I’ve been dreaming of doing a natural beauty project for the past couple years. And that’s kind of funny, because I didn’t even become comfortable and confident without wearing makeup in public until the last year and a half. Because at that time, I was going through some difficulties with my face. I was diagnosed with a skin condition that made my skin incredibly red and bumpy, even painful. I decided to confront it at that time, by sharing a photo of what I looked like in a blog post that I titled, “I am not my skin” which is still my most viewed blog post of ALL TIME. I was flooded with encouragement and kind words, when I expected to hear silence or possibly even be ridiculed. That changed everything for me. It showed me that people will ALWAYS respond more to vulnerability than to perfection. It showed me that when you choose to be vulnerable and open and honest, you give permission for other people to do the same. It showed me that even when we feel lonely, we are never alone. And it showed me that the more you speak up about your struggles and insecurities, the faster you heal.
So, here I am again, a year and a half later, sharing photos of myself without make-up. Things have changed, my face healed and it appears that things have gone back to “normal” when it comes to my skin. But not to me. To me, I see the redness in the my face that I didn’t have before the skin condition. I see the scars that I didn’t have before. Because my face went through something, it went through stress and trauma and it only makes sense that there would still be signs of what it went through even a year and a half later. And I don’t know if my skin will ever be the way it was before I went through that, but the best feeling in the world is knowing that I’m completely fine even if it never goes back. Because even if my face went back to looking like it did in that blog post, I know that I’ll be fine. I’ll be more than fine, because I’ll still be me! And who I am on the inside, will ALWAYS be more important than what I look on the outside. I believe that inner beauty shines through to the outside. And that’s why I’ve decided to call this natural beauty project, From the Inside Out.
My hope and goal with this project is to bring encouragement to everyone who sees this. I want every girl to feel the FREEDOM that comes with being comfortable and confident in the skin you’re in, WHATEVER that skin looks like! We are BEAUTIFUL. Not because of our hair or our makeup, but because of WHO WE ARE. And because of WHO created us. And over the next couple months, you’ll be seeing me share more blog posts for this project. You’ll see girls who were brave enough to let me photograph them makeup free and with their natural hair. These girls are us. All these girls aren’t completely confident without makeup or without their hair done, I’m not completely confident without makeup either. But the thing that all of us who have been photographed for this project have in common, is that we want to embrace natural beauty in ourselves! And my hope is that as you see these photos of girls throughout this summer, you’ll find comfort and peace and trust that YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL too!
Sharing these photos makes me want to point out every single one of my flaws. Because I see them, so I assume that you see them too. Because it makes me want to make sure that YOU KNOW that I KNOW I have flaws. But that’s silly. And I don’t want to look at these photos and see my flaws. And so that’s not what I choose to see when I look at them. I choose to see a joyful girl who loves herself and loves life and loves people, because that’s who I am! And if you look at these photos and the photos of the other girls in the weeks to come and look for their flaws instead of their beauty… then I feel sorry for you. But I still want you to know that you are beautiful! And I hope that someday you choose to not focus on your flaws and the flaws of others, but to embrace them, knowing that YOU ARE ENOUGH exactly the way that you are! :)
With each blog post and set of photos, I’ll also be sharing some words from the girls. Some had long answers for my questions and some had answers with just a few words. And it’s all okay, because there is no right way to do this, there is no right way to be vulnerable. There is only your way. And I didn’t choose these questions because I knew I would have the perfect answers for all of them. I didn’t even have answers for them when I first thought of the questions. I chose these questions because I knew they would lead to thought-provoking answers and more thought-provoking questions. I knew they would challenge those answering them and hopefully comfort those hearing them.
I’ve learned to not ask someone to do something, that I wouldn’t be willing to do. That’s why I’m sharing my photos first and sharing the answers to all of the questions! I answered all of these questions on my own, before I read the answers from the other girls who took part in this project. These are my real, genuine answers along with my natural photos! :) I also made myself share photos of me that I didn’t want to share. Because I didn’t want to just share photos that I thought I looked the best in, I wanted to share the photos that I just looked like ME in. :)
I have ZERO makeup on in these photos. And my hair is how it naturally dried after being wet. :) I will say it’s not my completely natural hair color. It was died in June 2015… so the first few inches on top are my natural color. But after that… it’s a faded dye. ;)
And this is to show you a before and after of my editing. Because I did edit all of the photos, just to add brightness and color! But I did NO editing to any blemishes or wrinkles or anything of that sort! :)
Question: Full name?
Answer: Leah Hope Mancuso
Q: When do you feel most beautiful?
A: I feel most beautiful when I’m with children. Children are some of the most loving and accepting people in the world. They don’t care if I’m wearing makeup or if my hair is done or if I’m wearing yoga pants and dirty shirt. They just care if I play with them, if I listen to them, laugh with them and hold them when they’re sad. And those things are things I can do no matter what I look like. :) And also when I’m driving at night with the windows down and the music as loud as it can go while singing at the top of my lungs! ;)
Q: What makes you beautiful?
A: I think what makes me beautiful is my ability to see beauty in everyone and everything. To see the positive in every situation, even the negative ones. I think my ability to dream without losing hope is what makes me beautiful. And most importantly, God makes me beautiful. I am created by Him and that alone makes me more beautiful that anything else ever could.
Q: What is beauty to you?
A: Beauty to me is kindness and laughter and joy and forgiveness and happiness. To me, beauty is not simply an appearance, it’s a feeling, a light that shines through people. And when someone is beautiful on the inside, they are undeniably beautiful on the outside.
Q: Who is the most beautiful person you know and why?
A: I know SO many beautiful people. My life is a life surrounded by beauty! If I had to choose one, I would choose my mom. She is so beautiful to me because of who she is. She is the most selfless person I’ve ever known. She’s content even in the most difficult circumstances. She’s happy even when others would understand if she was angry. She’s loving toward unlovable people. She forgives and accepts and gives unlimited chances. She is so much that I want to be!
Q: Describe what a beautiful act is to you?
A: A beautiful act to me is anything that is giving part of yourself. Whether you’re giving your time, your abilities, your talents, money, encouragement… a beautiful act is a selfless act. It’s when you do something because you want to help others and make them happy, not because you want to help yourself.
Q: Tell me about a beautiful act you’ve witnessed?
A: I have a close friend, Casey, who shows me beautiful acts almost every time I see her. One act doesn’t specifically come to mind, because for her it’s a regular, everyday thing. Sometimes it’s buying a meal for a homeless person, sometimes it’s as simple as holding the door open, sometimes it’s making sure an elderly person gets to their car safely, sometimes it’s an obvious thing and sometimes it’s not. But a beautiful act doesn’t have to be noticed to be beautiful, a beautiful act just has to be done out of genuine kindness for another human.
I like being silly. ;)
Q: Where do you find your confidence?
A: I 100% find my confidence in Jesus. Without Him, I would not be the person that I am. He is the only One that really matters, I’m here because of Him and for Him. He is so much easier to please than any person in the world because there is nothing I could do to lose His love. And knowing that I’m incredibly loved by Him is all the confidence I need.
Q: When did you start truly loving yourself?
A: In my early to mid twenties. I didn’t hate myself before that, but I just didn’t love myself. I didn’t think I was beautiful or valuable or worthy of anyone’s love or time. I constantly questioned why people even wanted to be around me, and convinced myself that it was just because they felt sorry for me, which simply wasn’t true.
Q: What inspired you to start truly loving yourself?
A: I don’t know exactly when everything changed, but it did. Knowing that I’m loved by the Creator of the universe and that He thinks I’m beautiful and worthy made it easier to love myself. It was once I decided to stop looking for my worth in my appearance or how many people liked me or wanted to be my friend, I realized that I absolutely love who I am and I’m proud of the person that I am. Once you’re proud of yourself, it’s so much easier to love yourself. And I’m not talking about proud of your accomplishments or your job… I’m saying once you’re proud of the person you are, your character, your heart, I think that’s when you truly start to love yourself fully because that’s when you realize that who you are is ENOUGH.
Q: Is there a song that inspires you or makes you feel beautiful?
A: “Beautiful” by Bethany Dillon and “Try” by Colbie Caillat
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote about being confident or loving yourself or being yourself or beauty?
A: “I think happiness is what makes you pretty. Period. Happy people are beautiful. They become like a mirror and they reflect that happiness.” – Drew Barrymore —
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.” – Eleanor Roosevelt —
“Feeling beautiful isn’t about your hair or makeup or fancy clothes. I feel beautiful when I am giving myself to others. It’s the way we spend our time with others and not the time that’s spent on ourselves.” – Carrie Underwood
Q: If you could go back and tell your 12 year old self one thing, what would you tell her?
A: Don’t search for your value in other people, you will never find it there. Love yourself! Not because of what you look like, but because of who you are. Be kind, be selfless and help others without expecting anything return. Be happy. Look for the good in every situation and person. Living for yourself is overrated. When you look back on your life, you won’t care about what you wore or what you looked like… you’ll care if you were kind, if you made people feel loved and appreciated. So love them. And appreciate them.
Q: If you had the opportunity to say something to a large group of women, what would you say?
A: You are incredibly loved by the Creator of the universe! You can do nothing to make Him stop loving you. You are beautiful, simply because you were created by God, and there is nothing you can do to make that not true. And remember to show others the love and kindness that you want others to show you! You will never be happy and feel fully loved by another person, until you are happy and fully love yourself on your own. You were made to be unique, so don’t compare yourself to others. Know that YOU ARE ENOUGH.
Q: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
A: My favorite thing about myself is my choice to choose positivity and kindness and forgiveness. I also love that I self-reflect, because not everyone does that. I use to dislike how much I would self-reflect when I was a teenager, because at that time I didn’t like what I realized once I took a look at myself. But now my self-reflection is what makes me who I am. It helps me to be kind and understanding. It helps me to put myself in the place of others. It helps me to grow and to learn. I guess that was a few favorite things about myself… but that’s okay. ;)
Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
A: My favorite compliment I’ve ever received is one that I’ll never forget. And I would have never thought of it or wanted to be acknowledged for it, I didn’t realize how important it was to me until someone said it. I was told by a friend that I’m the same all the time. That no matter who I am around, I’m the same person, I don’t change my attitude or my character based on who I’m spending time with. That I’m consistent in what I believe and how I act. And that… is the best compliment to me.
Q: What do people compliment you most on?
A: Physically, my hair. There’s a lot of it. Haha. But not physically, my heart I suppose. And my photography as well, which always feels uncomfortable but I make myself smile and say thank you and tend to add how much I still have to learn, because I do have a lot to learn and always will. :)
Q: What is something that the world might see as a flaw on you, but you find it beautiful?
A: This is a hard one, and I’m sad that I don’t think I have an answer for it. And I’m the one who thought of the questions, haha. Physically, everything that the world sees on me as a flaw, I still see as a flaw too. But I train myself not to. I remind myself that my outward appearance is just a shell, it doesn’t determine the person that I am. And if ends up determining who wants to be my friend, well, I’m confident enough in who I am to say that it’s their loss if they choose to not get to know me just because of my appearance. ;)
And I had to get a few with my hair in a bun. Since that’s how it looks almost all the time. Haha. ;)
Thank you for reading and wanting to embrace natural beauty!!! I’m so excited to share the photos of the girls who took part in this project in the weeks to come! Check back each week to see more photos and hear more answers to these questions! :)