Eyes to the Soul is a captivating collection of portraits of women. Each has a personal note, a caption or a quote describing her journey: challenges, obstacles, ambitions and aspirations. The portfolio offers rare moments with incredible women who offer us a glimpse into their lives. The words of these women shed light on memories and events that shaped who they are today. A photograph is worth a thousand words but it takes us less than one tenth of a second to form an opinion about a complete stranger, based only on their looks. Their unique story adds an important third dimension to their striking portrait, offering an intimate insight into their world. At a time when women are often silenced by society, I wanted to create a portfolio that empowers women to have a voice and give them a stage to tell their personal story. We connect with others through their eyes. My goal is to engage the viewer and spark connections. Connections that go beyond the fleeting ones which we are subject to on a daily basis. My aim is to capture precious moments where women control the authentic story they wish to share with the world.
We often refer to eyes as windows to the soul. The eyes never lie, they show the truth, no matter what face we put on, they reveal our emotional state. Our eyes, just like our body language, give us away, conveying more than we can ever convey using just words.
The women in the collection represent different cultures and backgrounds. This diverse group of women serves as a timely reminder that despite our many differences, we are able to unite as a community through the power of photography. The collection is a celebration of our shared values: individuality, community and unity. These portraits show that while we are all wonderfully unique, at the same time, we are deeply similar.
I’m a woman with two sides.
One side of me is a strong and confident single mother with three children, who is proud of the woman I am and can value how hard I work. I give all I can and open my heart up to everyone. No challenge too hard and no excuse ever stands in my way. I will always do what ever it takes to be the best person I can be and treat others with respect and kindness. I will push myself to breaking point to be the best woman and mother I can be for my children. I know who I am and am confident and proud of who I am.
The other side of me struggles with the loss of my child family & friends, the loneliness of being single, the disappointment of a marriage ended and the betrayal of my trust, the pain of my body failing me, the heartache of raising children with disabilities, the sorrow of leaving a home and having my friends living across the other side of the world, the battle of trying to do everything on my own and the confusion of being hurt so many times. I’m insecure about my physical appearance and question if anyone could see past that to value the woman I know I am.
Life has it’s challenges and as hard as some experiences are they’re what make or break us and show us just how strong we can be. I choose to fight and grow stronger with each experience, to show my children that no matter how hard things can get that you always need to do your best. Take time to try new things, push my limits and become the strongest version of myself.
No one will experience a life like yours, no one will understand your pain, your love & your limits the way you do. Just as you will never understand exactly how someone else truly feels. We should all show kindness, respect & patience to everyone, for we never know when someone is on the edge of their limitations.
“My name is Janaina Chaves Aguiar. I am 32 years old, originally from Brazil. When I see my life in a big picture, the perspective from where I look from is always very positive. I grew up surrender with lots of love and care from my parents, grandmother, aunties, and cousins! I have great memories of my childhood enjoying the beach, being happy at school, and playing with my friends. It doesn’t stop at all! Of course, life happens and we all go through some challenges, things, and people that we need to learn to accept as they are, and with time you can just feel compassion and learn something about all the experiences and people around you.
I’m Fernanda, 33 years old. Originally from Brazil but at the age of 18 , I left home and went looking for new opportunities and a new life overseas. I was raised in the old school way, joined a church that pushed me to live up to very high standards but prevented me from having a voice, to be seen and to know who I really was. I was restricted to what clothes I could wear, because god forbidden I showed some skin! Apparently my shoulders were too tempting for males so I had to cover it, same with my legs, if my garments weren’t down to knee height, I was considered immodest and got looked down upon. As I grew older, I followed the society rules, I tried to be the good girl as that’s what it was expected of me. I got married young, because apparently that was the right thing to do. I tried hard to do everything the right way. I realised that even though I tried hard, I was unhappy and living a very unfulfilled life. Eventually I got tired of feeling that way. I let my guard down and allowed myself to experience life, to explore my thoughts and to find out who I really was. I’ve made mistakes, but they helped me to shape the new me. I led with my heart, I had that broken multiple times. After being straight all my life, at 33 the universe decided to throw a plot twist in my life and made me fall for a woman. My heart then got broken one more time, as it does, but it opened my mind to a whole new world and gave me feelings I had never felt before. The rest of my story is unwritten, but this time around I’ll be the author. I won’t let society dictate what I should and shouldn’t do. My mission now is to help others feel as free as I do, empower and encourage people to find their purpose and live a meaningful life, designed by no one other than themselves.
My name is Magnolia. But I go by the name Paige Marie because I’ve never liked my real name. I am 21 years old and I was born in New Zealand and I am half Dutch.
I’ve found modelling liberating because it’s helped me find inner piece with my body. I’ve always been slightly bigger and have had insecurities about not fitting the social norms which I’m sure most girls can relate to. The eyes to the soul photo shoot let me show my confidence I’ve given myself after many years of negative towards my own body image.
The one thing I’ve learnt over many years is that the way you talk to yourself is more important than the way others talk about you. Talk to yourself the way you talk to others. Tell yourself you’re beautiful. Remind yourself your body does amazing things everyday for you. Remind yourself it’s normal for your body to change everyday as it carries you through life.
Every body is unique and beautiful in its own way. Be kind to yourself. I wish I learnt to be kind to myself earlier.
Who am I?
I am a daughter of the king, creator of the universe, a princess, a spiritual warrior, one who has overcome many battles by faith, hope and love.
Never giving up faith to hope and believing in love, to love with all my heart, to embrace the good and the bad and to see the beauty in it all.
Life is an adventure and a story, a time to learn and a time to choose. Life is short, eternity is forever.
There are two kingdoms: kingdom of good and the kingdom of evil. I believe that in this world you get to taste both kingdoms. You have the freedom in life to search which kingdom you want to choose from. I have seen much darkness in my life. I have been raped, used, abused and betrayed by the people I trusted most. But I have also seen far more beauty and goodness.
I have chosen to forgive and to love instead of being angry or hateful. I have chosen to be part of the kingdom of good and to live in freedom. Not religion in love and not hate in peace. I am in gratitude to all that life has to offer and in excitement for what eternity has in store for me.
My name is Antonia and I’m a 29 year old Kiwi / Canadian, born here in New Zealand and lived most of my life in Auckland. I now live in the South Island in Queenstown, which I really love.
From a young age I struggled with anorexia and then depression. I still struggle with my mental health but it is getting better slowly. I’ve grown a lot in the last couple of years and really starting to find myself again. I’ve had some abusive relationships and traumatic events in my life but these have made me the person I am today. I still see the good in people and will continue to have empathy, even when people don’t deserve it. Modeling has given me a huge confidence boost as well as getting into the stripping industry (9 years ago). I now run my own business organising entertainment for private parties – I love it!
I hope to one day, no longer look in the mirror and pick out my flaws but see the beauty in my body, the strength and fierceness in my eyes.
My name is Viviane, I’m 39 years old and I’m from Southern Brazil. I came to New Zealand in November 2006 after graduating from Uni, I have a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. When I came to New Zealand, I didn’t speak English and was leaving my parents house for the first time (apart from travelling). It was hard at first but it made me stronger and also made me realise how brave I am. I’m a “full time” Pinup, I dress 50’s rockabilly every day. Bettie Page is my inspiration, I’ve been cutting my fringe like hers since the early 2000s.I joined ballet school when I was 3 years old and I’m still dancing. I had a break for a few years and now I do it for love. I also own a barbershop, I’ve been a barber since 2016 and I never thought I could cut hair in my life but I do! I learned (and still learning every day), worked in a few barbershops and now I have my own business. From washing dishes and not speaking English to a business owner, English speaker and New Zealand citizen. It’s never too late to learn and do what you want, believe in yourself! Sometimes things take time so, never give up, keep going till you get it!
My name is Shannon. I am a 30 years old mother of two. I was born and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. This was my first ever photoshoot so it was all very exciting to me and I feel very lucky to be a part of such a beautiful portfolio that Ilan has created. My story started 3 years ago when I had a life changing operation known as a gastric sleeve ,this is a weight loss procedure where they cut a big proportion of my stomach out which then helped me lose weight as it restricts my food intake. My heaviest was 128kgs. It took me just over a year to lose 64kgs. Two years after the gastric sleeve operation and once I had lost all the weight I wanted I had a lot of excess skin so I had this removed from my arms, my thighs as well as from my tummy. I am much more confident, happier now. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have the procedures that I’ve had. I can now say I am definitely living my best life. I will continue to work on my body now and get it as toned as it can be. This I feel is going to be the hardest part as I was never a fit person so exercise to me is a lot harder. But I’m determined to give it my best shot so I can continue to have a healthy lifestyle.
You see eyes more heavy than most, as it carries baggage, heartache and pain, but most of all a story. A story of blame
Generations of blame, generations have come. Generations held strong not breaking their chain.
Isolation over solution.
Beautiful Seeds planted in stone cold concrete, beautiful seeds growing through the cracks. The cracks that developed over time, the cracks once yours, now mine.
Lily of the Valley
As the light shines in the shadows of the dark, flowers growing in the trenches like art.
Water falling, but not from the sky, From deep eyes, as an unwanted daughter cries.
To not be loved by a father leaves wounds of toxic traits.
love wanted but not accepted.
To push love away just to see if it would return. That’s comfort, That’s toxic.
like Lily of theValley, she’s dangerously beautiful.
Innocently toxic, As her elegant bell shaped body hangs over unaware she’s deadly.
To heal wounds that will soon become scars.
She’s vulnerable yet strong.
Stronger than most because she learnt her self worth alone.
My name is Laura, I am 25 years old. My biggest weakness and possibly also my strength is I am a people pleaser I put aside anything I’m going through to be there for anyone who needs me. I do this as I grew up feeling no one was there for me during tough times so ensure no one around me ever feels someone isn’t there for them. I am a incredibly independent due to this, having had 3 jobs from the age of 14 I saved and bought my first home in Auckland at 21. Talking about myself often makes me uncomfortable so writing and doing this project was very outside of my comfort zone but I love giving anything a go and trying new things. Life starts at the end of your comfort zone.
I am 21 years old and born in New Zealand. I have done gymnastics from the age of 5 and have been dancing hip hop and a range of other styles for 6 years now. I moved to London for 2 years as soon as I finished high school and plan to move to America in the future for more dance experience and opportunities.
I have been through a toxic relationship from a young age, been through health challenges and severe skin problems but at this point in my life I look back at all these things and believe they have all shaped me into who I am today. I have big dreams for myself in the world of dance and strive everyday to better myself. This industry is tough but it is so rewarding once you accomplish great things and see growth.
An important thing I’ve learnt along my journey is that things fit into place naturally and whatever is meant to be will happen, we cannot force things. I am excited to see what the future brings and ready to tackle more challenges along the way.
I’m Italian. Ever since I left my country, I have often heard people asking confidently: “German, right?” – “No, Italian”. Astonished look in their faces: “You don’t look Italian at all” – “Your facial features are strong. Your reddish hair and your accent are anything but Italian”. Fair enough, I certainly don’t look like the Mediterranean stereotype. Maybe I have some roots over there, up north in Germany, but I never investigated. My jaw is well marked, it’s true. It gives me an austere air. I am the exact portrait of my father. Which in turn is the exact portrait of his mother, my grandmother. Her name was Alice, just like me. Many have told me so, for all my life: “You look exactly like your grandmother, you are equal to your father.” My father is a handsome man, but it’s always strange for a daughter to be told that she looks like the family man. I’ve always wondered if people, looking at me, were used to see something masculine in me. I’ve always struggled to feel feminine, in appearance and in ways.
Our face is our business card. Mine has always been a mess. It has often been swollen and round, the jaw always hard. My ears are small, my teeth are even smaller and a my nose sometimes reminds me about a potato. My skin face, a disaster. As a teenager I was ugly, really ugly.
Adolescence came by giving me terrible acne, which has been my cross for many years. I still carry the remnants of it, between scars that are seen and hidden. My face was an endless, extensive infection, and there was no remedy. I have done nothing but make things worse. I tried and invented all sorts of concoctions, whatever advised or read wherever. Diets, creams, masks, doctors. There was no solution. I locked myself at home, my safe-space. I remember whole summers locked-in, while everyone was at the beach or having fun. I was unable to make anyone look at me. Being looked into the eyes made me terribly uncomfortable. I was becoming more red-faced than I already was. My interlocutors were studying every single centimetre of my swollen face and promptly asking: “What happened to you?”. It seemed like the same script has been distributed to everyone. I felt I was the protagonist of a neverending nightmare. Children were used to pointing me and ask to their mothers: “What’s she got in her face?” I wanted to sink, to disappear. I wish I had an answer. In the summer, I was used to put myself under the sun for hours and hours, go out red, burnt. I hoped that the sun and saltwater were burning everything, leave nothing. Let a new skin come to surface. At least I had an excuse to justify that disaster: “It’s an outburst. sun’s fault. it will pass”. Instead, it was always worse. It hurted as hell. I remember a specific day, where I made so many face saunas that my skin became purple and transparent, completely dehydrated and painful. I asked my mother to hide any mirror from home, I burst into tears every time I saw the monster I was reflected. I wanted my face to disappear. I was just asking for normal skin. Be like any other girl.
To date, I don’t think there is a single photo that portrays me between my 13 and 19 years. They should have been the most carefree, while I spent them having cried all the tears in the world, I had none left. What I have told here, are the remnants of the memories that remain to me, what my mind has spared the black hole where we throw what we do not want back to the surface. How many acids to file all those holes, that infinite battle. Those who look at me closely still see them, all those little irregular grooves, the only remnants of a story that I never want to tell. I’m aware that these shouldn’t be considered problems of life, but at that age, where I was desperately trying to understand who was that person reflected in the mirror (and desperately love her), every little indelicate word was a turning over the knife in the wound.
I remember the first amateur photographer. He was a friend of a friend, who asked me to pose for him. I was twenty. “He’s crazy, he’s desperate,” I thought. He said to me, “Your eyes are stunning” – and I thought: how he can’t see that everything else can’t be photographed? Still, I said “Yes” to him. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. It came out of my stomach, as if it were the answer to all those things I had said “No” to for many years. Which I had deprived myself of, just for the shame of showing myself. I said YES, and those photos came unexpectedly well. Another photographer, friend of the previous one, saw them and he asked me to pose for him as well. Year after year, I said yes to several cameras and I stood in front of them. I was a full overflowing of insecurity, but with the impudence of those who have nothing to lose.
To pose with a jaw like mine is not easy. Photographers go crazy. Finding the right angle requires a mountain of shots good for nothing. “Smile” – “Relax” – “Be More spontaneous”. The photo that is good is one in a million. My gaze is grim. The jaw clenched, which I can’t open without looking unnatural. Definitely the mouth of someone who remurges too much and chews thoughts of various kinds. It looks definitely German, severe with itself. Melancholy asleep at the corners of the mouth, which spontaneously turn down. As if I were perpetually invaded by a sadness that I cannot explain. That comes from who knows where. Probably the eyes are the one that save the portrait, they float large and green in this square, rough and difficult shapes. If someone behind the camera is good enough to guide me, he can say the right thing and give birth to spontaneous expressions. Human. The right-click at the right time is a small miracle.
Since then I continue to stand in front of the camera of those who ask me, with the hope of seeing something of myself, which I still cannot see. And to love this “something”, possibly. To discover new parts of me and what I have become. Recognize slow progresses which I have missed or parts that still need to be smoothed.
These years and these people have taught me that each of us has his/her own personal gaze on the world, and notice in every nuance of our being, something that escapes us. Each of us is unable to look with love at (more than a) parts of our body, but while we tend to exaggerate the problem and see it as insurmountable, we forget that the eyes of others are not indulgent and severe like ours. Every single person out there has a different and special way of looking at us. Often he/she doesn’t even see all the things we see, in fact, he/she passes over them as if they were invisible.
I am no longer afraid to show myself. I no longer hide under mountains of make-up, or clothes. I learned to thank my body. A wonderful and complicated machine that takes me everywhere. I won’t ask him to be perfect too. I am aware that what matters is hidden inside, under the ribs. It is not photographable, it is not for everyone’s eyes. The essential is invisible to the eyes, there’s nothing more true than this. Which perhaps can be seen in those coloured pools that we use to look at the world with our very personal gaze. In my heart, I hope one day to get to the perfect shot. The one where, spontaneously and without a shadow of a doubt, I am brazenly happy. Where I’ll laugh with every molecule in my body. A belly laugh, like the first time I said “YES”. I’ll get there.
My name is Larissa. I’m a single mum and I parent my daughter on my own. I’m a beauty therapist and I love ballroom dancing, I’ve done it on and off since I was 16. I love everything from the 50’s and 60’s era, the music, the cars, the dresses and the dancing. I’m a hopeless romantic. Life as a mum is the happiest it’s ever been but definitely the hardest too. My mother is my best friend, as a young woman she looked like Dusty Springfield, absolutely gorgeous. My mum always says there are no illnesses in our family, except for low self esteem. Feeling unbeautiful has definitely been my hardest struggle in life.
The lotus flower, with its delicate and intricate bloom, grows especially in muddy, murky waters. It is this delightful symbolism that attracted me to wear one permanently across my core. Spanning my root and sacral chakras this flower which signifies enlightenment, it is a reminder of my personal growth. I like to believe that like the lotus, amongst the gloominess of eating disorders, the thick mud of alcoholism, the leaden puddles of trauma and unworthiness, I will rise with elegance and poise beauty and vulnerability.
This time last year everything was great. I had a good job and I was in my second year of my nursing degree, I was flatting out with my sister in Hamilton. Life was great.
I was born into a family with European and Māori heritage and was lucky to have had both cultures integrated into my upbringing. We lived in a rural predominantly Māori community therefore Māori culture was also embedded within my education and lifestyle. When I moved to Auckland to study, I noticed there were not many other Māori students in my classes. I also noticed that our tikanga (practices), culture and language was not incorporated in our teaching. In my second year of study I began to find a sense of community in the university’s tuakana program. I became a tutor in the program the following year and within this community I felt proud of my Māori identity and culture. I was always a very hard working; studious student and my study efforts were reflected by my high grades. I was awarded multiple scholarships throughout my study including some specifically for Māori students. However, some people would say I was given these awards due to ‘Māori privilege’. This would anger me due to the utter ignorance surrounding the need for these scholarships and additionally it belittled my achievements as a deserving recipient. Having now completed my master’s degree and working at the university in various teaching roles (including some within the tuakana programme) I hope that I can be a role model for other Māori students within my field. Within a Western dominated teaching system, I hope they can see there is at least one teacher who comes from the same cultural background as them, one who can pronounce the names of their hometowns or one who can understand and relate to their unique ways of knowing.
“Don’t get those piercings you’ll look like a lesbian..”
“Don’t get that haircut you’ll look like a lesbian..”
Well, I don’t want to look like a lesbian ? Is being a lesbian a bad thing?
I think a lot of women start finding their sexuality very early on as young girls through watching Disney shows and movies. Most young girl’s first crushes were Prince Eric, Aladdin, even Simba. I was no exception from these girls, but I was also crushing on Ariel, Princess Jasmine, and to be honest I thought Kovu was more my lion.
Pretty confusing as I didn’t see any women on TV that shared these feelings, and if I ever did see them, it would be a brief sex scene of some character going through a “phase”. I would connect with these women that were always portrayed as dirty and slutty. Samantha Jones for example?
I knew I wasn’t gay, I knew I wasn’t straight, and I knew phases don’t last this long.
I thought the name for my sexuality was “bicurious” because I heard that far more times than “bisexual”. Although may place was the third fucking letter in the LGBTQ+ community, I didn’t know I was apart of the community. To this day, I don’t really feel a part of the community.
However through that community I discovered RuPaul, Ruby Rose, Jeffree Star and other people, that although didn’t share my exact feelings, did show me the fluidity of the spectrum of sexuality and gender. And just how unnecessary this title I thought I needed was.
I am a bisexual woman, but I’m also an aries training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is probably going to tell you more about who I am than what genitals I prefer to look at.
Hi, I’m Mollie.
Tajikistani Kashmiri on my mother’s side, Afghani, Nepalese Mongolian on my father’s side I am a Himalayan rainbow of eastern cultures. I was born in England, United Kingdom in the beautiful limestone city of Bradford, Yorkshire, as first generation in my family to be born in the West. The West created me into a diligent, industrial, urban and highly educated person, perhaps also too emotionally hard and bossy at times!
I’ve spent my life exploring and searching the world; history and cultures I believe enrich a person’s soul. I’ve lived in the U.K, U.S.A., Hong Kong and New Zealand.
My careers have also been just as wide in selection – I’ve been a Debt Collector, Bailiff, Prison Officer, Marketing Executive for a TV Show, Legal Secretary, Circus Performer, Actress, Model and Aerial Fitness Instructor.
I’m never sure what the future may or can hold for me but I always reach my hands out open to catch my destiny.
I believe in positive energy, humility, ethical morality, kindness, sensitivity and compassion.
The main reason I decided to do this portrait is because it challenged me personally in regards to being so exposed. I am terrified of vulnerability.
I used to repress myself, my feelings, my pain – I hated my body, I was bulimic and for many years and anorexic for some and sometimes even both at the same time; I was obsessed with physical perfection. I became delusional to the point that my mind would distort my reflection in the mirror to make me look larger than I actually was. And I very seriously did not believe I was worth being loved or worthy of taking up space on this planet if I was not perfect enough physically. Now I am learning to love myself unconditionally.
So I took comfort in drugs – first Meth because it helped me restrict my food (skipped straight over alcohol because it had calories) then Heroin as well because it kills not only your physical pain but your emotional pain too. From then on it became pretty much everything and anything I could get my hands on in my constant desperation to find the perfect cocktail of drugs that would bring me the inner mental peace and stillness that I so desperately craved.
However because of prohibition I was forced to enter into a cruel and unforgiving underworld of crime, backstabbing, and distrust, and associate with many damaged and sometimes aggressive people who had long lost their conscience to addiction and hunger for money and power. Living in this world only ended up creating more experiences and memories that I wanted and needed to repress so it eventually turned into a vicious, cyclical, never-ending yet stupidly predictable pattern. I am just one of thousands of victims of the War on Drugs in NZ (and most of the rest of the world) which especially targets Maori and Pasifika because of the inherent racism at the root of the ‘War on Drugs’ – a term first coined by Nixon and implemented by his administration to oppress their minority groups (mainly African Americans by associating them with Heroin and associating Marijuana with the anti-war peace movement to discredit and turn people against them). I am very lucky that I am a white/European woman because law enforcement has always tended to be more understanding and more lenient to me. White privilege is very real and conscious and unconscious racial bias goes unchecked far too much, especially in law enforcement.
Being against the decriminalisation of drugs is simply virtue-signalling because all the evidence coming out of addiction studies in the last 10 years consistently show that prohibition causes the most harm of all the different types of legal models
But even though I am still in pain and I have still so much healing to do, life is so much more beautiful when you love and accept yourself and go with life’s flow and also don’t allow fear to hold you back from being the best version of yourself that you can be. I am a huge fan of Lao Tzu and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of life and the human psyche. Studying philosophy and psychology in general has even paid off more than traditional therapy for me!
When you love and accept yourself you’re not so angry and pissed off at everyone and everything all the time; you’re able to achieve more, and you are able to actually experience life to the fullest. Most importantly I learned that you can actually be happy even when you are suffering. I personally do this by making light of the dark. I have developed a very dark sense of humour but it’s still definitely one of the less harmful coping mechanisms out there!
My journey to healing and getting off all psychiatric medications is still a very long and arduous journey ahead of me but I refuse to let that and my other ongoing issues keep me from taking part in life and being the best version of myself that I can be – despite my circumstances.
Everyone in life has adversity and demons to overcome. Just don’t let it stop you from living your life. If you fall down, dust your knees off and get back up. If you fall down again get back up again, and again, and again. No matter what, the most important thing you can do is get back up and keep on trying. Because before you know it you’ll be on your deathbed with 1001 regrets, no self pride or sense of accomplishment and a feeling of complete hollowness in the pit of your stomach.
“This is me, mum to 3.5 year old Evelyn and nine month old Grace. Working mum. Natural birth mum. breastfeeding mum. Mother. I struggled with this new identity for a long time. The transition into motherhood was not easy or natural to me. The transition into my new body after carrying and birthing two babies was not easy. The transition of everything in my world becoming about my children and not me was not easy. I began spiralling into postnatal depression after my firstborn. I missed my freedom, I missed my independence, I missed feeling beautiful. I no longer felt empowered, I missed my old life. I felt immense guilt for my baby for feeling this way. I felt I wasn’t good enough for my baby. I was terrified to leave the house between feeding, sleepless nights, endless crying, feeling absolutely helpless. I got help, I learned to love my body and respect it for the absolute journey it endured. I learned that even though my life is now much different, it is much more full. I regained my power as a woman. Fuck yes I’m a self employed mother of two. Fuck yes my body is amazing for carrying and birthing two healthy children. Fuck yes I am empowered and will always empower the goddesses around me. Fuck yes I’m a great mum of two happy girls. I still have bad days as everyone does, but I just remember that this is me. Mother yes, but also… Zoe. Tattooer. Empowered. Feminine. Full. Sexual. Artist. Spiritual. Adventurer. Brave. Bold. Free.”
Communication can happen completely independent from the audible or written word. Connections form when you drop your smokescreens, open your mind and simply observe.
There is power in your eyes far greater than words, showing your intimate truth in the most marvellous colours. Feelings are laid bare and vulnerable to see, a direct opening to your heart and being. When I am grounded in my true self, I feel so relaxed, dancing in the currents of life.
The infinite connections we make with strangers, with lovers, with chosen and related family, we take them with us no matter where we go. The singular part is the mirror of the whole. My sister far, my brother near, I see you and cherish you as you are – what goes around comes around after all.
“I catch myself
Shuffling along, staring down at our puzzle pieces in sheer fright
Fighting to keep our nightmares from sneaking out into the daylight
I catch myself sneak a peek at your rubix cube, ponder your expertise
Excuse me, sir, have you figured it out? Could you spare me a clue, please?
Letting go into the flow yet still trying to resist and make a difference.
I catch myself switching philosophies, dissolving cognitive dissonance.
Stuck between ‘life is what you make it’ and ‘have faith in the process’.
Are we musicians in this orchestra, or just the music? Care to guess?
I catch myself chastising my mind – it’s like the unkind misleading the blind.
“Do you know which way from here?”
“I’m not sure, have you looked behind?”
I wander garden paths, wonder what could’ve sprouted had I let other forks unfold.
Picking roses from the weeds, I catch myself grieving stories left untold.
I catch myself daydreaming of tomorrow’s postcards from where I’d rather be.
Exhaustion mingles with a saccharine sadness, still buzzing to some degree,
Tonight I’ll sport a sultry shade of spent under my swollen eyes
And shy from shards of shattered dreams scattering the star-strewn skies.
I catch a warped reflection in the mirror – I recognise her from somewhere
Aching to get to know her again, remember her rambunctious flare.
I catch myself inhaling the nostalgic scent of lingering yesterdays.
Swallowed into a vast vortex, blinded by a haphazard haze
And suddenly I’m having trouble breathing in.
I catch my breath.
Taking deep breaths one moment and drowning in panic the next
My soul silently screaming, every single cell left perplexed
Respiration revolts and functions falter, plummeting with a violent thirst
How strange that our breath can be caught by both the best and the worst
Butterflies flutter by faltering lungs and towards a stuttering heart
Nightmares stare with their cold glare ‘til you jolt awake with a gasping start
Laughter skips and jumps around and breath plays along in jest
Wildebeests of fear stampede in to trample tracks on a trembling chest
Pause of anticipation for the glorious crescendo of a passionate dance
Excruciating signals of pain to the brain throw you into a shocking trance
Sweetest of horrors to the nerves when someone yells SURPRISE!
Gulping madly to stay afloat in the searing ocean gushing from your eyes.
So I’m reacquainting with my lungs and learning to breathe again.
Seems pretty simple – most of us just do it with little need to teach or explain.
That natural rise and fall of the chest to inhale the good, exhale the bad.
Twenty three thousand times a day we draw in the happy, expel the sad.
Yet sometimes mind, body and soul rally to disobey and leave us in disarray
Like so many things – hardly appreciated until we feel it slipping away
I know I’m not so good at breathing in when life puts me to the test.
But I catch myself and remind myself that after all, I am doing my very best.
I catch myself catching my breath.”
Ko Kiri toku ingoa
Kia Ora, I am Poppy.
We all have a story like our footprints being washed away by the waves like our ancestors before us.
All different walks of life but all connected.
We all experience love and loss and challenges and pain.
We make mistakes and accomplish incredible things.
E tu kahikatea
Hei whakapai ururoa
Awhi mai awhi atu
Tatou tatou e
Stand like the Kahikatea tree
To brave the storms
Embrace one another
We are one together.
When I look into your eyes I see the beauty, uniqueness, secrets, strength, compassion, talent, bravery and happiness.
I feel the emotions of who you are, your story, your experiences, your struggles and your growth.
Don’t ever doubt your worth.
You are loved.
We all have a story and I am proud of mine.
Who I am and what I’ve been through.
I am positive, I get excited easily.
I appreciate all the little things.
I am encouraging.
I am honest.
I am strong.
I am wild.
I am loud.
I am understanding, empathetic.
I am loving and kind.
I love to sing and dance and skateboard.
I have fun and love giving everything a go.
I love the beach and the forests but beyond all I love me.
I will always love me.
Be true, be raw, be authentic and spread the love.
“Looking at this woman – what you can see? She looks pretty strong and confident, right? Let me tell you my story. My original name is Vendula and I was born in a small town in South Moravia in the Czech Republic. When I was two years old my mother was killed in a car accident. Even though I was looked after and received love during my upbringing, I still felt a strong need for having my real mum, especially in my teenage years when I was living just with my dad and with my older brother in an unstable family environment. I missed the physical and emotional attachment, mum–daughter love-bond. I missed expressing myself and sharing my feelings and emotions. I missed receiving and giving real mum’s love, touch, support, guidance and assurance. I missed girly things that mums and daughters usually do and I was envious of my friends who had very strong relationships with their mums. Over the years, not expressing and not sharing my feelings, I internalized my thoughts of shame, guilt and burden on others. I became very self conscious. I built a wall around myself. I noticed having strong social anxiety. I found it very difficult talking to people or making friends due to self-doubt and lack of self-confidence.
My life changed at 16 years old when I signed up at the local boxing gym. I remember after the very first day, being so sore I could barely roll out off bed. But I remember it felt amazing. I felt that my huge typhoon of thoughts was released out of my head. Hard training, sweating and going through my own physical barriers was the most liberating thing I experienced during that time. I felt that I found myself and found the way to deal with my issues without the need to talk about them.
15 years later, after intensive training, going through different type of fight sports, bodybuilding, Crossfit and Strongwoman, my muscles are now a reflection of me and my thoughts. They are a mirror of who I am, what my dreams are and how strong I feel about my emotions. Sport is my mental therapy, it is my teacher and it is my own safe space. It gave me belief, hope, self-confidence, purpose and a direction for my life journey. Sport gave me a vision for my future. My dreams and plans are huge. I know I am capable of making my dreams come true because I know I am strong inside and out.”
My eyes have shared the deepest of heartaches, genuine joy and the sincerest love. My eyes have stared out on the world, hollow, devoid of emotion, when in what feels like an endless depression.
I stand here today stepping out of that little box we all tend to stay quite comfortably in and I’m going to embrace my female body! We all tend to take our bodies for granted as we grow up, oblivious to workings it goes through each day to keep us on our two feet!
My body has been under attack since I was 14 years old suffering from anger, harm and anorexia. A few years later came depression, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, physical harm, general hate and lack of respect for my body. I put a lot of heartache onto my family because I was selfish and ungrateful. I had (and still sort of do) a ‘don’t care’ attitude. To be admitted into rehab at the age of 18 was a bit of a shock and even after all my therapy and counseling I decided to abuse the drugs even harder because, well, fuck everybody basically. After rehab I went down a very dark road when I moved away, gave up food got into theft and lost quite a bit of weight when I took up a drug I shouldn’t have. There were obviously a lot of triggers in my life that encouraged this behavior. But to come out the other side and have the utmost respect for my body today, at 30, than I ever have, is pretty awesome!
I still suffer from anxiety, sometimes as bad as knocking myself out, unable to breathe and I am still yet to overcome this body image obstacle, which I think I will always have after the disease of anorexia, but it’s managed in a healthy way. I work out and enjoy it. I feed my body a 90% plant based diet, (10% cheese and wine). I meditate to connect my mind body and soul back together. I listen to my body and feed it what it needs, I rest if I feel I want/need to, I take myself out and reconnect with nature and I am grateful everyday.
I feel that if my body did not give up on me after years of abuse then I am not going to give up on it now. So instead of fighting against your body – try working with it!
Every female body is different and beautiful in it’s own raw form, we all have a story and so be thankful our bodies didn’t give up on us, we need to love ourselves inside and out!
Our body is a temple after all 💙
“You cut your hair” she stated
“Many times” I thought.
More times than I could keep track of
Dyed more colours than I remembered.
Was my hair ever static?
Was my soul ever still?
I am not the same person,
But I have the same name.
I have become more me
Whilst living a life of change.
Every cell in my body has been replaced,
Every 7 years they say.
I have had new tears stream down my cheeks
From countless broken hearts.
A heart now ready to be loved and broken again.
Marked from wounds of all shapes and sizes,
Internal wars and external falls
Reminded only by their faint scars.
I have battled depression and won,
And then gifted a new capacity for kindness
For a deeper intensity of love and hope
And understanding of the complexity of life.
Brave in my own vulnerability
No longer on the same path
Or forced to live along the grain of society
Every fibre of my being
Every piece of knowledge
Expanded on, questioned, reconsidered…
Growth that can’t be measured in inches
Or inches cut off.
“Yes”, I said
“I did cut my hair”
I embrace change.
I am three years away from my fortieth birthday. Perhaps the dawning of this milestone, coupled with a sudden paradigm shift in my religious views just over a year ago, resulted in what others describe as a “midlife crisis”. I call it my “midlife rediscovery”. Perhaps the catalyst to my “existential crisis” was just my coming to the end of myself – who knows. What I do know however, is that I am no longer surviving this journey, but am now living an exceedingly abundant and passionate life.
Raised in Namibia, I was sexually molested as a child, raped twice as an adolescent, and eventually fell pregnant at age 16. My eldest son (of four) is one of only three people in the world with his specific congenital heart defect – resulting in him waiting for a heart transplant. I mention this only because many seek to understand my perceived recklessness through an “informed” lens centred on my prior, character-forming experiences. There may be some semblance of justification to this notion.
The father of my three subsequent children is perfect in every way – we had a wonderful – enviable marriage for nearly 17 years, until I burnt out as I sought to uphold perfection in the various constructs I found myself in. He, even today, says that I was indeed the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect homesteader, the perfect student and the perfect religious devotee.
I left all of that behind in 2018 to find who I truly was again. To date I have lost 49kgs. I have resumed pursuing my passions and have enjoyed a plethora of social experiences that make my every single day pure delight.
I have changed: from a religious fundamentalist devotee, to an agnostic Pan-Romantic pleasure-seeker; from home-schooling, stay-at-home mother, to a transient woman who has daily telephone contact – and fortnightly physical contact with her children; from being mortgage-free after owning my own home since the age of 20, to house-sitting now, and as yet undecided as to which country I will call home next year.
I have changed so much so that countless friends tell me that they do not know this, new, changed Simone. I tell them that this is the True Simone.
Grief of loved ones changes you. Once experienced you are never the same person. You never truly recover from the heartache and grief, you just learn to live with it.
I lost two brothers.
On the day each of them died I feel that part of my soul dies along with them.
Some days I smile and laugh thinking of them, some days I cry, some days I can’t handle thinking of them – the pain and heartache are too much to bear.
This is the horrible burden on everyone who has lost a loved one.
But life goes on and we must continue to be the best we can, trying to make the most out of every moment and every person we love.
I am a positive, optimistic and happy person who loves life. But if you look deep into my eyes you can see the scars on my soul.
“I am a strong woman because I was raised by a strong woman. I am the woman that I am thanks to my mother who raised me on her own since she was 17 years old and taught me that women are the agents of change in our empowerment process and that we must take the reins to direct our own life. We must rebel and move from “Cannot be done” to “I can do it.” We are not born strong, it takes will and character to become strong. Strength is what drives us to live every day, overcoming challenges and obstacles. It is we who are responsible for deciding which path to take.”
“My life has been a rollercoaster of massive ups and downs. Dramas and dramas and more dramas. For a very long time I was just floating about, had no sense of direction or purpose, couldn’t figure out what to do with myself. I had no determination, nor discipline, drive or motivation. All I ever wanted was to party and if possible 24/7.
It’s nearly 6 years ago when I slowly started to realise that I had to make some changes in my life if I ever wanted to get somewhere. 4 years ago I made a total cut and turned my life 360° around and started taking 100% responsibility for my life. I cut all ties to toxic people and situations and started taking care of my body, mind and soul.
Writing this down makes it sound so simple, but let me tell you this it wasn’t simple at all, change is never easy and changing your complete life around isn’t something that happens in a day or two.
It took blood, sweat and tears LITERALLY. Letting go of everything which I believed to be ME and who I thought I am, was with one of the most challenging and scariest things I’ve ever done. However it was also the BEST thing I have ever done for myself and if I can so can YOU too.”
“I am standing in a dimly lit room, there’s a couch behind me and a low glass table. The room is sparse of any other furniture, cold, empty, foreign, silent.
Why am I here?
Looking out through the picture frame window I see trees as tall as the third storey building I am in, it is spring and their branches are full of fresh green foliage.
Far below, cloaked people hurry in all directions, heads bent low against the cool evening. Why the rush?
The deadlock snaps shut behind me and I awaken to find myself amongst the trees, the grass warm and soft under my feet. Comforting.
Still, the people rushing all around me. Do they not stop to see the new buds, to listen to the rain falling, to smell the spring? The seasons?
Turning, I look up at the apartment window. A young girl is looking down at me, her eyes huge, sad, innocent. Her arms folded in front of her. Who is she?
The key to the room is shining at me on the table in the moonlight.
Too late, a gust of wind pushes me away, through the park, to the river, the forests and to the mountains.
My arms reach to the highest blossoms in the trees there and I pick the flowers, I see the small stamens, I hear the buzzing of the bees and smell the sweet blossoms.
The honey bees will not sting me anymore. The sap will not burn my skin nor the words deafen me.
Away in the distance I see the apartment building swathed in moonlight, and at the window, the girl, has gone.
That girl was me.
I am safe now. I am free.”
“When have you been most in love?
I love you. Three of the most powerful words we will ever say to one another. Its meaning so distinctively diverse, intense, misplaced, hurtful and yet so wonderfully magic and pure. I do not know of when I was in love the most, I would coherently say in fact I am in love with most. For I am a hopeless romantic, I indeed make love look like an art form I love everything and find a love for everyone, men and women. I simply steal brave humans with a glance and move them in an intoxicating manner, unquestionably leaving them seeking higher dosage after each encounter of my beauty. I immerse them in parts of my soul, entwine them in my mysterious curiosity of life and deepened perspective on love. I enchant them not allowing a gaze of theirs to defaulter from my smile, or the way my body’s rhythm moves to their heart beats , and the way I simply ache for more, more everything. I vulnerably place them in a euphoric whirlwind of questioning everything they once thought they knew, leaving their minds in wander , confronting them with questions they have never even asked themselves in the silence of their own minds, I nourish in ways they have been craving I evoke an understanding of love, desire and lust as well as hand feeding them the beauty of my mind, body and soul. I adorn their souls with glitter and fail to let them return to the mediocre simple life and fulfilments they were once accustomed to that originally completed them, or simply that which they settled for in not knowing there was more. I bathe and leave my scent, and nothing brings to life again a forgotten memory like fragrance. It is the feeling of never knowing what we want that truly drives us all mad. what is more terrible than that? Holding things because we think we love them only to uncurl our fingers later and softly give them back to earth. The greatest love I’ve ever felt is the love that is equal to mine. So the answer to your question is I am most in love all the time with everyone, and yes it’s exhausting.”
“As far as I can remember, gender equality has been a fight for me. I never understood why girls needed to be careful with clothes while playing when it was fine for a boy to be dirty. Why is the contraception a feminine question, when it takes a couple to create life? Why do we discriminate women in the working environment over having a kid when it takes partners to raise a child? I never understood why women do better at school but receive a smaller salary? Why do people assume that if there is a woman in the room, she is the secretary. Too many times I have been in these situations not only in my job but also in personal life or with my partner. It’s time to change society and I want to be part of it.”
I lost my 19 years old sister in dramatic and sudden circumstances when I was 12. I didn’t get a chance to create lots of memories with her or to say goodbye but she has been following me everywhere since. I often think about what she would be doing, where she would be living, maybe she would have kids by now. It made my parents realise that the happiness of their children was more important than their sexuality or them having a successful career. It taught me that life is too short and that regrets are better than remorse…
“She tells me I’m not gay
I tell her I’m not straight either
He tells me I am everything
I tell him I am nothing
He tells me I’ve gone mad
I say I’m just so sad
They ask me which faith my spirit aligns with
I said all and none of them
She asked me what I believe in
I told her I believe in the power of a belief
They are the fabric and structure of our existence
She said I’m an angel in disguise
But it’s the devil in me giving me advice
I say lucifer was once an angel too
And in his discovery of reality
He fell right through
Heaven and hell a concept of opposition
Yet they exist in the same place
The same position
Our brain I wonder what this world would be like
If we didn’t have to identify as something
If you could see the patterns in your mind creating your reality
If we could just simply be
Undefined by these stories we tell ourselves about each other
If we did not need to belong so desperately
If we could harness all that we are as a fragment of a greater consciousness
A greater energy built from stardust, blood, bones and pure magic
If we could truly love without conditions
I simply do not belong”
I made money. My first job was actually McDonald’s. It taught me lots. I learnt to treat people with respect no matter what they looked like, because hey, everyone eats at Macca’s: millionaires, the homeless, everyone. Eventually I became a sex worker. I got more hate than anyone I know for doing the oldest trade in the world. I invested wisely and it paid off. I retired at the start of the year, bought houses, mortgage free; and now I am working on projects so I can employ and help others. I did exactly what so many said I could not.
Exactly 4 years ago today I was going to kill myself. I had no support, no one to turn to. For some absolute miracle I didn’t. I pulled myself out of the shit. I was a junky, a meth addict. I couldn’t see the light so I made my own. I always remember that is where I came from, try to stay humble and appreciate what I have. Check up on your mates. Praise people for been good and get off your arses and do something instead of been jealous. Today I am 4 years meth clean and fucking proud. “
“Everyone has a story and everyone has pain that they’ve been through. Overcoming our childhood creates so much of our present moments and I’ve been able to rise above hurtful childhood experiences. I was removed and taken away from my parents. Well, Child, Youth and Family [a government agency with legal powers to intervene to protect and help children who are being abused or neglected I.W.] made a mistake. I was later given back to my dad, but didn’t have my mum in my life as much as I wanted due to her mental illness situation. This created a neediness for love – I needed more. My dad raised me mostly until I went to boarding school from year 5 to year 9. In the weekends I would stay with my Nana. I’m now very close to my dad and to my mum. After having my own child, I feel even closer to my parents than ever before, although looking back, I feel like I had raised myself. In many areas I wouldn’t change any of my upbringing because it was perfect for me – I now better understand and love myself. We all need to get to that point of being able to have love for ourselves and of being able to show empathy for others. Because we all have a story and we’ve all been through heartache. But when we come together in unity – we don’t have to feel alone. I am 25 years old this year. I have a 3-year-old daughter, a loving partner and really good relationships with my parents. I am happy with the person I’ve become; I am clever, caring, artistic and love doing photo shoots. I live in Auckland and I’m a qualified beauty therapist. I studied this but don’t feel like doing it as a job anymore because I hope to get to a place where I’m financially stable and can get the facials and massages done for myself instead 😂. Learn to love who you are because you are perfect Just the Way you are. What you have gone through doesn’t have to break you. You can choose to not let it define who you are. ☯️ Instead, make yourself stronger and more open minded ♥️🕉️”
Fatigue. Sometimes normal life skills eg. cooking dinner would take everything out of me.
Many times after driving 25 min I’ve had to have a sleep in the car for 30 min.
Other times I’ve felt like I have a brick attached to my head and body pinning me to the bed. Or I will end up laying on the floor because I just don’t have the energy. (Totally the opposite to the normal me)
Fatigue post concussion is no joke.
Not only is this frustrating for those experiencing it but can be difficult for family members to understand.
So here’s the deal… the brain requires a significant amount of energy to function. After injury it is very common to experience low energy levels and take significantly longer to recharge.
Not only that, but the energy levels may recharge slowly and fluctuate from day to day.
Daily activities now have cumulative effects. Meaning what you can do one day you may not be able to do the next.
In my concussion journey, a common occurrence for me has been the question “how is the headache?”
Almost referring to the headache being the concussion.
I’ve always been used to headaches and used to get a migraine in my teens… so I would never let a headache stop me doing normal life or affect my training in any way.
And to be honest I have at times been completely overwhelmed by the love I’ve received…and immensely grateful for so many that have reached out to me ….but somehow that question tends to minimize a very complex journey
I would interpret this… Why can’t you cope with it and carry on… Many people get headaches.
But concussion and PCS is so much more than that. These are just a few other symptoms I’ve had to deal with:
Sensitivity to light.
Sensitivity to noise.
Struggling in an overstimulated environment with lots of people.
Sore eyes and vision issues.
Extreme heaviness like you have a weight on your head.
Struggling to focus when talking to people too long… my eyes would go strange.
Pressure in the head.
And yes, the headaches!
The big struggle for me is people can often look at you and think you are fine. It’s not like a broken foot.
I don’t really like attention so by no means am I looking for sympathy.
There is not a lot you can do yourself for people going through head injuries… But for the person going through it to feel like people actually understand makes a huge difference on their journey.
Ultimately respecting the brains new limitations and avoiding pushing through heavy fatigue well improve recovery time.
Family members be mindful that basic activities are taking a significant amount of energy. This is not due to character or laziness. Many find it harder to rest then to push through. Be a support system.
Health Care Providers, guide and support your patients through this process and help family members to understand their loved ones new limitations and energy tank.
It will be significantly easier for a patient to recover with a strong support system rather than spending precious energy to explain, defend themselves or push through symptoms in order to avoid judgment.
We wouldn’t judge someone with a broken ankle if they iced and elevated it. We shouldn’t be judging someone with a brain injury either. Rest can be part of an active recovery.
🔹️🔹️Take home point: Concussions are treatable. They require proper management and respecting brain’s energy stores while in recovery.
“How do you put your life into a paragraph? What is the singular message you are going to give to the world if you had to choose one? I thought, It could be about my four jobs: in a restaurant, a pet shop, a pottery studio and commissioned drawings. Why do I have four jobs? Why do I do things the way I do? It could be about my hobbies, my art, my singing, my pottery, why am I so curious about the world and everything it has to offer? My name is Saiyuri Chetty and my message is about Courage & Strength! We moved to New Zealand from South Africa when I was 11 years old and I learnt what it was like to be of indian heritage in a western country… I carry my heritage in my blood, in my upbringing in my heart. I have been bullied. I watched my mother suffer from depression and I am the daughter of an alcoholic father. When I was 21 my mum was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a neurodegenerative disorder without a cure. Three years later and I’m a different person. I have learnt how to care for and look after another, how to be a mother to a dying mother, how to accept and forgive and to be grateful for everything that I have. My mum doesn’t have much long to live and I am grateful for everything she has done for me. My message is: you are capable of so much more than you think you are! You can do anything you put your mind to. It takes courage and with each obstacle to overcome you become stronger. The world has endless opportunities to offer to you, take them while you can. Here we are, I am 24 years old, I have four jobs doing the things I love. I am an artist, a musician, a model, a photographer and most importantly, a dreamer!”
“My name is Keely, I am a 22 years old woman and a single mum to an 18 month old boy named Harley. I have been raising him on my own since I found out I was pregnant at the age of 20 – his father never met him and really does not want to know anything about him – he never supported me in any way. Although I am stable now, I was not always this way. This man was abusive – both emotionally and physically. He was a drug addict and a toxic individual to have in my life. He never did anything for me of for his son. I work in multiple jobs to provide my son with the life that he deserves as I want to build a strong foundation for our future. I also want to care for my son and to still find time for self care in other aspects of my life. A massive part of this is due to my family, including my mum whom I lately reconnected with, after several years of relationship breakdown.
My son is my world, my best friend and my soulmate. I know that everything will be fine as long as we have each other.”
“I am a girl of extremes; I do things big or don’t do them at all. This way of being has led me down some fantastic paths in life. From starting a family at the age of 22 to building and selling a multinational company by the time I was in my early thirties. I have been a workaholic and a spiritual ninja. I have been at glamorous parties and gone home to change dirty nappies. I loved my home of Amsterdam and moved the 18,000 kilometres to New Zealand for a change of pace and scenery. I have fallen flat on my face more times than I can count but have always gotten up one more time. Each time rising a little wiser, stronger and kinder. I am not one for the ‘beige’, the expected or the middle road. No, I do life in extremes and I do that extremely well.”
Our family has a saying: “Make it happen”. I have been using this as my daily mantra, pushing me so that I can make my dreams become a reality, even if there are a few bumps along the way. One of my dreams is to become a certified scuba and freediving instructor. I am OBSESSED with the ocean and consider myself quite the mermaid. One of the ways I think we can create awareness of oceanic issues is through art. I would love to create images and produce content with other creative people that inspires and enlightens others. Be able to develop the crazy ideas in my head into something that sparks a fire in others and makes them realise the perils that are facing our planet. Earth is in crisis and we need to think of ways to make people sit upright and give a damn, because in the wise words of marine biologist Sylvia Earle ‘No Blue, no Green, no water, no life’.”
“I have been bullied about my appearance throughout my teenage and adolescence. Being underweight and tall, I have always battled with low self-esteem and low confidence, worried that people will say: “you look sick”. I would hide my body under baggy clothes and avoid wearing heels. I didn’t feel good about myself. But I decided to change my weakness into my strength. When I moved to NZ, I gradually picked on some weight. My knowledge and interest in fashion and beauty increased and I started taking care of myself. A few friends suggested I take up modelling, but I would just laugh it off, as that was something I thought was never possible. I then got a chance to model where my tall height became an advantage. After my first fashion show I got some great feedback. I built some network in the modelling industry. I then did my first photo shoot and began to feel more confident. I also became more recognized and better noticed in the industry. The people who used to bully me about my weight and height are the same people who are now amazed to see me where I am today. “You look beautiful; I couldn’t recognize you, wow! You look amazing! You are perfect for modelling. I wish I was as tall as you. You carry yourself with so much grace and confidence”. These are the words I hear today and I am so proud of myself for turning my weakness into my strength. I have achieved a lot in my life. So far, I have worked with over 20 photographers, done few fashion shows and competitions, appeared in a magazine, news paper, TV programmes, Hindi movie, attended many social events and even coordinated my own fashion show. It feels great when women message to ask me for advice and tips on modelling, fashion and beauty. I have become an independent, beautiful, confident woman and I want to inspire other women, to learn to embrace and love themselves, in whatever shape or form they may be, to turn it into their strength and grow their confidence. I am now shopping for high heels and beautiful dresses – it feels amazing!”
“One of the biggest things I love about myself is how naturally paternal I have always been. Compassionate, patient and hospitable. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted a family, an ambition that has followed me to this day; though perhaps clouding whatever integral career paths I could have taken. As an adult, I have become acutely aware of how selfish people can be. My mother had me at 17 and the proceeding years had her barrel into methamphetamine addiction, a series of abusive partners and high risk environments. I rapidly assumed her role by the age of 4, learnt how to feed myself and keep myself company for the days she slept till the evenings.
My father is of first generation from Hong Kong. I’m sure he never expected to be knocked up by 20. They separated quickly after my birth. Chinese culture is of a complete different gradient to Western. I witnessed a scramble for image, materialistic idealisms and the upmost duty to provide for the elders. I got used to the idea of being a bastard, a secret; and in his young naivety: an afterthought. The timing was bad. As an adult how could I possibly sneer down at problem children, desperately holding onto their adolescent constitutions? How could I discredit my previous adversities as a necessity to make me proud of what I have overcome? Who am I?
I found purpose not only through my parents and who they were, but through who they conceived. My mother now has 3 other children to 3 different dads. My father married to a Chinese woman and had 2 full Chinese boys. This makes me the eldest of 5 half siblings. All with completely different upbringings. My saving grace has always been that they all have someone who will always love them selflessly, be a unwavering protector and guardian if need be. Something I wish I had earlier on. Or perhaps not. I know I don’t have the power to protect them from everything, though I wish to set an example every day of resilience, understanding, intelligence, and all above, love.”
“My name is Amy. I had an eventful childhood, full of interactions with many different personalities. Many people around me had battled with addictions and mental health problems, my father was one of them. I loved him dearly but could never understand the depths of his struggles with alcoholism and depression. For most of my childhood I couldn’t comprehend why my dad could not give up alcohol to be there for me. For a period I thought I was not good enough. As I grew up I came to terms with his demons. My father was the most generous,loving and empathetic person, he taught me so much.
I was initially allowed only supervised visits due to my dad’s drinking but this changed as I got older.
We would go on adventures every school holidays, most of the time we would stay at my grandparents house or camp in his van on a beach somewhere, fishing and living off the land. A couple of times we stayed on the streets in either an abandoned building or a farmhouse without power. But I absolutely loved our adventures.
My mother never knew of these as my parents separated when I was little. I am grateful for my mother allowing my father and I the opportunity to form a great relationship. I imagine that it was very difficult to remain impartial when it came to my father.
I met my partner when I was quite young and decided to leave home at 16 to escape the lifestyle of my neighbourhood. I completely threw myself in the deep in and gained knowledge about life away from home as I was working full time and studying.
When I was 18 my father passed away. We found out that he had cancer all through his body. The news came on Friday and by Monday he was gone! It was a huge shock but I learnt a lot through this experience. After he passed I went through his artwork and poetry, it was like reading material from a mad genius who went from extreme highs and deep lows.
I eventually moved back to west Auckland and was in for a big shock at the impact of methamphetamine on my neighbourhood. The drugs were always there but it seemed like a bomb had gone off.
At 20 we had our first baby. A couple years later we had another child.
When an opportunity came to move out of west Auckland I took it. I wanted a stable life for my children and a change of scenery did just that.
I am now 28, I have two amazing children and the best partner I could ever ask for, he is my best friend who has been there through thick and thin.
I wouldn’t change my upbringing for the world. I have learnt compassion, empathy and love. Judgements can be harsh and you never truly know one’s struggles. I believe that people need kindness and support in order to grow.”
“My name is Qui’yona Salmon; I grew up in south Florida. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I always knew that I wanted to be in front of the camera. Life was a little rough when I was younger but We managed. I started modelling in malls when I was in high school and stopped after graduating to go to school and play volleyball. After my two years I decided it’s time for me to pursue my dreams and professionally, started modelling. So many great opportunities came to me and I’ve only been doing this for a year. I look forward to see what my future has in store!”
“I was born in the UK in 1970 and immigrated to the New Zealand when I was there years old. Growing up, I never felt like I fitted in with the others. I struggled to relate to my peers. I had an ongoing sexually intrusive experience through my younger years till I was a teenager. I had no idea what a huge impact this had on me until life started to happen as I got older. Teenage pregnancy, drugs and alcohol abuse were weaved throughout my years. Always tipping from one extreme to the other in all areas of my life story, always struggling to find balance. I got married and had two more beautiful babies who are all grown up now. I’m blessed to have wonderful relationships with my boys. In my 40’s I could not ignore the feeling that I was living a lie in the heterosexual world, so I waited till my youngest son had done most of his years in school. I then finally embraced my inner self and came out as a lesbian. I cannot explain the intense pressure release I felt when this happened. Standing in my truth finally… I had no idea of the burden I was carrying by not being true to myself! I have never looked back. To dress in the clothes I secretly envied, to have short hair, to cover myself in random electric ink, to just be me – it’s the best ever! Today I’m proud to be in a recovery program for my alcohol addiction and am finally living unbound to any one thing except being true to myself and trying to be the best person I can be on a daily basis. I help others where I can to embrace change and know there is a beautiful reason to be alive!”
“I decided to do a Bachelor of Addiction Studies and Counselling this year. This is the first time I have studied something I’m passionate about. I have a history of addiction and know a lot of people who have. I want to use my experience to help others as there aren’t many people in that field of work who actually care, it’s all about the paycheck for them. I think there would be nothing more rewarding than helping someone turn their life around. There’s such a horrible stigma around addiction, even though alcohol is so acceptable in New Zealand society I find it very strange.”
“For many years I was lost. floating, consuming, existing without a sense of true purpose, in the grips of mental illness and eating disorders. My heart was running on empty like a drained battery. Until I found Circus Arts. Aerial dance, spinning at the speed of light, standing on my hands on the ground, bending my body in ways that previously, I never dreamed I could do. It shocked my heart back into life, my creativity and soul finally had an outlet that gave me a purpose. A true expression of me. I began teaching, producing circus theatre shows, travelling overseas to share my art with my world circus family. Circus gave me my determination to go down my path with fierce passion, vigour and perseverance. It taught me about myself. It taught me I am here for a beautiful, important reason. It gave me my life back and for that, I will forever be grateful.”
The tattoo on my ribs is of a gerbera daisy and an orchid, my grandparents favourite flowers.
I’ve always been of the opinion that no one gets through life without scars. Most scars are viewed as ugly and serve as a reminder of pain – accidental or intentional. Either way, they are inevitable. To me, tattoos are scars that we choose. Yes, we get one body and we should look after it as best we can but if getting through life without having scars is impossible, why not choose to have some that are beautiful?
From the age of about thirteen, I started pinching, scratching, digging at my arms and chest. It originated as a way to cope with mental illness and became a necessity to get through the day for the next ten years. I was always so ashamed of it and would lie about the marks. I’d say it was a rash or acne… anything that I thought was believable enough to convince people that I wasn’t doing it to myself.
You also asked why I agreed to be photographed by you. My initial reaction when you first contacted me was that I could never pose for you because I wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful people have nice, smooth, scar-free skin. I agreed because I thought doing the shoot would make me more accountable for the condition of my skin. You said at the end of the shoot that having the courage to pose was an extraordinary thing that most would never do. It gave me such a sense of pride that despite being terrified, I was brave enough to look into the camera knowing that people would see my scars. I always knew it would be a long and difficult road to learn to manage my mental illness and an added struggle to live with a physical reminder of it. The day of the shoot was the first day that I didn’t have withdrawal symptoms after coming off my antidepressants. I think it was also the first day I have ever felt proud of my scars. Both the ones I chose and the ones I didn’t.
“I was born in 1936 in my parent’s house in Timisoara, Hungary. My mother said that I was a very ugly child. I enrolled to Technical Electrical School Because I liked Mathematics. I studied 4 years and became an Electrical Technician. I wanted to study further and become an Electrical Engineer but I failed the entrance exam and was transferred to Pedagogical Institute to be trained as a Math & Physics school teacher. Finishing the degree, I worked in the Country Hall Timisoara as a statistician until they discovered that I applied to immigrate to Israel. After that, I was dismissed.
I was then introduced to a good looking man who arrived to Hungary on a business trip from Bucharest, Romania. He fell in love with me and asked for my hand. At this time my father was in prison because he was Jewish. I was very confused and thought that love will arrive after I got married. He insisted and I agreed. We had a very small ceremony, at the city council and we moved to Bucharest.
I got pregnant and I was in great trouble – he did not let me call my parents on the phone. I discovered that I did not love him and I was totally miserable.
Luckily, my uncle visited me and saw the situation. Immediately my mother took the next train to Bucharest. My mother and I decided to abort the pregnancy. I was already four and a half months pregnant and the physician made it clear: there was a real risk that I will never get pregnant again. My husband was furious. My mother took me home to Timisoara and I wanted divorce. He threatened that if he ever sees me again – he will kill me!”
“It always bothered me that I am hypersensitive. I have the ability to feel things and people. I have a strong compassion for people around me and a sense of exacerbated empathy. I laugh too loud, cry too deeply. I love with passion. When I’m sad my heart is torn from the inside. When I’m upset, anger consumes me. My heart is on a permanent roller coaster. I am always honest and sincere, often lack tact. I want to know people, their culture, the world, art. I want to discover everything around me and in all areas. I want to give a reason to exist, to my so active thoughts. Nothing is going fast enough for me, except time. The photo is an art of expression that gives me the impression of controlling this time; to capture a moment that will not happen again. Control makes me secure. This feeling appeases me. The photo allows me to express an emotion, it leaves the choice to the person who looks at it, to invent a story, to decide if this moment of happiness, sadness or fear. Photography is a way of polishing my shell, making the person I am inaccessible, unknown and protected. The beauty of a photo is expressed by the sharing of emotions between the photographer and the model. I show an appearance. If the beauty of my soul expresses itself in the portrait, then the intensity of my emotions contain unlimited thoughts and allow me to retreat to myself. To introspect and try to find a part of the person that I am, to contemplate. I may please or displease but I will never be anyone else so I keep my aim of appearing proud of who I am, to one day accept myself, with my faults and my qualities.”
“I am a vampire, as an old soul in a modern body.
When I was 13 years old I was engaged in Anne Rice fictional: ‘The Vampire Chronicles’. A brief chapter comes to mind as it stood out to me on a relative level at the time.
This particular short story was titled ‘Baby Jenks’ found in her novel “Queen of the Damned”. It’s about a young and naive troubled girl who was stubborn in her defences with guards up against the world. She wasn’t bad, she was just lost and damaged from being unheard. She was dressed in black, baby faced, blonde…and pregnant.
You see, this also felt like my own story in my adolescent angst. Except- she rode a badass, Harley Davidson! I haven’t the time nor guts to do so – although, men around me are proud owners of their motorbikes and I’ve jumped more than once on the back on for those death-defying thrill rides.
At 14 I was to become a mother myself, losing enough blood in birth to warrant an emergency blood transfusion. You will find Baby Jenks in this very situation when she was made an immortal outcast. Baby Jenks story ends. I on the other hand, obviously, continue on with mine. I let her live through my cyber persona and I have for many years. You will see a lot of the illustrations on my skin. From scars to stretch marks to many tattoos. This is my look and my portrait behind camera.”
I was born in South Africa and I am 20 years old. Poverty, discrimination and racism were all part of my childhood. My biological mum was a nightmare. She couldn’t afford to look after me, nor to give me what I needed to be healthy and happy. I was adopted into a gorgeous light skinned family at the age of 2 years. When I was 18 I found out that I am pregnant and 9 months later I gave birth to my special baby boy who is now 1 year and 5 months old, named Darius. I am now a single mum and doing a great job, with a loving family who is very supportive. I am happy, I love being a mum and I’m healthy.”
“My name is Jazz. From the age of 13 I suffered from severe clinical depression. I was suicidal due to certain events and personal problems I was dealing with. Through this time in my life I suffered self harm and eating disorders, I used alcohol and music to cope. I left home at 14 and sought help from my oldest brother who really saved me during this difficult time. It wasn’t easy and I still struggle with mental health. Traumatic events from my past still haunt me but being independent really helps me getting better and to have a new outlook on life. I learned that I wasn’t a failure and that I can achieve anything if I work really hard. When I was 18 I discovered burlesque. It had always been my dream to become a dancer since I was a child but I never had the opportunity. I immediately fell in love with the art of burlesque. I feel so empowered dancing and choreographing my own routines to my favourite rock and metal music. Life is yours, grab the bull by the horns!”
“Ten things about me:
1. I am a mum! I have a daughter called Aria who is turning 5 next month. Where has my little girl gone?!?
2. I started out performing in theatre from when I was about 8, then moved into burlesque in 2009. The majority of my performance work nowadays is in acting – mostly live performance work, MCing and then burlesque. I also perform drag within those mediums.
3. My genetics are made up of 1/4 Spanish, 1/4 Irish, 1/4 Scottish and the rest is made up of French and British.
4. I am a full time (well, as full time as you can make it in NZ) self employed events manager, producer and performing artist. It’s been a hard slog, but I am very blessed I get to do what I love for my work. I own my own production company!
5. I am allergic to dairy and gluten. I get hives within a matter of minutes of consuming even the smallest amounts, as well terrible fatigue, stomach cramps, bloating, etc for about 2-3 days after.
6. I am an Ovo-vegetarian (basically means I eat mostly vegan, but the occasional free range egg – mostly egg whites – from our free range chickens at home).
7. I live (and have grown up) on farms! I quite used to mucking in. I’ve helped sheep give birth, mucked out stables, you name it. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.
8. I did competitive BMX dirt bike riding as a kid! From 7-10 years old, I was one of two girls on the team.
9. I have a rather large collection of black hoodies and crew neck jumpers. I love them. Think I have about 10+ 🤦♀️🤦♀️.
10. I have generalised anxiety disorder, and quite severe PTSD. I am high functioning, but I do get triggered very easily, so have to put a lot of structures in place and have particular calming coping mechanisms like meditation and staying present. I have been working on myself since 2015 when I had a mental breakdown, and I take medication plus therapy to help me process plus live a normal of a life as possible.
”I was diagnosed with grade 3 aggressive breast cancer in January 2016. My family has the BRCA1 mutation. Each child of a carrier has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene and each carrier has extremely high risk of cancer. Five of my six great aunts died of cancer by their forties. I had four different chemotherapy drug treatments as well as radiation treatment. Luckily, I had a positive response to treatment and the 5 cm tumour was totally destroyed. I underwent bilateral mastectomy with a two phase silicon reconstruction as well as a total Salpingo-oophorectomy. I also had a hysterectomy surgical operation to remove my uterus. Knowing I have beaten what by nature ought to have been certain death, gives me a sense of immediacy and urgency in life. There is no sense in waiting or hesitating because there is no guarantee of tomorrow!”
“I have experienced a lot of grief and trauma in my lifetime but I truly believe that this has also given me a greater capacity to feel joy and love. If not for those dark places where my soul has had to wander, I would not be able to so deeply feel the light and wonder to.
On some days, it is so hard to see the beauty of my life, but then I wake up the next day and I realise how truly blessed I am to have the life I do.
I moved to Aotearoa 7 years ago, without friends or family to pursue an education in something which I am deeply passionate about (and still am today). Learning to live in a foreign country and to learn the culture and to grow my own roots here has been challenging and often isolating, but I would not change it for the world. I know some of the most incredibly generous humans and I live in the most beautiful place in the world.
For me, the ocean is where I find grounding and I am so lucky that living in Tāmaki Makaurau allows me to always be so close.”