A Miami-based blog is featuring fashion shoots with women who have battled cancer. It’s called Wear To Now. The women get photo shoots with professional hair, makeup and styling for free. The blog is trying to help women embrace their scars.
Lori Cuellar posed for the camera at Matheson Hammock Park. The morning sun was hitting her. Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline were in the background.
The 51-year-old wore a halter dress with tribal prints that fell to the ground, covered with seaweed. Black horizontal lines were painted on her face to complete the fierce look.
A large blue-and-green feather earring hung from her left earlobe. Cuellar is missing the top half of that ear.
"I let a scab on my ear go for several years without anything being done to it, so I ended up losing the better portion of an ear to skin cancer," she says.
The Miami resident was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma about seven years ago. She’s the sixth local cancer survivor featured in the Wear To Now fashion blog.
Cuellar’s 27-year-old daughter, Renee, encouraged her to do this photo shoot. ("She tends to be a little shy, a little timid being around a lot of people, and she kind of stays in her shell a little bit.")
So doing a full-day photo shoot like this isn’t quite in Lori’s nature.
"I’ve never spent the day in front of a camera and posed," she said. "It was a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t think I’d find it that easy."
Lori started chemotherapy in July. And when her hair began to fall out in clumps, she shaved it all off. Her shaved head brought more attention to her ear and facial scars.
"We want them to show the reality, and we want to show them the beauty in their scars," says Edyna Garcia, the blog's 25-year-old creator.
Garcia started the blog in honor of her grandmother, who died from a stomach tumor last March at 83.
"She has so many traits that I aspire to have one day and if I could be somewhat like my grandmother, then I've become a really good woman," says Garcia.
Her grandmother, Hada Béjar Garcia, was an actress from Cuba who loved fashion.
"She was always dressed up. She was always beautiful and made-up and she always had some sort of red lipstick on," Garcia says.
Hada Béjar Garcia starred in telenovelas like "Olvidarte Jamás," "Angel rebelde," "Gata salvaje" and "Guadalupe."
"She was the person when I would buy something that I couldn't tell my mom I bought, I would be like, 'Grandma, look at what I bought,' and then she'd be like, 'That's awesome! Don't tell your mom either,'" Garcia remembers, laughing.
Garcia is a fashion stylist for the Wear To Now photo shoots and uses one piece of her grandmother’s jewelry in every shoot. She has four other women working with her: a hair stylist, makeup artist, photographer and videographer.
"My entire team does this pro bono," she says.
Leslie Lyn is the blog’s photographer. She also lost her grandmother to pancreatic cancer about 10 years ago. She says this blog honors her grandmother, too.
"The little complaints that we have everyday -- complaining about our bills and what to wear and all those little things -- is nothing compared to what these ladies are doing, and the strength they and to have to get through this and get where they are," Leslie said.
Lori Cuellar’s photoshoot wrapped up in the rainforest section of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
After the shoot was done, Lori looked over the photos.
"I’m not used to seeing myself baldheaded, for one thing, much less with all the makeup," Lori said. "I'm not used to seeing myself like a model."
About a month ago, Lori found out she’s cancer-free.
"I felt like today that I did beat cancer, that I did come out on top," Lori said. "Something that was hard for me and it can turn around and be such a beautiful experience."
Garcia, the blog’s creator, says Lori’s photoshoot will debut in June. For now, she’s working on making Wear To Now a nonprofit. Eventually, Garcia wants to take the blog national, featuring men and children, too.
"What I've fallen in love with the most is seeing them come to life, and that's just way better than putting an outfit together," she says.
WLRN is a part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.