Often times, if we can even truly confront what we really feel on the inside, what we find there may scare us. It may make us feel alone, misunderstood or alienated. So, we say nothing and often cannot even consider admitting what we found. Not even to ourselves.
We spend most of our days completely preoccupied by what is thought of us and how we do or do not measure up to the brand of person that society tells us that we should be. "I have love handles." "I'm too skinny." "I can't play that song too loud." "I'm not tall enough." "I hate my laugh." I hate my smile." My butt is too big." "My boobs are too low." "I don't have the talent." "I'll never be able to ______." "If I were only like x, y, z." and dare I even say it...? Yes. "But the bible say's _____." ...And on and on it goes.
We are CONSUMED with what we aren't, can't, won't, don't, and how we compare and measure up all around. We're so consumed that even when we're told that it's okay to be ourselves we still have a hard time letting go of this forever negativity-bassed self analysis. We have a hard time just... being who we already are.
We look all around for permission. We look at our heroes. Our friends, and our peers. We even look to those that we may consider our enemies as a means of knowing what we definitely do not want to be. We look to the past. We look to god, the bible and self-help books. The kind of car we drive, house we live in and restaurants we can dine at.
Not all of these things are bad, but all of them can certainly be abused. Think about how you have grown as a person, no matter how much or little. I would bet that, if you really considered it, the growing that you have done has not been by anything that was necessarily "added" to your life but more by what you discovered was already there.
It feels like growth but I think that it would be better described as "uncovering". Pulling away all of the rubbish that has built up over time so that you can actually breathe. When you uncover something in your life it feels so wonderful because it's a truth that you've always known and somehow you just realized it.
That's saying a lot to say this: If Project 104 is about anything, it's about giving people, both participants and viewers, the space to take a look at their own lives, speak aloud and truly be heard. It's to show us that we're not alone. We're not crazy. We don't have to feel alienated, outcast, or that we should feel anything more than joy at who we are.
I say so much of this now because, Nina, who's words you'll read below embodies so very much of this. Her strength is simply incredible, though I don't think it unfair to say that her strength does not come from an sense of overall confidence. It comes from bravery. This fact makes her strength, her art and her advocacy for what she believes in all the more impressive and inspiring.
To be brave you must first be afraid. To be brave is to recognize your fear and give it the middle finger.
Nina's story spans quite a way, and though I'm certain she didn't always feel so, it is her bravery that has taken her such a distance. From abuse, body dysmorphia, suicidal thoughts to being a pioneer and voice of strength for women. (see her beautiful photo series, Machisma) She's a nude model, helps administrate groups that protect models against disrespect and abuse, poet and fine-art photographer.
I know for a fact that Nina still battles with her demons from time to time as we all do. Fear does its best to cling onto you. The difference is that she decides to be brave and take her own permission to be her own self.
Her journey is certainly nothing short of inspiring and it may even have you saying "I could never be that brave" but she didn't wake up one morning and suddenly become the person she is today. She bravely took one step ...and then another.
Love Aimlessly, My Friends
What gets you out of bed every day?
I have dark places within myself. A lot of people don’t know that about me because they see me being a very cheerful person. I have a persona on Facebook and social media of being very positive, cheerful and funny. What they don’t know is that I do have a lot of darkness. I have a history of horrible abuse and I get into dark places. I’ve been suicidal. Part of what has kind of even kept me going and gets me out of bed is asking “what can I do for somebody else?” and my purpose for other people and how I can help and do.
A lot of times, really and truly… even something as simple as “I need to get out of bed to take care of my cats.” “I need to get out of bed because I have a job to do.” “I need to get out of bed because somebody else depends on me.” That is what really what gets me out of bed. That’s what propels me forward! That’s what gets me past my own shit! That’s what gets me past darkness in my life and things that have hurt me. There are people that depend on me. It’s not all about me. It’s about my effect on other people’s lives as well. If I lost myself in me… Like the fact that I’ve been dealing with chronic pain for over 14 years… all the bad things that have happened to me, or even that I’m not always happy with my life or myself, my body or how good my photography or art is… If I lost myself in that… I’d just die and shrivel up. I wouldn’t even get out of bed. Thinking beyond myself and people that kind of rely on me and love me, and need me… they are who get me out of bed in the morning. “What can I do for somebody today?”
I can be selfish. I think we all can, but I think to the core of me I’m so not. What has literally, at times, kept me alive is how much I care about the other people in my life. Those that I care about and I love… they get my out of bed every day!
To date, what is the greatest lesson that you’ve learned?
I think I’m learning it right now. There’s a big problem that I’ve had since I was little, and that’s seeking validation from other people. To date, that’s been the biggest hurdle of my life. Just… Why can’t I just love me?! Why can’t I just be okay with me?! Why do you have to think I’m beautiful? Why can’t I just think I’m beautiful? Why do you have to think I’m talented? Why can’t I just think I’m talented? Why do I have to have X-amount of likes on a Facebook picture for me to say “Okay. That picture is okay.” Why couldn’t I just be okay with posting that picture and it just getting 10 likes and me still standing behind it? My entire life has been so focused on pleasing other people and validating myself through other people’s opinions of me. Seeing myself through your eyes, my parent’s eyes, my grandparent's eyes and putting more value in other’s opinions of me than I put in my own opinions of me.
I can’t say that I’ve entirely learned that lesson, but I feel that at 42-years-old I’m getting closer to learning it. It’s truly been my biggest hurdle. Even I look back on my life as a kid and trying to get good grades… I never did it for me. Never once! I can hardly think of anything that I’ve done just for me. Ever.
Trying to learn to just do things for me has been the biggest lesson in my life. Just putting something out there and saying “You know what.. if you don’t life it, that’s okay. I do!” If you don’t like how I’m dressed or how I look… I mean… I shaved my head! I knew that some people weren’t going to like it, but I fucking did it anyway! It was a huge step for me. As a model, my hair was a big reason a lot of people would hire me. For my “long, red, bright, vibrant hair”. And I shaved half of it off, and I only did it for me! One of the first times in my life that I 100% did something just for myself. I think it’s all a part of what I’ve been striving to learn; Love you and value your own opinion of you more than you value other people’s opinion of you!
If you don’t love yourself how can anyone else really love you? And I haven’t really loved myself. I know other people do love me, but I don’t know that I’ve loved me enough. I’m trying to learn to.
What is love?
I feel like love is accepting someone, unconditionally, for who they are. Not putting perimeters, rules, boundaries or ultimatums on the relationship. Just looking at someone for everything that they are and saying “I accept you”. You are who you are and I take you in as one of my tribe. As one of my people. We may not see eye-to-eye on everything and I still accept you. We may not always agree or even like each other but you’re 100% my person and you’ll always be my person. To me that love! To me, love doesn’t have anything to do with romance or sex or being a husband & wife, boyfriend & girlfriend, girlfriend & girlfriend, and so on. It’s not the Disney version of love. Love is a relationship that you have with another human-being where you care for them and truly invested in them no matter what. They may even piss you off from time to time, but you’ll never throw them away. I feel like that’s love.