Shareefa J

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Written By: Leta Stevens

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When you think of a beautiful model sipping on an espresso single shot in between casting calls in London, who’s excitedly planning a move to Australia, the last thing that comes to mind is, “Wow, rough life!”

For model Shareefa, life wasn’t easy at all. She grew up in Norfolk, England, a small town that was anything but metropolitan. Shareefa was the only mixed race child in school. She felt like an outsider. Not only was she black, she was also chubby, and sporting an afro, with a lesbian mother to boot. This made her a target for the bullies. Her schoolmates were cruel, from milkshakes being poured on her afro to cigarettes being put out on her neck. Once, her hair was lit on fire with a Bunsen burner. The target of extreme bullying, the already chubby Shareefa found comfort in food.

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How do you recover from such torment? For Shareefa, her passion fueled her resiliency. She attended drama school on vocal scholarship and channelled her emotions into singing and acting. Passion, she says, and staying true to yourself is the key to grounding and healing. Outside of performing, Shareefa took to her yoga mat to heal from the inside out. Daily yoga, meditation, and positive affirmations help her reassess her daily activities to make sure that she’s doing the things that make her happy.

If you ask Shareefa, the most beautiful thing about a person is the ability to be real, raw, honest, and true to themselves. By doing the same, Shareefa is able to use her past to fuel her fire today.

But… even when you have a handle on life, it can throw you a curveball. After years of feeling scatterbrained, getting in trouble at work for a lack of focus, and an innate ability to forget things, Shareefa was diagnosed with ADHD. Despite feeling defeated by her diagnosis, she was resilient. She credits her vinyasa flow, a strong work-life balance, and daily “I am worthy of…” affirmations for her strength + positivity.

Now, a model with a love of singing, acting, and comedy, Shareefa glows. She glows as only those who truly love themselves do.

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She uses her growing status and influence to help others. Shareefa is taking social media by storm to show the people of the world that you do not have to conform to society’s standards of beauty and there need not be a stigma attached to ADHD. You can, in fact, have a big, beautiful, natural afro and curves and be a model. You can have ADHD and use the diagnosis to promote goodness and nonjudgment.

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In the future, she hopes to make an impact on a larger scale, something bigger than a natural hair movement or breaking down the stigma of ADHD, she hopes to continue her volunteer work and activism internationally. Shareefa knows that true happiness and greatness comes from empowering those around you.

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.” - Bob Marley

To see more of Shareefa and her journey please follow her @Shareefa_j

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Lacey Claire Rogers

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Written By: Jill Hopkins

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Growing up, Lacey didn’t always love her body. “Like any other young girl, I was constantly wondering, ‘Why can’t I get a boyfriend like everyone else? Am I not pretty enough? Skinny enough?’”

After losing thirty pounds, Lacey’s confidence was stronger than ever, and an old friend contacted her to take professional photos. “We became a team,” she said. As she put her herself out there and began to make a name for herself, her popularity in the modeling industry grew and more opportunities presented themselves. “I believe doors open doors. And they did.” 

Despite critical friends and family in her small conservative town, Lacey was determined to continue doing what she loved: making art, taking photos, and being true to herself. “[My dad] didn’t understand why I loved doing this, and I don’t think most people will ever get it. [Modeling] isn’t a way of living from where I am from, it is just a dream.”

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An incredible validation of her hard work and determination, Lacey was the youngest model chosen for cycle 22 of America’s Next Top Model. She placed as their runner up, moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career, and never looked back.

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“Living out here by myself, I have discovered what I actually love to do, and who I really am. I don’t have to worry about people looking at me funny for what I wear, or what I do, or who I hang out with. I feel free to be me.”

Today, people back home love to tell Lacey she has “changed” as if it were an insult, but Lacey knows that change signifies self-growth and increased knowledge. Just as a seed produces a plant, our actions produce results. Lacey is learning and growing from every single thing she does.

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Lacey says, “I have learned that loving yourself is a step that many people forget to do, but you have to in order to live a completely happy life.” She says physical body appearance should not be someone’s main goal. “I want women, especially young girls to fall in love with WHO THEY ARE first.” Lacey says loving herself first was the best thing she has ever done.

Battling bullies, a conservative family and the naysayers, Lacey was forced to pick herself up and transform into a secure, confident, independent young woman. Unsure of what her future holds, Lacey wants life to write itself.  

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“Never settle for less than you deserve” she says. “And at the end of the day, who is going to love you if you don’t love yourself?” 

To see more of Lacey and her journey please follow her @thelaceyclaire

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Julie Johnson

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Written By: Rose Fong

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If Julie (Jules to many) could have coffee with anyone in the world right now, she’d pick Michelle Obama. “She’s very big on bringing up our girls right. I would love to have a sit-down conversation with her.” And she totally deserves to.

Dear Michelle Obama, here’s why Julie is totally someone to take on a coffee date. 

Julie sees beauty in people who have gone through struggles and found strength within themselves. “On social media, I gravitate towards these women who are struggling with being confident, because I know exactly what that’s like.”

It’s only recently that Jules finds herself comfortable in her own skin. Five years ago, Julie was unhappy. “The highest number I saw on the scale was three hundred pounds. I wasn’t really doing much with my life. I wasn’t happy.”

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She tried all the fad diets and all the quick fixes, but with the usual frustrating, yo-yoing results.  “One day, it just stuck in my head that if I really wanted to do it, I could. No one else is gonna do for me. It had to be me. I started to lose some weight, and it was like [as soon as] I saw progress, I couldn’t backtrack and go to where I was before.”

Julie hit 180 pounds, a 120 pound loss. But, surprisingly, the personal best low weight wasn’t as satisfying as she hoped. “I think that so many people think that when you lose weight, it’s all about that number on the scale, like if you see a certain number, it’s gonna make you happy. And that wasn’t it for me.”

She fell off the wagon, so to speak, and gained about twenty pounds back. But she also fell in love with herself in the process. “That’s when I found weightlifting. I fell in love with how it made me feel. It helped with my confidence. It made me realize how powerful I was.”

Julie says she really fell in love with going to the gym routinely when she fixed her routine. She joined a gym that was closer to her house. “I almost didn’t give myself a choice - ‘You have to go.’ I like to think [I outsmarted myself].”

“I know what it’s like to be uncomfortable in your skin, and to avoid mirrors. I hate that there’s women out there who feel that way, so that’s why I do what I’m doing with social media,” she says with passion. “I want to put the message out there that we’re allowed to feel beautiful. As women, I think it’s vital that we feel beautiful and confident. Because if we don’t, life just passes you by, and life’s too short to not be crazy about yourself.”

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“Even on my bad days… I still have my days where I feel like my stomach isn’t flat enough or my hair doesn’t look good or my eyebrows aren’t perfect... What’s different now is that at the end of every day, I know that I’m amazing. I know that I’m unique. I know that I’m one-of-a-kind, no one’s ever gonna be me. So, why not embrace that, you know?”

“I’m happy now. I don’t feel like I need to a whole lot of changes anymore. Except for my education. That’s what I’m pursuing right now.” After working in special education classrooms for six years, Jules is pursuing a degree in psychology. “I have to keep going. I can’t lose my momentum.”

Every day, Julie reminds herself of goals accomplished. And when days get rough, she will tell herself all the good things she knows about herself. “It might sound silly to people, but looking at yourself and saying these things to yourself, you start to believe them. You are your actions, and you’re speaking it into existence. You have to believe it.”

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To see more of Julie and her journey, please follow her @getfitjules

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Israela Claro

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Written By: Jill Hopkins

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A singer, a songwriter and a dancer; beautiful, inspiring and hardworking; Israela Claro does it all. Originally from Brazil, Israela moved to L. A. when she was just 21 years old. “I had a record deal, band, manager, family, everything stable back home but didn’t feel complete, so I felt the need to drop everything and go after my dreams.” 

    As it turned out, the road to Israela’s dreams was paved with unseen struggle--loneliness, depression, loss of self love and weakening of self-confidence. “I even thought about giving up on my dreams and myself, something really unusual for me since I’ve always had a lot of self-esteem and confidence, but for a minute, everything felt so lost.”

Israeala describes this beginning time on her own as dark. Alone in this darkness, fighting through every step on this road to her dreams, trudging past the obstacles and opportunities of defeat like thick, threatening mud. These dark days are what put Israela’s tenacity to the test. Ultimately, she came out of the darkness stronger and fiercer. “I knew I had what I needed to fight [those] tough moments. I knew I had so much strength inside of me, I knew my drive and confidence were still somewhere within me so I started fighting every single day when I got out of bed.” 

Plagued with negativity and the desire to give up, Israela knew she needed a change. She started seeing herself as a winner; a fighter and taking care of her mind and body. She describes her body as a temple and knows that once you value yourself as such, the things you see and believe quickly transform. “It’s funny--when you sacrifice certain things in life to achieve bigger goals and a higher stage, you develop so much resistance and resilience…  and it feels amazing.” 

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Israela remains true to herself and honest about her journey, hoping to inspire other young women around the world. She is not afraid to be vulnerable, share her story with others and admit her flaws. Israela knows that everyone has a story; she wants to influence women to continue to work on themselves, be good to themselves and learn to love themselves no matter their size or where they come from. 

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“I work hard for my Brazilian Booty! Why should I be ashamed to show it.”

“The number one obstacle [that prevents women from having a good relationship with their body] is for sure the media body standards.” Israela explains that the media portrays a fake reality of perfection, and it poisons young girls’ mentality and alters their perspective. Israela wants to help young women everywhere. She wants to be a role model and motivate girls to become strong, fight for their dreams and never ignore life’s struggles. “We should never give up on working on ourselves.” 

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“I truly believe that you have to start with yourself, find your own sense of security, comfort and confidence, so that you’re not easily influenced and negatively affected by other people’s false reality and the fabrication of the perfect life and body.” 

Israela wants YOU to learn to fall in love with yourself every day--you are the only one that can complete yourself. Self-love can be the hardest kind of love, but it is the most important one.

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If you want to see more of Israela, follow her at @israelaclaro

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Eriko Shimojo

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Written By: Rose Fong

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Eriko Shimojo likes her coffee sweet as can be -- because she’s absolutely the sweetest. She has an easy smile and welcoming eyes. She describes herself as a typical, shy Asian girl. And she totally is. Except for her really short hair. Some people assume she shaves it to rock a unique look. Others have broken heartedly shared their stories of chemotherapy and cancer treatments, hoping to find Eriko is a comrade in their battle.

Eriko’s battle is vastly different, but no less a struggle. From early childhood, Eriko’s mother noticed something was very different about her sweet baby. When she would lift baby Eriko up from her crib, feathery baby hairs covered the pillow. Doctors from Japan to the Philippines were stumped, but often concluded --incorrectly-- that Eriko suffered from alopecia.

Eriko’s mother even shaved her toddler’s hair in hopes that eventually her hair would thicken and grow into normal hair. 

It never happened. Eriko’s hair stayed short and fine throughout childhood to adulthood. “I was always wearing bandanas and hats to cover, you know?” In the Philippines, there’s a lot of cultural pressure to fit into the normal standards. Eriko felt very lonely.

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Eriko found out the truth of her condition a year ago, after seeing a dermatologist in the United States. “They said, ‘Well, your situation sounds more like a childhood thing, because you’ve had it since you were a kid. I’m going to have a [pediatric dermatologist] look at it with me.’”

“They came back with this old-school book, like they were actually doing the research there! It was kind of cool.” After looking at the follicles of Eriko’s hair through a microscope, the doctors concluded that Eriko had childhood short anagen syndrome, a mysterious, possibly genetic disorder researchers still don’t know much about.

Eriko’s heart broke when she found out there is no cure for her disorder, not even hair transplants. “Most people grow out of it,” Eriko explains. And, by most people, Eriko specifies that the disorder is most common in white girls under ten years old. However, the disorder rarely affects these children past childhood.
 

“I tried to join a support group on Facebook,” says Eriko, “because I didn’t want to feel alone. But most of the women in the support groups are moms, and I don’t want to scare them! I don’t want them to worry this is forever for their kids.”
 

But she says her A-team keeps her spirits up. “My sister’s been with me through everything. She’s the one who reminds me that people who matter will stick around.”

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“I want to say to that little girl with no hair -- you can live your dreams. I’m living my dreams. It doesn’t matter what you look like. Your family and the people that matter will still love you and be there for you.”

To see more of Eriko and her journey, please follow her @e.Shimojo

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