Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Lipstick Monologues & Consciously Beautiful - Empowering Young Girls & Women

Have you ever had the experience of encountering a stranger in an everyday place - shopping in a store, getting your hair done, sitting in a waiting room at the doctor's office - and somehow, almost instantly, the two of you connect as if you had known each other your entire lives?  And, have you ever wondered why this person's path crossed yours?  Was there a higher purpose for this chance encounter?   Did the two of you have a path to travel together?  Over the past few months, my path has joined that of a phenomenal, generous, determined, and compassionate woman whose presence in my life has opened doors both in my work as a beauty blogger and teacher and some long-ago-shut doors inside of my own heart - Ardre Orie.

When I first started this blog in the summer of 2013 and was just making Put On Your Big Girl Lipstick's presence known on social media, an Atlanta-based cosmetics company called I Love Me Glam was one of the first official "beauty" businesses to show me a little Insta-love and follow me.  I followed their page as well, and soon I started to see posts by its owner, Ardre, for a new organization, Consciously Beautiful.  I grew to love its daily posts promoting the idea of beauty and self-esteem for all women and young girls, and she, too, often would comment on my posts, which also included my favorite quotes and inspirational images or messages.  She would even occasionally re-post my "food for thought" posts and tag me in Consciously Beautiful's and I Love Me Glam's photos.  In the months that followed, we became quick "Insta-friends."

Though delighted to have connected with someone who was both a cosmetics expert and an advocate for a social cause that is very dear to my heart, I wondered to myself "Why does she follow me, just a sporadic, beauty-blogging, high school Language Arts teacher with about 300 followers who posts amateur photos of mascara and lipstick taken with her iPhone, the occasional meme or funny school picture of bad student grammar, and pictures of my much-missed life in Ecuador?"  But at the same time, another voice inside of me said, "Elizabeth...these messages are for YOU.  Not only for the Elizabeth of the past, who remembers comparing herself to her thinner classmates and hating her own tall, curvy body as early as 3rd grade, but also for the Elizabeth of today, who has spent 20 years as a high school teacher and has the eyes and ears of teenage girls upon her almost every single day."

And then, I saw this post:

Ardre was about to publish her first book, Consciously Beautiful: I Am Enough, and I would have a chance to meet her at a book-signing she was doing that following summer here in Atlanta.  I commented on her book announcement post and told her how excited I was to meet her and to buy a copy for my classroom, and she commented back almost immediately, saying how excited she was to meet me as well.

At the signing this past July, I had the chance to meet Ardre in person and also to meet some of the women who are the subjects of this moving and powerful book.  The book tells the stories of 21 women who, each in their own chapter, recount their stories of their battles with low self-esteem, poverty, depression, loneliness, discrimination, and a myriad of other struggles that so many women and young girls face each and every day.  The common thread among them, though, is that through one path or another, they each rose above these situations and learned to love themselves and not only survive but truly thrive in spite of their difficulties to become women who are now confident and successful and who embrace and celebrate their lives and love themselves unconditionally in a world that pummels us with unrealistic and distorted images of "beauty."  It is truly a must-read for all women and young girls.  At this very signing I also had a chance to sign up for her next event, The Lipstick Monologues, which was happening that following September here in Atlanta.  I filled out my application and left with my book, eager and hopeful to be a part of Ardre's next event.

Ardre and her daughter at the Consciously Beautiful:  I Am Enough book signing in Atlanta

About a month later, Ardre contacted me and offered me my first "big" opportunity as a blogger - the chance to attend The Lipstick Monologues as a guest blogger.   I was so thrilled at the chance to be a part of this production!

On the night of the event, I arrived at the venue early and got a chance to see all of the exciting backstage preparations including the hair, makeup, and wardrobe specialists as they worked to prepare both the actresses who would perform in the production and the models who would be a part of the fashion show that would also take place that night.
Ardre Orie  - this lovely woman is a powerhouse of productivity!

The night began with a fashion show that highlighted some of Atlanta's premiere designers, many of whom had created collections specifically for Ardre and The Lipstick Monologues.
Ardre opens the show wearing an original design by L. Collins,
one of the women featured in Consciously Beautiful

Christopher Macken - an Atlanta-based radio and
TV personality and celebrity fashion, beauty,
and lifestyle expert.  Mr. M was the evening's wonderfully
talented and witty MC and one of the funniest, warmest, and
most delightful people whom I had the pleasure of meeting that night!  

L. Collins - one of the featured designers of the evening and
more importantly one of the women featured in Ardre's first
book, Consciously Beautiful.
Her story of her journey from a painful and violent
childhood to teenage motherhood to successful
fashion designer is incredibly powerful and moving and
one of my favorite stories in the book.
Then came the monologues, each based loosely on the stories portrayed in the book Consciously Beautiful.  The performances told the stories of women who have found their voices, their beauty, and their power in the midst of heart-wrenching circumstances that they have survived including violence, sexual assault, debilitating illness, and abandonment.  Every performance was unique and rich in emotion, wisdom, and introspection and left the audience in either laughter or tears (or both) and filled with the energy and joy that abounds when women share their struggles and triumphs with one another.

The night ended with an energy-filled and exciting performance by Eshe, Grammy Award-winning artist and one of the original members of Arrested Development.

Eshe and Lipstick Monologues cast member Candice Rene
As I watched these women perform, I was in awe of their ability to so poignantly portray the raw emotion of each story and more importantly, to share each story with such confidence and dignity.  It occurred to me that it is not the act of "moving on" from our struggles, our grief, and our lowest moments that gives us healing, but the sharing of these stories with others and the connections we make with other women when we open up our lives to them that truly provide peace and resolution for us.  And, this sharing is not only a necessary healing for our own hearts, but it is a powerful "medicine" for others.  I spend each day with teenage girls, some of whom I know already have heartbreaking stories similar to these to tell, and I wonder if and when they will have an opportunity to share these stories with others.   No matter what dark corners exist in our own pasts - heartache, abuse, poverty, self-loathing, violence - don't we owe it to our young girls and fellow women and to ourselves to stop carrying these struggles around with us as if they are shameful secrets or excess baggage that make us feel ugly and worthless?  Isn't it time to bring light to these dark places and use our stories to heal and inspire others?  And isn't it time we give them the opportunity to share their stories as well and to experience the empowerment and joy that this sharing brings?  This is the mission of my friend Ardre Orie and Consciously Beautiful, and it is a mission that I am so proud to be a part of.

For everyone who attended and was involved, The Lipstick Monologues was a triumphant success and an absolute thrill and honor to participate in.  Ardre Orie is truly an inspiration and a woman on a journey -  a journey to empower women and young girls to find their true beauty and strength not just in spite of but even as a result of the struggles that they face and the messages and stereotypes aimed at women that are so engrained in our culture today.  

Visit this page for more information on the next Atlanta production, Love and War, which will take place in March 2015.  Also, be sure to follow both Consciously Beautiful and The Lipstick Monologues on Facebook to be the first to know about upcoming events and publications.  And, follow Ardre and Consciously Beautiful on Instagram for daily empowerment and inspiration!  

Stay tuned for my next blog post on Consciously Beautiful's Day of Glamour, an event that followed The Lipstick Monologues and brought together a very special group of women (including me!) and young girls for a day of beauty, pampering, most importantly connecting and sharing with each other in order to further Consciously Beautiful's message and mission.  

Thank you for reading, beautiful friends, and remember to be CONSCIOUSLY BEAUTIFUL.

Me with Consciously Beautiful founder Ardre Orie at The Lipstick Monologues