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Written By: Rose Fong

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What do you do when you find your path blocked by a mountain? For most people, the most sensible idea is to turn around and go home. Some clever people, they might try to figure out their way around it. People like Kristina were made to scale the mountain and conquer it.

Kristina was raised in Kazakhstan by her single mother.

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She often stood out from the crowd because she was half Ethiopian in a majority white and light-skinned environment. Eventually, Kristina left home to pursue music education in Italy.

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Her dream was to pursue career as an opera singer.

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In Italy, she found herself caught up in a romance with an older man. At that time, she was twenty-two, and she slipped away from school and deeper into her relationship. She was happy, and he made her feel happy. Soon after, Kristina found out she was pregnant, and she felt that her boyfriend was as overjoyed as she was.

But the pregnancy revealed a different side of the man. He became increasingly critical to the point of verbally abusive of Kristina. “He said I’m worthless and I’m becoming old. He said I’m not a beautiful person as a human being and I’d never be successful as an opera singer.” His voice dug itself a deep home in her mind. The criticisms cycled through her brain over and over again until she believed them.

“It was very hard work to overcome those words.” She would give herself verbal affirmations in the mirror -- she read somewhere that it might help her. At first, she cried in disbelief, laughing at herself for talking to herself, but she finally become comfortable with her own voice and her body and own words of love. “Another strategy is to accept compliments,” she says, “When people say you look good or that you’re talented, you have to say ‘thank you’ and accept it.”

The last push to drive her away from her abusive boyfriend was when she found out that he was cheating on her with an even younger woman, an eighteen year old. Her path had brought her to the mountain. Young and single and pregnant, where could she go?

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Where could she have a good life for herself and her baby? She couldn’t stay. Staying was toxic, and this man could not be relied on to take care of her and her son. Going home might have made sense, but Kristina knew from growing up that it would be so difficult to be a single mother.

She decided to climb the mountain -- she moved to Los Angeles

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to continue modeling, something she was doing in school to make ends meet, and give her baby his best chance in the United States.

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She didn’t know anyone, she barely had anything. But she did it.

If she could speak to her younger self, she’d tell herself that everything she chose to do was right. “Because now, I know that it’s so important to be away from the people who don’t appreciate you. You can’t let those people break you so hard that you can’t come back. I’d tell her that she will be happy again.”

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Kristina says that you can’t live your life waiting to succeed. To be happy again and to find success, you have to believe that you’re the one who can make success and happiness happen.

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To see more of Kristina follow her at @kristina_menissov

BEHIND THE SCENES OF OUR PHOTOSHOOT WIHT KRISTINA MENISSOV

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