Redefine Beauty September: Janet Branch

This month I’d like to introduce my amazingly fabulous grandmother, Janet Branch.


Janet is one of the most beautiful, kind, caring, and loving individuals you will ever meet. She’s not just an amazing grandmother, she is an inspirational one too. Her heart is so big and the love she has for her family is like no other. Though she has some trouble getting around sometimes, she has no trouble being there for anyone who needs her.


When Janet was growing up, there weren’t a lot of career options for women. They were either a teacher, nurse, or a secretary. Janet chose to be a secretary and she graduated from Mars Hill University with it. Then she worked as an office manager for the Chamber of Commerce for several years.

Some of her favorite childhood memories were Thanksgiving at her grandparent’s house who lived on a farm. She can recall playing in the corn field and going into the chicken house to gather eggs. She also loved playing with the neighborhood kids who would play for hours and hours in the summer until supper time.

In her spare time, Janet likes to play cards, read, and mostly watch movies. She tells me that her favorite movies include Shaw Shank Redemption, The African Queen, and any musicals. Janet also loves to draw and paint with oil pastels. She used to paint all the time, but now Parkinson’s disease has gotten in the way.

Janet also used to travel all over the world. She has been to China and walked on the Great Wall, seen the Ming Tombs and the pandas of the Beijing Zoo. She’s been to Israel and toured Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Dead Sea, and took a boat across the sea of Galilee. She’s also been on a cruise to the Bahamas, she’s been to Scotland and England, Chicago and Los Angeles. Then there’s New York City, of which she’s traveled to 10 times and seen two Broadway shows each time she went. That’s a lot of shows!

I’ve fallen in some wonderful places.”

She says one of her biggest regrets is that she didn’t travel more. And that’s saying something! She’s traveled more than most.


Janet tells me the things she loves most about herself are her hazel eyes, sense of humor, and her style. What she doesn’t like is her weight and stubbornness. What I love about my grandmother is her selflessness and willingness to help others. Though she says she has never been happy with her weight, she has never let that bring her down. She loves herself no matter what and continues to be an inspiration for her children and many grandchildren.


Her definition of beauty:

Beauty is not necessarily outward appearance. I’ve always believed that beauty lies within. Beauty is kindness, a sense of humor, and someone who shows concern for others.”

I believe my grandmother is redefining what it means to be beautiful because of the strength she shows everyday. Janet Branch is the strongest person I know. It would be very easy for her to be discouraged by her condition, and I’m sure there are times where she does feel such, but she does not let it get to her. She persists and even more, she is blissfully happy in life.

My life motto has always been, it is what it is, because you learn to deal with what life throws at you. It’s up to you to be happy. Life is what you make it.

I love my grandmommy.




Redefine Beauty August: Stella Branch

This month, I’d like to introduce my fabulous cousin and mermaid princess, Stella Branch.


Stella has always been a firecracker. Her beauty and kindness shines through no matter who she is with. Nothing can bring this princess down! Even when she was little, Stella was wise beyond her years. She is funny, witty, courageous, and the most spectacular person you’ll ever meet.


Even though she is only eleven years old, she already knows what she wants to be. Stella dreams of one day becoming a veterinarian and having lots of dogs. She already has two named Sophie and Harry Potter Leonardo DiVinci Branch (that’s a mouth-full), whom she loves with all of her heart.

Stella has a gentle soul that loves all creatures, but she also has a beautiful singing voice. “I love to sing all the time,” she tells me. When she was younger, Stella was always singing songs from The Little Mermaid. She truly is a mermaid princess.

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When asked what she loves about herself, Stella tells me that it’s her kindness, her comedic sense of humor, her fierce blonde hair, and…her muscles, which she flexes for me. The kid does have pretty strong muscles! More than I do, that’s for sure!

What she doesn’t like about herself is her bad posture and how fast her fingernails grow. As a girl who also has fast fingernail growth, it does get pretty irritating having to clip them all the time.




When I first asked her what she didn’t like about herself, her immediate answer was her thick thighs. But Stella is young and she is learning to love herself more and more each day. She is learning to be confident in the body God gave her and she is still discovering herself. My hope is that her insecurities fade away in time and she sees herself in all her glory. I, myself, am still working on that but I believe that it’s something all women struggle with. Though, after I told her I loved her thick thighs, she thought about it and agreed that I was right. She told me she wanted to change her answer, and I did, but I felt it was important to note that we can change each other’s perspective of themselves by building each other up. We don’t tell each other just how beautiful and amazing they are enough and not just women, men too. We all have insecurities, but maybe if we built each other up more instead of letting the media decide what is beautiful and what’s not, maybe we wouldn’t have our insecurities.

Stella tells me that a beautiful person expresses how they feel, and you can see the beauty in their words and actions.


Stella’s definition of beauty:

 Beauty is more important on the inside but girls can show it on the outside too if that makes you happy. If you do what makes you happy then you’re more beautiful because of it.”


I believe Stella is redefining what it means to be beautiful. I am so lucky to have this gorgeous, sassy, fierce little girl in my family. Love you, Stella!



P.S. If you love Stella’s mermaid crown, click here to learn how to make it! You can also get her crop top at Adorkable Apparel.


Redefine Beauty July: Madison Harrison

Meet Madison Harrison, one of my bestest friends in the whole entire world!

Fun Fact: That necklace is a replica of Katherine Pierce’s from The Vampire Diaries (her favorite show). I got it for her for Christmas last year.

I’ve known Madison since elementary school. My mother was her first grade teacher and we also played softball together for several years. We’ve been friends for a long time but we never were close until high school. A little over 2 years since graduation and we’re still the best of friends.

Bryanna, Me, and Maddy our senior year of high school.

Madison is one of the most beautiful, generous, inspirational souls I’ve ever had the pleasure to call my best friend. She is always there for me to talk to when I need her and though her school (WCU) is farther away than I’d like, we still always have a blast when we hang out. Whether it’s Fruity Pebble cheese cake and scary movies–to which I sing “Jesus Loves Me” the whole time–or a paint party and blind folded makeovers, Madison is truly one of the most amazing people in my life. She always keeps me laughing.


At our sleepovers, Madison used to get so tired late at night, that she started rambling about blue water buffaloes and purple smurfs. I have a whole book somewhere of crazy things that she’s said when she’s sleep deprived. She even left me a voicemail once saying how much she loved me and I was her bestest friend in the whole world. No matter the weather, Maddy can always bring a smile to my face.


Madison is an aspiring educator, or as she put it, “The future educator of a future Beyoncé or the future president.” She loves kids and wants to make a difference in their lives. That is a gift that only certain people have. I should know, my mom is a teacher! Don’t get me wrong, I love kids, but I could never teach. That’s a job that is mentally exhausting. But Madison has the gift. She’s been working at Wrap-Around (an after school/summer school for elementary kids) as a teacher for the summer and her kids absolutely adore her.

This picture above is one that a student drew her. Of the picture, she wrote,

I wasn’t feeling too well yesterday and I know my kids could tell. Even though I wasn’t feeling my best, I tried very hard to hide it and carry on as I usually would. My kids were absolute angels yesterday (which is sometimes not the case). I even received this from one of my first graders at the end of the day! Even if I’m having the worst day, seeing my kids happy brings me such joy!”

Another amazing thing about Maddy is that she also has an uncanny resemblance to Natalie Dormer, an actress known for her roles in Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and The Tudors.

maddy natalie
Madison (left) and Natalie Dormer (right). “I didn’t choose the Dormer life, the Dormer life chose me.”

Madison is inspirational because she knows she’s not perfect, yet she loves herself and continues down the path of body positivity and a happy, healthy life. And that alone makes her someone who is redefining what it means to be beautiful. Maddy doesn’t like that she’s so emotional sometimes, and can cry easily. She also says she dislikes her back fat, but hey, we’ve all got it! What she does love is her curves and the way she will always help others before she helps herself. It’s that kind of selflessness that makes her one of a kind.


Her definition of beauty:

Beauty comes from the inside. You can be as beautiful as Megan Fox and still be ugly to me if you have an ugly attitude.”


Madison truly is the definition of beauty. I’m lucky to call her my best friend. She is teaching me to love myself and I’m following in her example every day. Maddy is a tough, sassy, caring woman whom I’ll always call a best friend.

Do things with your whole heart. Also, maybe don’t let 5 year olds listen to Panda in a school setting.”

-Madison Harrison



P.S. Check out this article Madison wrote: An Open Letter To My Best Friends Back At Home


Redefine Beauty June: Bryanna Suter

This month, I’d like to introduce one of my very best friends in the whole entire world, Bryanna Suter.



Bryanna has been my best friend since the 3rd grade. We both grew up in the same neighborhood, riding our bikes and playing in the creek together, building tree houses and playing make believe. Throughout all those years, our friendship has grown into a beautiful sister bond, though we hardly ever fight. We may disagree at times, but we’ve never had a full blown fight. We just talk things through like you should. We tell each other the truth, even if it hurts. We’re always there for each other, even through the hard times. We think with the same mind most of the time, and I can say that I laugh the most when we’re together, whether it’s hiking up the mountains, eating sushi, or shopping at T.J. Maxx. Life is just better with my best friend around.


Bry and I graduated high school together in 2014. It was then that she decided she wanted to pursue a long-time aspiration of becoming a nurse. When she was little, her grandmother babysat her quite often. Sometimes she would bring Bryanna to the nursing home, where she worked as a nurse. Bryanna quickly made friends with the elderly patients which her grandmother cared for. That experience sparked an interest in her. Flash forward several years in high school anatomy class and her interest is sparked once again. This time, as an interest in neonatal nursing. Learning about the reproductive system and “how God can make a human out of another human” is what also contributed to her dream of becoming a nurse. “I just want to be able to help people everyday,” she tells me.


Bryanna Suter is one of the most kind, selfless, and courageous person you’ll ever meet. Her positivity and optimism in even the worst of times shows her strength and is, in fact, one of her favorite qualities about herself. Her freckles are her favorite thing about her appearance. “Mommy says they’re angel kisses,” Bry says, giggling. And she loves her long hair but is not so fond of her cow lick on the front of her hairline. When it comes to her height, Bryanna has a love/hate relationship with it. She’s 5’8”, which is relatively tall considering the normal height for women is about 5’5”. “It’s hard because I like having long legs but sometimes people look at me like, ‘wow, you’re a giant!'”

If I think about all the things I don’t like about myself, I’ll just end up hating myself. And you have to love yourself.”


Her definition of beauty:

Being who you are. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. It’s more important to have a beautiful heart than a beautiful appearance.”

-Bryanna Suter

So how is Bryanna redefining beauty? It’s not hard to see:

Theatre in high school taught me that you’re the most beautiful when you’re yourself. There were so many people in that class that tried so hard to be something they weren’t and it made me sad. I only wish they could’ve seen that they’re perfect the way they are.”

I am truly lucky to call Bryanna my best friend. There is not one else I’d rather eat buffalo chicken dip and binge watch Game of Thrones with.

Surround yourself with people that love you and you’ll live a happy life.”

-Bryanna Suter



Redefine Beauty May: Marilyn Drum

This month, I’d like to introduce my lovely grandmother, Marilyn Drum.


Marilyn is a remarkable human being. She is a role model and the funnest to be around. Since I was a little girl she was known to me as Grammy. I can remember watching princess movies like Mulan and The Swan Princess with her for hours and hours when I got to stay with her. I even remember going to her house on Sundays after church (a family tradition we still have to this day) and I would help her make her famous sweet tea. When I think of a truly beautiful person, I think of my grandmother.

Left photo: My great-grandmother with her two daughters, Marilyn (the oldest) and Judy. Right photo: Marilyn and her younger brother.

Born in the mid 1930s, Marilyn grew up not having a lot. It was during the end of the Great Depression, and by the time she was 3, World War II had begun. She recalls of how they had to ration everything from food and gas to shoes. Because of this, my grandmother always makes sure that we are taken care of. Marilyn worries constantly about everyone and everything, because that’s just the type of person she is. She cares so much for every single person, that she sometimes worries herself sick!

As a little girl, Marilyn loved to roller skate. When she was just 3 or 4 years old, she learned to skate and can even recall skating in her house. What I found the most interesting was that her grandparents (my great great grandparents) were Waldensians who came to America from Italy and settled in Valdese, NC. You can really learn a lot about your own family history by talking to your grandparents.

(From left to right) My grandfather, Perry; my aunt, Perri Jeanne; my goofy father Barney; and my gorgeous grandmother, Marilyn.

As far as work goes, Marilyn was a teacher assistant for several years. Eventually, she and a friend opened up their own store called Foothills Shoes in Granite Falls, NC where they sold a wide variety of things. But sadly, it was not meant to be. They were eventually forced to close down the store, due to lack of money. Marilyn spent the remainder of her working days as a secretary for William Lenoir Middle School before retiring.

Now, she spends her days reading novels by authors such as Sue Grafton, Sidney Sheldon, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, and Sandra Brown, working out at Quest, volunteering at church, and spending time with her five grand-kids.


Believe it or not, when I first approached my lovely grandmother to write this article on her, she originally said no. As hard as it is to believe, Marilyn is extremely self-conscious. She told me to pick someone else. I was baffled at the lack of confidence that such an incredibly gorgeous woman, such as herself, had. Through the eyes of everyone who knows my grandmother, they all say the same thing. That she looks so young and beautiful for her age. Marilyn has such grace, such poise. It saddens me that she doesn’t see her own beauty. She is her own worst critic, but she is not blind to that fact.

Marilyn knows she worries too much and is extremely self-conscious. In fact, that is what she told me she likes least about herself. Of course that was after she told me she doesn’t like her, quote: “cow hips” or how her feet are so narrow that it’s hard to find a shoe that fits right. “You have no self confidence.” I told her. “I know,” she replied, “and that’s another thing.”


When I asked her what her favorite thing about herself was, she said “Nothing.” Which just isn’t true. There are so many qualities in her to chose from. So I will tell you what my favorite thing about my grandmother is. She is kind, loving, and always there for you when you need her. If you need anything, anything at all, she will drop everything to be there for you. She will never let you down. Her heart is so big and she cares so much that she worries constantly about everyone and everything. Her sense of humor is uncanny and her sense of style is far more superior than anyone else her age. “I don’t want to dress like a grandma.” she told me when we were shopping the other day at Belk’s. Give her any article of clothing and she’ll know exactly how to wash it properly. Marilyn knows how to keep any fabric to it’s full potential. But what I love the most about my grandmother is something as simple as the fact that she loves me just as much as I love her (and that’s a whole lot).

Marilyn’s definition of beauty:

I believe beauty is within. Beautiful people have a sense of humor, kindness toward others, and a positive outlook on life.”

-Marilyn Drum

So how is my grandmother redefining beauty?

She knows she’s not perfect, but she also knows it’s okay to laugh at yourself sometimes. Even though she lacks self confidence, Marilyn is a truly beautiful person inside and out with a heart of gold. I look up to my grandmother and hold her in the highest of standards as someone who is truly an extraordinary human being.

I love you, Grammy. Don’t you ever forget how beautiful you are.



Aging With Grace



Audrey Hepburn was one of the most beautiful, iconic stars that ever graced this earth. Not only did she have beauty and talent, but she had the brains and personality to go with it. When I think of the person I want to be, Audrey always comes to mind.

Her beauty is timeless, but the thing that makes her the most angelic human being is the fact that she was just that. Human.

Through the four decades since Roman of A.H. from 1953 - 1993.:

We often idolize celebrities as larger than life, god-like characters when, in fact, they are not. They are human beings. What makes Audrey so extraordinary is that she was real, and the way she aged was beautiful, elegant, and like good wine, better with time.

Hollywood is known for it’s ageless appearance. Millions of dollars in plastic surgery and anti-age serums have been spent to look eternally youthful. Audrey didn’t believe in any of that.

“She was always a little bit surprised by the efforts women made to look young. She was actually very happy about growing older because it meant more time for herself, more time for her family, and separation from the frenzy of youth and beauty that is Hollywood. She was very strict about everybody’s time in life.” -Luca Dotti remembers his mother Audrey Hepburn. (Left: Audrey Hepburn circa 1958. Right: Audrey Hepburn in 1990):
Left: Audrey Hepburn circa 1958. Right: Audrey Hepburn in 1990

She was always a little bit surprised by the efforts women made to look young. She was actually very happy about growing older because it meant more time for herself, more time for her family, and separation from the frenzy of youth and beauty that is Hollywood. She was very strict about everybody’s time in life.”

-Luca Dotti remembers his mother Audrey Hepburn.

I hear people close to me all the time talk about how they want plastic surgery to make their nose look better, or they want bigger breasts, or injections to smooth their wrinkles. Audrey let nature do it’s thing and look how beautiful she was! It makes me sad that they don’t see that we age for a reason. We look the way we do for a reason. It is not our duty in life to be aesthetically pleasing all the time. Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

But in this day and age, eternal youth is what everyone strives for. We all try to be thin and beautiful and we crave perfection…but what for? It’s an impossible quest to be something you’re not. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the Capitol people in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

They do surgery in the Capitol, to make people appear younger and thinner. In District 12, looking old is something of an achievement since so many people die early. You see an elder person, you want to congratulate them on their longevity, ask the secret of survival. A plump person is envied because they aren’t scraping by like the majority of us. But here it is different. Wrinkles aren’t desirable. A round belly isn’t a sign of success.”

-Chapter 9, page 124 of The Hunger Games

I remember reading about the gaudy Capitol people and seeing them portrayed on the big screen. I remember how outlandish and crazy they seemed, and I remember thinking, “I’m glad this is only fiction and our society isn’t really like that.” But I was wrong. Our society is like that, almost exactly like that. We may not have districts and a corrupt ruler but our social standings are the same. Suzanne Collins wasn’t making this up, she was pulling from real life…our American made society.

It should be a privilege to grow old. Every wrinkle shows that you have seen things, you have lived life, you have loved, you have lost, and you are a better person for it. In other countries, much like in The Hunger Games, there is disease and hunger that keeps people from ever getting to grow old. The ones that do are lucky.

Velveteen Rabbit quote for the nursery or kids room!:

I absolutely love this quote from The Velveteen Rabbit because it couldn’t be more true. He may be talking about a stuffed rabbit here, but that’s exactly what happens when you age. You become real. And “once you’re Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

So don’t dread growing older, don’t try to stop it or slow it down. Let the wrinkles come and let nature and your purpose in life take over. Wrinkles around your eyes and mouth show that you’ve laughed and smiled. Winkles and callouses on your hands and feet show that you have worked hard, helped others, and touched the earth. Sagging skin shows that you have lifted your share of sorrow and troubles, yet still survived. Gray, white, or no hair shows the world that you have loved and been loved so much that the color has faded or it has simply fallen off. It means you’re Real.

Age with grace as Audrey Hepburn had and know that if someone as extraordinary as her can do it, you can too.

Helping People, Inspiring quote:

Become Real.




Redefine Beauty April: Kristy Wooten

This month, I’d like to introduce my beautiful, amazing, marvelous professor, Kristy Wooten.


Ms. Wooten is an English professor at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC), but she is not your average English professor. She is funny, charismatic, bubbly, and quite possibly the coolest professor you’ll ever meet.

Every day, to start class, she asks us a question of the day so we all get to know each other better. That alone makes 12:30-1:50 my favorite part of the day. We laugh, joke around, share stories, and when we write papers, it doesn’t seem like work. The learning environment she creates is unlike any other. In fact, I wish she was my teacher for everything.

Kristy Wooten inspires me everyday. She is truly a beautiful person inside and out. She is someone I would even call a good friend. That is what all teachers should strive for.

Ms. Wooten in her office at CVCC.

This year is Kristy’s second nomination for the Excellence in Teaching award, and it’s not hard to see why. The Excellence in Teaching award goes to a teacher who has gone above and beyond to be the best teacher he or she can be. A nominee is selected out of the faculty members by students or fellow co-workers each year. There are usually 8-10 faculty nominated. “It’s a great honor to be nominated,” Ms. Wooten said of her nomination. After an extensive process with paperwork and an interview, the winner will be chosen by a panel of her peers and one administrator. Fingers crossed she gets it!

The thing Ms. Wooten loves the most about her job is being able to walk into a classroom and make a difference in students’ lives. “To see their eyes light up when they finally ‘get’ a concept I’ve been teaching them about is cool. The job never gets old,” she says. Kristy also loves teaching her students what she knows about composition and literature, being the brilliant scholar that she is.


As a single mom of two teenage boys, Kristy doesn’t always have a lot of time for herself. When she does, she likes to tend to her yard, spend time with her close friends, and enjoy a glass of wine on occasion. Her favorite place to vacation is the Outer Banks, and she absolutely loves Pride and Prejudice.

When you walk into Ms. Wooten’s office you will immediately see all of her posters adorning the walls (as pictured below). Kristy is passionate about her love for Duke basketball, Cold Play, and Foo Fighters.


What she loves about herself is her strong personality & strength, toughness, sense of compassion, and ability to empathize with others. However, we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. Kristy says her least favorite things about herself are her tendency to second-guess others and being somewhat of a control-freak. That is something I know I can identify with.

Of her body, she loves her facial features and good skin that her mother has blessed her with, but she is least happy about her weight.

I’ve been a size 6 and I’ve been as big as a size 26. Even at both ends of the spectrum, I’ve found reasons to be unhappy with my body, and that’s not good. This year, I’ve made it my goal to simply be healthier and lose weight for that reason, not for aesthetic reasons, and so far, I’ve done well.”

To me, what makes Ms. Wooten so extraordinary is the beauty that she radiates when you’re around her. Some people you meet and you just know that they are special. Ms. Wooten is one of those people. Her heart and spirit are illuminating and uplifting.

Her definition of beauty:

True beauty is in a person’s spirit. Yes, there is physical beauty, but that is in the proverbial “eye of the beholder.” Physical attractiveness is subjective. To me, real beauty comes through in a person’s spirit…their personality, their sense of compassion for others, their positive “vibe,” etc.

-Kristy Wooten

Fun Fact: Kristy is a direct descendant of Queen Elizabeth I! No wonder she is so regal!


So how is Kristy redefining beauty? See for yourself.

A concern I have had since I hit my 30s and because I see young women every day in my classroom, has been the pressures that are put on young women to look a certain way or to be a certain size. The media has great influence on that perception of what is the right size, the right hair to have, the right way to look. I’ve seen how these pressures negatively influence young women’s self-esteem, and it saddens me. I hope that in some way that I have been able to be a role model to these young women by showing them that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I may be a plus-size woman, but I know I’m beautiful on the outside AND the inside, and no one will convince me otherwise.”

-Kristy Wooten

I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the chance to learn from Ms.Wooten. She is one of the few teachers that I can say have inspired me be to be a better person.

Thank you, Ms. Wooten, for everything.