I didn’t lie! It’s Sunday, and I am posting about one of the people in my local community who inspires the hell out of me – Jade Beall, photographer and creator of A Beautiful Body Project.

**This is the first of a mini-series of posts on people who inspire me. Check out my initial post for the series “On Chasing Dreams: If you’re not sure where to start, then start anywhere!”

Jade Beall best shot
Photo credit: Jade Beall

Life can be hard. We all need a little inspiration sometimes. A little positivity. A smile. A work of art. Jade Beall, the photographer who created A Beautiful Body Project, is good for all of these and is one of my biggest inspirations. We happen to live in the same town, which is helpful because when we seek inspiration from people who are close to us, then we can really start to grasp the fact that every-day, normal people can do really big, awesome things. In fact, you almost need to be a down-to-earth, personable kind of person if you want to do something really awesome like changing the world.

You’ve seen Jade’s empowering pictures. They seem to be everywhere these days – which is amazing. While I don’t personally know Jade, I was lucky enough to be at her opening show (and even briefly talked to her) here in Tucson before her photos went viral. None of us had heard of Jade Beall back then – I went to the opening show mainly because there was a feminist poetry slam that I wanted to hear. But her photographs were stunningly beautiful. Tucson was not surprised when her photographs went viral. We were immensely proud – and inspired.

Perhaps Jade’s work resonates with me because I struggled with my weight and self-esteem throughout all of my teenage years. I first became aware of my weight in 6th grade. I distinctly remember that I weighed 105 and was bigger than the other girls in my class. Looking back, I know that I was actually just on the heavier side of average for my height – maybe slightly overweight. But 10 pounds seemed like everything back then. This just shows how obsessed our culture is with thinness which, I might add, has not had any beneficial effects on our health. Instead, it results in plummeting self-esteem among our young people as they learn to look at food as an enemy and physical activity as a necessary punishment.

Throughout most of middle school and high school, I hated everything about myself. And it seemed like everyone else did, too. One day when I was in seventh grade, I was standing by myself in the gym as we were waiting to be dismissed. I heard a group of boys giggling nearby, and overheard one of the 8th grade boys dare another boy to hug me. The boy was actually a nice kid who I think got caught up in something he didn’t want any part of. But he played the part anyway. He came over to me and hugged me, and we both wished that we could transport ourselves out of our bodies, out of that school, out of our angsty lives. But there we were, hugging for the amusement of pre-teen boys. When he went back to his friends, they all laughed. At me. For as much as we talk about mean girls – can we remember that there are plenty of mean boys to go around?

We need to stop allowing our teenagers to be jerks – excusing their behavior as typical teenage drama. While it is typical, it shouldn’t be and doesn’t have to be. We need to do something different. We need to spread more love and acceptance and compassion.

Luckily for me, I gradually became comfortable in my own skin and began to appreciate my body for what it can do rather than perpetually focusing on what it looks like and how it compares to everyone else. That being said, we all still want to look good and be beautiful! This is where Jade’s photos come in – she helps us to see that we are all beautiful, regardless of our shapes and sizes and scars.

There is amazing beauty in diversity.

Jade is spreading love throughout our community. Love that can change how we interact with each other and how our children interact with each other. For all of the arguments about what – and who – is healthy or unhealthy, none of it matters. It is not your job to tell someone if they are healthy or not. It is not your place to judge. What we all should be doing is loving and supporting each other to be the best people that we can possibly be. Success and happiness – in all areas of our lives – is born from love, not from judgement or fear or disdain. When I finally started to love myself, I became the healthiest I have ever been – emotionally and physically.

While Jade’s photos have found their way into numerous big news articles and on city billboards, she is not raking in the millions like many of us might suppose is what happens when you have something go viral – just sit back and count your gold, right? Nope. That’s not how it goes. In fact, Jade is still living in a small apartment while trying to raise money so that she can continue to expand and share more stories of beautiful women like Lupita (the woman in the featured photograph at the top of this post). While many photographers and media outlets spoon-feed us photoshopped “ideals,” Jade is featuring and glorifying the beauty of ALL bodies. I love it. If you’re reading my blog, I trust that you get how inspiring she is. And if not, then by all means, go to Jade’s website to discover the inspiration for yourself.

Jade keeps on pursuing her dreams even though it is hard. Even though trolls leave nasty comments. Even though she doesn’t make as much money as she should. The point is that she is doing what she loves. She is absolutely changing the world – just like we all said we wanted to do when we were kids. She is an inspiration.

Too many of us become complacent with simply reading about inspiring people, instead of BEING the inspiration. You don’t have to walk out of your well-paying job. You don’t have to sell all of your belongings and buy an RV. Of course, you can, if you want. But most of us need to tiptoe our way into our dreams. We need to be able to safely explore our options and maybe figure out if the things we have been dreaming about are actually things that we want to do. Sometimes dreams change – and that is okay, too.

If you’re not sure where to start, then start anywhere. You just need to start.

Stop sitting on the sidelines – be the inspiration you want to see in the world.

In the meantime, please watch Jade’s video about A Beautiful Body Project and consider donating so that she can continue this amazing work:

If you’re not enough in love with Jade and her work already – she and her business partner also created Fed By Threads which is a clothing store that sells American-made clothing. For each piece of clothing sold, they donate enough money to the food bank to provide 12 meals to people who are hungry. Could it get any more inspiring?

I’d love to hear about who inspires you! Please share in the comments!