Elena: The Sewing Queen

This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Elena flaunting the dress and decorations she made at her Barbie themed birthday party!

Elena is known for her kawaii style and homemade outfits. Her life motto is to, “always be cute.” So it’s no surprise that her outfits are anything but basic! Elena strives to be different and takes every opportunity to showcase her creations to the public. Her love for sewing could be attributed to her maternal grandmother.

Elena was 7 years old when she sewed for the first time. When her grandma would visit from Mexico and stay with her family for a while, Elena noticed that she would always be working on a project. Her grandma would mostly hand stitch and use her sewing machine. Curious Elena would always ask her grandma what she was working on, and with time, her grandmother offered to teach her exactly what she was doing. In the Mexican culture, sewing is geared more towards women, so Elena’s grandma didn’t feel the need to teach her brothers. However, Elena strongly believes that sewing is a skill that everyone can benefit from.

The first project that her grandmother gave her was to embroider a flower. Her grandma drew a simple flower with leaves on a piece of cotton. Elena did her best to follow grandma’s pencil drawing and sew right on top of it. She remembers feeling excited about sewing independently because she knew the next step would be learning how to cross stitch. Why did she want to learn how to cross stitch? Because one of grandma’s cross stitch pattern books had an elephant wearing a party hat that she was dying to make. Making that cute elephant was definitely one of her goals, but she knew she had to master her basics first. With time, Elena eventually went on to make that elephant she so desperately wanted to make!

Young Elena proudly showing off her flower embroidery

From there on, Elena’s love for sewing grew. Her mom taught her how to use the sewing machine for the first time when she was 13 years old. Like her grandma, her mom would use her sewing machine for little projects here and there. Elena remembers all the times her mom helped her make Halloween costumes. She would participate in sewing up different parts of her costume, which gave her a sense of pride. Halloween is one of Elena’s favorite holidays and takes it very seriously with her outfits – a holiday meant for her creativity to shine.

By the time Elena was in high school, her interest in creating clothes for herself was at an all time high. The first garment she ever made was a strapless dress for her Senior Project. The Senior Project required all seniors at her high school to work with a mentor to learn a new skill. After learning that new skill, a final paper would have to be submitted. By this time, Elena was confident using the sewing machine, but didn’t know how to make a pattern and put it all together. Her mentor was a tailor who made men’s pants. Pattern making has been a skill she has continued to use ever since.

“He never really did womenswear, but he knew the pattern making basics, so together we made a very simple strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and a straight short skirt,” Elena shared. “It was fun to create and made me feel confident about going into fashion design.”

When it came to choosing her major in college, Elena thought long and hard about what she’s passionate about and what she enjoys doing. Growing up, her mom always encouraged her to pursue a career in the medical field, specifically nursing. Elena didn’t quite know what she wanted to major in, but one thing she knew from the get was that she definitely wouldn’t be getting into the medical field. It took her a while to really sit and think about what route she wanted to take in college, but it all really boiled down to what she enjoyed doing on her free time.

“I took time to think what I like to do, and I landed on that I like to make things,” she said. “I say this vaguely because I did all types of crafts growing up: hand stitching, painting, paper crafts, corsage making, you name it! But overall, it was always me creating with my hands. But when I laid it all out, it all came down to fabrics being my most used medium of choice. This made it clear in my mind so I was able to choose and pursue fashion design!”

Elena and her models rocking her outfits for the college fashion show

Her parents were very unsure of her decision to pursue fashion. She understood that it’s typical for immigrant parents to want their children to pick “good” majors so they can get a job to make good money. To her parents, fashion design wasn’t a stable or profitable field. Even during her time in college, major already declared, her mom would voice her concerns, asking her daughter what she planned to do with a fashion degree. Being a good sport and knowing her parents were just worried, Elena would brush it off and jokingly troll them back saying, “beats nursing!” The disapproval and low-key shade continued on post-graduation, when she was on the hunt to find a job. But one thing about Elena – she is confident in every choice that she makes. She knows that at the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy with her decisions is herself. Luckily, with time, Elena’s mom learned to be more supportive of her style and passions.

Elena’s style is anything but minimalistic. Everything she wears, creates, and showcases on her body are big, loud, colorful, and over the top! Elena describes her personality and style in 3 words: Kawaii, Camp, and Maximalism. Kawaii is the Japanese movement of everything and anything cute. This can be cartoon characters, pastel colors, bows, and anything adorable! Camp is self-exaggerated, not serious, and of course, fun! Elena achieves this style by wearing fun / odd things like birds in her hair, fun purses like a LEGO brick, and anything that is whimsical! Maximalism is doing the most at all times! To Elena, “More is always more!” If it’s not colorful, fun, loud, over the top, cute, or an attention grabber, Elena is not interested!

Elena has never felt insecure about showcasing her creations in public. Her favorite thing to do is wear a new design that she completed in public. She loves seeing people’s reactions when they compliment her and she confesses that she made it. Elena gets so happy when strangers and those around her admire and appreciate her work. Deep down, she also hopes her creativity inspires someone else to try sewing! Elena radiates confidence wherever she goes in whatever she wears. What’s important to her is that she dresses for herself and her own enjoyment. She doesn’t care what people think, but if they love it, even better!

Her style also comes with obsessions. Her current obsessions are Barbie and Baby Yoda. But just because these are her current obsessions, doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past ones! The truth is, Elena never gets over anything that peaked her interest. She may have a couple of obsessions at the moment, but it just gets added to her list of things she’s in love with. When something from a past obsession comes up, Elena is reeled back in and enjoys it all over again. She keeps her long list of obsessions as inspiration to create. Though Elena has categorized her style in 3 main categories, her style could also be broken down in the different “eras” of her life.

In high school, Elena’s obsession was all about Rock music. Her all time favorite band was the band HIM. Anything the band members wore, she would do her best to find a piece that looked similar. In college, her Kawaii obsession started because she decided to watch all 200 episodes of Sailor Moon her Freshman / Sophomore year. She watched the show here and there as a kid, but never watched it in its entirety. Sailor Moon was her gateway into the Kawaii community. It definitely influenced her style completely, though she found it easy to adopt because her childhood obsessions were Sanrio and Pokémon. Post-College – Now, Elena’s current obsession is Drag Culture. It all started when a co-worker asked if she was keeping up with RuPaul’s Drag Race. She had watched earlier seasons, but fell off. She told her co-worker that she would re-watch them, and since then, the rest is history.

Elena on stage at The Warfield with Bianca Del Rio, wearing their matching Flames Dresses

“One of the best designs I made for an event would be my recreation of RuPaul’s Drag Race S6 winner, Bianca Del Rio’s Flames dress!,” Elena said when asked what designs she was most proud of. “I made it to wear at her ‘Not Today Satan’ tour stop in SF. At the meet and greet, she was so impressed that the copy was so good – she makes all her own drag outfits – she ended up inviting me on stage at The Warfield for a picture and everyone at the sold-out show got to see it!”

Now, Elena’s style is heavily influenced by Kawaii and Drag Culture. It fed into her love for Maximalism and Camp. The mutual love for RuPaul’s Drag Race got the 2 co-workers to have a friendship outside of the work environment. They would go to Drag shows in the city on the weekends and go see Rugirls, as well as other local talent. Some specific queens that have inspired Elena are: Bianca del Rio, Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Aquaria, and especially Valentina. Fashion wise, Valentina is what Elena strives to be. Through online and real life events, she has managed to fully immerse herself in all the styles she loves.

It’s safe to say that Elena has a very particular style and draws inspiration from so many sources. Her style is so playful, quirky, and unique that dating wise, it may be challenging to find someone that matches her style to a T. That was the case when she met her boyfriend, Sam. They shared in interest in video games on the Nintendo, but other than that commonality, the 2 lovebirds came from different backgrounds and styles. She describes their styles as polar opposites. Elena is all about coordinating outfits, and the very first time her and Sam matched was for a date to the Museum Of Ice Cream. She did a western pink look and made a matching bow tie for him to wear. Even though what he was wearing wasn’t anything flashy, he felt that it was a bit much and didn’t want to draw any attention. But with time, he saw how much dressing up meant to Elena and has learned to not only appreciate it, but go along with it.

Currently, Elena is balancing out her side passion of sewing with her current job. Her job is so flexible Post-Covid because it’s hybrid – work from home and in office. Now that she has some days of working from home, Elena finds herself working on garments during her breaks. She even found her rhythm noticing that she prefers to do work at night and projects during the day – a concept that would’ve never been a reality pre-pandemic.

One of Elena’s favorite pieces she made in college, Pop Tart Dress!

Generally, a simple design that she has done before or has the pattern for can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to complete from beginning to end. If it’s a new pattern or something she hasn’t made before, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 weeks. This all depends on multiple factors – when the garment is needed, if she has to get materials, how complicated it is to make, and if there’s anything going on in her personal life. If the project is for an event, Elena is very focused on sticking to the schedule to get it done on time, but if it’s a regular garment for no special occasion, she’s more relaxed getting it done. Elena is always working on a project, researching a project, or finding inspiration for the next design.

Once a garment or project is complete, Elena likes to give herself a mini break in-between. During this time, she is thinking of what to do next. This includes doing the research, looking up references, inspiration photos, and more. She admits that there are times where her mini breaks from project to project can be longer than her usual 1 – 2 weeks. Before the pandemic, Elena doesn’t recall a time where she had full on burnout with her projects. She remembers using the high of finishing a design to motivate her to start on the next project. Now 2 plus years into the pandemic, her creating fatigue is more apparent. After her Barbie themed birthday party, where she designed her dress, props, and goodies, Elena found herself in a rut. For 2 months she struggled to get in the mood to sew. It was to the point where she couldn’t even get herself to be in her sewing space at all. The burnout was really stressful, but she chose to focus her energy on other things that brought her joy, like journaling, playing Pokémon, and spending time with loved ones.

“I felt like if I spend the energy somewhere else, eventually I’ll get back to a clearer mindset and sew,” she said truthfully. “It took a while, but I can say that it did help, although I can still feel its effects. Now I’m just trying to find a better way to pace myself in projects to avoid burnout in the future… So, I do my best to rest in between projects but always try to keep something in mind.”

A common question that Elena gets asked often is if she plans to make her side passions a full-time job. In college, she did have an Etsy store where she sold her handmade hairclips, but eventually she had to close it down when school and work piled up. She thinks pursuing her creative passions full-time would be fun and exciting, but at the moment, she loves her job way too much to leave at this time. For the time being, she plans to continue to create mainly for herself. However, she is always down for a fun request. She doesn’t take custom requests often, but once in a while she will take up alterations, costume help, table centerpieces, and other fun crafts. The first time she made garments for someone other than herself was when 2 of her best friends graduated college. They asked if Elena could make and design both of their graduation dresses – she was a bit hesitant at first because she was so used to creating for herself, but in the end was glad she took on the projects because they both turned out beautiful.

Elena’s loves for creating doesn’t just stop at clothing. She will take one off commissions like making center pieces for parties or making corsages. She says that if she didn’t do fashion in school, she would’ve loved to pursue party planning or wedding planning. Themed parties have always been something that interested Elena, even at a young age. She would beg her mom to get the whole shebang at Party City – the matching plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, signs, and anything that came in the full set. Recently, she even made all the decorations, props, and her outfit for her own birthday party. Of course it was focused on one of her current obsessions – Barbie! Parties hold a special place in Elena’s heart, and she always tries to perfect every project that she takes on.

Handmade dress on her cousin’s Ultima Moñeca

“Recently I did a Quince dress for a Build-a-Bear Dino for my cousin’s Quinceñera!,” She shares passionately. “Traditionally during the party, a Quinceñera is presented with ‘La Ultima Moñeca’ aka ‘The Last Doll.’ It is to signify that she is no longer a little girl and is now an adult who doesn’t play with toys. I let my cousin pick a stuffed animal from Build-a-Bear and I created a 1 to 1 dress based on her Quince dress!”

Social media is an important tool for Creatives to share their work. Elena confidently admits that she likes to promote her Instagram as if she has thousands of followers – even though she has yet to reach 1,000. Instagram is her platform of choice, and she uses it to showcase most of her projects. She makes it a point to post a new outfit when she wears it out and describes the process and inspiration behind the piece. Elena also likes to implement Instagram Stories to show the step by step process, then she posts the finished process as a highlight on her profile. She has taken a crack at Instagram Reels as well by pairing her videos and photos with songs that go with her theme or that has inspired her when making the piece. Elena has tried streaming herself sewing on Twitch in the past and loved that people were chatting and asking questions throughout the process. She hopes to start streaming again this year.

With all these ideas and future plans, Elena can’t put her finger on just one specific person that has supported her throughout her journey. She considers everyone in her inner circle to be someone who has been in her corner. She knows that everyone on the sidelines are rooting for her every step of the way. These people include her youngest brother, Jason, her close college friends, her “Babushkas,” her boyfriend, Sam, and of course, her grandma.

Elena’s advice to other creatives is: Do whatever makes you happy! As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will all be worthwhile. Her advice for fashion creatives is to remember to always make clothes for you. Elena wants fashion creatives to keep in mind that they are dressing either themselves or their ideal client, so if someone isn’t on board with what you create, it doesn’t matter because you’re not designing for them. She remembers that that’s the advice she had to follow in college. Fashion design made her happy, and she didn’t feel the need to explain to others why she chose this route.

Many creatives are usually asked, ‘are you able to make money off ‘Insert craft here‘?'” Elena said. “And I get it, especially if that is to become your field of work, you want to be able to make a living. But to me, the true goal is to make yourself happy. Pursue your craft and passions for self-happiness and fulfillment, with that money will follow.”   

Elena’s motto and goal in life is to always “Be Cute.” Through her style and designs, she wants to serve campy cute, maximal cute, kawaii cute, spooky cute, and any and every category of cute that there is. As a creative, her brain in constantly thinking of the next thing to create, and she is embracing every step of the way.

Elena happily posing for another photo

The Unexpected #101

Wow. I literally can’t believe that I am writing this. This is blog post #101! And to be completely honest, I’m writing this blog post as I take a break writing blog post #100. I’m having hardcore writer’s block, especially with so much pressure of being the 100th post and all… I feel like Spongebob when all he has is the word “the” on the page. I need to just step back and work on something else for a minute before I drive myself mad. Like I said, I can’t believe I’m writing this -blog post number 101 – partly because I can’t believe I have made it past 100 posts, but also because #101 was never meant to exist.

I’ll explain…

First and foremost, THANK YOU to all of my readers who have been following my writing up until this point. From everyone that’s been tuning in every Monday since day one, and all the readers I have picked up along the way, THANK YOU. It means so much to me that people really take the time out of their day to read a story of mine. That might sound dramatic as hell, but it’s true, I’m super grateful for all of the support I have gotten since deciding to write consistently. Whether that be liking my posts, sharing my content, commenting, even sliding in my DM’s to tell me something privately – I appreciate it all. I am truly humbled; to have started at a consistent “0 views” stat, to be where I am today.

101 blog posts also marks the 2nd anniversary-ish (a little over) of me re-starting this blog. In 2019, I found myself in the thick of my post-grad blues. For the longest, my goal was to revive my LoveYourzStory blog ever since I made it in 2016. I dreamt of the day that I would have the time and energy to maintain a blog and post consistently. However, I always found an excuse to delay it – it was either school, not enough time, or simply because I was lazy as shit and didn’t want to put in the time. All reasonings were valid. I had strong motivation to re-start my blog in January 2019 as a New Year’s resolution, but when the time came, I didn’t have the confidence to do it. I pussied out real quick. But it was always in the back of my mind.

From January 2019 to when I dropped my first post in July 2019, I worked myself up about getting the ball rolling. I was too hesitant, and honestly, a little embarrassed. I knew for the first couple of posts, months, maybe even years? – nobody would really care about what I was doing. I cringed at the idea of pouring my heart out and sharing my personal stories on the internet just to get no views and no feedback. But I knew I had to start somewhere. What really made me take the leap of faith was honestly being so deep in my post-grad depression and feeling so completely lost. I felt like a straight loser honestly. Here I was, proclaiming myself as a writer, shit, I even got the degree to prove it. But on paper I had no experience outside of my college courses.

L O S E R.

P A T H E T I C.

W O R T H L E S S.

D E P R E S S E D.

C O N F U S E D.

D E S P E R A T E.

That’s how I constantly felt from January 2019 until I dropped that first blog post in July 2019. I figured I had nothing to lose, I was already at my lowest. I couldn’t have been more right. I was tired of saying and wishing that I could do all these things, but lacking motivation and confidence to actually fuckin do it. I started giving myself tough love. How did I expect to get anywhere with writing if I literally did nothing? How did I expect to reach my dream of being a published writer if I was too afraid to put myself out there? I was tired of making excuses for myself. I was tired of feeling unaccomplished. I was tired of waiting for something to happen.

I decided “fuck it,” and just rolled with it. I knew I had to start somewhere. And I knew it would take a long while until people would take notice of my work and actually tune in. But the longer I waited, the longer it would take for me to see results. This is something I really had to do for me, I had to face my reality – how bad did I want this? I no longer had school as an excuse for not having time. Yes, I had a full-time job, but for me, I knew my writing career wouldn’t stop at SFSU. I had to just start.

My predictions were right – in the beginning I was met with little views and almost no feedback. But I continued to push out blog post after blog post every Monday anyways. I knew it would be a slow start, but mama didn’t raise no bitch. I didn’t know where I wanted to take this blog, but I knew that I couldn’t get discouraged too early on. But I definitively had my moments. There were times where I felt like I was putting in a lot of effort, time, and energy that I’m not getting paid for, for nothing. Not entirely for “nothing,” but that I was writing and nobody was even reading. I used to doubt if what I was writing was even worth reading. I still have those moments sometimes, where I feel like what I’m doing is pointless because nobody will read or even care. I start to doubt myself and what I’m doing when I let my insecurities get the best of me. But I never thought about stopping the blog cold turkey.

I’ve had so many hiccups and road blocks throughout this process, and most of these inconveniences are because of my damn self. I’ve had my moments where I posted blog posts past midnight, not even technically “Monday” anymore. I fell into the bad habit of starting blog posts the night before – sometimes even the day of. I put myself under so much pressure and stress to get the blog post out, promising myself that the next week’s blog post would be done in advanced to prevent a situation like that. But, being the annoying ass that I am, I procrastinate and put myself in the same exact position I was in a week prior. It’s a bad habit that I’ve been trying to nip in the bud for the last TWO YEARS!

It wasn’t until recently – literally the last 6 months – that I started to really try to throw myself a bone and have the post done at least by the end of Sunday so I don’t stress out about it the day of anymore. It wasn’t until the LoveYourzStory X My Small Business series that I started to think ahead. Of course, I dreamed of the day where I would have completed post after completed post just cued up ready to be released every Monday. I always wanted to have my posts mapped out months in advanced as I learned in my social media class, but that’s just not that easy when I’m trying to balance everything under the sun. Ever since the small business project, I’ve gotten a lot better about finishing posts before Monday comes around.

Not only did the LoveYourzStory X Small Business series push me in the right direction to be finished with my posts in a timely manner and map out what posts would come next in terms of groups of 10, it also built my confidence to reach out to others and connect with my followers and viewers. I always wanted to interact with my followers and do those type of posts where you ask your followers to tag people who would be interested, but I always feared that nobody would participate. On a whim, I decided just to roll with it. If nobody participated, then so be it. But if people were interested, it could be a dope series to release. To my surprise, I got a lot of feedback, tags, and leads. I couldn’t believe it. It gave me confidence to think of other series that I could do that would feature different people and different topics. I love how I can tell my story, but also be that platform for other people to share their stories as well.

But to be completely honest, around the end of 2020, I really had plans to shutdown this blog after blog post #100. For the record, it wasn’t because I was over it, or because I didn’t want to continue, but because I have more passion projects that I want to do in terms of writing. Taking on another passion project task to my already heavy work load just made me feel like I would definitely be spreading myself thin. I was hard set on stopping this blog cold turkey at 100 posts. I thought it would be a great dramatic ending to say goodbye after 100 consistent posts. I have other writing projects that I intended to start in 2021, but given my procrastinating history, of course that has been delayed. I put so much time, energy, and thought into all my blog posts, that sometimes I feel like it takes away from my other goals that I have in writing. That was my reasoning. It was time to say goodbye, not because I wanted to, but because I just didn’t have the time to juggle everything.

When I consulted those around me, some agreed that 100 would be a great last hoorah, while others suggested I dial back on how consistent I post, just so I still post consistently but on a less regular basis. At the time, I still decided to stop at 100. Nobody could say anything to change my mind. It was what I was going to do. Yeah, it would be a bittersweet moment since I would go on to pursue another goal, but it’s what needed to be done to free up my time to focus on what I need to focus on next. My decision was made around the time I was releasing the Small Business Series (Blog posts in the 70’s).

However, when the Small Business Series ended, and it was nearing closer and closer to 100, I started getting cold feet. The countdown was starting. It made me a little sad. But again, I truly believed it was something I had to do to continue one with my plans. I started to think of what my #100 post could be and focus on that. I thought long and hard about what would serve as the last banger. Since the reviving of this blog, I have been so open and vocal about my body positive journey and views. The small business series was so successful that I really wanted to test my luck and see if I could push out another series before I shut it down. Again, the feelings of doubt, insecurity, and fear of putting myself out there and looking dumb crept up again. It’s like the cliché angel and devil on my shoulders. One telling me to go for it and take that chance, the other telling me that nobody would want to participate, it’s not a great idea, and I’m going to make myself look stupid on the internet – since I have tried to do polls and interactions in the past that kind of flopped.

As you can tell with my previous posts, I decided to go for it, collabing with my high school friends, Missdirected.art, who are great photographers with amazing creative visions. And I am so glad that we decided to take that leap of faith with each other. My heart was bursting with so much joy when I found 9 other individuals who wanted to share their story and be a part of this project. It’s always that initial stress of “will this pull through, or will this fail,” that gets me. When I finally saw it start to take a turn in the right direction, my heart fluttered with love and excitement. I wanted to do something like the Body Positive Series for some time, but never thought that it could be reality. You never really see that you’re checking off the boxes of all the goals you previously set for yourself until you take a step back and realize – oh shit, I’m here, I’m where I wanted to be X amount of time ago.

My partner never thought it was a good idea to stop the blog after 100 posts in the first place. Even when I suggested maybe dialing back, posting bi-weekly. Maybe the occasional post every month, or when something that inspired me really came up. His stance was always the same: why slow down the blog when I’m finally at a place where I’m getting some traffic. My argument was the same: because I have a full time job, I have other projects I need to do, and I just can’t do that while maintaining quality content every week. But when I started to see the Body Positivity Series coming together – in the process of interviewing people and seeing who would be a part of it, I started to have a change of heart.

For all my “How I Met Your Mother” fans, I literally felt like that one episode where Ted wanted to break up with the girl he dumped (on her birthday) a few years prior. Ted had all the reasonings to break up with her again, but when it came down to it, he could only think of all the good things about her and good memories. That’s how I felt about my decision. I had my mind made, but as blog post #100 came closer and closer, I felt myself retracting my decision. I started thinking of all the good that could come from continuing the way I have been.

I asked myself: “Do you feel like you did everything you wanted to do with your blog?” And the answer was no. The series that I’ve done and collabed with others really made me realize my potential and all the other possibilities I could do with my platform. I wasn’t ready to shut LoveYourzStory down. There are still a lot more stories to tell and share. I don’t know where this blog will take me, or what it will be like even 1 year down the road, but I do know that for the time being, this is one of my projects that I need to continue to water and nurture so it will continue to grow. I originally wanted to shut down the blog after 100 posts to start and focus on other passion projects and goals. Now, I have to find a way to balance both. I feel like in a way, I’m testing myself yet again: Marinelle, how bad do you want this?

With that question lingering in my mind, I bought my website. So, with that being said, cheers to 100+ posts, and thanks for reading blog post #101 – the post that was never meant to be.

Trixi: My Post-Bodybuilding Journey to Intuitive Eating

Story 4 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Trixi’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up in a stereotypical Asian household, I was expected to be above average. I had to be better than the best. I always felt like I had to give 110% percent to prove that I am worthy. Anything less than perfect made me feel like a failure. I meticulously planned and created lists to make sure I got into a good college, and secure a job after. I took the advanced classes, became board members for clubs, and made myself look like the best candidate in writing. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to think I was slacking. 

So ever since I can remember, self-doubt loomed over me like a dark cloud. I always had negative thoughts in my head telling me I couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried my best. After graduating college, I expected the negative thoughts would die down, but they continued to weigh down on me. Regardless of what I achieved, I still felt like I didn’t accomplish enough. 

Then, I decided I was over it!!! To overcome my insecurities and prove to myself I was capable, I decided that I would complete a challenge soo hard that if I achieved it, it would immediately squash all the negative notions I had about myself. This was the very first challenge I took on for me, and not anyone else. I was so used to performing to meet the expectations of others, but this is something that I wanted to do for myself. 

Disclaimer: We are not defined by our achievements! We are all inherently worthy. But, I didn’t know that then. lol So in June 2019, I signed up to compete in my very first bikini bodybuilding competition…and this is where the plot thickens: what I initially thought was simply a test to boost my self-esteem turned out to be the beginning of my body positivity journey and healing my relationship with food.

For 6 months, I followed a strict meal plan and training regimen. I completely cut out sugar and dairy (two of my fave things), I drank 1.5 gallons of water a day (which was already a challenge in and of itself) and gosh, I said no to pad thai more times than I can count, and I fucking love pad thai. Training included fasted cardio in the morning, about 2 hours of training in the evening, followed by 30 mins of post-training cardio. In addition to changing my physical activity and nutrition habits, I had to learn to better manage my money (cause bodybuilding ain’t cheap) and my time to juggle a full time job and somewhat have a social life.

I took it day by day. I showed up and eventually these tasks became habits. I began to see myself as an athlete and I started to believe that I could really win this competition. There were a lot of temptations (food, drinking, sleeping in). Executing the plan wasn’t easy, but making the right decision was simple. I know that most may have difficulty with following very strict rules but having a plan and checking off boxes was what I was used to. I had the mentality of “If I want this, then I have to do that”. And if I don’t, I won’t get it. This time, the goal was to win, and all I had to do was to execute the clear-cut plan that was given to me.

November rolled around and it was finally competition day. I placed 1st in True Novice, 2nd in Novice, and 4th in Open. But regardless of my placing, I already felt like a winner. I proved to myself that I was strong, I can show up no matter what, no excuses. Even before I hit the stage, I was so proud of what I accomplished. I didn’t even care if I didn’t win or not. No judge could have told me that I didn’t bust my ass to get here! While bodybuilding helped me gain confidence, it also brought to light my complicated relationship with food.

After my competition, my training and meal plan became more flexible. But this flexibility really threw me off. When I stuck with my meal plan, I wondered if I was being too strict, and not giving myself time to enjoy food. When I did enjoy food, I wondered if I was letting myself go. I fell in a loop. My mind would switch between “Follow your meal plan or else you’ll gain weight too quickly” then restrict myself from eating anything “bad”. But then I would think, “Enjoy some treats! Live your life!” and I would binge. I would eat and eat, waiting for my stomach to tell me that I was full, but it felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit that was impossible to satiate. I was waiting for my brain to tell me, “ok that’s enough,” but it never came.

This battle led me to explore my eating habits growing up. When my family went to restaurants, we would always order like an insane amount of food and get absolutely stuffed! Even when we were so full that we could barely breathe, we always made room for dessert. “Food is nourishment!” they justified. But rather than focusing on nutrition, food was mainly for comfort and celebration. Even when my body told me to stop eating, I ignored all satiety signals to continue celebrating. So even before bodybuilding, my satiety cues were practically nonexistent.

The cycle went on for two months. Restrict and binge. Restrict and binge. Restrict harder, binger harder. I looked in the mirror and saw I was no longer lean. Looking back, I didn’t gain much weight but at the time I hated what I saw. I felt big, I felt out of control. Mentally, I was slipping.

I knew this eating pattern was unhealthy but I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. It got to a point where I no longer trusted myself; the body that once triumphed on stage was now failing me. It felt like my body was hijacked by something else, and I was stuck in this vessel, just watching myself derail. Naturally, the scale started to go up and I felt like I was gaining weight all wrong. I spent so much time looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing myself. Front angle, side angle. I would hold and pinch my fat, wishing I was lean again because lean meant I embodied discipline and hard work. It meant that my behavior aligned with my goals. Back then, the goal was to get lean to win a competition. Now, the goal was to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but I had no clue what that meant! It isn’t so straightforward. There is no clear-cut plan for that.

People began to notice that I refused to eat and drink anything that wasn’t outside my meal plan. Comments like “Just one bite won’t hurt!” and “It’s only one shot” really bothered me, because at the time, I felt like one bite or one shot can really ruin my body. Following my meal plan gave me a false sense of security, and I didn’t know how to transition out of it post-competition. 

Christmas was my all-time favorite holiday, but that year, I dreaded it. Thinking about all the food that will be at parties gave me so much anxiety. And just my luck, that year, our annual Christmas potluck was held at my apartment. Even at my own party, I was so scared to eat the “wrong” thing. I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed, but on the outside, I pretended I was okay with not eating or drinking anything. I tied so much of my identity to being disciplined and put together that I was terrified my friends would find out the confident athlete they saw on stage just a few months ago wasn’t there anymore.

That night, I eventually caved. I started to eat, and again, I couldn’t stop. By the end of the night, I felt so uncomfortable that I went to my room to change to less fitting clothes. When I took off my shirt and saw how bloated I was, the self-loathe set in and I started to cry. Never in a million years did I think I would develop body dysmorphia. I was 10lb up my stage weight which actually put me in a healthier weight, but in my eyes, I gained too much. I hated myself for being out of control and I hated myself for having such a fucked-up relationship with food. I felt disconnected with myself and with others. I felt alone and overall a fucking mess.

My friends saw me breakdown. “I didn’t want you guys to judge me.” I admitted shamefully. But as one of my friends put it, “The people who love you will always be there for you unconditionally, and the people who do judge don’t matter.” Seeing my friends concerned was my wake up call.

After that night, I decided it was time to heal my relationship with food. The first step I took was to destigmatize foods as being either “good” or “bad.” I learned that restricting myself was just as harmful as indulging which often led me to binge. Opening myself to all foods lifted constraining thoughts. After this shift in mindset, I felt liberated and empowered to trust myself again.

Next, I adjusted my eating habits to not only be healthy but also sustainable. Fitness is a huge part of my life and to improve my performance, I need to fuel my body properly. At the same time, I love to hang out with friends over drinks, and eat with my family at the dinner table. Finding balance was a whole lot of trial and error. Eventually I learned I feel my best when I eat nutritious foods about 80% of the time. I meal prep most of my food and occasionally I use Door Dash (aka my best friend during quarantine). This may not work for everyone. It is completely subjective and depends on your own goals and lifestyle. 

Lastly, I evaluated and reset my intentions. I learned that my beliefs around food were rooted in self-loathe and punishment. I felt like I had to be perfect all the time or else my efforts didn’t count. It was an all-or-nothing mentality. Now, I see it as a journey of self-discovery. I know that I am going to slip up occasionally, and that’s okay! I have learned to respect my body and to love myself no matter what stage I’m in. If I am making an effort to honor my body, I know I am on the right path.

Despite the mental roller coaster that bodybuilding put me through, I would still compete again. I came in with the intention to build trust in myself, and looking back, it taught me to do just that and more. Next time around, I won’t be competing to prove I am enough, but simply for the fun of improving in this sport. I’ll be coming back with a better mindset, and a healthier relationship with food. It’s been a year and a half since my competition, and I am just now feeling comfortable with my eating habits and my ever changing appearance. While my relationship with food is a work in progress, I am really proud of how far I’ve come.” -Trixi

Alisa: The Insecurity Within

Story 3 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Alisa’s story, written in her own words:

“I’m Alisa Nguyen-Le, and I’m a 4’11” half white, half Vietnamese cisgendered woman. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with insecurities around my short height, acne, and weight. To this day, I am working towards accepting and loving parts of myself that I once would grimace at. The journey of embracing body positivity and unlearning societal beauty standards is not easy, but to me, it’s crucial in order to live a truly fulfilling life. That is why this project spoke to me so much. 

Around the age of puberty, I started breaking out with severe acne and developed a hatred towards the way my face looked. From once being called pepperoni face to my family always commenting on my skin, I never wanted people to look at my face. Every time I would look in the mirror, all I could see was my pimples and my scars. Because of the insecurity of having acne, I started wearing makeup when I was in the eighth grade to cover up my blemishes. In high school, I would put on a full face of makeup every single day to make me feel more confident and mask my insecurities I was having. When I put on makeup, I felt like a different, more likeable person. It hurt to look at myself in the mirror, and it was impossible to tell myself that I was beautiful unless I had a full face of makeup on.

On top of that, growing up in a community that was predominantly Asian, I always wanted to look more like my Asian side to fit in. With makeup, I felt as if I could alter my looks to be more of the person I wanted to be. When I would look in the mirror, the voice in my head would criticize everything I saw including the paleness of my skin, my acne, my sparse brows, my small lips, and my baby face. After I started to take birth control in college, I began noticing that my skin was getting better. Despite my acne improving, I still felt a lingering insecurity inside of me. I started to realize that the way I felt about myself was internal and that I had the power to change the narrative in my head. When I started to feel “ugly”, I would tell myself that no two people in this world are exactly alike and to embrace the face that nature had given me. By making this a mindful practice in my life, I slowly started becoming more confident in going outside without makeup at all. Finally, I was finally able to tell myself I was beautiful naturally.

Despite my progress in accepting my natural face, I also started to notice my body shape changing after beginning to take birth control. I was gaining weight. In the past, I would be able to eat whatever I wanted without gaining any weight. I would eat a lot and enjoy every moment of it. However, this started to change dramatically, and I started to tell myself that I couldn’t eat the way I used to. I began to feel insecure about the way my body looked, especially when wearing a bathing suit. My thighs were getting thicker, and I started to gain more fat on my stomach. I started to label my arms as flabby and would suck in my stomach when taking photos. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt like I was in someone else’s body. At the time, I was with my now ex-boyfriend and genuinely feared he wouldn’t want to be with me anymore because of the way my body was changing. I would discreetly throw in comments to hopefully receive compliments and validation from him to help make me feel worthy enough. This was also when Instagram influencers started to become more prevalent, and I started developing a habit of comparing myself to more fit, pretty, and skinny girls I saw online. I started going to the gym more regularly, and though it made me feel better, I started to base my self worth on whether or not I gymmed.

To this day, I struggle with only wanting to wear one-piece bathing suits (if I have to wear one), not wanting to wear outfits that show my arms, and avoiding crop tops (even though I love the look) to avoid feeling embarrassed over what people can see behind the fabric. I have fears that folks from high school will see photos of how I look now and think, “wow, she’s thickened,” or “Alisa let herself go.” It’s tough when I look in the mirror, and I’ll think I look good, but when I see myself in photos from the same day, I feel repulsed at how “fat” I look. I’ll genuinely question, “is this really how other people see me?”. During January 2020 (right before the pandemic), I went on a trip to Hawaii. I hated almost every single photo of myself in my bathing suit. After this trip, I told myself that I wanted to make some significant changes in my life to lose weight. I wanted to gym more aggressively, and I wanted to change my diet. I had seen other people try a keto diet and saw that it worked for them, so I told myself that I wanted to give it a try too. Although I started somewhat strong, I quickly started developing my old habits of eating carbs (mind you, I’m a huge foodie and love all foods, so this was incredibly challenging for me). My failed diet made me feel like a failure as a person. 

When the pandemic hit, and gyms started closing, I honestly felt a bit of relief. Relief that I wouldn’t have the pressure of physically going to the gym. I also started to not feel as poorly about not sticking with my diet as my mind had shifted from being hyper-aware of how I looked to getting acclimated to “the new normal” of the pandemic. Although I always knew in the back of my mind that I had an unhealthy obsession with the gym, I never did anything about it. This changed dramatically during lockdown. After having no other choice but to sit down and reflect on what really mattered to me, I deprioritized my looks and shifted my focus to my health and the health of my loved ones. I also began to hear people talk about “quarantine weight,” which made me feel better knowing that other people were on their journeys. Now, my focus is to try to take care of my mind, body, and spirit. If I work out one night, then great. If I don’t, I try not to dwell on it. If I feel like eating something, I will try my best not to feel guilty about it. Of course, I’m a believer in “everything in moderation,” but I recognize it’s natural for things to become unbalanced from time to time. 

It’s a life-long process, and I wish I could say I’ve moved past this internal battle with myself. Because of this internal battle, there are times where I feel like my obsession with exercising manifested itself into an obsession with at-home workouts. There are also times when I fear that I will develop the same obsession I had with the gym pre-covid life. However, in those moments, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself. When I die, I know people won’t remember me for how I looked on Instagram photos, but rather who I am as a person and how I made others feel. When I do feel my insecure mindset starting to creep up, I try to remind myself to channel that energy onto uplifting affirmations instead. I tell myself that everyone is beautiful the way they are, and everyone is on their self-love journey. I tell myself that it’s okay if I don’t look like the model girls I see on Instagram. I tell myself that people love me unconditionally, regardless of how I look. I tell myself that I am beautiful, even if it’s hard to believe at the moment. I know the journey of self-love is difficult, painful, and sometimes almost impossible to endure. However, through resilience and strength, I have faith that everyone will be able to see their natural-born beauty and embrace who they are inside and out. As we live in a digital world, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in beauty standards from what we see on the screen. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that what we see online is curated and does not always reflect reality. However, social media isn’t always negative, and it gives me hope and inspiration to see more body-positive activists spread the message that everyone is beautiful in their own way. 

Although the “body positive” movement is often associated with advocating for bigger bodies in the media (which is absolutely necessary), I hope that one day, the stories of all body types will be shared. It’s important for all people to tell their story so our society becomes more understanding and empathetic of the people we surround ourselves with. For anyone else struggling with their body image, I want you to know that you are loved for who you are, regardless of what you look like. You are beautiful and unique. You are strong and will get through these challenges. If there is one thing that you take away from this story, please remember that you are not alone and we are in this together. You are one of a kind and there will never be someone exactly like you. Embrace it.”

-Alisa

Reaux&Co

Before there was a “Bay Area Collection,” a “Vibes Collection,” an “Established Collection,” and so forth, Reaux&Co was merely a dream tucked safely in Pricilla’s heart. Since a young age, Pricilla knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she had everything planned out on how she would achieve her goal of owning and designing her own clothing line one day. So how did Reaux&Co go from just being thoughts and ideas jotted down on Pricilla’s phone to becoming a full blown business with over 1,300 sales and being sold in 2 physical store locations in just a little over a year? It started with an acceptance letter to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Pricilla was so thrilled that she got accepted into her dream college. Going to FIDM was always the plan she had set for herself. She loved designing clothes – cutting and sowing fabrics on the dress form and letting her mind run wild with what she could create. Her mom had other plans though. Due to the cost of tuition, her mom encouraged her to go the junior college route instead. Pricilla was devastated, she was certain that FIDM was her next step after high school. Still, she took her mom’s advice and went to San Francisco City College. She didn’t resent her mother for encouraging her to go to a junior college, but she was still headstrong about FIDM. She couldn’t let it go, and in turn, it made her lose her drive to go to school.

“I wouldn’t say resentful, but definitely stubborn,” Pricilla said remembering how she felt when she appeased her mom by going to a junior college. “I just had my mind set on it for so long. So when it didn’t happen, I was just so disconnected from even wanting to go to any other school. Even though SFCC had a fashion course and major, which I did take a couple of those classes, I was stubborn and wanted it how I always envisioned it.”

While in community college, she found herself very unmotivated. She had no idea what she wanted to do, or what she was even interested in outside of the fashion route. Pricilla started to feel like she was just going to school because it was something she was supposed to do because that’s what’s expected of everyone right after high school, but it wasn’t something she really wanted at the time. She decided to stop going to college and start working instead. Of course her mother wanted her to stay in school, but her mom also understood that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. Therefore, Pricilla believes her mom didn’t feel personally responsible for her dropping out. FIDM or not, going to school was her choice.

Pricilla felt really stuck in life. She didn’t know what direction to go, what career move was next, or where to even start. And then, she had her “saving grace,” her son, Ronin. She discovered soon after he was born that he was the push she needed all along to pursue her life-long dream of being a business owner. Pricilla knew it was finally time to put all of her marbles in her small business idea because she couldn’t afford childcare and had to find something she could do while still working from home and tending to her son. It only seemed right to name her clothing brand after the person that motivated her the most, Ronin. She took his nickname, “Ro,” and decided to put a spin on the spelling. She liked how aesthetically pleasing “Reaux” looked and rolled with it.

“He just made me look at life from a whole different perspective,” she said, revealing why having her son was so eye opening. “When you become a mom you really feel this weight of wanting to be so much better for this other life you’re now responsible for. I was so stuck before I had him, in terms of what I wanted out of life and the direction I should go in. After I had him, I knew I just had to go for it, for what I always wanted.”

Pricilla was very hesitant to launch Reaux&Co because she didn’t know how people would react to her line. She admits that her self-doubt was just her overthinking it, being scared to fail, and just overall being too hard on herself. After all, she has had these collection ideas in her phone for over a year before Reaux&Co actually launched. She already had the ideas, she just had to finalize her business. But Pricilla knew she had to start, and start it soon, because it wasn’t about just her anymore, it was about Ronin. She even went back to school the same time she dropped the brand as her back up plan and safety net.

Representing the Bay Area was so important to Pricilla, that she decided to have her first collection drop be the “Bay Area Collection.” She is so proud to be from the Bay Area, and wanted to capture that in her clothing line. To her, there is no place like the Bay, and only those that are from here know that. She loves that there is nothing like the Bay Area culture, and really wanted to project that vibe in her first collection and brand as a whole. Luckily, Pricilla never had to go to her backup plan because Reaux&Co‘s launch was a hit! She advertised the “Bay Area Collection” through Instagram and gave teasers on what products she would be selling. Instagram was a great tool to help get word around that she was going to launch Reaux&Co.

From there, Reaux&Co took off. The brand is known for their matching and personalized clothing items for parents to match with their minis, specifically moms. Pricilla knew that she wanted to focus on clothing for moms and their minis because it’s what she liked as well. She is forever matching with Ronin, taking full advantage of it now since she knows he won’t want to match with her forever. That’s how she gets most of her ideas – she thinks about what she would dress Ronin in, and tries to put her own spin on things. Her “Vibes Collection” is especially popular for their mom tees and crewnecks, and she plans on dropping more “Mommy & Me” lines soon. She knows that matching clothes is a customers favorite on Reaux&Co for sure.

Pricilla was so happy that Reaux&Co was doing well. In the beginning, she was so worried about how people would react to her small business, and to her surprise, she suddenly had supporters and customers that loved everything she dropped. So much so, that she had a copy cat. Her “Mom Vibes,” clothing is very popular, it is one of her best selling items. So Pricilla was shocked to see another small business using the exact same font, wording, and shirts as hers. She couldn’t believe that her original idea was being copied, but took the higher road. She knows ultimately, there is nothing she can do about other businesses imitating her products. She takes it as flattery, but knows that she would never try to purposely copy another small business’ work. Reaux&Co does use other brands in their clothing, and Pricilla knows that that’s when things can get a little tricky.

“I know it’s a thin line some brands walk when we use certain logos of high brands like YSL, LV, Nike etc.,” she said. “You just really have to make it your own, and put your spin on it.”

And customers have definitely loved Pricilla’s spin on those high end brands. What surprised her going into the business is the tremendous amount of support she gets from acquaintances and complete strangers. She has met and built relationships with a lot of her customers who have supported her business venture. She also didn’t expect to connect with so many moms through Instagram. Some have reached out to Pricilla, telling her that she inspired them to go for what they want, that she was that “push” they needed to just get started. And Pricilla appreciates those moments because she looks back to the tine where she was in that exact same position.

“It still blows me away to be honest,” she said when asked about people she doesn’t know personally support her in everything that she drops. “I have strangers I don’t know in real life, that will support each and every collection and for that I am so thankful for. The support is everything to me.”

The support she gets from her customers motivates her to come up with new ideas and not be so hesitant with creating. Pricilla explains the process of dropping a new line as hard, but still fun. Most of her ideas come about when she thinks about what hasn’t been done or what she hasn’t seen for kids clothing yet. She knows what will set Reaux&Co apart from other clothing lines is how much they can stand out. Reaux&Co‘s goal is to go against the grain and be the leader at creating trends, not follow them. And when she gets that idea, the next step is to create a mock up on the computer, and make a physical sample. If she likes the physical product, she will take high quality pictures of every item in that line, on models and by itself. Pricilla stresses the importance of marketing, and building anticipation for your drop. This means posting teasers and countdowns 2-3 weeks before you intend to drop the line so your customers can get excited. The last step is to drop the items and make them live, crossing your fingers and hoping it’ll do well.

Thankfully enough, Reaux&Co‘s experience with dropping new lines has always been fairly successful. That means Pricilla is making trips to the Post Office about 5-6 days a week. She’s made friends with all the employees at the Post Office at this point, since she is such a frequent customer. Shipping has definitely been an issue since COVID. When the pandemic hit, Pricilla noticed that that’s when Reaux&Co really started to take off, about 3 months into launching the business. She admits that she still doesn’t completely know why that was – more time for people to be on their phones, being at home with extra time, making a conscious effort to support small businesses during a pandemic – whatever it was, she’s grateful for it because Reaux&Co started to flourish. That meant more shipments with many delays. With COVID, the postal services are delayed and that means a headache for trying to get things delivered and shipped on time.

During these times, Pricilla can get overwhelmed and discouraged, but has never thought about calling it quits. She understands that there are some things that are just completely out of her control, and the best thing she can do is to just stay organized. Things can get hard, like shipping and getting the wrong number of products, but she knows that at the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. She pulls herself out of that stressful funk by allowing herself to take time to rest. Pricilla will do activities with her son, like taking him to the park, order food, and spend quality time with him to get herself out of that hectic headspace. It’s all a balance.

And Pricilla admits that sometimes there isn’t much of a balance when you’re trying to be a full-time mom and full-time business owner at the same time. There are times where she has to work while Ronin is watching Cocomelon, eating his lunch, or going down for a nap. Most days she will set aside time for Reaux&Co so she can give her son her undivided attention. She is a one woman show holding down her business, but she appreciates that there are so many people that help her outside of the business to make sure she has time to work. And staying organized, making sure everything has a place, and ordering from her vendor in time is all a part of keeping the balance and making her life easier. Especially since she does all the creating at home.

All the hard work and the struggle to balance being a mom and her own boss is starting to pay off. Pricilla is starting to see the fruits of her labor, putting in her all into Reaux&Co for over a year. She has seen over 1,300 sales, and is selling her brand in 2 physical store locations. Haven Kiyoko Kids reached out to her to have her clothing be carried at their location. She is especially grateful for Kirsten for seeing the potential in her then small brand. The second store location came to her as a referral from a family member who knew the owner of a shop in Oakland, and now Reaux&Co can be found in “E14 Gallery.”

Reaux&Co‘s goal for 2021 is to continue to reach and connect with more people. They are pushing to try to have Reaux&Co be in another physical store location, and overall just want to keep making improvements to give their customers a great experience. Pricilla hopes to have her own store one day, for that is the ultimate dream goal. And she would want to carry other small brands in her future boutique, as others have done for her. She doesn’t put too much pressure on the idea, and knows that this is an end goal that will take time and hard work. In the meantime, she continues to pray on it.

Pricilla wants her customers to know that she was a mom who decided to go for her dream. When she didn’t attend FIDM, she found herself lost and having no sense of direction. She envisioned her school and career to go one way, and couldn’t reroute her plans when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Ronin was that saving grace for her. When she had her son, she knew that she had to do it not only for herself, but for him. He was now her reason and motivation to go for her dreams. Without the Ro, there would be no Reaux&Co.

Her advice to other small businesses in her field is to stay creative and stay true to yourself – when people know and see that you’re authentic, they will notice and gravitate towards your business. Pricilla is excited and hopeful for what’s to come for Reaux&Co. She wants her customers to know that they can expect more unique lines for themselves an their minis. Pricilla is content knowing that so many mothers have found happiness, inspiration, and fashion through her small business. What started as just ideas on her phone, quickly turned into her empire in a little over a year. And she knows that she wouldn’t have made it this far without the people that continue to support her and Reaux&Co.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Pricilla said on behalf of Reaux&Co. “Thank you for always showing so much love and support with each collection. None of this would be possible without the support. Every like, share, repost, and purchase means the world to me, truly. We will continue to deliver as long as you will have us. Thank you so much for being here.”

Shelter in Place Diaries – $wift JiGGy

March was just days away from coming to an end, and all of America was stuck wondering if the Shelter in Place Order was going to be lifted on April 7th. We were at the cusp of March and April and were anxious to know the verdict. Would we go back to our regular schedules soon?

No. The Shelter in Place Order was extended until the first Monday of May. May 4, 2020 is the new date to start countdowning to. Another month indoors. However, not everyone sees this as a bad thing. In fact, many have found themselves practicing self care by getting back into hobbies, reconnecting with friends and family, sleeping at a reasonable hour, cleaning the house, and tending to things that they just never had the time to do. Indeed, the time to act is now.

Bay Area artist, $wift JiGGy finds this to be especially true. Since the Shelter in Place Order, $wift JiGGy sees staying at home to be a blessing in disguise. Before COVID-19, $wift JiGGy was always busy with his day to day routine, promoting club events, while doing his music concurrently. Now, he finds himself with a lot of free time to chill out and work on his music.

$wift JiGGy is using this time as an opportunity to work on his craft as a rapper and artist. He takes us through his process of making beats with friends, how he promotes himself on social media, and how he decides if a beat is a mood or not.

You will see on the vlogs that $wift JiGGy doesn’t mind taking “break days” where Netflix, Hulu, snacks, and his phone are the highlights of his day. I think this is important to artists during this Shelter in Place. You can be an artist and not be creating everyday. It’s okay to not be creating. $wift JiGGy doesn’t put pressure on himself to create. He let’s the inspiration come to him and doesn’t force anything.

Watch “Shelter in Place Diaries – $wift JiGGy” by clicking:

Not Go-Go-ing Anywhere Just Yet

 

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Alex “Lex” Hui has been in a few dangerous situations while working as a Go-go dancer in The Castro. He has been chased by a stalker after a nightclub event, and had to escape by climbing a fence that resulted in cuts all over his body. But what is Hui most afraid of?

Aging. Hui has been professionally dancing since he was 18, and will be 40 this summer. Hui loves his job as a Go-go dancer because it keeps him feeling young, healthy, and alive. With his birthday nearing, Hui is dreading the thought of being another year older.

“At the party store I came across the 40 decorations,” Hui said. “I couldn’t even touch it. I don’t want to accept it.”

Hui has been dancing for over 20 years and has thought about retiring his dancing shoes a couple of times. But he is hesitant to give up the job that has made him the person that he is today. For it was dancing that made Hui come to terms with who he really is, and started to live his life according to his truest self.

With his petite stature, standing at about 5’5, Hui is always noticeable in a crowd because of his “I’m here!” attitude. His black hair is combed over to the left side, and he is almost always wearing form fitting clothing that shows off his arm and leg muscles that he works so hard for.

Growing up, Hui was confused about his sexuality. Though it is hard to believe now, since he is such a friendly, talkative, and bubbly person, Hui was once a shy person who kept to himself. He was unsure as to who he was, and wanted to be like his male buddies. At the same time knew he felt different than them.

Hui’s family on the other hand knew all his life that he is gay. It was kept hush hush, but everyone was aware. In fact, Hui never officially “came out” to his family.

When he was 18, Hui felt more comfortable and started going to gay nightclubs. He was approached by the club manager, who told him that he would be perfect for a dancing job. And that was how Hui got introduced to dancing at nightclubs, bars, and events.

At first Hui tried to keep dancing a secret from his parents, but they turned out to be very supportive of his new career. Around the age of 21, it was no longer a question whether Hui was gay. His mother, Cossette Hui, is his number one supporter.

“Dancing is an art,” Cossette said. “I’ve always been proud of him. When he’s on the float during the gay parade, I’m so proud and always say, ‘That’s my son.’”

Cossette has always supported whatever made her son happy. According to her, she knew Hui was for a long time, even before he came out. She caught school kids making fun of her son, calling him derogatory names, and she would confront the kids and stick up for her boy.

Hui’s mother knows the dangers that can come with her son’s job, like being followed, having stalkers, and possibly being assaulted at any moment on stage, so she is very protective of him. She sleeps earlier in the day so that she will be awake just in time to sit in the living room and wait for her son to come back home after each night of dancing. She likes that he decided to come back home to the Bay Area.

When Hui was younger, dancing brought him to various places outside of The Castro. The most interesting place he worked in was Las Vegas’ Chippendales from 2002 to 2004. Hui worked as a host and dreamed to be one of the performers, however his height prevented him from accomplishing that.

It was the same problem when Hui tried to pursue modeling. He started modeling at the age of 12 at shopping mall fashion shows. He made the cover of Playgirl magazine in 2002, and wanted to be a high end fashion model. Managers told him, “We wish we could stretch you!”

So when modeling fell through and Hui gave up the dreams of walking on runways abroad, dancing professionally brought Hui back to the Bay Area from Los Angeles. Even though he’s been in the dancing industry for a long time, he still gets butterflies right before performing. His favorite event to dance in is the Pride Parade, because it is usually for a cause like AIDS, and he likes to show his support and help raise money.

Friends know Hui more for what he does off the stage than on the stage. Dancing keeps Hui young and aware of his figure, so he is always working out and staying active. His friend, Max McDaniel, knows that dancing is the perfect profession for Hui because he has the right type of energy for the job.

“When Lex walks into a room, you know he’s there,” McDaniel said. “His energy is high, he’s always involved, and working as hard as anyone I know.”

Dancing is a competitive line of work, and Hui is concerned about the younger crowd of new dancers. They compete for hours and the attention of the audience, and Hui doesn’t know if he should give it up and let the younger dancers have their moment.

Still, something in Hui wants to keep going. He has spent a couple thousand dollars over the years on all his outfits. From leather shorts to sporty revealing tops and bottoms, Hui has an outfit for every themed event.  He enjoys the thrill of dressing up and being the center of attention, keeping the crowd going, and living the bachelor life.

Dancing made Hui realize who he is, and it acted as an outlet for him to express himself. He knows he eventually has to give up dancing, and is now trying to embrace his age and where dancing has brought him in life.

“Until someone says, ‘Who wants to see that old Go-go dancer in that box?!’ is when I’m going to give it up,” Hui laughed.

“Note To Self”

I look at the picture that is posted above and I feel a little sad. I was in 3rd grade in that picture, and if I could tell 3rd grade me anything, I’d tell her sorry. I’d tell her not to give into what the media has pounded into her brain, the unrealistic expectations that we were all brought up on. I’d tell her that you don’t have to be a certain body type to be beautiful, to embrace the body she was given instead of shaming it. And most importantly I’d tell her she deserves to truly love herself, regardless what society projects.

For all my life I’ve struggled with body image issues. I would look at myself in the mirror and find all the things that I thought was wrong about me. From my stomach, to my arms, to the stretchmarks on my thighs, nothing was off limits. I remember watching the Tyra Banks show in the 4th grade, where she stood in front of her whole studio audience in a bathing suit she was recently shot in, where news outlets bashed her for her “imperfect” body. I remember watching Tyra choke up as she finished her speech, and I too started to get emotional.

“If I had lower self-esteem, I would probably be starving myself right now,” Banks said. “But that’s exactly what is happening to other women all over this country… To all of you that have something nasty to say about me, or other women that are built like me, women that sometimes or all the time look like this, women whose names you know, women whose name you don’t, women who have been picked on, women whose husbands put them down, women at work, or girls in school, I have one thing to say to you… KISS MY FAT ASS!”

I was young, but Tyra’s speech hit home. I’ve been insecure all my life. When people talk about weight or appearance, I cringe and hope that the attention isn’t put on me. I have a tough exterior, but the one thing that can bring me to instant (angry) tears, is when someone thinks it is okay to comment about my weight or appearance. That has always rubbed me the wrong way. Growing up I would get : “You gained weight,” “You’re getting bigger,” “You should watch what you eat,” “You would look so good if you were smaller!”… alright, dawg, you don’t think that out of all people I would know if I gained weight? And even if I wasn’t aware, I feel like it is never anyone’s place to casually bring it up.

Reyna Rochin, body builder and personal trainer, felt the pressure of the media and those around her growing up as well. She’s 100% badass, and has a huge heart. She uses her Instagram account to show her workout progress and to also share personal stories. She confessed her insecurities and personal stories on a couple of Instagram posts promoting self-love. Rochin has a ton of tattoos on her upper body and explains why.

“When I was 15, I HATED my upper body,” Rochin said on an Instagram post. “My wide shoulders and back were not what the other popular girls around me had and I was told by several boys that ‘you look like a man from behind.’ My tattoos are there because I love art and the aesthetics of tattoos but if I’m going to be honest, they are also a testament of new found self-love. My arms, shoulders, and chest used to be parts of me I loathed. And, as cheesy as it sounds, it wasn’t until taking lifting seriously did I realize that my broad shoulders could hold a 200 lb front squat no problem, or my strong chest could allow a 150 lb bench press to fly up easily.”

Rafaella Pereira also used working out to deal with her insecurities. She’s a wife, and a mother to a beautiful girl. Her Instagram feed is filled with personal stories of her struggles with body image issues. Growing up, she was told that she was fat, ugly, and dark. And for a big portion of her life, Pereira believed it.

“I would look in the mirror at times and scream, ‘you’re ugly, fat, and you will never be happy,’” said Rafaella Pereira. “I used to blame God for my lack of self-love and lack of motivation to be better.”

But Pereira has used the negativity as fuel to better herself. Her greatest accomplishment, but surely not last, was running a marathon that she would wake up every day at 5 am for. She hopes one day to publicly speak and help others.

As an older woman who is finally trying to come to terms with loving herself, accepting her body, and trying to unlearn all the things that were/ are detrimental to my peace of mind, I see and intake media differently. Up until recently I would look at pictures on Instagram of models, and I would think, “I wish I looked like that…” But ever since Ashley Graham started to break the mold in the model industry, I started looking at media realistically. There are people that edit their photos to try to uphold a “beautiful” image, they airbrush things that they don’t want you to see. But the thing is… IT’S NOT REAL. It’s all a lie. Stretchmarks, cellulite, rolls, IT’S NORMAL. EVERYONE HAS THEM. IT’S REAL.

That’s why I believe all these fashion shows are a joke. For the simple fact that not all body types are being represented. Not everyone is 5’10 or taller, under 110 lbs, with a size 0 waist. And if you are, then cool! I’m not trying to put anyone down for not being like me. However, representation is everything. Young girls and boys are growing up seeing the lack of diversity, and it encourages them to strive to be something they are not. Sometimes not even genetically possible.

Towards the end of 2016 it hit me that I basically spent my whole life hating my body. I look back to the photo above and around that age I had wrote in my diary “I’m gonna go on a diet.” I had an epiphany, and realized instead of being miserable and hating myself, I should love myself and be the person I wish I could look up to growing up. I’ve had too many instances in the fitting room when I just wanted to leave, even cried a couple of times. I’ve always been the bigger girl, and I’ve always tried to compare myself to others. I’ve vowed to try to stay body positive, even though I have my days when I feel the opposite. It’s awesome that there are people like Ashley Graham that promote self-love and accepting your curves and body type, but still also promotes the importance of a healthy lifestyle and working out.  You can be built bigger and still be healthy, but there will always be people and the media telling you that it is not okay. But it is okay. And I wish I could’ve told 3rd grade me that. It’s a long road to unlearning all the horrible things I would think about myself, but it’s so much more worth it than staying in a state of self-loathing and self-hate.