Health & Wellness

'I am movement' empowers women, allowing them to be open in moving photos

One woman is determined to turn a painful experience into an inspiring campaign for women.

After Ali Miller, now 20, was sexually assaulted in high school, she launched a photo project, “I am movement,” which features women reclaiming power from their vulnerabilities. Mental illness, body shame and abuse become sources of courage and strength for the 53 many women in the ongoing project, launched in March.

TODAY
Ali Miller launched a photo project, “I am movement,” which features women reclaiming power from their vulnerabilities.

The project has gone viral. Almost 1,500 people follow the "I am movement" on Instagram, but that's increasing at a steady pace — about every 10 minutes, a new person follows it. Each day, anywhere from two to six women email Miller asking to participate in the project.

“I know how hard it is to live in the 21st century,” Miller, a strategic communication major at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, told TODAY. “What I tell people is that ‘you need to share something that is scary for people to share. You need to get outside your comfort zone.’”

Courtesy of Ali Miller Photography
When Sydney Kaye was in preschool, an older boy tried to rape her. Since then, that day comes back to her as a nightmare, playing over and over again. She experienced anxiety, depression and fear. But she decided to not let one day define her and works to confront her feelings to live a healthy life.

Throughout high school, Miller coped with depression. The summer between her junior and senior years, she discovered that being drunk made it easier for her.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Courtesy of Ali Miller Photography

    I am not defined by that day.

    The I am movement

    Ali Miller wanted women to feel empowered so she started the 'I am movement' encouraging women to reclaim who they are.

  • I am a woman of color.

    The I am movement

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    I am a woman of color.

    Often the compliments Navya Prabhushankar hears seem conditional. "You're pretty ... for an Indian." But Prabhushankar did not want to be defined by narrow beauty standards. She knows that she is more than her skin color and appearance and she celebrates her strength, intelligence, independence, and creativity over her exoticism.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am not here to please you.

    The I am movement

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    I am not here to please you.

    Throughout life Megan Deslauriers doubted herself, causing her to be a follower. Yet she felt this was unfulfilling and decided to follow her own path. Charting her own way allowed her to realize that it's okay to be different than her friends.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am not a vicitm I am a survivor.

    The I am movement

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    I am not a vicitm I am a survivor.

    Ali Miller started the I am movement after she decided to become public about her sexual assault. When she was 17, a man she thought was a friend raped her while she was drunk. While she kept quiet at first, she realized she needed to tell her story so that others wouldn't feel alone if they also experienced sexual assault.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am in control of my own future.

    The I am movement

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    I am in control of my own future.

    Growing up, Andrea Dahl's parents always bickered and eventually divorced. Dahl developed trust issues and struggled with anxiety. She feared love, thinking her romantic future would be like her parents and she'd experience nothing but heartbreak. When she left home for college, she soon learned that she controlled her future and her love life didn't have to be scary and hurtful.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am schizo and proud.

    The I am movement

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    I am schizo and proud.

    After a house fire when she was 16, Anna Herpers began experiencing hallucinations. For years she felt ashamed of being schizophrenic and hid who she was, hoping that others would accept and love her. She soon realized that being schizophrenic was a strength not a weakness.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am not a cancer daughter.

    The I am movement

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    I am not a cancer daughter.

    When Hannah's father became sick with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2012, she put on a brave face to show the world. She felt like everyone pitied her because her dad had cancer. After he recovered, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She felt as if people only saw her as a daughter of people with cancer. But she realized that her parents were more than just cancer and she was more than just the daughter of cancer patients.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am not broken.

    The I am movement

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    I am not broken.

    Julia's ex-boyfriend often told her she was worthless and sexually abused her. While she left the relationship, feelings of worthlessness still lingered. She redefined herself as a survivor not a victim, taking the power away from her abusive ex. She struggles to be open and trusting, but understands she needs to improve day by day.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am present.

    The I am movement

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    I am present.

    Katherine Bosio lived in her mind, focusing on the past too much. She overthought and felt full of guilt, preventing her from enjoying her life at the moment. She stepped back and focused on the present, which helped her to gain insight and clarity that worrying could not. While she's still working at improving, she feels gratitude and awe.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am in control of my own life.

    The I am movement

    of

    I am in control of my own life.

    Growing up, Leah Rohweder never knew which mother she would meet at home. Her mom feared people and living life, but Rohweder didn't want fear to rule her life. She decided to be strong and fight to live life on her terms, not her mother's.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am beautiful in my own skin.

    The I am movement

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    I am beautiful in my own skin.

    When Elizabeth Ogunkanbi was 5, she and her family moved to Minnesota from Nigeria. Being surrounded by so many blond-haired, blue-eyed people made Ogunkanbi feel as if she didn't belong. She scrubbed her skin raw in the shower, hoping to lighten her skin and no longer be the "ugly girl" that no one wanted to play with. As she grew older, she realized her skin made her who she is and she is beautiful.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am changed by loss, but inspired to be more.

    The I am movement

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    I am changed by loss, but inspired to be more.

    After Lulu's father died of cancer, she became the emotional strength of her family. Growing up watching her mom struggle with depression felt difficult for Lulu especially as she struggled with her own anxiety and depression. While she still misses her father, she realizes this experience made her stronger, more empathetic, thoughtful, and caring.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am loving myself...better.

    The I am movement

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    I am loving myself...better.

    Two months into her freshman year of college, Maddy tried killing herself. She had long lived with depression and anxiety. But a friend found her, saw the pills on her desk, and rushed her to the hospital. After therapy, medication, and a weight loss of 40 pounds, Maddy learned to love herself. She feels grateful that her friend saved her and gave her the opportunity to practice self care so she can live a healthy life.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am not defined by the numbers on a scale.

    The I am movement

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    I am not defined by the numbers on a scale.

    Growing up Maria Perez was overweight and felt worthless. As she shed the weight and improved her physical health, her mental health strengthened, too. She knows she's more than a weight and no longer allows society to define how she should look--and feel.

    Courtesy of Ali Miller Photograp
  • I am straight, gay, bi, happy.

    The I am movement

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    I am straight, gay, bi, happy.

    After Ali Miller took Monica Nordgren's picture, Nordgren began crying. She felt so happy to finally come out as bisexual. She feared the judgement she would face but she now feels proud that she can fall in love with both men and women.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am worthy of love from myself and others.

    The I am movement

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    I am worthy of love from myself and others.

    Nikki Dietz often heard the advice "be yourself." Yet she wondered why she would want to be herself; she often felt she wasn't pretty enough, smart enough, or good enough. While she long struggled with her self esteem, she realized she was enough. She started being kind to herself, loving her for her a bit more each day.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography
  • I am not defined by that day.

    The I am movement

    of

    I am not defined by that day.

    When Sydney Kaye was in preschool an older boy tried raping her. Since then, that day came back to her as a nightmare, playing over and over again. She experienced anxiety, depression, and fear. But she decided to not let one day define her and works to confront her feelings to live a healthy life.

    Courtesy of Ali Miller Photograp
  • I am not a representation of my past.

    The I am movement

    of

    I am not a representation of my past.

    In middle school Taylor Everett began experiencing mental health problems and she felt alienated from her friends because she thought she was abnormal. By the time she was in high school every day was a struggle, but she started talking about her mental health. She found she grew stronger and hopes that others experiencing the same thing do not feel afraid to talk about it.

    Courtesy of Ali Miller Photograp
  • I am bigger than tears and bruises

    The I am movement

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    I am bigger than tears and bruises

    Growing up, an adult man in Taylor Mueller's life repeatedly told her she was worthless. That constant verbal abuse sunk in and she believed it. Then when she was 16, someone sexually assaulted her, making her feel even more worthless. After confronting the abuse and sexual assault, she regained some of her power. She will never let another person take her worth from her again.

    Courtesy Ali Miller Photography

One night, after drinking an entire liter of vodka at a party, a young man she thought was a friend picked her up, took her to an empty house, where he pushed her onto a mattress, bashing her head against the wall, knocking her unconscious. She woke the next morning feeling sore, with deep purple bruises on her thighs.

RELATED: Lady Gaga reveals family learned of her sexual assault during Oscars performance

She texted him to see what happened and he told her nothing. But, she still visited Planned Parenthood for Plan B. Later the man's friends told Miller that he bragged about having sex with a passed-out girl. Miller went to the police but there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.

She didn’t let that stop her from speaking out about her rape.

“The more people that actually start talking about this … the more people will understand what rape is and what consent means. The more that we talk about it, the more likely change will happen,” Miller said.

RELATED: Stanford rape case: Brock Turner's sentence sparks outrage as hero speaks out

Her guiding principal — to live openly — has long been motivated by Taylor Swift’s “Teardrops on My Guitar."

“Because she had gone so public with her feelings, I wanted to be, too," said Miller. "That is how I became so open and so talkative, and that shaped this obsession with vulnerability that I have,” she said. “Being this open, and embracing these sides of me … it’s really helped me connect more easily to people.”

The "I am movement" project isn't only about sexual assault — it covers many of the challenges women confront growing up and in their daily lives. The photos include two images of each woman: one staring directly at the camera; one holding a sign, revealing past difficulties, insecurities or struggles.

“It’s definitely been overwhelming. Everyone feels so relieved” after taking the pictures, said Miller.

She hopes it continues to grow.

“I would love nothing more than for this to become a nationwide movement,” she said. “I would love for this to affect other people.”

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