Through the lenses of five talented local photographers, United Way's Stronger Together project documents Quad Citizens coming together to celebrate each other — and the simple acts of kindness — that inspire us during these unpredictable times.
This installment of "Stronger Together With..." tells the story behind a photo — how one Quad Citizen is helping others live their best life. Meet Sarah Stevens, pictured in this photo by Josh Graves.
“Women change the world when we stop shrinking and choose to show up with everything we are.”
Sarah, a Quad Cities native, started her career in corporate health care but always felt there was more out there for her. After serving as the inaugural Executive Director at LeadHer and connecting over 300 women with mentors, she yearned to use her skills to make something of her own, something capable of empowering women. That “something” became The Beautifull Project.
What started as a simple, running love letter to her teenage daughter about loving and accepting her body soon grew into a blog, podcast and photo gallery, all focused on inviting women back to their bodies. Her podcast amplifies women’s voices, bringing them together to share their stories of survival, creating a “chorus of courage” among women, and helping them change the way they see and understand themselves. While The Beautifull Project does focus on communicating a body-positive message, Sarah is quick to connect women’s obsession with shrinking their bodies with all of the other ways women shrink themselves in the world, and even quicker to offer them an alternative:
“Instead of shrinking,” she says, “why don’t we just take up space?”
While Sarah is aware of how powerful this message can be for women, she really sees the clearest impact of her work in the way it seems to have changed her daughter’s relationship with her body. Recently, while trying on clothes and discovering she needed to size-up on a pair of shorts, her daughter said, “Can you grab me the next size up? My body seems to have changed.” She said this without a hint of concern about her changing body, a sign that her daughter sees her body much differently than most women.
Because of the power of this message, Sarah intends to keep working to spread it. She was recently selected as one of twelve women across the nation awarded the Nation of Neighbors award by Royal Neighbors of America. With her award, Sarah plans to continue to share her message by writing a book with the hopes that, one day, all women will accept their bodies — both big and small — exactly as they are, making space for women to live the best, biggest life possible.
When asked what “stronger together” means to her, Sarah said, “'Stronger together' is a vital reminder that we are not alone, and if there’s ever been a year during which it is important to be reminded of our connectedness, it is this year. ‘Stronger together’ reminds me that I don’t need to have all the answers because I am surrounded by a community who has my back. And there are few things more important than that.”