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Willow's Women Warriors

"My series of images shot on Hasselblad film titled #WomenWarriors are meant to showcase the raw beauty of all women regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, or body image... I am overwhelmed by the physical, emotional, and mental presence of so many of you regarding this important topic in our society right now. I can't wait to continue on this artistic journey with all of you." -Willow Shields, 2017

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Before you read this article, let me just remind you that Willow Shields is only 17 years old. I bet you won't make it through this article without feeling encouraged and inspired that you can also make your mark in the world. Willow's Women Warriors series is truly something else. It is powerful, and empowering, and beautiful, and breathtaking. The images are all so creative and stunning, and the letters will make you think in a way you haven't thought before. Willow describes this project as "meant to showcase the raw beauty of all women regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, or body image," and it truly does. Looking at these images, and reading the letters, I have never been more proud to call myself a Willow Shields fan.

The Start

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

For the past couple of months, Willow has been working on a mysterious project, dropping several hints a long the way. On June 20th, she posted this photo with the caption "Working on some really exciting things..." Though she gave no clue as to what it was, the feminist notebook and girl power coffee mug alluded to the women-empowering project that was yet to come.

The Photographing

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

All the pieces started to come together when, on July 23rd, Willow posted a photo of herself behind a camera in a studio with the caption "Photographing some amazing Women Warriors today."

Women Warrior Virginia

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

The first official photo of the Women Warriors series was released on August 10th. Willow started off the post with an explanation of her project, stating that the series is "meant to shine light upon the raw beauty of all women despite what individuals say about them on social media." She then followed up with a power letter Virginia, the women in the photo, wrote to social media.

Here it is- and it's definitely worth the read.

Dear Social Media,

I have a love/hate relationship with you. I can go back to the pictures I posted a year ago and think where I was in my life, how I didn’t know what was about to come and how I had an idea of who I was but no idea of who would I have to become.

Last year was the hardest year of my life (this far). I was confronted with forgiveness, real deep meaningful forgiveness, and it was hard, really hard. I realized the power of rock bottom, it forces you to fight, you do whatever it takes to survive, to get back up. Prayer, meditation, nature, hikes, therapy, exercice, being alone so I can sort through all of my emotions but also being with my friends and family because they have my back, they are my safe place.

Then I realized I had to not only become a warrior for my self preservation but because the world was changing right in front of my eyes. The country that I arrived at 10 years ago, was becoming hostile and lashing out at my people. I was yelled at on the street “Stop speaking Spanish, speak English, this is America” What … JUST happened!!!!??

I realized that I not only have to get up and fight for myself but also for my voice and the voices of the people that can’t do it for themselves! Art matters, it matters to speak up help give that voice to the unheard. Having a bigger purpose than myself helped me get out of the dark, becoming the warrior I know I’ve always been, now I just have to keep going.


Women Warrior Britney

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

Photo number 2 is of Women Warrior Britney, and here is her inspiring letter to social media.

Dear Social Media... Welcome to my world, one that's filled with genuine happiness, positivity, motivation, raw authenticity, inspiration, encouragement, and hundreds of thousands of red heart likes. No hate here. Only love. Yes, it's rare these days to hear someone say that social media is a positive space but in my world, it is. Hashtag blessed to not have haters but instead to have built an incredible community of uplifting beauties supporting each other day in and day out. I have a feed filled with body positivity and picture after picture inspiring others to live their lives a little bit healthier, a little more active, and fill their days with a lot more self-love and way less hate. When someone slides into my DMs it's to shout from the rooftops, thank you @fittybritttty for being real, for being brave and for sharing your story. When I lost over 80 pounds, seven years ago, a fire was ignited within me that I never knew existed. It was the spark I needed to become my true authentic self. Self-hate, see you later. Through seven years of ups and downs, ebbs and flows, triumphs and tears, I’ve evolved into the woman I am today. Nervously and anxiously opening my Instagram account over three years ago I began to share my journey. My story has shown my success but I also haven’t shied away from my failures. Most importantly, I’ve shown that perfection isn’t real - hello cellulite!- but that learning to love yourself from the inside-out is the most real, palpable thing you can do. Today I can proudly say I’m a woman who is confident, creative, driven, happy, healthy, and most importantly totally head over heels in love with who I am.



Women Warrior Jeannie

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

Women Warriors photo number 3 was released the day BeautyCon started, and portrays Jeannie and her breathtaking letter.

Dear social media:

You're like an encyclopedia,

But for people.

We see all the best parts,

But not much of the steep hills.

Yet we know one cannot exist without the other.

Good and bad are a balance, but the bad we try to cover.

Through a tiny device, I can catch a glimpse of someone's temporary reality;

Uploaded human consciousness forever into our galaxy.

What you see is not the present, but a look into the past.

A time capsule of memories and the day's weather forecast.

Social media is part of the universe's history.

My name is Jeannie, I'm 22 years old,

And this is only half of my story.

A pretty face you see,

You may think I have no faults,

But don't make judgements so quickly,

For sugar looks exactly like salt.

At first glance,

You may think I live a perfect life.

You would never think that I've been arrested or have tried to cut my wrist with a knife.

I've been the abused and the abuser,

The perfect daughter

and a drug user.

I've lied, I've cheated, I've ran away from home,

I was promiscuous and impulsive,

But damn, i had an adventurous roam. I've lost a lot of people,

Ruined too many chances.

But because of those experiences,

I took my life back and learned how to advance it.

Although I share my best moments,

I am not ashamed of my worst.

The past is for me to grow and evolve from,

Not to regret, hate, or curse. When people ask who I am,

It's hard for me to say.

There is so much more to me than I can try to display.

Truth is, I don't know who I am

or who I will be.

If I don't even know myself, then even you can't perceive what's my real identity.

You only see a glimpse of my past self,

A me that no longer exists.

I am different every moment,

For change is something I cannot resist.

Good and bad experiences have given me my core foundation,

And because of social media,

I can document myself

And observe my transformation.

In the end,

The words "good" and "bad" don't make any sense actually.

All experiences have given me the wisdom and power to make me a better me.


Women Warrior Dawn

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

Photo number four is of the beautiful Women Warrior Dawn Marie, and you can read her inspiring story below.

Dear Social Media:

I feel as if I'm portrayed here as a person who cares about themselves and is a narcissistic diva who has a mental disorder and doesn't know what it is like to feel pain.. well you have a new thing coming. Those are people who clearly don't know me. I was once told that "you are a waste of a black man" and "where is your father? What would he think of you now?"... well my father has been deceased for 14 years and he loved me dearly. I miss him everyday.... he knew who I was from day one and stayed by my side till the very end... Then there's a group of you all who see me as an inspiration and someone who has helped them get through tough times in their life. You all get what I am trying to do. Set an example for people like myself. I genuinely care about others well being and I'm just as real a person as any of you all. I see the good in everyone and I even cry when things hurt me, without a doubt. When things go left, I remain thinking happy thoughts and being that person that motivates and pushes everyone to be better, and make their dreams a reality. I needed someone to be there when I first decided to transition so since I didn't have that I decided to be that role model for others with YouTube. I think that's what makes me beautiful regardless of what people say on social media. My love for life and wanting to make others happy... My mother has helped shape me into the strong woman I am today! I've taken on her greatness and mental strength towards rough things in life, she is truly phenomenal. She loves and accepts me no matter what I choose to do or become! That is rare being that I am a transgender woman. Not all families are supportive and I feel for you all... I'm so passionate about my YouTube career and how I'm able to get my message out to all of you and use my platform for good and possibly saving lives by letting you all know that you are not alone and there are others like you! It really inspires me to be better when I receive amazing messages from you all telling me how I've inspired you somehow and that I've helped you in some way shape or form. It makes my soul smile! It does not go unnoticed! Thank you all for listening

Women Warrior Autumn

Women Warrior number five is Willow's twin sister, Autumn. Willow wrote that Autumn is one of her "biggest inspirations for this series of images showcasing women and their true beauty."

Here is what Autumn had to say to social media:

You have grown and evolved alongside me as a teenager. It’s been fun on occasion, but it has also made me question my place, as a user, on social networks. Social media has produced some of the worst things people have said about me, not about my personality, but about my body and physical characteristics. "OMG you look like you're anorexic” “Sexy love” “Gorgeous breasts ladies” “She’s REALLY skinny she shouldn’t be that skinny”

Social media is a shrouded veil for users. Anyone has the ability to comment, shame, and humiliate those who are also media users without showing their true identity. I’ve used this veil to my advantage just like many users, making fake accounts to argue with people who try to break down the people I love with harmful and hateful comments about their bodies and personalities. Social media is, to me, much more of a battlefield among strangers than a creative outlet.

Social media hurts people with no grace, makes people question their bodies and personalities, and forces users to often conform to unrealistic standards. I know I’ve made a few hypocritical comments on social media and users throughout this letter, however I will never be the person that deliberately harms someone using social media or use it to say something to someone that I would never say in person, face to face, without anonymity. I refuse to battle with strangers on this bloody field. As I grow and mature, I sincerely hope social media matures too. Is that too much to ask?


Women Warrior Skyler

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

Women Warrior Skyler will absolutely take your breath away with her letter to social media.

Dear Social Media,

I remember sleepless nights full of hopelessness and jealousy

Thinking, "why me?" and "why not me?" Because I stood out in a sea of thin girls

With their Hepburn quotes and sport trophies,

sunbathing and wild parties.

You pointed out how I wasn't like them,

With my thick thighs and Tim Burton humor,

stage makeup and solitude.

The confidence I built and embraced before you came along

You chipped away at with each party I could see I hadn't been invited to,

Each gigantic smile I scrolled past when I was lonely and sad,

Each post someone had with more "likes" or "comments" than mine.

You preyed on my fears, showed me how I was separate and different,

Made me feel like the life I was living wasn't good enough.

You filled me instead with an ugly, green slime I could taste in my mouth, that rotted my heart.

And the more I began to turn towards hate, the more I came crawling back to you

To validate my jealousy, to validate my fears that everyone was against me.

And you were like a drug, and there was nothing rose-tinted about you.

And you, Social Media, imposed yourself on me, gained access and controlled my life for years

Until one day, for just a flash, your thick mist cleared and I saw the Light:

The world, its people are not divided into "good" and "bad" or "this" or "that."

We have it all inside of us, the capacity to grieve, the capacity to laugh,

The capacity to hurt, the capacity to heal,

The capacity to hate, the capacity to love.

All of it is inside of each of us, the Universe resides inside all of us,

And we have the power to choose how we express ourselves, how we live our life.

So I looked at myself through your mirror, Social Media,

The mirror caked with layers of green slime, and realized it reflected what was inside me

And I no longer wanted to be part of division, derision, opposition, and lies.

I wanted to turn my gaze higher and reach for the skies.

Through grace and love, I washed away the slime. -Skyler

Willow Shields / Via Instagram

Hope is the most recent Women Warrior Willow has shared. While we wait for the next one, read Hope's empowering letter.

You entice me and revolt me. You have the power to connect people from all over the world. Yet you seem to chaotically pull people apart. A platform created for unity, yet a weapon for so many to hide behind as they spew their hateful words.

I feel that I am portrayed on social media as someone who is reserved, quiet and maybe a little vain. To be completely honest, I think social media tends to make us all vain in some way.

Growing up with social media can leave one wanting for the acceptance of others; and therefore one usually conforms to what others overwhelmingly accept. I often find myself deleting posts if I feel that negative feedback will ensue. These are usually pictures of just me (I’ll begrudgingly use the word ‘selfie’), me with a low-cut shirt, short skirt, or even a bathing suit. To be honest….I sometimes catch myself simultaneously envying and rejecting when other women post selfies or scantly-clad photos of themselves. And I hate that. I hate that I have allowed society to etch into my mind what is “acceptable” or “unacceptable” for a woman to do with her own body via social media. I catch myself slipping into that tar-like quicksand of negative energy and I think, “Fuck that thought. She should be proud. She isn’t afraid to be 100% herself.” And on social media, I’m slowly getting there.

Outside of social media, I’m there all the way. I dress the way I want, speak the way I want and am unabashedly myself. Funny how that works, huh? I was raised by a single mother of four daughters, who taught me that independence and intellectualism is of the utmost importance. I am the woman I am today because of her. Her strength, persistence, unconditional love and unwavering support HAS to be met with an equal amount of gusto and dedication. I owe that to her and to myself. I am passionate about the human condition and the human mind. I believe we should use social media to build one another up, to actually socialize and to create a world and human-race we can be proud of. -Hope


Thank you. Thank you for this project. Thank you for showing us the raw beauty of women. Thank you for showing us that no matter how old you are, you can make a difference in the world. Thank you for showing us that we are not defined by social media. You are truly something else. Not a day goes by that I am not inspired by your creativity and strength. Women Warriors forever.

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