Leslie, 38

“The concept of the shoot really spoke to me. I love the transformation that happens with makeup—it’s a fun way to express myself and makes me feel good. But it doesn’t define my beauty—and it shouldn’t. I hope that my photos with a naked face can help other women feel more comfortable about not wearing makeup all the time.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks its own tissue. It affects the lining of my joints causing painful swelling that may lead to bone erosion and joint deformity and also causes extreme fatigue. The best way to describe it is—it sucks. The pain can be unbearable at times, nearly immobilizing me. When I’m in a flare, I can’t even unscrew the cap on my toothpaste tube. I was frustrated and depressed and thought I’d be relegated to living a “less-than” life.

Once I got over my pity-party, I found the right physician to help me design the best course of treatment to get it under control. Since then, the flares are fewer and farther between and I’ve resumed activities like running and weight training. Ironically, the disease has given me a new outlook on health— I now exercise because it makes my body feel good and helps me manage a chronic condition instead of working out to look good. Being part of this photo shoot was a way for me to celebrate how far I’ve come mentally and physically in the past three years. And now I’ll have photo reminders that I’m strong and won’t let a disease control my life.”