“Your beauty isn’t measured by how others think of you. Beauty comes from deep within. Beauty grows out of the ashes that lay at your feet from the fiery darts that missed you by an inch. Beauty comes from the scars that you proudly wear because even though it might have touched you, it didn’t kill you! Beauty flows from your lips when you are there to uplift and encourage others even when you feel like you won’t make it through yourself. Beauty is when you are strong enough to let go and not look back. Beauty is when you remember that the maker did not make any mistakes when he created you. Beauty is when you walk into the unknown but know that you will walk out victorious. Beauty is beside you, above you, below you, and within you. YOU are the definition of beauty.” – Athena
Athena, tell us about yourself!
My name is Athena Palode-Hopkins. I am 29 years old, and I was born and raised in Pearlington, MS. I am the oldest of 8 children, all of us being miracles!
I work as a library assistant at the Waveland Library and I love my job! I get to see so many different people from many different walks of life every day. Recently, I became the owner of my own little online gift shop called Goddess Gifts. I make all sorts of things with my hands. God gave me many talents, and using my hands to create beautiful works of art is definitely one of them. I am also a big believer in the Lord. I would not be the person I am today or even where I am today if it wasn’t for HIM. Throughout my life, I have experienced many heartaches, pains, and dark days that even I know that I could not have made it out of on my own. Each of those trials has formed and shaped me into the beautiful woman that God had intended me to be, and I will be forever grateful to him for it!
How did you come to understand your inner beauty?
Understanding my inner beauty has not been an easy process. As a matter of fact, I think I am still understanding it as my life goes on.
Growing up I was always different from those around me. Being a preacher’s daughter, I dressed and talked differently. I was made fun of because of the clothes I wore and the fact that I could not watch or listen to certain things. I was also a very plump kid most of my life and that made it even harder to feel beautiful or accepted by anyone. All of the insecurities I had about myself lead me down a dark path that seemed would never end. All I wanted was to be loved for who I was and for how I looked.
To go along with those insecurities, God gifted me with a big heart. I always wanted to see the good in people no matter how bad they seemed. All of the things combined ending up turning into depression and anxiety. I found myself in situations I would have never thought I would be in. I fell in love with the idea of trying to save others from themselves, which led me to be in toxic relationships. I ended up having a miscarriage which sent me down further into my already deep dark hole. I turned to anything and everything to try to get myself through or feel that love that I so longed for. I endured emotional, mental, verbal, and even some physical abuse at times. That isn’t real love. I was so lost that I didn’t even know who I was anymore.
It took finding my way back to God and going to therapy to really understand how I got so far off the path and lost my identity.
Even then I still had my fight with demons that would plague my mind on a daily basis. “You aren’t good enough.” “You are worthless.” “Why does everything bad have to happen to me?” “Will I ever be happy?” “What did I do to deserve all of this?” Those were the things I would hear playing in my head non-stop. I was blessed with a group of female friends that would hold me accountable and reassure me that things will get better and that I am a very loved and beautiful individual. They would pray with me and take extra time out of their day to just be there for me, and I would do the same for them.
Eventually, God blessed me with my husband who is a wonderful man who took the time to understand me for who I was. He also had the ability to encourage me to leave fear behind and to discover the wonderful gifts that God has blessed me with. He supported me and worked with me every step of the way until I become better, more stable. This year has been the best year for my mental health. I have barely had any depressive episodes and I feel more alive than I have felt in a very long time.
Every day still has its challenges and trials still pop up from time to time. My husband and I desire to start a family of our own so badly. After almost 3 years of marriage, we still have not been able to do so. Recently I was given a diagnosis that put a lot of things into perspective. I cried and wept. I felt sorry for myself. I even started to feel like less of a woman. But then I remembered that God has gotten me through this far, what is stopping him from getting me through this? That’s how I know that I understand what inner beauty really is. I am strong enough and have enough faith to believe that my story doesn’t end here. God loves to create beauty out of ashes. He has made me a warrior!
What parts of your story can you share to help women to understand their own beauty?
Your beauty isn’t measured by whether a man wants you or not. Your beauty isn’t measured by how your face or your hair looks. Your beauty isn’t measured by how others think of you. Beauty comes from deep within. Beauty grows out of the ashes that lay at your feet from the fiery darts that missed you by an inch. Beauty comes from the scars that you proudly wear because even though it might have touched you, it didn’t kill you! Beauty flows from your lips when you are there to uplift and encourage others even when you feel like you won’t make it through yourself. Beauty is when you are strong enough to let go and not look back. Beauty is when you remember that the maker did not make any mistakes when he created you. Beauty is when you walk into the unknown but know that you will walk out victorious. Beauty is beside you, above you, below you, and within you. YOU are the definition of beauty.
What did the shoot mean to you? What did it feel like to be selected?
This experience meant the world to me! This was the first time that someone actually made sure that I was pampered and felt beautiful in every which way the word could mean. It also helped me feel special and realize that in God’s eyes, my story is meant to be told and not kept a secret. I was overjoyed to be chosen with this beautiful gift and the platform to share my story so that it can touch the other lives of women out there like me! If I can just touch one soul, that would be enough!
Working with Brandi on this photoshoot was amazing! From the moment I stepped through the front door until the second I walked out, I felt nothing but love and kindness. The studio itself was a very warm and inviting atmosphere that helped you feel right at home! Kasper was a pleasure to work with! He took his time to really capture my beauty from every angle! He paid attention to what I liked and didn’t like and had the ability to get me to open up and shake off any nervousness I felt. He really worked his magic on me and I looked like an absolute goddess!
Brandi came in and worked her magic on me as well! She made sure that I knew how beautiful I was and how beautiful my story was. She knew what poses would bring out the real Athena that was sheepishly trapped inside. We had fun! We laughed! It was just an overall awesome experience.
After the shoot, I had a small medical emergency and Brandi stayed with me until things passed. She did not have to do that, but I am so grateful that she did. She catered to all of my needs and sat and listened to more of my story and gave me words of wisdom and encouragement. I didn’t know how much I needed a day like that day until after my shoot was over. I was at peace and felt so renewed!
Anything else you’d like to share?
I just want to say to keep doing what you are doing, Mrs. Brandi! Let God continue to use you and your beautiful gift to change how women see and feel about themselves. This project is really changing lives and I pray that by doing this God amplifies that endless beauty that you already possess within yourself!
Your trial have helped to shape you into the strong and beautiful woman that you are!
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