My Raw Beauty Project Experience as a Model

By Tamara Mena 

With the way this world is nowadays, being a powerful, successful and confident woman isn’t easy, for any woman. There are so many standards, so much the media tells us regarding how we should be or look like, to be “beautiful” and accepted. However, beauty is NOT defined by any race, size or ABILITIES.

The Raw Beauty Project is an innovative arts project that celebrates women with disabilities, educating viewers to redefine perceptions and beauty, unleashing potential for all.  Being part of The Raw Beauty Project Los Angeles that was held on September 17, 2016 at Paul Mitchell The School Pasadena, was so moving and empowering.  And let me just say that BEFORE the event, I had considered my photoshoot, empowering for several reasons; I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did some really neat stuff that made me feel beautiful and confident during it, but even more so, when I saw some of the photos. The other reason my photoshoot was empowering, is because as a model, I did some stuff I hadn’t done in years, since before my car accident, such as laying and posing on a rock ;).  And no, it wasn’t easy getting up there; I had to have help, but everyone was so willing which made the whole experience so awesome. 

On a funny side note, I was sliding off the rock, my hip flexors are so tight…that my legs were looking and doing weird things, but still, we got the shot! And one of the greatest parts of that session, was meeting fashion photographer and project Creative Director, Daryl Henderson. His personality and charisma, as well as openness towards the whole shoot with me, was  one I will always cherish. He chose me as one of the models he’d be working with for this project and I was honored, as I admire his work. Knowing how well it all went, made me feel great about being able to open up someone’s mind and have a positive effect on a professional photographer, working with a model with a disability.

As mentioned above, I thought the experience of my session with Daryl was the empowering aspect. But I was wrong. The MOST empowering part was the event itself! Being surrounded by all the women, getting to see all their beautiful pictures, and most of all, reading their deep, powerful and amazing stories was truly the most EMPOWERING. I just remember thinking every time I read a story, “Wow! She’s gone through so much.” I was touched by everyone’s stories of survival and felt honored to be amongst that group of women.

The night of The Raw Beauty Project L.A.
All attendees were deeply touched, too, and that was powerful to see. I remember thinking, “I myself have sustained a disability, and I’m touched… So I can ONLY imagine how other people are feeling!” My fiancĂ© came up to me so moved by everything. I know it was eye opening for people to see so many beautiful women in wheelchairs together, too.

This project is something that touched many people’s hearts and minds. It helps everyone involved see how powerful the human spirit is, how potential and opportunities are endless, and how beautiful we all in our own ways. I believe this project is transcending because it sparks up conversations that need to happen. I’m sure the conversations that took place at the event, did not just remain there, either. I am certain everyone who was there shared about this amazing project, the women, the stories and how much it affected everyone in a positive way. I am thankful, proud and honored to have been part of this.

To everyone reading this piece, please do a self-reflection on what you think is “beautiful” and I hope you see the beauty in all of these photos. (See ) Please realize a disability can affect anyone at anytime, no one is exempt from it. But just because you are born with one or acquire one, it does not mean you are less of a person, and it certainly does not mean you are not capable of living a productive, happy, and full life.

Tamara's exhibit photo
And to all women out there, YES you are worthy, YES, you are beautiful and your potential is LIMITLESS. Do not let anyone tell you differently. No matter how vulnerable or “raw” you’ve been at one point, by whatever circumstance you’ve been in, that “rawness” will shape you, build character and help you blossom into a great woman. Never let anyone limit you in anyway, or put down your self-worth. I’m thankful for projects like this because aside from helping the women involved; it is part of a very important movement that is urging the media and society at large to become more inclusive and diverse. We should be seeing people with disabilities more and more, as we are part of society and there is so much we are capable of doing.

To end, I’d like to share what I wanted people to see with my photos, from this particular shoot, is that a woman with a disability can be STRONG, POWERFUL, BEAUTIFUL, and SEXY too! Why not? ;). And it is time that we see that more and more! To all women ruling the world, keep pushing and rolling proud and strong! 

Special thanks to everyone involved with the Raw Beauty project. You helped change and empower many people, and I look forward to seeing how this will continue to transcend, because I know it WILL.

For more info on the Raw Beauty Project, please visit,

For more info on Tamara Mena, model, host, and speaker, visit

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