outside playing in the garden. I was doing the thankless job of polishing the main stairs in our house and I was moving stair by stair as I polished. I thought I was alone in the house as I could hear the children outside calling to one another. When I heard a sound above me I looked up suddenly, and there was little Maya. Her sweet face so serious and earnest, she asked if it would be ok if she stayed with me while I worked. I don’t think she was unhappy or upset with the others, just that she preferred to watch the methodical process and have a quiet conversation. We worked slowly and carefully on those stairs, not saying much, but working together happy and peaceful until the others came in.
Maya: Gentle, thoughtful, quiet, graceful, serious, earnest, happy, peaceful, loyal, wise.” – megan

“Brave, Tenacious, Intelligent, Honest, Beautiful, Creative, True to her heart, Silly, Runs fast, Jumps high, Best camp bed-maker ever!” – natalie

“Elegant, Determined, Dedicated, Strong, Full of Promise, Slyly Funny, Whip-Smart, Thoughtful, Stunningly Beautiful, Sweetly Shy, Compelling.
Maya is an amazing young woman. She is talented in areas that aren’t supposed to be compatible — music & engineering, humor & stoicism. She is incredibly smart, but she also strives to achieve – so her accomplishments are that perfect combination of dreams & desires plus true effort. I think Maya is going to accomplish great things — things we can’t even imagine right now.” – shannon

“Maya is a force to be reckoned with. She is fearless and brave and knows what she believes in. Maya is one of those kids who can be terrified or intimidated on the inside, but, take a deep breath, square her shoulders, and walk into any situation as if it is just a stroll in the park. She has a calm and logical way of approaching life that is so refreshing. When she finds something that interests her, she is passionate about her commitment to it – whether it is the violin, building robots, drawing, playing piano or high-jumping. If you are lucky enough to be Maya’s friend, you will have a steadfast and dedicated companion. Maya just might rule the world someday, and we might all be better for it. I am proud and honored that she is my daughter.” – shari

bellag bella ~

“I have a lot of insecurities, but I think the one that bothers me the most is the constant fear that my peers will decide they don’t like me and disconnect me from social situations. When I was in elementary school, I was friends with one girl in the fifth grade, and one day she randomly began to ignore me. I was in such emotional distress, I had honestly no clue what I had done. Eventually, this girl sent me a not so nice email, claiming I was the rudest person she had ever met and that nobody else liked me, even though I never did anything besides worship the ground that little girl walked on. Ever since then, I’ve always worried about people not liking me. I’m in this semi-constant fear that my friends are mad at me, or think I’m dull, annoying etc. It’s hard for me not to be paranoid and I hope I’m not alone..”

bella’s friends and family:

“Brilliant, Kind, Huggable, Nerve-Calming, Compassionate, Adventurous, Courageous, Strong, Excited, Helpful, Always there when someone needs her, Problem Solving, Beautiful” – oscar

“Bella is very creative and has a great sense of humor. She is not afraid to express her individuality through her clothing and doesn’t hide her personality. Bella helps me with homework whenever she can. She is a great sister.” – chloe

I’m a friend of Bella’s and I’m here to yell at you about how amazing she is and stuff!
Honestly, Bella’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had (since preschool actually, I’m a super credible source), and I’m so honored to call her that. She’s one of the most understanding people you will ever meet, she’s incredibly encouraging and she will never give up on someone. Bella is incredibly understanding and a total joy to be around, plus she’s super smart (she was in the gifted program back at Kalles). She’s super artistic and musical, and I’ve never met anyone more genuinely incredible than her.” – carissa

“Isabella is an intelligent and free-spirited young woman whom I admire very much. She has a great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh. I love that Bella is so passionate about her beliefs. She is a beautiful girl with a fresh outlook on life, and she is very stylish!” – jenny

“Bella is one of the three smartest, sweetest, funniest, and prettiest great nieces in the universe. Plus, she’s not just a great niece, she is an awesome great niece!
She is articulate, creative, caring, compassionate, and deeply intellectual.
Bella isn’t afraid to ask questions. That’s the great secret to learning.
Bella looks for unique solutions to challenges. When she is determined to accomplish something and encounters an obstacle, she will continue to look for a way to go over, under, around, or through the hurdle.
Bella loves her family and her animals. One of the best ways to learn about someone is to look at how he or she treats animals.
When something runs counter to her sense of justice she swings into action to take corrective measures. She is also a true thinker with an unmatched sense of humor.” – uncle sam

“I have been best friends with Isabella’s mother, Ursula, for well over twenty years. Once Isabella was born, I became her surrogate Aunt and godmother, so I have been on the periphery of her life since she has been born.
Isabella was always a strong and intelligent child, and it has been a privilege to watch her maintain these traits as she moves into adulthood. I have always been struck by Isabella’s will to do what’s right even if it’s not popular. I have been impressed with her willingness to be involved in the LGBT community and crusade for the underdog, even though it might not be the “cool” thing to do. It is just one example of her strength of character and compassion, and it makes me feel a lot better about the future of our society that we have people like her in it. I could go on for pages about her creativity and wit, but was advised I had to keep it to a paragraph.
Thank you for the opportunity to sing her praises.” – kerry

“The following is a list of what makes my precious niece, Bella (beautiful)…
-She is kind.
-She cares for all critters; two legged (people), four legged, scaled, feathered or furred.
-She loves deeply.
-She is very intelligent in a humble manner. Never flaunting her intelligence but rather using it to teach others, especially those who are younger, with a desire to help them understand something new.
-She has a wicked sense of humor but never at the expense of others.
-She is a good listener. What you say is important to her and she shows it in her eye contact, body language, and how she engages in the conversation.
-She has a hunger of knowledge and is inquisitive. She lives and breathes books for the adventure and understanding they afford and enjoys discussions that stretch her intellectually.
-She loves her family deeply and enjoys spending time with her favorite Aunt (her best quality, I might add!). All family is important to her.
-She pursues her music passion with fervor and dedication and loves to share it with others.
-She is a good encourager, especially to those who are younger.
-She is helpful, especially to her mother with her younger siblings, and does it with a joyful heart knowing it makes a positive difference in her mother’s life.
-She is an independent thinker, able to assess information and make an informed decision on her own behalf without worrying about what others think.
-She looks at the world beyond herself and searches for ways she can make a difference in this world today and for her future.
-She has a sweet spirit with just the right amount of feistiness! 🙂
Isabella is a ray of sunshine and a joy to be around! I am honored to call her my niece!” – heather

“Bella is a beautiful person inside and out. She is caring and sympathetic towards others. She is a loving daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and friend. She is fun to be around and always has something interesting to talk about. She possesses a stellar sense of humor. She takes time to make sure she is well-informed and is not afraid to share her opinions as she is confident in them. She is incredibly bright. A talented musician and lover of music. She has a great sense of fashion and has created a style that is all her own. I think she is an amazing human being, I am so proud of her! :-)” – mom

beth beth ~

“It has taken me a long time to realize this – my greatest insecurity is that I am a stupid, annoying, bore. I feel like everyone around me knows it, and I’m the only one not in on this hilarious joke of a girl. A girl who’s trying so hard to be smart and interesting. Often it feels like I’m the only one who doesn’t see my ignorance, my plain stupidity. I often feel that I am overzealous, and annoying – that my very presence is a hindrance to other people. I feel like people who are my friends just aren’t in on the joke yet either, and when I lose friends it’s as if they’ve realized and moved past me. I feel like the whole world is in on this joke that is me, and they all sit in a room together and laugh about it. So in essence, I guess I feel like I’ll never be anyone’s first choice, or I’m just not good enough, and people see my inadequacy. Clearly.”

beth’s friends and family:

“Your drive and ambition is likely to be your greatest asset in your life. With that, the sky is literally the limit for you. I know you fear your abilities in general, but you are foolish to do so. With your dedication and ambition and drive, there is realistically nothing you cannot achieve.” – uncle owen

So, I’m not even sure where to begin this letter. Can I start off by saying that you are so truly amazing? Because you are. And just in case you don’t hear it often enough, you are so worthy of love and beautiful friendships and relationships. You are the truest person I know, and I have more love for you as a friend than I’m sure you realize.
While we were in Moclips, I met a Beth I didn’t know existed. One with so many layers, and so real, to the core. She showed me that she is stronger than people realize. That she is passionate. I met someone that week that would become more necessary and important to me than I possibly could’ve foreseen.
So many others don’t value you as much as they should. I’m convinced its because they aren’t willing to get to know you more than they hear in rumors. They’re simple-minded, and unworthy to know someone as fantastic as you. You have such a beautiful soul and I am so happy that you share it with me.
Let me be the first to tell you that I am so very proud of the person you are, and I am incredibly honored and blessed to be your friend. You simply amaze me; you have one of the most compassionate and gentle hearts I’ve ever had to pleasure of spending time with. You love me endlessly, without questions. You’re there for me like it’s your job, and I hope you never stop. I want you to know that the person I am today wouldn’t be complete without you. You bring me more joy and sunshine than you can possibly comprehend- there isn’t a time that you can’t put a smile on my face, and if I am half of that to you, I would be so proud.
Everything is better when you’re around. All the really hard stuff is a little easier when I can talk to you about it. Everyone deserves a best friend, there’s no doubt about that. I can only hope that everyone is as lucky as I am.
Sometimes I feel like you’re shy when it comes to aspects of your life and that you’re unwilling to disclose things you think I would find unsavory. I hope you can realize that I will not judge you, and that any and everything that you choose to share with me will always be sacred and I will never turn on you as people have done before. I just really hope you can say “fuck everyone else” and learn to see and love Bethany the way that I do.
Thank you for always bringing out the best in me, and I will never take you for granted. If our past and present adventures is any clue to what our future would bring, we’re in for a hell of a ride.” – serena

“Alright. I should start.
But honesty is HARD.
Stop that. We need to write this.
Shut up.

Hey Beth. So uh- where to start? I suppose where we did. We met in middle school, but we never really hung out that much. You insist that you had a goth phase, but I must have been too blinded by the sheer volume of my Afro to take notice of things like your style decisions. I think I had a crush on you at one point, but in any event I don’t remember it very well. I distinctly remember being moderately scared of you (don’t worry, I start off negative and work towards positive; It’s almost like giving you a character arc). One day you would be happy to see me and give me a hug, the next you would completely ignore my existence or kick me in the shins or something. This may or may not be why we didn’t hang out much.
I was surprised when I saw you at SaMI freshman year. You always seemed artsy, creative, a bit fey. I had expected you to go to SOtA, but you came to SaMI instead. Again, we didn’t hang out all that much for awhile, me still being a bit scared of you, but eventually we developed overlapping social circles (one trait we share: we have awesome taste in friends). We started to hang out a bit. The first time you were nice, I wasn’t surprised, but the second time it caught me off guard. Usually, by this time, your opinion of me had switched, but it hadn’t so I was content to kind of bask in this extended kindness.
But then something extra weird happened. It didn’t stop. You just stayed nice. We hung out a bit more and the kindness train just kept on chuggin’ through. You were always smiling (this is when I started to notice how weirdly immaculate your teeth are, by the way). You were fun and, dare I say, cool. I started to trust you. You started to trust me. We became what I think of as good friends. You being the adept social butterfly that you are, put me in a lot of situations to interact with people. I think you brought me out of my shell and gave me a bit of confidence (successfully hanging out with a group of women and getting them to laugh will do that to a guy). You were always happy to see me and I was happy to see you. We could share secrets (cough… Egyptian… cough). I was – am – proud to call someone as cool and kick-ass and talented and nice and awesome as you my friend.
Fo’ Shizzle,
p.s.- you should make your rogue so we can play D&D. There will be ninjas. It’s gonna rock.” – elijah

“Bethany is an amazing friend of mine. I have known her since my freshman year and we’ve grown very close since then. She is extremely beautiful. I have found her attractive ever since I met her, but she is far more than just that. Beth has a great sense of humor. Every time I spend time with her we laugh for the majority of it because of the humor we both find in everything. She is also very intelligent, more then she gives herself credit for. She is incredibly curious about many things in this world and will search for answers until she finds one that satisfies her. That tells me that she questions the world and is very driven about things that interest her.
Also, Beth loves to go on adventures. I am constantly hearing stories of her going camping, on huge hikes, and exploring the world around us. I believe that all of these adventures just drive her to be more curious and learn more about this magnificent world we live on.
She is also incredibly social and outgoing. I know very few people who make as many friends as Beth does in so little time. With her outgoing-ness, Beth is very bold and open. She will tell you almost anything about herself and what she likes or dislikes. This can be a great thing, but I have seen the times when people have done her wrong and she gets hurt incredibly. I am not saying that her openness is a bad thing, I just wish she was more cautious with it.
Above all else, Beth is amazingly caring. Rarely do you meet people who genuinely care about you as much as Beth does. Why she cares so much is beyond me. All I know is that if I need someone to talk to, or I need a shoulder to cry on, Beth will always be there for me.” – stephen

cassie cassie ~

“I have a lot of insecurities but I think the one that eats at me the most is the feeling of being insignificant.. I think of myself as just another mere speck of dust floating around on a bigger speck that’s floating around with maybe millions of more specks.. When I try to look at the big picture of existence, I feel so small and insignificant. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying so hard when it doesn’t really matter. When I work really hard on something like a drawing, sometimes I think, “Why am I trying so hard? Eventually everything I’ve put all my time and energy in, everything I’ve worked hard on to make will end up being nothing more than dust. I’ll be nothing more than dust, so why even bother?” The feeling of being insignificant eats away at me everyday and keeps me up every night. Always feeling like nothing I say or do will ever matter or make any difference makes it hard for me to keep trying hard everyday.”

cassie’s friends and family:

“Cassandra is the most beautifulest girl I’ve ever met in my life. She’s so caring for others and has a smile that can light up the sky. Her laugh and her voice is so soft and gentle, I can’t help but smile. I love that girl with all my heart, and if she is reading this, “Hi baby” (: “ – dominic

“Cassie is really nice, Beautiful, Loyal, She will always be there for you, Protective over the ones she loves, Funny, You can trust her with anything, and she’s really caring about a lot.” – breanna

“I’m a photographer too, so Cassie and I have a lot in common. We both like photographing a lot of the same subjects.
Cassie is the sweetest person I’ve ever met. It doesn’t matter who you are…if you have some kind of a problem and just need someone to talk to, she’ll listen. I’ve done a lot of stupid things within the five or so years Cassie and I have been friends, and she’s never judged me. She always puts her own personal problems aside and gives me her two cents. She is extremely shy, but if you’re lucky enough to know her like I do, you’ll see that she is very outgoing. She will randomly start acting like a five year old when we’re with all of our friends, just to make someone smile. She also is known to make some of the weirdest and creepiest noises I’ve ever heard! She always knows how to make me smile when I’m in a bad mood. Whenever I get really pissed off at home, I’ll call her and she’ll meet me somewhere so I can hang out and blow off some steam. Cassie is hands down one of my best friends. I know that even after graduation we’ll still be really close. I love Cassie to death, and I’m always trying to help her work on overcoming her shyness, and working on being able to stand up for herself more. Since she is so caring, people will often take advantage of her. She doesn’t think so, but she has become so much stronger over the time we’ve spent in high school. Since freshman year, she has changed so much, but in the best way she could change. She sticks up for herself more and shares more of her thoughts and opinions in class and with our friends. I’m so proud of her for that, and I know that I could never thank her enough for how much she’s helped me throughout the years. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I ever lost Cassie as my friend. She’s one of the only people I know and trust enough to go to, no matter what the problem is. I honestly know that if I showed up at her house crying my eyes out, and not wanting to talk about what’s wrong, she’d just hold me until I stopped crying and could explain what was wrong. She’s the closest friend I have. She’s talked me out of cutting myself and even killing myself, whether she knows it or not. I’m so grateful to have her be such a big part of my life. I love you so much Cassie! You mean the world to me, darling.” – jodee

“There are so many great things i can say about Cassandra Elmore 🙂
She is the single most amazing person I ever met.
She is loving and caring about everyone in her life, and will put everyone else before her own needs.
She is hilarious and beautiful, and I love every second I spend with her.
She is adventurous and genuine, and I know I could never find anyone else who even comes close to comparing to her.
Cassandra is my single most best friend in the world, and I want to keep her in my life forever.
If I never met Cassie, my life wouldn’t be where it is today. Hell, I might not even be here today if it wasn’t for this magnificent, beautiful, amazing girl that I am more than proud to call my best friend.
Cassie means so much to me, and I would do anything to make her happy. I absolutely adore her smile and laugh. She brings so much joy and happiness to my life.” – rebecca

“Cassandra is one of the most selfless people I know – she’s generous to a fault. She is conscientious in all that she does and feels. The day she learned about Earth Day in school, her little heart would break at the sight of garbage in the streets, she took it very seriously. Her kind and sensitive heart has made her a go-to confidant with her friends. Her passion and talent in photography inspires me to search for my own creative outlet, and her harsh self-criticism breaks my heart. She expects perfection of herself and yet forgives with ease when slighted by others. She’s a loyal and fierce friend. Her empathy and sympathy knows no boundaries – she doesn’t care about what your race, religion or sexual orientation is – I couldn’t be prouder.” – amy

iris iris ~

“It’s hard to make friends with new people or my friends’ friends because I’m afraid I won’t live up to their expectations. I worry that people will think that I am lame or annoying. I guess that’s why I’m always awkward around people, because I feel that if I open up that they won’t like ME.”

iris’ friends and family:

“I haven’t known Iris for very long, but what I’ve summed up about her is that she’s pretty awesome. She’s funny, smart, and absolutely gorgeous. She can goof off with you and take control of a situation when necessary. I think she’s pretty cool to be around and I’m glad I know her.” – ravyn

“Humble, calming, sensitive, shining, one of my favorite people in my life, bubbly, strong, smart, fun.” – hope & aimee

“Iris is determined, smart, funny, very loving, and compassionate, a born-leader. She is tough when she needs to be and always caring. She puts the needs of others before herself, and the best thing is that she does these things and is how she is because she wants to, and not because she is supposed to. I am proud to call her my step-daughter” – damien

“Iris is the bravest person I have ever known.
She is creative ~ She is genius creative. She can imagine and then create anything. And she does. Daily ~ every moment~ she is creating something marvelous.
She is genuine in the truest sense.
She is beautiful. Heart-achingly beautiful. She is tender and graceful and delicate. She is a rosebud. She is made of star dust and magic and dragonfly wings. She is wind.
She is able to make a person feel special and radiant with just a look.
She loves. She loves fully and purely and with no hesitation. Her love is a force of nature that can bend mountains.
She is kind ~ she will give to any and all everything she has.
And she is thoughtful. so very very very thoughtful. Iris is my buddha of compassion. She feels what the universe is feeling and must heal it as best she can.
She is a protector. She will defend anyone she sees being hurt or attacked. She is fierce and loyal. She will stand by you through anything. She IS her word.
She is a valkyrie in the truest sense. She is strong and safe and stable. She is made of granite and oak and has the blood of an eagle. An eagle with a wolf head. With laser eyes. She is that kind of epic.
She is a graceful ballerina with a war axe and the smarts and compassion to know how to never have to use it.
She has the best fashion sense of everyone I have ever known or admired.
She knows how to be a friend and a very supportive and good one at that.
She is wonderful.
And now im all rambling and in tears. And so fearful I forgot things. Which I know I did.
How can you write how marvelous Iris is in words? She is beyond mere words. She is water and music and laughter and sunshine. She is who she is and stands unflinching.
I have been in awe of her since I was blessed with her into my universe.
She is my hero.” – dagmar

izzlebizzle izzlebizzle ~

“I don’t like talking to people about my problems. I reshape myself in a “happy” and “cheerful” way so people don’t ask questions. I guess you could say that is my biggest insecurity… I’m not happy enough and I feel selfish for that.”

izzlebizzle’s friends and family:

“Not afraid to let her “child” out. Fiercely protective of family. Boundless energy. A natural force of nature. Bright. A highly developed sense of humor. Confident. Can hold a meaningful conversation with adults and peers. Physically beautiful. Creative and artistic. Loving and affectionate. Isabella is a joy to be around. I hope this is of help!” – grandma sylvia.

“Bella is a brilliant girl. I am not talking super smarty-pants brilliant, although she is a smarty-pants. I am talking, quite literally, BRILLIANT. I mean, she shines. She radiates life and happiness on an inhuman level. She’s full of enthusiasm and joy, and you can always count on her to lift your spirits when you are in a funk. She’s creative, and funny, and she’s always had great style. She loves to read, learn, and share cool things with others, and not in a show-offy way. She has friends from all walks-of-life, and is pretty good at accepting people who are different from her. All in all, I’d say she’s 95% awesome, 2% dorky, 2% messy, and 1% silly as all get out. I wish I was her age so we could be best friends. She will always have a fan in me.” – diana

You are one of the most darling people I know.
Our meeting and friendship has been destined since our mothers went to school, and you are a phenomenal woman. You are strong and empowered. You do wonderful things, you are passionate and just an all around absolutely wondrous person. I love who you are, I love being your best friend. We even each other out, and we pick each other up when we’re down. I know you struggle sometimes, I am and will always be here for you, through anything and everything. I want to point out all the good things about you in this letter, all the good feels, right here. Not just the ones you can see on the outside either, the inside feels.
I want to tell you how smart you are – you, dear, are in fact very smart and insightful, and I think often you doubt yourself when it comes to your awesome brains.
I want to tell you you’re beautiful, and dependable, and fun to be around, you have infectious energy, and amazing taste. You are a loyal friend, the best person to confide in, and a great adventurer. I can have very deep talks with you, and also completely silly superficial talks.
You are amazing. I am glad to call you my best friend.
I want to tell you many more things, but I think instead of me writing them all down here, I will just make a point of telling you in person as often as possible.
Because, my honey bunny, you are a light shining in the dark. You are a really beautiful person inside and out. I want you to remember that when you’re feeling insecure or doubtful about your amazing character .
I love you.
I love being your bestest friend .
I will always be here for you.
I will always want to snuggle you even when you’re PMSing 3 weeks out of the month.

You are a pleasure to know, to be around, to love.

And I will always cherish you and be a loyal friend to you.

Love, Beth”

“In the years I have been lucky enough to be a part of Isabella’s life, she has shown herself to be one of the bravest people I’ve ever known, a fiercely loyal friend and sister and daughter, and a first-rate comedian. She faces every situation head-on, and if she is afraid to fight for what she believes is the right thing, you wouldn’t know it by watching her. She has an instinctive understanding of how people should be treated and cared for, and a completely admirable understanding of how she herself should be treated by others… I think it’s unavoidable for anyone who spends any time at all with her not to learn something about kindness and self-respect. Isabella takes no shit and has mad love to give, and I think she’s the fucking greatest for it.” – ash

“UGH. I knew writing this letter was going to be hard, but I didn’t think it was gonna be THIS HARD. There are absolutely not enough words for me to describe how awesome my daughter is. Every. Single. Day. I am amazed by something she does. (and almost always in a good way! ha.) I love the way she moves through the world with such awareness at her young age and maintains her optimism. Her ability to look at a problem and immediately set to work on it…determined… sets my mind at ease. I can see how capable she is. I know that she is going to be able to take care of herself out there in the world. She can always find an answer…she’s not afraid to ask for help…and she isn’t afraid of doing anything. She can navigate the public transit between two cities with a bike in tow, alone. Seriously? Most adults I know can’t do that.
She may be in to some totally screamo new metal bands that her brothers totally make fun of her for, but, you know what? She doesn’t give a fuck…and she tells them that, “I don’t give a fuck”. Which leads us to her delightfully expressive language. Yesterday alone I heard her tell her brothers to “eat sh*t”, “shut up, c*nt!” and “f**k off”. It’s like she speaks the language of my heart.
My Isabella has an open heart that leads to an open mind. She has her own style, her own ways of doing things, and her own opinion on how the world should be. I couldn’t be more proud. Having a daughter who can think for herself and not let others get her down when they are being pack-minded, jerk beasts? The perfect gift.
I think it’s obvious (to the rest of us) that all of the stuff I’ve mentioned comes from true intelligence, but I don’t always think she realizes that. If ever there was a person who doesn’t seem to know just how brilliant they are, it’s her. I get a little frustrated when she knocks herself in that area…I’m hopeful that time will lead her to see what everyone else does. She is so smart, so able, so fast! It’s freaking cool.
My beautiful girl has the world in her hands and she knows just what to do with it. I will never be able to express how much I love her in a way she will understand. Sometimes I hate that. I think sometimes she really, really, really needs to know. But. It’s just too much. I love her too much for her to understand.

Quick list of other important Bella characteristics:
-She’s funny. In real life and on twitter
-She has a pretty great Tumblr
-She stands up for herself and others
-She’s not afraid to tell some jerky dude to shove it
-She respects herself
-She is going to be a great snowboarder someday of she can avoid breaking her butt again
-She has more clothes than any one person should ever have
-She bought most of them herself
-She’s responsible enough to babysit an infant and toddler simultaneously and be good at it. Most adults I know can’t be left alone in the same room with an infant without freaking much less the two together.
-She’s so awesome six names weren’t enough and she continues to acquire more.
-She’s the best

Okay. That’s it. I don’t feel like I said everything I needed too. Darnit.
Mommm” – jamey

ravyn ravyn ~

“At first I didn’t know what my insecurity was. Then, when I read other women’s insecurities from the last shoot I realized that it was my skin. My skin drives me crazy. I hate it so much. I have very bad acne, huge pores, and many scars. I’m able to hide most of that behind my bangs. My skin is the reason why when I run I’m constantly resituating my bangs so that my skin doesn’t show, and it’s the reason why I’m nervous about getting side-bangs. It doesn’t help that most girls I know have flawless skin…they make me extremely jealous. My skin is just stupid.”

ravyn’s friends and family:

“1. Her laugh.
2. She has an amazing personality.
3. She’s loving.
4. She is natural at anything she does – be it acting, singing, writing, anything…..she can succeed at it.
5. I am proud to have her as a best friend.
6. She is trustworthy.
7. She is pure at heart.
Thanks for letting me do this for Ravyn! I love her so much.” – jessica

“-Her laugh -Her smile -Her personality -Good sense of humor -Isn’t afraid to be herself in front of people she doesn’t know -She is considerate -She is polite -She is kind and caring -She can make any situation a funny one -I can joke around with her and she won’t take it the wrong way -Very generous -Very smart (helps me when I need it) -Good sport” – isabelle

“I’m honored to be of the select few that Ravyn asked to do this. She’s probably hoping that I’m not going to be embarrassing. I make no promises.
I believe Ravyn is a little like me, unsure exactly how to navigate this weird kind of a stepdad/not-quite-dad territory. We each know how we feel but aren’t sure how to express it – we get it wrong occasionally, sometimes we get it right.
Ravyn is hilarious. Dinner is often the highlight of my day. We sit around at the table, talk, make jokes, annoy each other, throw wet paper towels, bug mom… Oh right, and eat.
Ravyn is also extraordinarily talented. Anything I’ve seen her choose to do, she does well. School, theater, piano, MATH… there are no limits. When she puts her mind to it, she does it, and does it well.
It doesn’t stop at talent. Even being a sister, she’s fun, caring…you name it. Grey will realize this more and more as he gets older – he has an awesome sister. Her mom has a great daughter – Alana’s always talking about how impressed she is with Ravyn and how proud she is. I do the same, I couldn’t ask for a better [step?] daughter.
It’s been a crazy few years but if I could go back in time (haha Dr. Who) and change anything… I wouldn’t.
To Ravyn: Always do what you think is right, no matter what others say. Never let anyone tell you what you are capable of doing. Never be afraid to pursue what you’re interested in.” – dylan

“Why did I start this project? Why didn’t I realize that I would soon want to do a teen group, that I would be including Ravyn in it, and that it would be so extremely difficult to have to neatly package my feelings about my RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME daughter?? This was a dumb idea. This is hard. *breathe*
Where to begin?
Maybe I should begin with the obvious…anyone who has had the privilege of hearing her play piano, sing, or perform in a play knows that she is incredibly talented. She makes all of these things look effortless. She is a natural when it comes to artistic pursuits. I love watching her excel at these things…I love while doing menial things around the house, hearing a song start up, thinking she is playing something on the stereo, and then realizing that, no, that’s just my daughter being awesome on the piano AGAIN…playing and singing that song she taught herself.
Ravyn is super intelligent – she’s got ‘brains in her head and feet in her shoes!’ ☺ She excels in school even at things that she THINKS she is doing badly at. It’s as if she doesn’t even need to try, but she then tries even harder. She’s not afraid to ask questions. She also has a deep love of reading, which I’m super stoked about…I love to watch the world open up to her through books. She always longs for more and could spend hours and hours in a bookstore.
Anyone who has met her also knows that she is HILARIOUS. She has grown into this super rad, ridiculously funny sense of humor that is spot-on, and always timed perfectly. We have many a night around the dinner table that is filled with us in tears over something she has said…or done…and, yeah, sometimes we (herself included) are laughing AT her, because she also is a big ol’ dork and does super dumb things, too. But that is also the beautiful thing about her…she’s unafraid of saying and doing silly things. It’s pretty awesome.
Ravyn is gorgeous. Inside and out. Sparkling eyes, big encapsulating smile that makes you smile with her, and long, strong legs that can kick my ass in tennis.
She is super compassionate, accepting, empathetic, and generous. She truly feels for other people and would give anything she can to help someone who needs it.
She is unashamed and unapologetic about her morals. She has very high standards and is not ashamed about sticking to those standards, even when it may not be the norm around her. She gains my respect in this all the time.
She is the BEST big sister. She’s Grey’s biggest fan, and he is hers, as well. Nothing makes me happier than watching them together. There really are no words…
Ravyn is pure, understanding, loving, and affectionate. Affectionate with her ridiculous mom, who she knows has an innate difficulty with affection, but she still never gives up on me. She still sees through my struggles and hugs me anyway…she seems to know that even when I need my “space”, I also need her to ignore when I say that. ☺ She loves me and loves ON me despite me being a weirdo. And I love her even more for it.
Ravyn is the coolest, most conscientious girl I’ve ever known. It’s been astounding to watch her grow up so much in these last few years. My heart hurts a little every time I think about the fact that she will surely not be around as much in the years to come…it seems that she suddenly went from needing and wanting her mom’s company all the time, to suddenly becoming a beautiful, smart, hilarious, talented, creative, and independent young woman who has dreams and plans…and will surely fulfill all of them. Because she’s like that – determined. And because her stepdad and I will always, ALWAYS have her back and support her in fulfilling those dreams. She should know always that she is loved. So very loved.” – alana (aka, mom)

sophie sophie ~

“If I can’t understand something in school immediately I feel stupid (especially Math!). It makes me feel like I shouldn’t be in Algebra. If I don’t get it I feel like maybe I won’t get into a good college and I won’t be successful.”

sophie’s friends and family:

“Sweet, Charming, Sociable, Generous, Smart, Pretty hair, Beautiful eyes, Athletic, Good role model to Aiden (my son), Entertaining, Great imagination, Can talk to anyone, Adventurous, Loving.” – jessica

“Vibrant, So friendly, Makes people feel their best, Very helpful, Extremely athletic, Beautiful Smile, Energetic, Fun to be around, Fantastic long legs, So silly in such a fun way.” – sadie

“My most vivid memories of Sophie are, quite simply, of laughter.
Ever since she has been small she has seemed to be the center of happy and exuberant moments. Her warmth is an integral part of everything she does; a natural extension of her obvious love of life. She runs quickly and with abandon, hugs like she means it, and has learned early the joys of human folly. She is bright, loving and kind.
Sophie: Uninhibited, warm, joyful, happy, exuberant, affectionate, bright, artistic, funny, approachable, kind.” – megan

“Kind, Caring, Funny, Smart, Curious, Clever, True-blue friend, Gorgeous, Generous, Organized, Fantastic Dancer, The world’s greatest nickname-creator ever!” – natalie

“Effusive, Hilarious, Curious, Outgoing, Energetic, Powerful, Compassionate, Empathetic, Philosophical, Truly Gorgeous, Brilliant, Independent.
Sophie gives the world energy. We might not know it, but I think we’d all feel an absence if she were to stop contributing to the “buzz” of the earth. I love that she is fun-loving, goofy, and unafraid of taking risks. Nothing stops Sophie… And yet… her wildness is balanced by what is probably the kindest, most compassionate heart ever. Most adults lack the empathetic development that Sophie has had since she was just a wee kid.” – shannon

“Sophie lights up a room. She has an effervescent joy that she just can’t help but exude. Dancing, singing, cartwheeling across the lawn, laughing ALL the time, she is an energetic force that cannot be stopped. She wears her huge compassionate heart on her sleeve. Anyone who hurts in her immediate area has their hurt felt deeply by her. She is huggable as the day is long. She can paint some amazing finger and toe nails. She is neat and organized in everything she does. She gets up and immediately makes her bed, she sweeps the dog hair from our floors daily without being asked, keeps up the family fridge calendar (color coded by person and activity), and her schoolwork is always done on time- pristine, neat and perfect. She is smarter than she can even imagine. I love that girl with every fiber of my being.” – shari

Group 1, Part 1:
Group 1, Part 2:
Group 3, 55+:
Group 4:
Group 5:
roup 6:
roup 7, MEN!:
roup 8:
roup 9, Moms & Daughters:

it’s all in a name. help?!

So, I’ve been brainstorming.

It’s sorta getting me nowhere.

Here’s my dilemma…I have big ideas regarding the women’s insecurities photo project. Probably bigger ideas than I should even think to have. But, I have them anyway. And some of those ideas shall take flight and become something…I feel it.

The problem: I need a name for the project.

Until this point, I have been calling it “the women’s project” because, quite simply, that’s what it is…but, it’s going to become more than that. I mean, in a matter of weeks it will also be the teen girls’ project. So…what is a name that encompasses all of what it’s about (insecurities/affirmations/anti-bullying/anti-cattiness/positive-thinking/beauty-within)???
I’m putting this out there to you all because you have cared enough to read about the project and many of you have written me because it has touched you somehow. I totally trust that you can help me. ??

Whatever the name becomes, it needs to be…




And, just so you know, I have thought of “the beautiful you project” and “the beautiful me project” – both of which seem to be taken. “the YOUnique project” also is, though, the second that came into my head, I grimaced. I’m not a fan of puns…yeah, I’m THAT girl. And my boyfriend loves me despite of that, thank goodness. 🙂

Another one that bounces around…”the undeniably you project”.

Yeah, I don’t know. That is why I’m putting it out there to you all. Help??? Please??? I’d superduper appreciate it.

Maybe I should eat some food. Or drink some beer. Maybe that will help. Well, I will also do those things, but meanwhile, I’d love your input…

can I bake you all some cookies or somethin’??

I just ate Thai food for breakfast. Because it sounded good, and because “breakfast” didn’t happen til noon.

You know why?

Because I’ve been sifting through the outrageous amount of notifications here in WordPress, in response to the women’s project blogs (…and because I didn’t get out of bed until 10:30).
I’ve had a permanent smile on my face, so, thank you all for that.
It’s so awesome to see not only women all over the world relating to the message behind this project, but also men all over the world appreciating the project as well, and agreeing that it is time for a change.

This here blog post is really just a big THANK YOU to not only Michelle and the other editors here at WordPress, who were so incredibly awesome as to “Freshly Press” the ‘Jamey’ blog, but also to all of you new followers who have taken the time to read the posts and tune in to see more. I’ve only been blogging for just over six months, so, this is REAL new to me. I would give you all hugs if I could.

So, since you are tuning in, I want to share with you a bit of my plan…which I am slowly attempting to execute with the help of some of the awesome ladies from the initial project.
On the night of April 5th, we will be doing the project with teen girls, my own daughter included. I look forward to this one soooo much. We’re still ironing out logistics of how this evening is going to flow, as we definitely want to do it justice – hopefully empower these girls to work through these destructive messages early-on, and encourage them to keep an open mind when it comes to other girls…remembering that there are so many similarities…to engage in more unified positive behavior, as opposed to destructive. We have some good ideas in the works, so, all should be awesome.

I would also very much like to do this with a group of women in a nursing home. I have a feeling the similarities in insecurities would be a bit shocking…or not shocking, depending on how you look at it.

One of my ultimate goals would be to take the project to schools, too…but, I’m somewhat clueless as to how to do this, considering that we would definitely need funding in order to make this happen. If anyone has some bright ideas or knowledge about such subjects, please feel free to share! I need all the help I can get!

Also, for anyone who has given thought to doing this with their own group of peers, PLEASE DO. If I can help in any aspect, please let me know. I would love to do anything I can to make this some sort of movement with women worldwide!
Can you imagine what it would be like if women all over the world, instead of bitching about each other and being in constant competition, would communicate and find that they’re more alike than what they imagined, and, in turn, SUPPORT one another??
Sheesh. It would be so amazing. I’ve seen it in a group of eighteen…I would love to see it grow.

Anyway, thank you again. That was my ultimate point.
Now I’m going to go play with this guy…