There's nothing more beautiful than being your truest, most authentic self. For Tamara Dodds, getting there was a long journey.
While she was assigned "male" at birth, Tamara knew early on that she just didn't fit in.
"I've always struggled with the idea that I had a feminine side," she says.
"I think it was grade seven when I finally decided that I was going to try putting lipstick on," she says. "So I did and I nearly cried because I loved it."
Since she didn't feel like she could express who she truly was yet, Tamara says she closed herself off from others. She hunched. She didn't talk to people. She forced herself into a stereotypical gender role that wasn't right for her.
Tamara Dodds. All photos via Maybelline.
This went on for 25 years.
"I did a photo shoot with a friend and I realized that the biggest difference is that I was smiling as a girl and as a guy I was just kind of forcing it." Tamara says. "I was never really happy."
Not being able to be open about who she was for over two decades took its toll on Tamara. And, unfortunately her experience is far from unique.
Despite the progress the transgender community has made in the past several decades, coming out is still an incredibly difficult proposition. According to recent research, trans people in America face a disproportionate amount of violence and discrimination. Staying silent about one's gender identity, however, also comes with the risk of many negative outcomes, including emotional distress and self-harm.
For many, this means a choice of hiding who they are or risking backlash from those who don't understand.
"There is a stigma on being trans," Tamara says. "There is absolutely a fear associated with coming out. "You're worried about losing people that you care about."
"It makes me sad she was in such pain," says Monica Prata, the gender consultant who worked with Tamara on refining her femininity.
"The number of trans people who contemplate suicide is incredibly high. It's a byproduct of feeling like you're not accepted for you are. You can't share who you are with the world."
However, when Tamara made the choice to live out loud, she discovered something important: She felt truly beautiful.
Society's standards of beauty are incredibly narrow. Turn on a television, pick up a magazine, and you'll see the same types of faces and bodies staring back at you. So what do you do when you feel like yours doesn't fit?
For Tamara, coming out allowed her to discover who she is inside, and that person is radiant. Part of that was figuring out what makeup and attire helped her be as feminine on the outside as she felt on the inside.
"I started to realize that as a woman I was coming out of my shell and I was communicating with people," she says. "Isn't that how life is supposed to be lived?"
"I wanted to stop hiding."
"It's not putting on a dress or putting on heels that make you a woman, it's how you feel wearing those things that makes you who you are," Tamara says. "I am a woman. There is no doubt about that. I've always been one. It's that I needed to unlock it. "
"You have an image in your head of what you want to look like...to meet that expectation is incredibly emotional because you never actually expect to meet the expectation."
Tamara is standing up for what's truly important. And she's helping others find their true selves, too.
She's not just being true to herself by being open about who she is. She's making a statement that transcends society's idea of what a woman "should" be, because being a woman isn't about what you wear or how you fix your hair. It's about strength, courage, and the knowledge that no matter who you are, you deserve to be treated with kindness, love, and respect.
"Being a woman to me is being unafraid of what people think, unafraid of how people will treat you," Tamara says. Every trans person deserves to be loved because we're all in this together."
"I hope that anybody struggling with what I struggled with just decides to be yourself," she adds. "And never give up on your dreams because they're possible. They're absolutely possible."
"I'm here right now. I didn't think that was gonna happen. But it did."
To learn more about Tamara's story, check out the video below: