As a woman, I feel it’s fairly universal for us to have “girl crushes.” Personally, I have quite a few and one of my favorites is the charming Manda Lee, the brilliant visionary behind the Lifestyle/Fashion Blog, Evocatively Chosen. Amanda, or “Manda” as she’s known in the Instagram world, is a lovely wife and mother to two beautiful young children. What I love about Manda is that she’s real, authentic, compassionate, kind and super supportive. She’s one of those women that always knows just what to say to lift you up when life throws things your way. She has quite a gift in connecting with others and she’s a fashionista on a whole different level. I’m honored to introduce you to the beautiful and talented, Manda Lee Smith.
CGO: Hi Manda. It’s been lovely getting to know you in the virtual world and thank you for letting us get to know a little more about you. I love learning what’s behind the image. You started your blog with two young children under foot. That couldn’t have been easy. Take me back to the very beginning of this journey and what inspired you to begin at that time?
ML: We’re originally from Florida and we took the opportunity to move to South Carolina so my husband could pursue a slightly different career path. I was pregnant with my son and starting a blog served mainly as a way to keep our families up to date with what we were doing. It was also. a way for me to discuss being a new mother and how that changed the way I thought about style. As it became more of a business and less of a hobby, I quickly realized documenting my family time took away the organic special quality I loved about spending time together. From there it very naturally transitioned to a style blog. I found I was thriving on expressing myself artistically as a content creator and I enjoyed learning more about photography. I found that I really valued the blogging community and loved the support.
CGO: The blogging world isn’t an easy world. Frankly, I’m a bit in shock as to how much work is entailed in becoming a Fashion Blogger. Can you describe a typical day, if there is a typical day?
ML: Just as you said, there’s always so much to learn, looks to shoot, emails to write, deadlines to keep up with, and meetings to attend. The list is always a mile long. But in addition to blogging I’m a stay at home mother. Being Mama is always my first priority. I have a pretty strict schedule to ensure that I’m present in the moment with my children. The reality is that most of my day is spent running around with them and cooking. It’s not super glamorous but it’s definitely something I felt I was called to do.
CGO: What inspires you on a daily basis?
ML: Most of the time I pull style inspiration from unexpected sources. Last week I found a prussian blue floral mosaic that conceptually awakened me from a creative fog I’ve been in. That mosaic has inspired a completely new feel to my photography and editing choices. Since I know this is how I create, I always carry a polaroid and journal so that I can examine and respond to whatever it is that’s provoking feeling from me at a later time.
CGO: I love that about you! It’s a great visual and a wonderful idea for inspiring creativity. You recently wrote a blog post that was very touching and quite vulnerable. I applaud your authenticity as I know how scary it can feel to open up and share your personal struggles. What motivates you to open your heart in such an authentic way?
ML: I’m motivated by the fact that it hasn’t always been easy for me to open up my heart in an authentic way. However, with the small amount of wisdom I’ve gained at the age of 27, I know how healing it is to share those sort of things. More importantly, I know that there are always others going through something similar to me and to be a light in someone else’s life or to help them just to see that it’s okay and they’re not the only one, is beyond my own insecurities of sharing some of my own struggles and something I feel obligated to do.
CGO: There’s such beauty in vulnerability and I’ve enjoyed many of your courageous posts opening your heart. You have such a lovely and unique sense of style that really drew me to your gallery. Describe your style philosophy?
ML: Thank you. My style philosophy is something I take pride in because it’s been such a transformative idea for me. I’ve always felt pressure to define my style and had the innate sense that in doing so it was also defining who I was. I evolve and change a bit every day, as do my emotions ,and so naturally that reflects through my style choices. Once I stopped trying to fit myself into a box, styling became much more relaxed. It became more creative and personal. My blog name is centered around this thought. Your style is an evocative choice you make each day. It can be the same or different depending on the women you are but never feel the need to fit yourself into one category if that’s not a true representation of you.
CGO: It’s so important to embrace what’s unique and distinctive about you. You have worked with some amazing brands. What has been your favorite collaboration?
ML: I couldn’t give you just one as I have special relationships with so many of the brands I’ve collaborated with, each exceptional in their own way. However, I will say that I have a soft spot for the small privately owned companies that are on a mission to spread awareness and do good. These are companies that believe that life is more about spreading happiness and love then making a dollar. I love working with companies that are aligned with my values.
CGO: In your wildest dreams, who would be your ultimate brand collaboration?
ML: I would have to say Stella McCartney. I admire her responsibility to the environment and the impact she creates being a designer that is so tuned in with the ripple she’s creating in the industry to shift gears in the thought process in elemental design for future generations. She’s a powerful woman and a wonderful role model.
CGO: I’ve always admired Stella McCartney. She’s a great choice! I’m a big proponent of women supporting women. I absolutely love the added inspiration from the recent Women’s March. What impact did this have on you personally?
ML: Surprisingly, the Women’s March is something that I have mixed emotions about. I do think it’s amazing to come together and support one another in love but I’d be lying if I said I agree with all the reasons for the march or as a woman I’ve ever felt discriminated against in any way. I’m very thankful for that as I’m aware that many women have experienced things that I have not. What’s really beautiful and thought provoking is the rights we do have as women. The only reason we have those rights are because of the valiant efforts of the women and men who stood up and crusaded to make it so. The march definitely reflects that amazing right we now have and the courage it takes to create change.
CGO: That’s a beautiful perspective. What has been your greatest challenge or obstacle in your fashion blogging journey?
ML: The learning curve in general has been my biggest challenge. There’s a always a plethora of information to learn and I think it can be easy to rush through some things and not really take the time to learn your craft. The longer I spend at fashion blogging, the longer I realize that being detailed and specific about your intention, time, and really doing your research, will save you so much energy AND money.
CGO: That’s so true and very wise of you. Three words to describe you.
ML: Dependable, Compassionate, and Creative
CGO: And, wonderful qualities they are! Most of us have a hard time finding balance in our lives. As a young mother of two, a wife and a fashion blogger, how do you achieve balance in your life?
ML: Ah the word balance. I wish I could say I have a specific formula and that I have it all together but that’s just not the case. I go through seasons where I’m great about maintaining balance and other times it’s difficult. What I have found is that being very purposeful about my schedule and carving out ‘me’ time is very life giving. That may mean that I can’t meet all of the needs for work at once. It can also mean something as simple of devoting 10 minutes to quiet time, or treating myself with a facemask before bed. I’ve found that it’s the little things that add up to a more happy and balanced life.
CGO: That’s a beautiful perspective. I see a change happening in the blogging world as many bloggers are finally opening up and beginning to show more of their personality. How do you feel about bringing your followers more into your inner world and showing what’s behind the image?
ML: I think for some people (myself included) it can be a challenging thing to really allow the world in when you first start blogging. However, I see so much value in being an open book and I think it’s something that has begun to be a very natural thing for me. Allowing my followers in and being approachable has led to some really amazing relationships that are way greater than the risk I take of being judged.
CGO: And, I love that you share those aspects of your personality. The game of life isn’t an easy one for any of us. There are real personal struggles in this journey. What’s your greatest struggle?
ML: As you know, the end of last year and beginning of this year have been very trying times in my life personally. So much of the positivity in my life comes from my husband and children but also from my followers and all of the other delightful bloggers I’ve met. Maintaining joy has never been difficult in my life but in this season I’d say I’ve had to fight harder for it. It makes me even more thankful for my family and even more thankful for this community to be able to go through times like this and know that there are so many wonderful people that encourage me.
CGO: Yes, it’s vital to our well being to have a deep sense of connection and support from those who love us. For most of us, personal style evolves over time. I imagine your style has changed since you began this journey. How has your style evolved?
ML: The biggest movement in the evolution of my style was when I stopped allowing others to categorize me and stopped doing it to myself as well. I think the more we embrace our most authentic versions we stop caring how others view us because we’re sound in who we are. Many days, my style changes from one moment to the next and I’ve learned to accept and embrace the many different versions of myself.
CGO: That’s a wonderful lesson! In our culture, it’s common for women to suffer from low self esteem. Personally, I had to work through major self worth issues and I see that as fairly universal in the fashion blogging world. Have you ever been impacted by low self esteem and if so, what impact did it have on you?
ML: Prior to blogging and getting married I competed in pageants. You would think I was surrounded with extremely confident secure women. However, low self esteem ran rampant. I saw some of the most intelligent, witty, and beautiful women crumble under comparison. I, too, fell victim to comparing myself to others thinking it would somehow help me. If I could emulate what they did, I would surely become Miss Florida USA right? Thankfully, along came such a blessing , my coach, who focused so much of what she taught on keeping your blinders on and focusing on being your most authentic self. She taught us to know what we stood for and what we believed in. That means when we were asked a question, we weren’t giving an answer that was what we thought others wanted to hear, we were answering based off of our values and our own opinions. She really challenged us to know where we stood on so many topics of life. That alone builds confidence. Prior to coaching with her, I didn’t break top 15. Now I didn’t win Miss Florida, but when I became secure and knowledgeable about who I was, I was able to emulate that on stage and came very close as 2nd runner up. I think blogging is a very similar world. When I see a young women struggling with this, it’s very very important to me to encourage them in the same way I was encouraged, as an impressionable 20 year old young woman.
CGO: That’s a very powerful story and one I’ve never heard before. How has the experience of being a Fashion Blogger changed you as a person and is there anything else in your heart that you’d like to share?
ML: The most profound thing is that I’ve been able to open and show my heart in a time where everything inside me was wanting to close it off. The world is much much bigger than what you see right in front of you. I’m thankful and encouraged that I can continue to share and learn about others and obviously wear some cute clothes along the way!
As far as what’s in my heart, I’d just like to encourage anyone that’s starting a new venture to give yourself grace, embrace who you are, stay focused, always push forward, give and receive help openly, and never stop believing. If you do these things and have people who hold you accountable, you can literally do anything. I feel like this should be a Hallmark card but as corny as it all is, it’s very true.
You can find Catherine Grace O’Connell at CatherineGraceO.com. She is on Instagram and Facebook as well as Twitter as @catherinegraceo. You can find out more about The Fierce 50 Campaign and how you can help us and join the Movement by sending an email to [email protected].
Originally published at medium.com