Self Image: Mirrors- Sara Jo

Thanks to general stereotypes, movies and media, the word cheerleader brings to mind many images. Most think of the bubbly, dumb, blonde-haired girl with a perfect ponytail and a polished reputation.

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For me it was much more. Living in the shadow of, what I perceived as the perfect child, I had few “boxes” I could fill without being outdone by my little brother. After all, he was among the smartest in his class, had crushed all of the cross-country records, and was great at baseball.

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What I didn’t know until many years after high school, was that he was one of MY biggest, “cheerleaders” by way of encouragement, praise and support. Because cheerleading had brought me such happiness and overall sense of ability and success, after high school I went on to join the dance teams in both college and eventually even the NFL.

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I quickly realized however, that my entire character had been put in a box in high school, and that the image of a college and professional “dancer” was VERY different than the high school cheerleader. Even though being a part of these teams seemed like something I should be proud of acknowledging, because of the shame I was hiding inside due to the constant verbal, mental, physical and sexual abuse by people in authoritative positions (predominantly in the NFL), I was too ashamed to even tell anyone, including my own parents. Again, through all that I endured, it was my brother that I trusted. After two seasons of being a part of the Buffalo Jills dance team, my brother had had enough and physically flew from Los Angeles to New York and packed my stuff into a UHaul and refused to leave the state until he knew I was on my way back to Iowa where I was safe.

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Two things I’ll never forget him telling me throughout all of those years: “You put yourself into the box you created, and you can climb back out. Stupid people don’t have 3 degrees or have nearly as many life experiences as you do.” And, “You can do three things with your past; repeat it, learn from it or help others as a result of it.” For 38 years, Tommy was my voice of reason and more than anything, my “safe place”. Two years ago, he lost a short-lived battle with leukemia.

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While his death has overwhelmed me with sadness, I have an unbelievable spirit inside of me, because of him, to shatter the fear that was instilled in me through all of the abuse, and to become something greater than even I expected of myself.

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I know for 100% fact that Tommy is around me at all times, and is still guiding me toward this goal. Today, I have chosen to teach others as a result of my past. I am currently a teacher in the Moline-Coal Valley School District.

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I have started a group for single women online that is intended to encourage and support single, divorced, widowed, etc women. I am a court appointed advocate for children and women through CASA, and volunteer to help abused women through Family Resources

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Self Image/Mirrors: Taylor’s Story

‘Embrace the change and then you will find
New light will break the shadows inside’ 

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I honestly started getting anxiety when I was 8 years old after my mother had a stroke. The thought of losing having her around at 8. When she was the only one I had, absolutely terrified me. I went months not knowing what sort of state she was going to be in. Once, she came home a lot of things changed. I had to step up and do whatever I could do to help her. To help us. We eventually lost basically everything we owned and moved out to Henry county.
Mom, if you’re reading this. I know you did everything you could for us. Don’t ever think you didn’t try hard enough. I love you and I couldn’t ever thank you enough for being the best mom you could be. I wouldn’t trade you for the world.
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However, the anxiety and depression got a lot worse after high school. People judged me for being the person I was. They didn’t accept a person with piercings and weird colored hair. Instead of just leaving me alone, they made my life a living hell. I eventually dropped out because of all the harassment.
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After that there were plenty of days where I physically couldn’t get out of bed. The thought of leaving the house, seeing other humans let alone have to interact with them scared the shit out of me. There were plenty of days where all I did was lay in bed, cry and wish I wasn’t alive.
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It’s taken me many years not to let the inner voices control how I’m actually feeling. Sometimes my anxiety doesn’t let me go places or be as social as I wish I was.
 However, I’ve come across so many wonderful people throughout these last couple of years who understood the fact that I had anxiety and accepted me for it. If you’re someone who has come into my life within this last year, just know you’ve helped break me out of my little shell and I couldn’t thank you enough.
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The fact that I danced in a burlesque troupe, blows my mind. I never in my entire life would’ve thought I’d have the courage to get up on that stage and dance. I’ll forever be grateful I had that opportunity because for once I didn’t let my anxiety control me. I shut those negative thoughts out and was finally just myself.
There are still plenty of days where I don’t want to face the world, but I know now that I can do a lot more than I think I can. I’ve found that discouraging voice inside and silenced it. I refuse to let my anxiety control my every move. I refuse to let it think it owns me.
‘Now I can finally breathe’
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Self Image: Mirrors – Sara Elizabeth

This mirror/self image shoot was done at a location with a special meaning to Sara. This is her story in her own words:

After 10 years of thinking “A house makes a home”, I’m letting that go.  For so long I have tied my own self worth into a checklist.  I have grown to realize that it doesn’t matter how many things you have, if you are not the type of person people want to be around, you will be alone.  20180124_095249.jpg

By saying goodbye to my home, renting it out, and moving on, I am finding strength in myself that the security of having a place to lay down my head can’t provide me.

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I’m on my way to finding who I am, and learning to appreciate the struggle of what I only conceived in my own head, was right.

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Onward  and forwards.  Sara

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Photographer’s Addendum:

The “unfinished” room of the home she is letting go made for a perfect scene to capture these images in.  The Mirror used is also a personal favorite of the subjects, and added a second special touch to the photos.  Home isn’t a physical location for all, but it is the spot in your mind that puts you at ease.  20180124_09411120180124_09444720180124_095238