Finding words to properly introduce our next Real Beauty Series guest is hard for me. This is the woman with whom I shared a room for three years, the woman who saw my best and worst days as I recovered from anorexia. This is a woman full of grace, who can stop me in my tracks when I dearly need a reality check. Before I admitted my struggle with body image and food to Shuen-en, I wondered if she’d actually understand. Shuen-en is Tawainese, and I wasn’t sure she saw or understood the heartbreaking way American culture pushes women toward restrictive eating and overexercise. But, she did, she does, and I’m sure the longer she spends in the States, the more she’ll grasp of it.

Knowing Shuen-en understood the cultural pressures I as an American woman felt was encouraging, sad and perplexing to me. She was raised in entirely different countries – Taiwan, Burkina Faso and Oman – than me. She speaks a multitude of languages, while I speak one and stumble through three, and she likely has a far better understanding of the international world than I ever will. She’s a psychologist, I’m a photographer. Yet, regardless of culture, regardless of our upbringings, this capable woman still experiences the struggle to see herself as her Creator sees her, as she really is – beautiful.

Shuen-en / Real Beauty Series

“When I was younger, my self-esteem was based on others’ acceptance. If I can go back to my younger self, I would like to tell her that self-esteem should flow from self, not others or the environment.

My biggest struggle with self-esteem is that I was very sensitive to environmental feedback of my behavior. I was always careful in doing behaviors that were liked by others and was afraid to be different. I based my self-esteem on other’s acceptance and was never satisfied. When in college, I met a friend who I see as very confident, and that confidence attracts people toward her. That is when I realized that full acceptance of self is the start of confidence. Only when we know what we are missing, and only when we are aware of who we are and okay with who we are, we can have confidence in who we are. Confidence flows out when we accept who we are, not when we are “perfect.” We can never be perfect. We can only be fully ourselves.

I am still continually struggling with self-esteem issues. It is easy to fall into the cycle of self-blame and shame when the environment is not encouraging. But each time I feel challenged, I remind myself that nobody is perfect, and each obstacle helps me grow more lead to more understanding and acceptance of myself.”

– Shuen-en

Dear Rooms, 

Having your voice join this series means the world to me. You and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but you are always loving and gracious. Thank you for walking with me through recovery, for asking unexpected questions, and sharing unexpected answers to my questions. Thank you for making me take two bites of every new food you introduced – for the record, seafood is gross. 

Your college roomie,


Get involved! Click here so you don’t miss the rest of this powerful series.

Check out the #realbeautyseries!