I am Danielle.

As I venture into this project, I find myself trying to find a way to define it that fully encapsulates the big, beautiful WHY behind it all. Above and beyond all else, the And I Am... Project is about harnessing the transformative power of recognition. When we see other humans as vast and complex, we are able to allow ourselves the freedom to also be full of the same magic stuff. While the specifics of who we are might look entirely different from one another, the beauty of our sameness shines through. That we can all be intricate, vulnerable, and open to life is a profound point of connection. And if there's anything we need right now more than ever, it's that. And with that, my magical friend, Danielle. I'll basically let her introduce herself. That is, after all, what we're all here for, right? 

**Drumroll about it, homies**

I am Danielle. I am small. And I am... Strong, a dancer, awkward, witty, loving, reserved and cautious, energetic, and open to all of the new adventures and possibilities life has to offer. 

"Growing up in a community that is supposed to be very structured, but also really underscored by chaos, I appeared to be this behaved white female adolescent, but in actuality and because I didn't feel like I could ask questions of certain people, there was this rebellious nature about me. I found myself really strongly wanting to experience things that weren't considered socially acceptable in my very Christian community. So, when people would see me as this energetic ray of light that, like, loves Jesus, I was also really hiding away from asking the right questions. Or asking questions at all. I felt like I had to follow a script. Because these were my prescribed beliefs, I felt like I didn't have a choice but to follow it out of fear for very real ramifications from the people around me. Sometimes, I wonder who I might be or what I would have discovered if I had been encouraged to ask questions and be curious.

There’s also a lot of power that I’ve found in exploring that stuff now. Being able to now ask questions about who I am and what I want to try and what interests me means that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone in just asking questions about it. And because of this new found freedom in expanding the people I know, I find that I’m also much more open to being loving toward so many more individuals in the world.

What I’ve come to realize in the past year or so is that it’s okay to feel the things we feel, that my decisions and choices aren’t causing me the pain the way I’ve been told they do. That my problems can’t be solved by just externalizing them, but that I have a lot more power over how I exist in the world. I get to have the responsibility to put my head down and navigate what I’m feeling and actually let myself feel those things and not feel shame around that stuff. Rather than being weighed down by shame, I get to be empowered by those feelings and turn it around into an opportunity to grow and develop from there. If I could say anything to my younger self, I’d tell her really simply that it’s all going to be okay.

And having the realization that as a woman, I actually have the ability to take control of my life and to push against these different stereotypes and expectations that people have about being a straight white woman has been really powerful for how I move forward in life and in love. I am able to transcend beyond the rigid standards of physical beauty that was set into place by my family and society around me. I have the opportunity to break away from those expectations and come into my whole self versus just the way I present to the world. I now have an opportunity to take control of my life in ways that I didn’t think possible. That’s the most encouraging and empowering thing in my life."

Thanks so much to Danielle for sharing her story and allowing me to witness her beautiful vulnerability. To see some of the photo magic we created, check out the And I Am... Project gallery.