What's Your Word: Vulnerable/Dignity

Marissa Southards

Few women possess the quiet strength that Ashley Moore wields. There is something saged about her eyes, her smile, and her statuesque frame. It’s as if she holds keys, waiting to give them to the chosen. Ashley is one of the inspirations of the artist, and her friend, Marissa Southards, continuing through the initial cycle of A1 of The Awakenings Project.  In being a part of A1, Ashley chose the following words:

  • vulnerable (above the tumor on her back)
  • tenacious (or her forearm)
  • the phrase still beautiful (on her “side fat rolls”*)
  • dignity (on her inner thigh)

When asked about her word choices, Ashley answered with this insight, “…I knew word choice would be a struggle for me so I asked five of my closest friends to describe me in five words. Among those friends tenacious seemed to be the consensus. Not knowing the true definition of the word, I looked it up. I was floored to have found out from my friends that I am determined and I don’t give up easily. I knew that I possessed those qualities, but now I knew my friends knew that too.”

In explaining Ashley’s participation in the Awakenings Project, you must understand a previous event on social media, in this case, Instagram. 

“Prior to the project [The Awakenings Project], I posted a topless picture on Instagram which reflect[ed] my stretch marks, the color of my skin, my true size. When I first posted it, I realized through criticism, I was vulnerable, however there was no need to ashamed because in my eye vulnerability shows strength, softness and courage. I chose this word because I am a hard-working, independent black woman. There are a lot of stereotypes that come along with that and vulnerability is not one of them. My own picture was a reflection to myself that I was not struggling with being vulnerable. I just never realized the alternative definition strength as most correlated being vulnerable to weakness.”

When reflecting on the other words chosen, Ashley explains why she chose the phrase still beautiful as a reminder to herself and those whom struggle with their body image, and what society says is acceptable beauty standards. Her word dignity came to her the day of her photo session. Dignity is an affirmation to all she that she is, represents and a Beyoncé twirl towards and to all the critics of her Instagram post. Ashley was not going to be deterred from owning who she is. 

If asked if she was or considered herself a feminist, Ashley is hesitant. Rather being constrained by the term, Ashley considers herself more of an activist than anything, especially considering the Ferguson Movement. Being a ‘feminist’ helps her be more proactive in her advocacy.  With life and its demands, she isn’t in the forefront or as active as she would like, but she indeed considers herself more of an activist than feminist.

Implementing her words in life beyond the project, Ashley says she’s not quite sure is she doing so consciously, because these are attributes she already possessed. However, she says The Awakenings Project helped to bring these attributes to the forefront. Since her time in A1, and after, Ashley reflects on the daily reminders that demonstrate she can be soft, she has strength and a determination to be seen by the world! Through this acceptance of herself, Ashley has become more accepting and encouraging of those in her circle.

May we all remember what it is to be vulnerable while still being beautiful.


Ashley Moore is an activist and St. Louis resident. Ashley has been an initial and integral supporter of the Awakenings Project since its inception in 2016.


*-The Awakenings Project does not condone or support body shaming, or disrespect of any participant whom has chosen to bare a part of her body for the camera, in any matter or format. The Awakenings Project is a safe space, promotes body positivity and appreciation of women and their strength. This phrase was used from and as a direct quote from the participant herself.

Artist note:  Ms. Moore, in her unapologetic view of the world, provided an inspiration and a push to step into myself, instead of allowing a society to continue to define who I was, am, and could be.  Knowing her is an honor.  Photographing one of my inspirations, was truly an unforgettable experience.  M.S. 

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