Real Talk with Jennifer Van Dusen

Jennifer Van Dusen is an advocate for self-care and inspiring all those around her to be their best, healthiest selves! She told us about her fight with breast cancer and how she hopes to raise awareness for the disease. Read on to see what #AerieREAL and #GirlPower mean to her!

Real Talk with Jennifer Van Dusen

Why is it important for girls and women to become educated on their breast and ovarian health?

You are your best health advocate.  No one knows your body better than you do.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to what it tell you.  Your breast can feel different throughout the month due to hormonal changes so the best thing to do is pick a day each month to examine yourself.  A catch phrase in the community is “Feels on the 1st” which means on the 1st day of a new month is a good time to compare your breasts to how they felt on the 1st of the month before.  Do they hurt, is there discharge, do you feel a lump that wasn’t there a month ago?  And get a Pap done at least every year.  There is hardly anyway to tell if you are having problems with an ovary until it’s too late.  Seeing your doctor for an annual checkup can save your life so don’t put it off because it’s awkward or uncomfortable.  What I would always do is book a girls lunch or get a treat for myself on the way home after my annual exam.

Understanding your personal risk including hereditary factors is another huge part of your physical health as a women.  I’m lucky in that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years before I was.  I learned a lot about the disease but my eyes were opened even more once I was diagnosed.  And after I was I learned it goes much further than possibly your genes.  In my case, my cancer was very receptive to estrogen, so limiting or not drinking alcohol helps as it converts to estrogen when consumed.  I also had my 1st period when I was very young, another risk factor.  I”m not saying make yourself crazy, but ask about your maternal family history and let your doctor know what it is.

Most importantly women need to become educated on their health because it give us power.  So much of life is influenced by outside forces and anytime in which we can take control and help others like us we should.  To me this is the very definition of #GirlPower.

What advice do you have for girls and women who want to lead healthy lifestyles?

The best advice I can give anyone on how to live a healthy lifestyle is start with self-care.  This sounds so simple, but it takes work.  When I first heard about it, at the start of my cancer treatment I thought why do I need to care for me, I have my husband taking care of me, a team of doctors and supportive friends.  But when I learned what it meant and embraced it as part of my treatment I can’t say what a help it was.  Before, I thought it meant; I’m tired from treatment so I’ll take a nap.  But what it really needs to be is a conscious decision to put yourself above all else for little bit every day.  While I was in daily cancer treatment this became a lifesaver, some day it was as simple as putting on a song that lifted my spirits, sitting by the window and enjoying a cup of tea, taking 30 minutes to meditate, getting an ice-cream cone on the way home from the hospital or buying myself a new pair of legging from my favorite store – AERIE.  Self care for me now that my energy is improving is walking my dogs, working up a sweat at the gym, trying out a new recipe for dinner.

Whatever your self-care (or treat as I prefer to call it) is, the most important thing is to do it mindfully; meaning you are doing it for you, you don’t have to justify it you just have to be 100% present in that moment.

Once you are strong enough to care for yourself what you can give back to others is only multiplied.  This is the airplane mask rule, put your mask on 1st and then help the person next to you.

Real Talk with Jennifer Van DusenWho inspires you to be your best self? 

This is a big question.  I could probably write a book on this answer alone!  I am also going to point out that my eyes are very wet while writing this, because my feelings for these people are so deep.

I have to say 1st off my husband, Jamie Van Dusen.  He truly is love, because love is a verb and not a noun.  His strength and unwavering commitment to me got me through the worst, the loss of my mother to breast cancer, my diagnosis, my double mastectomy and so much more.  He was my strength when I didn’t have any therefore he deserves the best from me in return.

The next person is a beautiful angel, Jasmin Fiore.  I didn’t have the pleasure of spending lots of time with her but she is an inspiration to me and many women in my cancer community.  She was so young when diagnosed with MBC (metastatic breast cancer aka Stage4) and had 2 little girls, but she went on to start an amazing retreat for other young women diagnosed with breast cancer.  Only about 3% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 40.  Without the retreat she started, Stretch Heal Grow, I never would have met other women like me.  I felt so alone and Jasmin created a community, friendships and a space of healing for us.  While she had a horrible battle of her own she gave back in the most beautiful way possible.  I am forever in her debt and aspire to give back as much as I can because of her (learn more here: https://stretchhealgrow.org/about/)

And I guess at the end of the day I also have to say I inspire me, because when it comes right down to it my thoughts are last thing I hear at night and first thing I hear in the morning.  I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I am living my best life or trying my hardest to be a good person.  Every day I am alive is a blessing and it’s not something that is guaranteed so God willing I will make the most of it.

What makes you #AerieREAL?

I hope that every women out there has a little #AerieREAL in them!  To me it means I am strong but also insecure, that I am perfect and also flawed.  Most importantly it means that I own who I am and I am grateful.

Want to see how Aerie supports breast cancer awareness? Read more here!

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Real Talk with Cassie Wegeng

Cassie is an animal trainer and caretaker turned non-profit world saver focused on leading a healthy lifestyle (and eating all the donuts along the way). She’s also one of our newest #AerieREAL faces! Read on to see what makes her #AerieREAL and how her time at the Aerie bra photoshoot encouraged her to be her best self.

CassieWegangWhat workout makes you feel REAL good?

I have been following the “Tone It Up” program for several years now, and I LOVE it!! Tone It Up is a combination of nutrition education and recipes, workouts and community. I’ve met some incredible, supportive women through the Tone It Up community who are like minded and keep me accountable! The workouts are a planned for you, can be done anywhere, and they’re a mix of anything and everything – HIIT, kickboxing, dance cardio, weights, yoga, even meditation. I cannot recommend it enough, as it literally changed my perspective on health and has been a major part of my life. I’m also a sucker for a good beach run.

Do you have any tips for staying motivated?

GREAT question – as this is different for everyone! Motivation will ebb and flow, and that’s ok! Fitness and nutrition is a life long journey, not a shortcut to quick results. Find something that works for YOU and makes you happy. What helps me stay motivated is the feeling I get after I workout. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and eventually it becomes FUN and your body will crave it. You will never, ever regret working out (even if it’s terribly difficult throughout!), and you’ll feel accomplished no matter what.

How has your active lifestyle impacted how you feel about your body?

Leading a healthy lifestyle has proven to me that my body is capable of so much, mentally and physically! A huge part of an active lifestyle to me is the mental component – finding the strength to push through challenges. Our bodies are so much stronger than our brain sometimes. Turning negative self talk around during a workout is a tool I’ve learned to utilize more in my daily life as well! When we treat ourselves and talk to ourselves with love, our bodies love us back and carry us through life’s ups and downs with strength and confidence.IMG_5675_f_1

Tell us your experience on the shoot!

Photoshoot day was quite literally the BEST day ever (ok, wedding steals first place, but you know what I mean). I never wanted it to end! There was so much love, laughter, music, dancing, amazing clothing, inspiring stories and conversation, and friendships made that will last a lifetime. I am so grateful to Aerie for the opportunity to share our stories, and I will forever cherish the memories made throughout this journey.

What makes you #AerieREAL?

I think being #AerieREAL means just being REAL! Social media these days makes it so easy to get wrapped up in trying to be “perfect”. I am so over society’s definition of perfection. I’m 100% trying to prove that perfection is being you through and through, because no one else on the planet can do that. I’m also a big proponent of living a healthy lifestyle and working hard to reach your goals. That’s when I feel my best, which allows me to be the best for those I love!

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Real Talk With Danielle Candray

Danielle is an advocate and mentor for those with alopecia, a condition in which hair is lost from some or all areas of the body. She’s also a camp counselor with the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and one of the stars of our latest #AerieREAL bra photoshoot. Read on to see how the NAAF has impacted Danielle’s life and what makes her #AerieREAL!

Real Talk With Danielle Candrey

How has alopecia impacted your life?

I’ve had Alopecia since I was 2 and a half and I’m now 19 years old. Growing up with it was extremely difficult for me because kids made fun of me for years. I didn’t know anyone who had Alopecia so that caused me to feel isolated.When I was about 14, I attended an Alopecia conference hosted by the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) and it changed my life. I met amazing people who were just like me and the conference helped me get the courage to wear my wig less. I’ve gone to the conference every year since, so about six years and I have completely transformed. I made alopecia become something positive that could benefit me. I’ve met the most amazing people through alopecia and I have been given the opportunity to inspire other alopecians to embrace/accept themselves which is incredibly rewarding.

What would you like to share with those who are not familiar with alopecia? 

For those who are not familiar with alopecia, we are not sick. Most people assume that we are very sick and feel the need to treat us differently. Alopecia is not life threatening but is life altering. Alopecia is an auto-immune disease that causes the immune system to attack our hair follicles thus causing hair loss. There are different types of alopecia, I have alopecia areata which means my hair grows/falls out in patches. If you see someone who you think might have Alopecia, try not to stare too much, it makes some of us a bit uncomfortable. Everyone deals with their alopecia differently. Some are very open about it and like to talk about it like myself but some are still shy about it and feel embarrassed when asked questions. My tip for when meeting someone new who has alopecia would be to wait to ask questions until they mention their aloepcia themselves!Real Talk With Danielle Candrey

What’s one of your proudest moments?  

My proudest moment just happened in late June! I was working as a kid’s camp counselor for the NAAF Conference. My group started out with about 4 teenage girl campers but by the end of the conference, I ended up with 12 girls. I guess our table was the popular table! Throughout the conference, I talked to some of the girls and gave them advice, shared my experiences with alopecia, and even encouraged a few off them to take off their wig/hat! On the last day of the conference I was thanked by many of the girls’ parents because I helped their daughters come out of their shells and the girls were grateful that I was their camp counselor. Although I was there to make the conference a great experience for them, I believe they made my experience unforgettable and I thank them for that. So yeah, this past NAAF conference as a camp counselor was my proudest moment!

What makes you #AerieREAL?

I’m #AerieREAL because I’m not letting my alopecia or weight prevent me from doing the things I love!

The beauty about #AerieREAL is that it doesn’t mean we are “perfect” or love every inch of ourselves every day. To me, it means that it’s okay to have bad days because that’s what makes us human and real. As long as we remember to accept ourselves the way we are and treat our bodies with respect, then we can all be #AerieREAL.

 

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#AerieREAL Talks

Our newest #AerieREAL faces came from all across the country (and Canada!) for a bra photoshoot unlike any we’ve ever done. Over 10 days of shooting, 10 groups of women came together to shine and share their stories.

And this is what #AerieREAL is all about.

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Real Talk with Aysha Emmerson

Aysha Emmerson founded Self.I.E. (Self Inspiration and Empowerment) Camps to help girls in their pre-teen years. Read on to find out what inspired Aysha to become an advocate for empowerment and learn more about the camps that bring girls together at such an important time in their lives.

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What inspired you to create Self.I.E. Camps?

My fervent belief in the powerful strides girls can take when they support one another drove me to create Self.I.E Camps. I experienced this support from inspiring young women double my age when I was hospitalized with anorexia as an eight-year-old. I battled with this life-threatening disorder from ages seven to twelve. The unkind words and actions that were all too common in middle school only made my struggle worse. I watched my peers’ attempts to conform, while wearing my own feelings of not being “good enough.” In high school, as I found my niche and grew a stronger voice, things began to change for me. I realized that I was not alone in my experience of insecurity and isolation. Believing that no other girl should have to hurt like I did—I heard my call to action. I could not find a pre-existing venue to help inspire and empower younger girls using the approach that I felt was needed, so I decided to create my own.

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Tell us about how your camps empower girls and young women & why that’s important to you.

I believe that our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful and I have experienced the pain that comes from struggling to change the body we are born into. I no longer want to live in a culture that perpetuates an unattainable image of beauty. I no longer want to see girls’ and boys’ true selves be degraded by their own low self-esteem, which can lead to any number of serious issues that inhibit an individual’s capacity to reach their potential. I no longer want to feel helpless to a situation that I can help improve. I want everyone to embrace themselves and each other.5 Days_Themes

Self.I.E (Self Inspiration and Empowerment) is a day-camp for girls entering grades 5 and 6. Led by high-school students, the camp includes activities and reflections designed to build a strong sense of self and skills to navigate the pre-teen world. Each day of the camp centers around one of five themes: self-care, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-defence, and self-to-others. The goal is to help participants at a vulnerable age develop a rich appreciation and understanding of themselves, allowing them to build resilience and flourish, while also enabling them to support other girls and give back to their communities. It creates a safe space where girls entering middle school can come to see the value in being themselves and can be given love and support from their peers and positive teen role models, who were in their shoes just a few years earlier. In addition, sharing and role modelling Self.I.E’s five themes helps the camp counselors to better embody these lessons in our own lives, while strengthening their confidence as leaders.

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What would you tell your ten-year-old self?

To my ten-year-old self: you deserve kindness. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and who accept you as you are—and if you can’t find them just yet, hold on a little longer—they do exist. Treat yourself as you would treat others. Be kind, be patient, be accepting, and know that it is okay to be confident in who you are. Stop focusing on others’ opinions and focus on what you think of yourself. In the end, that’s all that matters.

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What advice do you have for someone who is struggling?

Find trust. Trust the resilience of life’s little joys. Trust that there are people who care about you and who can help you. Trust what your own body is telling you. Trust that you can and will get through this. Like when you are on the last stretch of a run and all you want to do is quit, physically override any negative thoughts with each step you take—no matter how small. Trust that you and others have crossed a finish line before and can do it again.

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What makes you #AerieREAL?

I am #AerieREAL because I believe our real selves are our best selves. I live each day with the intention of lifting others up and building their self-confidence. I see the world through an accepting lens, recognizing the beauty in everyone and everything. I focus on the things I do control—who I am and how I treat others—rather than the way I look or what others think of me. I recognize that I will always have my flaws and challenges but that these are an important part of the real me and the person I am becoming. By using my voice and personal story I hope to inspire and support others, while helping to bring about social change.

 

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Real Talk With Kristin Wong

For her Make-A-Wish experience, Kristin Wong wanted to join the #AerieREAL campaign. We were SO honored to welcome her, celebrate her and make her wish come true!

Your wish through The Make-A-Wish Foundation was to join the #AerieREAL campaign. Why did you choose Aerie? And what do you hope comes from this experience?

I think I was able to use my Make-A-Wish in a way that most Wish Kids aren’t able to because I’m a lot older than most of them. The demographic of Make-A-Wish Kids are usually much younger, hence why most of the wishes are to go to Disney World or on a trip to a different country. However, I recognized the significance of how my wish could provide me with a once in a lifetime opportunity and because of that, I wanted to do something that money truly couldn’t buy. I also wanted to do something that wouldn’t only make me happy and help me grow, but help the greater community as well. I remembered just a few months ago when YouthLine, the teen to teen suicide/ crisis hotline I volunteer at, talked about just how many people reach out to YouthLine. The teens that contact YouthLine call or text in because they feel they have no one else to talk to or feel that no one else will understand what they’re going through. In comparison to the 1000 contacts we had back in 2013, last year we had over 12000, which just goes to show how many teens have needed and still need this resource for emotional support and help with mental health.

I chose Aerie because I knew they were national partners with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), and eating disorders are a type of mental illness and something we deal with all the time on YouthLine. My wish was to use my wish to promote YouthLine to more teens across the nation, and I thought that because they already supported NEDA, there’d be no better company to better spread the word about YouthLine than Aerie. Furthermore, YouthLine and Aerie have a shared demographic and ultimately spread the same message: learn to love and take care of yourself. I can’t think of a better way to have used my wish, and I truly hope that more teens will learn about YouthLine through Aerie and call in for support.

Real Talk With Kristin Wong

How did you begin your journey with YouthLine?

Sophomore year, my health teacher briefly mentioned YouthLine during the Depression/Suicide unit and then never talked about it again, so I went into my counselor’s office to learn more about what the organization was. A few months later, I applied and went to training. I think I was most intrigued by the type of help you have to provide at YouthLine. It’s different from volunteering at a food bank or playing piano at a senior center — there’s literally a life and death risk with many of the contacts, and the service you provide is so much more intimate and personal. The person calling in trusts you with highly confidential information that they’re afraid to tell anyone else, so you’re truly held responsible for every aspect of your words and actions.

Another reason I was drawn to YouthLine was because I didn’t quite understand the concept of mental health and just how important it was. I used to be someone that prioritized physical health over mental health; I was a part of the stigma against speaking out about mental health issues. For many years, I actually believed that having a mental illness was a luxury; there are people in this world that are starving, yet you’re choosing to not eat?

Fortunately, now I’ve learned now that being able to care for your own mental health and focusing in on self-care goes hand in hand with taking care of your physical health. It’s clear to me now that these mental illnesses aren’t a choice, and I’m forever grateful to have had my experiences with YouthLine terminate the ignorance that I once had and that millions of people still have.

What advice do you have for someone struggling with something in their life?

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT. TALK ABOUT IT. You need to understand that it’s okay to talk about these things in the same way that it’s okay to talk about physical health. If you break your bone, you talk to your doctor, and though it may take some time, that bone will eventually heal. Mental health is the exact same way; YOU MUST talk about these things because even if it may not be physical, it is still a part of you that is injured and deserves attention.

Though the circumstances of what you may be going through seem impossible and that no one will understand, there are still so many people in this world that are willing to listen to what you have to tell them, whether it’s someone you know and love, or a complete stranger from across the nation.

Another thing to not forget is that in spite of all of this stress and pressure you’re feeling right now, you cannot forget to take care of yourself. Sometimes when you’re caught up in a myriad of emotions, the stress and fear builds up to a point where you forget to do things such as get adequate amounts of food, water, and rest. You stop doing the things that you love and that relax you; you can’t forget to do these things, whether it’s taking time out of your night to take a bubble bath, playing your guitar, coloring in an adult coloring book, or simply just watching your favorite TV show. You should always talk to someone about how you’re feeling when you’re going through a struggle, but don’t forget that it’s also okay to take a step back, distract yourself from the reality of what’s going on, and take care of yourself when these struggles become too much to properly and safely manage.

If you’re a teenager who feels lost and has no support from the people you’re surrounded by, please go to oregonyouthline.org. Call 877-978-8491. Text “teen2teen,” to 839863. Reach out, and I guarantee that the volunteers at YouthLine will listen and support you so that you feel heard.

Real Talk With Kristin WongHow are you a role model to others?

I hope that I appear as a role model to others through my perseverance. When I first had cancer, the doctors told me that most kids take an extra year off of school and have to graduate a year late because it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of school work, especially for high school students. However, in spite of doing chemo and facing all of the side effects, I still worked hard to finish all of my work in time to graduate with the Class of 2018. During my time in treatment, I also continued to go to YouthLine as often as possible because when you have something that you’re genuinely passionate about, there really is nothing that can prevent you from doing it.

Passions and perseverance aside, I think all it takes to be a good role model is to remember that everyone is human– you need to treat everyone in the same way you would want to be treated. I try my best to not to exclude anyone, and I always find ways to show others that I care and that I’m thinking of them. I emphasize how important it is to take care of yourself and not be ashamed of who you are. I hope people perceive me as altruistic, ambitious, and vigilant because I consciously make all of my decisions so that they can inspire someone else to do something similar and treat others the same way. I want to be a part of the origin for a young mind to begin the process of loving themselves, allowing them to be unafraid to accept who they truly are, and letting it shine to the rest of world.

A role model leads, but also listens. A role model has strong opinions, but is not ignorant to new and different perspectives. A role model is unafraid to be independent and empowering, but is not so far out of reach that those that aspire to be like her find her unapproachable or intimidating. A role model leads by example to not only inspire others, but to inspirit herself as well.

Real Talk With Kristin Wong

#AerieREAL is about standing together and feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin. How do you personally identify with that message?

            One thing that I’ll never forget is back in 2014, I was told by another girl that she hated me because I was “too Asian,” as if embracing the race I was born in to was something to be ashamed of. This was especially shocking to hear because the girl that told me this was Asian as well. A few months later, this same exact girl told me that she wished she was white because being Asian automatically meant that you could never be beautiful.

The most frightening thing was that I understood the shame that came with being Asian American. I live in a primarily white city, and I go to a school where I don’t have a single teacher (besides the Chinese language teacher) that looks like me. Some teachers I’ve had in the past have told me that they have higher expectations for me because they know my parents are stricter (in spite of never having met my parents), and in 7th grade, a boy asked me if I was “a real Asian” because I didn’t have monolids. An even more repulsive experience was just a few months ago, I was being interviewed for a college by a white cis male who took not more than ten seconds to look over my resume and said, “I hate to break it to you, but you really aren’t helping yourself stick out from the rest of your people.”

Although there’s never been a point in my life where I’ve been embarrassed to be Asian and Chinese, there have been times where I’ve felt insecure about it, especially in public situations. For example, I’ve had people at school laugh because every photo I open on Snapchat is from an Asian friend (even though it’s completely ridiculous because they only receives photos from other white students). Other times, I’ll tell my family to be quiet in restaurants because of the stereotype that the Chinese are ill-behaved in public places and as tourists.

Up until last year, at the point where I was halfway through chemotherapy, I was relatively ashamed to be Asian, and this contempt seemed to be innate. All of these years, because of all of the stereotypes and blanketed racism I’ve faced, I wasn’t 100% proud to be who I am or what I look like. The wake up call for me was that during chemo, I realized that in a world where there are millions of problems that are unavoidable (such as getting life threatening diseases), you can’t oppress yourself even more by being discontent with what you are born with.

I think a lot of this acceptance of racism and widely familiar shame among people of color, specifically Asians in this case, is unquestionably due to the lack of Asian representation politics and media. What we see in media greatly determines how we establish our sense of self and our value of self, and when we don’t see ourselves in what the media displays, we feel that there is something wrong with us that causes there to be underrepresentation of people that are like us. The girl that I mentioned at the start is a perfect example of someone that, because of the stigma surrounding who she is, is so insecure that she openly admits to hating someone that truly embraces who they know they’re meant to be. She was afraid of the fact that she couldn’t see herself in me; even though we looked comparable on the outside, she didn’t feel the same confidence or pride in herself to the same degree that I did. Because of this, she aggressively acted out, perhaps because the resentment towards her self-identity was so substantial that she couldn’t understand how anyone else could be proud of what she was also supposed to be.

Rather than tearing each other down, we should be standing together as a collective to battle against this stigma (and blatant racism) that so many of us face. It’s important to be your own, self-made version of success. If you’re not proud or confident in who you are and what you do, that means you’re spending all of your energy being someone you’re really not, which is tremendously tiresome and unsatisfying. Not understanding how imperative self-love and self-care is is detrimental to your mental health, which in turn, destroys your physical health as well. Just like how it’s important to talk about these racial issues, it’s important to talk about your mental health as well. These two issues overlap in demographics, where many mental health issues derive from discontent with self-image.

Share your experiences with others and don’t be afraid to criticize or call others out for being disrespectful to who you are meant to be. No one should feel ashamed to be the way that they are. Embracing who you are is #AerieREAL; being #AerieREAL is unapologetically being yourself.

Real Talk With Kristin Wong

 

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