2020-2021 Aerie Ambassador

Real. Empowering. Honest. Fun. Smart. Inspiring. Sexy. Kind. Diverse. Game Changer. Strong.

These words not only define the brand identity of the clothing company Aerie, but also words that I strive to live up to in my own life. I share my personal story about living with a disability in an effort to embrace myself as I am in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. So, as you can imagine, I’m a HUGE supporter of the Aerie brand and what they stand for as a company.

Now, more than ever, it’s so important to advocate for and invest in company’s that stand for and align with what you believe in. For me, that’s inclusivity! Aerie has been a pioneer within the body positivity and inclusivity movement for YEARS. In 2014 the brand was among the first to stop retouching models and through #AerieREAL pledged to highlight real women in its campaigns.

All that said, I’m SO EXCITED to finally announce that I have been selected as one of 125 women across the United States and Canada to represent this incredible ~and comfy~ brand as a 2020-2021 #AerieAmbassador!!! I can’t put into words how much I’m looking forward to all that I’ll experience over the next year.

It’s an honor to be part of a campaign that is committed to no retouching – because in my opinion – being authentic on social media is just as important as it is to be authentic in person. Over the next year, I’ll be sharing posts on my Instagram to feature my favorite new arrivals, how the #AerieReal campaign aligns with my lifestyle, collaborating with so many inspiring women through the ambassador program, and so much more. Extremely grateful for the opportunity and thrilled for what’s to come! 

Follow me on Instagram to stay in touch!



May 27, 2020 – Epiphany

Today an old memory popped in my head from college. I couldn’t remember how a certain situation played out. Like completely could not even pull it from the depths of my mind for some odd reason. So I reached out to my friends to remind me of the outcome.

Through this quick convo, a small flicker of emotion surfaced and brought me back to how I felt during this experience. But it wasn’t as fresh, wasn’t as upsetting, and the memory was still blurry and faded, as if it barely impacted me when I KNOW it did so heavily in the moment.

This was a reality check that I needed. It reminded me that for some situations, the problems I may be facing today won’t be top of mind five years from now. They won’t be the blueprint for my future. What will, though, is opting to put my best foot forward and approaching each situation with a positive attitude, and believe that the rest will work itself out.

& I hope this short story/reflection helps others remember this too. ♥️

Bold Beauty At Home

The Bold Beauty Project (BBP) launched a social media campaign to encourage individuals to post a photo of themselves and share how they’re staying bold and beautiful during these times of social distancing. So of course I wanted to participate!

As you may remember, earlier this year I had the honor of participating in the Art Palm Beach BBP exhibition where my photo was displayed along with a description I provided about how I feel beautiful despite having a disability.

This project is close to my heart because it inspires conversations that are important. It allows women with disabilities to feel empowered and beautiful in their own skin, which at times can be challenging due to misconceived perceptions. This project gives these woman a platform to break down barriers and showcase who they are past what meets the eye.

Practicing social distancing during the pandemic has opened many opportunities for self reflection. Both for my own life and the future of the world as a whole. It also has come with various feelings including anxiety, calmness, appreciation, boredom, stress, and so on, which really fluctuate depending on the day and circumstances. Having no choice but to be still and take in the things going on around us has been both a blessing and a curse from my understanding in my personal experience. But it is my hope that this time has truly allowed us as humans to figure out what’s most important. The simple things in life. The things that matter most. We’ve been able to spend more time sprucing up our homes or trying out new hobbies. And even connecting with our loved ones across the globe more frequently via zoom calls because we’re all finally free to sit down and connect, while those on the frontlines risk their lives to ensure our safety.

If you read my blog or know me in person, you know I tend to see the positive side to every situation. And this is no different. I’ve had my days of negative feelings, and I’ll have many more I’m sure. But at the end of the day, I’ve learned the value in appreciating the simple things and am grateful for the extra time at home.

I feel beautiful and bold at home by sitting with my thoughts, embracing my natural beauty, and spending much needed time to take care of my mental and physical health. Not having to straighten my hair everyday is also a huge plus. 🙂

How do you feel bold and beautiful at home? Participate and share your story!

The Royal Scootz

Being in quarantine certainly has me reminiscing on all of my travels. Especially this month, because exactly one year ago I was preparing to venture off to Europe for the first time ever. I was definitely last minute ordering the necessities from Amazon right about now. 😋

I was also experiencing an array of mixed emotions, primarily excitement and nervousness. I was really looking forward to a once in a lifetime trip but had hesitations about the unknown of what accessibility was like overseas. Anytime I go to a new place I have concerns about my ability to navigate through a new city with my scooter, but being in a new country thousands of miles away from home, brought another layer of those concerns.

Why was I going? Because I never turn down an adventure and one of my best friends (Caitlin) was planning the trip to celebrate her birthday. It was just the two of us, and I hate to rely on another person to lift scootz in taxis, up steps, etc.! but, overall the trip rarely came to that, was seamless and I honestly was blown away by the accessibility options. We travelled to London, Edinburgh and Barcelona!

Going to spotlight each country in a separate blog post to recap my experience: so for today’s Travel Tuesday blog we’re back in London Town with the royals! ‘Twas our first stop off the plane from Miami. Direct flight, FTW. *Disclaimer, I’m writing these one year after the trip, so some details may be fuzzy. Going to try to include the highlights!*

We arrived first thing in the morning so had a full day ahead of us – jet lag and all. After taking a train from Heathrow into the city, we had to find a taxi. I was fully in panic mode expecting not to fit into a taxi with scootz and our luggage! But after like five minutes of waiting, a regular sized cab halted next to us and insisted he could fit us and our baggage. I was in disbelief. But sure enough the taxi was fully equipped with space and most importantly, a ramp! I literally took a quick scoot up the ramp and was in the taxi. Boom. This as my first experience in London had me feeling immediately at ease about the future of this trip. Ubers/Lyfts in Florida are not accessible unless they’re an XL so this was an unexpected surprise.

Taxi in London

Fast forward, we checked into our *AirBNB* flat and started to explore. Kicked off the day with a river tour of Thames and then a loop around the London Eye. This really set the groundwork for the trip, matching history with landmarks in front of my eyes! Then we were off to the pubs because ~priorities~.

where Shakespeare’s cast would get ready for plays! and where I tried fish & chips for the first time

London was incredible. We hit all of the hot spots, historical monuments and even had some incredible friends to meet up with who were able show us the local spots. So much history, beautiful sights, welcoming people, and unforgettable memories were made in just three quick days. From an accessibility standpoint, I never have the opportunity to take the tube, but was frequent to the famous red bus – which also had ramps and were super easy to flag down!

I miss this city and know there’s still much more I need to see. And I hope one day I make it back! But in the meantime, especially on lockdown due to COVID-19, I’m so grateful to have had the time I did to see the sites and experience the atmosphere. I wouldn’t trade one moment (even my scooter dying while touring the Tower of London, sorry Caitlin 🙃) of this trip.

There’s my compact recap! Looking forward to going down memory lane of my other travels very soon.

Buckingham Palace

Bold Beauty Project

Yesterday (Feb. 1, 2020) was such a humbling experience. Months ago, I attended the Bold Beauty Project exhibition at Nova Southeastern University not knowing what I was walking into. I sat in awe as I learned about the purpose of the project, along with the stories of the remarkable women who shared their experiences of living with a disability.

Following the event at NSU, I was offered the opportunity to become a model myself for the project. I met and was paired with an incredible photographer, Patty Nash, who spent the time to help me decide what kind of photo I’d like to do. After numerous discussions and internal debates about what direction to take, Patty asked me a simple question: “What makes you feel beautiful?”

After initially struggling with such a broad but powerful question, I realized my answer was simple. It was being me and living a life without limitations. We decided on a simple photoshoot in clothes that I felt comfortable in, at one of my favorite places in the world. Being on the beach, near water, when the sky is painted with the colors of the sunset.

Hollywood Beach – Behind The Scenes

During the shoot, I expressed to Patty how I often feel uncomfortable posing for pictures alone because I don’t know how to position myself. I always feel like I look awkward and it’s harder for me to be fluid in my stances. I get nervous that I’m going to fall so I like to lean on the closest wall, bridge, etc. But Patty was extremely helpful and gave me advice on how to look more natural and feel more confident. She talked me through the various poses and positions throughout the entire photoshoot and she was able to capture so many images of myself that I absolutely loved.

Over the weekend, my image and my story came to life at Art Palm Beach along with the incredible stories of so many individuals from across the world. The art exhibit in its entirety displayed pieces of art worth thousands of dollars and a picture of myself, accompanied by my words and story, was displayed alongside them. It was truly a very unique experience that allowed me to meet even more genuine people working towards the same mission: starting a conversation about inclusivity. My story is just one small part of the overall message of the Bold Beauty Project and I am extremely honored to be a part of it. I look forward to continuing with this organization and am excited to see how it continues to grow!

For those interested in learning more, below is a description of the project:

“Bold Beauty Project, Inc. (BBP) is a 5013c nonprofit organization dedicated to creating social change by utilizing art at the intersection of beauty and disability.

Bold Beauty Project is a powerful, visual arts exhibition that features women with varying disabilities. Through the photographer’s lens and the women’s personal stories, the project seeks to raise awareness of the women’s strength, sensuality and spirit, and in the process, change perceptions of beauty. Bold Beauty Project (BBP) began in 2006 as Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty, a photography show that benefited the Center for Independent Living. Conceived by Shelly Baer, a licensed clinical social worker, and Vanessa Silberman, active in PR, their goal was to create a story of women with disabilities that would shatter all preconceived beauty paradigms.

Today the project continues with a new team and a new name. Dr. Eva Ritvo, a psychiatrist and co-author of The Beauty Prescription and board member of United Cerebral Palsy of South Florida, is committed to helping all women embrace their inner and outer beauty. Sharing the same passion, Eva and Shelly launched Bold Beauty Project in 2015 at the Anacostia Gallery in Washington, D.C., as a fundraiser for United Cerebral Palsy. The photos were also displayed at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)’s annual conference in D.C., in the internationally recognized Art Palm Beach and Art Boca Raton Fairs and Art Serve’s exhibit on “Art as Healing Therapy” in Fort Lauderdale.

As you can see, we have a lofty mission. We are developing global “communities” of “bold beauties” and using social media to connect them. They will become role models for women who feel isolated by conventional media’s narrow depiction of beauty. We are impacting photographers by exposing them to new subjects and asking them to work collaboratively to create an image that is transformative for the models as well as the viewers. We are designing replication models so cities can host their own BBP exhibits. The power of this project is in using local community resources, models and photographers.”

You can learn more at the following link and check out some of the models and their stories.

https://www.boldbeautyproject.com

World Cerebral Palsy Day

Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day.

“World Cerebral Palsy Day is a movement of people with Cerebral Palsy and their families, and the organizations that support them, in more than 75 countries. Their vision is to ensure that children and adults with Cerebral Palsy (CP) have the same rights, access and opportunities as anyone else in our society. It is only together, that we can make that happen.” – https://worldcpday.org/about-us/

Therefore, today I felt compelled to share something vulnerable to help bring awareness around my disability: Cerebral Palsy.

The beauty of social media is that people only see what you want them to see. As I publicly share my experiences of living with CP, I know that in order to help my followers understand my disability, I need to incorporate video. Because frankly, a picture of me sitting on my scooter – while an accurate part of my life – does not portray my day to day to people who don’t know me in person, since I rely on my ability to walk more than I use a scooter.

So here it is, a video of myself walking. That form and pivot tho 😉. Haha, but seriously I’d lie if I said I don’t cringe when I catch a glimpse of myself walking when I pass by my reflection, but I know that is just part of my journey of learning to accept myself and my disability for all that it is. In my head, I know I walk “differently,” but seeing it from the outside looking in is a completely different experience for me. In my head, I feel like I have full control (and most of the time I do) but when I see myself walking I understand how/why others look at me as if I’m a bull in a china shop that’s a permanent fall-risk. That’s probably one of the biggest pills to swallow with this whole thing, because I consistently strive to make sure no one feels uncomfortable with my disability, but some things are just inevitable.

During this reflection, I have to reiterate that I am extremely grateful for the option to be independent and that I have the ability to walk – even if it’s a little different  Because I know there are thousands of people who aren’t as lucky as me.

It’s all a growing experience as I continue on this journey, and I honestly am so excited to continue to strengthen both my physical and mental state by committing to exercise while voicing my life story.

 

Impromptu Beach Hack

It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged due to some personal things, but I’ve been thinking about getting back into it lately. And have been having a lot of random signs/experiences also pushing me in that direction. TBD, but in the meantime – jotted something down while embarking on an impromptu visit to the beach.

In the midst of all of the #HurricaneDorian prep, Fort Lauderdale has been having some beautiful weather! And over the course of the summer, having a full day of sunshine has been extremely rare. And if you know me, enjoying a day outside and near the water is important to me. So I’ve been feeling semi-depressed (maybe that’s dramatic idk), especially when seeing my casper the ghost reflection staring back at me in the mirror as a daily reminder. NO tan lines at the end of August?!

Wanted to soak up the sun any chance I could get during this long holiday weekend. My apartment complex closed the pool to prepare for the storm. While cleaning my apartment I saw the sun peaking through my blinds, so I decided to book it to the beach.

To make a long story short – I’ve made countless trips to the beach alone. For me, I just need to be extra cautious of my surroundings because I 1) can fall over easily and 2) can’t pick myself up without the help of someone else or leaning on something. And disclaimer, I don’t go in the ocean when I’m alone because it’s challenging getting in/out of the water, and keeping my balance against the waves.

I have a beach chair that I use to help myself up during my solo beach days but honestly haven’t figured out how to successfully close it, so wanted to avoid a drawn out wrestling match with the chair in case the rapidly moving storm clouds open up above me without warning. So while getting ready, I saw my little step stool in my closet that I use to reach things too high for my 5’4 self and packed it up in my beach bag. Why have I never thought of this before?!

Fast forward to now, I’ve got a great little compact set up that’s ready to be packed up quickly if needed. I was pretty excited about this minor but brilliant idea so it inspired me to write and share a little glimpse of my very mini staycation.

Hope everyone in the path of Hurricane Dorian stays safe!

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

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A few weeks back my roommate (Caitlin) and I took a day trip down to Coconut Grove to visit the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. I was born and raised in South Florida but for some reason rarely explored Miami during my childhood, so this spot was definitely top of my list to get to.

A bit of history: The Vizcaya is the former villa and estate of businessman James Deering, who was a very wealthy international harvester in the early 1900’s. The planning and construction of Vizcaya lasted over a decade, from 1910 to 1922, so it’s just shy of being a century old. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, you will learn all about the decades of history and see first-hand the beautiful architecture, design and intricate detail that is still intact to this day. I’d even recommend packing a picnic and spending the afternoon outside in the gardens to enjoy!

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My impression of one of the many statues. 😉

As far as accessibility goes, for the most part I was able to navigate around on my scooter on the first level of the home, through the outside garden and the back portion of the home to overlook the bay. For the upstairs parts of the house, there was no elevator but there were large interactive screens that allowed me to sift through 360 degree images of the rooms.

Being a historical monument, I’m completely understanding that when this was built, accessibility was not a concern nor requirement. Ramps and elevators were not a part of the plans and fast forward to today, adding them in would probably cost thousands of dollars and respectively ruin the preserved architecture. With the devastating Notre Dame Cathedral fire that took place yesterday during renovations, the value of maintaining ancient buildings became even more clear to me, even if it does mean limiting the opportunity for those with disabilities to fully tour and experience.

With that, the Vizcaya had something installed that I have never seen before. I was able to ride my scooter onto a platform that then swiveled its way up a flight of stairs, allowing me to elevate to the entrance of the house. A video can be found on my Instagram page! It was a very cool experience and was extremely refreshing to know that add-ons were a possibility for existing monuments to utilize to allow people in similar circumstances as myself to have a first-hand, real life view of history.

National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day

Today is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day so I wanted to take some time to discuss what exactly Cerebral Palsy (CP) is, share more about my personal experience and clarify some of my physical restrictions.

As defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Cerebral Palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. CP is caused by damage to or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement and maintain posture and balance. The term cerebral refers to the brain; palsy refers to the loss or impairment of motor function.”

There are varying degrees of CP, and each person who is diagnosed can be affected in different ways on a more (or less) severe scale. While I certainly don’t claim to be a medical expert on the topic, my experience is personal to my story and is in no way meant to be a one-size-fits all representation.

With there being a few different forms of CP, I wanted to go more in depth about the form I have. Birth Injury Guide shares that “Diplegic cerebral palsy is a form of cerebral palsy marked by tense muscles and spasms. Leg muscles in particular tend to be extremely tight, and over time, this causes joints to stiffen, reducing the range of motion. Diplegic CP is considered one of the milder forms of the disorder, and most children’s intelligence and cognitive functions are not severely affected, although they may take longer to reach intellectual milestones.”

I am extremely fortunate to have one of the milder cases of CP. Luckily, I am able to live an independent lifestyle and often times only need assistance in particular instances. I can talk, I can feed myself, I can drive a car, shower by myself and honestly most things a physically-abled person can do. Not to say that I do not need to alter the way some things are done or rely on the help of others to assist with certain tasks. Like, if you need a hot bowl of soup transported from the kitchen to the dining room table – I am NOT your girl.

Just to give you a more clear picture of my capabilities and level of CP, when I walk I drag my feet by nature because my brain is unable to send the proper signals to my legs. I need to focus hard to think about each step I take in order to create a steady walking form. Because of the way I walk, I go through dozens of shoes each year due to the holes that form near my toes from dragging on the ground and I cannot wear sandals or go barefoot without cutting my feet. I get tired or winded easily, and that’s why I rely on a mobility scooter for long distances. On a day-to-day basis I simply walk from my apartment, to my car, to my office and occasionally run some errands, so I typically only use my scooter on weekends for a trip to the mall or for special events. When I was younger and in school, I used a walker.

The last aspect of CP I wanted to mention is my inability to stand in one place. I find it challenging to stand without shifting my weight every few minutes if I’m not near a wall to lean on, so you’ll occasionally see me walk in a mini circle just to keep my balance and relieve my stronger leg from its duties of holding the weight of my body up.

As time goes on I’ll certainly share more insight about my physical capabilities, but in celebration of National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day and still being at the beginning stages of my blog, the intent of this post was to share the medical definition of my diagnosis and simply paint a picture for those reading along who don’t know me in person.

My Best Friend, Chelsea by Caitlin Willard

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This blog has been talked about for a long time – over many dinners, glasses of red wine and late-night spiritual convos (she’s best friends with me, after all). Since I met her, Chelsea always talked about wanting to one day be a motivational speaker. She wanted to inspire others and be a living example of determination, resilience and never giving up. As our friendship grew from random happy hour dates to hanging out every weekend to roommates, the more I would nudge her, telling her, “but you can do that now!”

I guess I annoyed her enough because here we are now, and wow, I am so proud of her! It takes a lot of courage and inner strength to stand in your truth, and to live an authentic life, unapologetically. And that’s exactly what she’s doing.

Originally this guest post was going to be just that, a single post, but then I realized I could never possibly condense everything I wanted to say about Chelsea in a few paragraphs (I know I’m not alone in this!). Instead, this will be my first of many posts. I won’t make this one too long, I just wanted to brag on her a little and to express my gratitude to the universe for placing Chelsea in my life.

You see, my best friend, Chelsea is one of the best people I’ve ever met. She’s a serial optimist, a ray of light and an all-around smiley person. She has an affinity for sunshine, cold beer and chips and salsa. She is an example to me in expressing gratitude each day, and has never once let her disability get the best of her or stand in her way. She’s kind, thoughtful and unbelievably patient, all the while remaining resilient and strong. Simply, she’s a force to be reckoned with. My best friend, Chelsea is an inspiration to me – not because she is walking through this life with a disability, but because of how she chooses lives this life, in gratitude, kindness and lots of laughter and love.

I feel incredibly proud of her journey with this blog – past, present and future – and to be walking in this life by her side.

– Caitlin Willard