Beauty is… Wholeness |Danika Brysha Part 2

May 27, 2016


Photos C/O:  Abbi Cooley H+MU: Melina Ruiz

When the modeling jobs stopped coming in, I quickly found myself in a pretty rough financial situation.

A few times a week I rented my apartment on AirBNB to make some money. I borrowed from my family and sent desperate emails to the accounting department at my agency to rush my last few paychecks.

I was so stressed, and felt isolated because I couldn’t even spend $3 to get coffee with a friend. I was two months late on rent and too depressed to reach out for help.

Something had to change.

I decided to inventory my day to see how I spent my time and figure out how to make money doing what I was already doing. The personal inventory showed I spent a lot of time sharing recipes and cooking for friends.

I shared my health journey on social media, and had built a great following. I also spent time answering emails from people who said that clean eating was a challenge: they didn’t know how to cook, they didn’t have time, they thought it was too expensive, they were overwhelmed with where to start.

I knew if they could feel the same high that I felt after transforming my diet, that they’d be more motivated to create it for themselves. But they needed a head start.

So I began cooking out of my tiny apartment kitchen – with no dishwasher, no dining table, no culinary training, and no business experience.

My clientele grew naturally and the next thing I knew I had a legitimate business. I couldn’t afford a taxi so I’d walk to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and lug 100 lbs of groceries home on the subway. I’d cook Whole30 compliant meals, photograph them, print a menu with all the ingredients, pack a cooler bag, and deliver them by foot and train all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. My landlord helped me install a second refrigerator in my studio apartment. Model Meals was born.

I started making videos and posting them to YouTube. I covered everything from “My Trader Joe’s Shopping List” to “5 Ways I Practice Self-Care Daily”. After all, the word “model” in Model Meals is about being a role model of how to live and eat cleaner.

But there was an issue: cooking out of my apartment was not only illegal, it was also limiting, in terms of how many people I could reach with this message.

Whole30 had been the catalyst for a complete lifestyle change: I’d developed a regular practice of meditation, fitness, getting great sleep, avoiding alcohol, journaling, and so much more. If I could help more people experience this lifestyle, it could completely change the world.

But I couldn’t reach the world by cooking for 10 people, and my apartment kitchen was at capacity. If I wanted to really do this I would have to get out of the desperate financial situation I’d fallen into.

I decided to move back to California and live with my parents. I packed my 200 pound dog into a rental car and drove cross country. Once I got settled, I teamed up with two amazing women to take Model Meals to the next level. In August of 2015, with no investment or business plan, we started cooking out of a shared kitchen space in Orange County, California and the rest is history.

Through sharing content online, I was discovered by one of the top talent agents in the world. I signed with William Morris Endeavor, and we are in the process of producing a show that will allow me to take my message of wellness to the mainstream.

I am rebuilding my modeling career with a focus on finding success at whatever size my body chooses to settle in. I’m working hard and remaining optimistic, but most importantly, I am putting my energy and soul into something I deeply believe in.

To me, being whole means being cohesive. Being one. And that starts with being whole within myself so that I can be a part of the greater “whole” in this world. I have created my dream life — and it started with food. After all, “If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?”


Danika Brysha

To learn more about Danika + her amazing journey with Model Meals check out her stuff.  We think she’s LEGIT!

Beauty is… Wholeness | Danika Brysha Part 1

May 26, 2016


Photos C/O:  Abbi Cooley H+MU: Melina Ruiz

I never knew how much the word “whole” would define my life. Frankly I didn’t even know what it meant to be whole. I lived my life being disconnected from myself. My body and the image I had of it had been a source of pain for me for so long that I got really good at not living in it.

I spent 15 years of my life trying to lose weight.  I wanted to be a model, but what I really wanted was to be beautiful, to be enough, to look like the women I saw in the magazines and on television.

There was just one problem. I didn’t look like them.

So I started dieting. I started with Weight Watchers, moved on to Atkins, and made many diet pitstops in between. The diets were successful, but the weight would come back so I’d try something new.

When I was in high school a friend taught me to throw up my meals and I felt I’d found the easy way out.  I didn’t have the wisdom to know that the easy way is never really easy.

I clearly remember the day I was crowned Homecoming Queen.   I came home from school and threw up all the “bad” foods I’d eaten. Then I washed my face, wiped my eyes, and zipped up my white satin dress. I went to the homecoming game, rode in a convertible in front of thousands, and my name went up in fireworks.

People often asked me how I stayed so happy.  The truth was, I simply became whoever would make them happy. I felt like such a fraud.


In college I started doing illegal drugs that were appetite suppressants, and I used alcohol to numb my feelings. It was an endless cycle. Pain… eat… guilt… more pain… eat…  I was convinced I’d die from it. I never thought that food could also be the key to my happiness.

After graduation, I realized that nothing had changed. I’d been fighting my weight, chasing the fashion model dream for 10 years, and I looked more or less the same. I was exhausted and I decided I’d never diet again.  Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a model.

In 2011, after relaxing into my “bigger” body, I was approached to be a modeling agent who represented a wide range of sizes.  I signed with them and my career took off.

For the very first time, I felt like it was okay to be a size 14. The next thing I knew, my face was plastered on the Forever 21 website, in the aisles of Target, and opportunities began popping up everywhere. I was living my dream — and it happened because I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t.

I signed with Wilhelmina Models and moved to NYC to find more work and make a fresh start.  I didn’t want to be the party girl anymore. I didn’t want to be the chubby, funny friend or the people pleaser.  I was living on my own and I could be anyone I wanted to be.

I had been experimenting with changing my diet to deal with digestive issues and brain fog, and the results were phenomenal.  Then I stumbled upon Whole30 – a month-long challenge to eliminate processed foods, grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol — anything that could potentially be wreaking havoc in the body. There was no calorie counting or hunger involved, and I liked that.

The program has a strong focus on breaking habits and encouraging mindfulness. I was deathly afraid of falling back into the diet-binge cycle, but this felt different. I committed to the challenge for the first month of 2014.

I’d just moved into my new apartment in the West Village and life was good. By the end of the month I’d lost 15 pounds and was in disbelief at how good I felt. My mind was clear, my energy was high, my skin was glowing, and my stomach was flat.  I wanted to keep feeling that way, so I kept at it.

But by April I faced a scenario I couldn’t have predicted. I’d lost 30 lbs… and all of my plus size modeling jobs. I went from a size 14 to a size 8/10 and the phone stopped ringing.

I had an expensive NYC apartment and no paycheck. I could rebuild my career at my new size, but it could take years to build a new portfolio and consistent clients.I had to act quickly.

My new lifestyle was too good to let go of, and I knew I had to share what I’d learned with others. But I also had to make money. And so I decided I’d find a way to make my passion into my living….

More to come on tomorrow’s Part II Post.


Danika Brysha

To learn more about Danika + her amazing journey with Model Meals check out her stuff.  We think she’s LEGIT!


May 24, 2016

You know that feeling when it’s still kinda cold outside but if you sit really still in the sunshine and there’s no breeze you can *almost* pretend it’s summer?

Here’s the perfect solution: a fresh pair of cropped jeans that will take you through the last of those chilly spring days and well beyond those lazy summer ones.

We have been big fans of AYR for ages and today we are excited to partner with them to give away a pair of Vibes Jeans to one lucky reader!

All you have to do is comment on this post and tell us where you’ll wear them this summer!

See how we styled our Summer Vibes :

AYR Vibes IMG_3102 IMG_3020 IMG_3085
IMG_3113 AYR.VibeJeans.KatHarris7 AYR.VibeJeans.KatHarris1 AYR.VibeJeans.KatHarris2 AYR.VibeJeans.KatHarris3 AYR.VibeJeans.KatHarris5

Photos of Kat c/o Sara Keren



May the odds be ever in your favor


Kat + Em


**this post is in partnership with AYR … thank you for supporting posts that keep The Refined Woman’s doors open.

Boss Ladies | Hugette Montesinos-Rodriguez

May 19, 2016


She may be one of the most colorful, free-spirited, soulful, grounded women I know.  These images will give you a peek at how spirit-filled her life is, but wait until you thumb through her magazine, DisFunkshion.  It has a message of purpose, hope and adventure to women.  Connected through mutual friends, we’ve been pen pals and phone buddies for the last 7 years.  Hugette has a deep soul, and she dives right in on your first meeting.  I cannot wait for you to get to know her.

Hugette, you inspire us to dream more vivid dreams, and boldly step into them!



Growing up I really wanted to be
A marine biologist

My most-used emojis are
Kiss face, flamenco dancer, pineapple

My go-to order at a coffee shop is
Iced vanilla Chai with soy milk

I don’t know how I ever lived without
Pandora radio

One thing people don’t know about me is
I’m full Hispanic. (half Venezuelan, half Cuban)

My real life hero is
My mother! She has always been the best example of a strong woman who conquers all, yet she maintains an unceasing tenderness toward life and humanity. She is one of the kindest, most loving people I know! She’s a full-time volunteer at numerous cancer organizations, where she collects goods and resources for patients and speaks life into patients’ lives.


What I love about my work is
Merging my creative spirit with a purposeful mission to restore women!

The hardest thing about my work is
Wearing so many hats. Particularly the administrative part – which is not my favorite!

How I got started with my current career
I’ve always been an avid reader. One day while I was a bookstore I prayed I’d have the privilege of creating something like the magazines I held in my hand — but with a message that could exhort women toward a higher standard of living. I also wanted to encourage women by highlighting just how special each and every one of us are!

The dumbest thing I did when I was starting out
I thought I would figure things out more quickly than I actually did. Every single day is a lesson, a discovery, and a building block for what’s next.

My typical day looks like
I go to Starbucks every single morning and spend about an hour reading and journaling as my spiritual devotional time. After that I work on the day’s tasks, which may include emails, graphic design, editing articles, producing shoots, going to photo shoots, traveling, conference calls, interviews, etc. I like to cook dinner for my husband and I every day. About 3-4 times a week I do something active, like going to Zumba or surfing with my hubby.

I used to think success meant
Making a living doing what I love!


My current definition of success is
Finding joy in every part of the journey!

An example of when I had to push through my fear was when
We were asked to go national and at the time we were only printing a few copies as a local Hawaiian publication. We didn’t have the funds and I didn’t know how I was going to provide enough magazines to distribute nationally, but I walked forward in faith!

I know my work/life balance is out of sync when
When I don’t get my morning devotional time or time with my family. This doesn’t happen often because I’m very particular about time management!

The last time I created something I was proud of was
Today! A blog post!

I wish I could tell my younger self
Chill out girl! Everything has it’s timing!

The legacy I hope to leave is
She made the world a better place and offered a space of belonging to all women.

My Boyfriend Jeans

May 17, 2016





Let’s talk about the idea of cost-per-wear. It’s the rationale I use to justify expensive clothing  — if I wear something 3x a week , it will only be three years before the cost-per-wear is pennies!

But in this instance,  I found a pair of vintage Levi’s in Portland for $20 and I wear them every day. The cost-per-wear on these babies is actually pennies and I’ve only had them for a few months.

Now, I don’t always feel super cute in them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worn these to a shoot and someone will post a behind the scenes – and it’s always a shot of me shooting in my boyfriend jeans.  These jeans are not doing my behind any favors. But there are so many days when looking cute doesn’t matter. I might need to stop buying clothes based on how I look and just pick stuff that feels good.

There’s a lot to be said for successful people and their self-prescribed uniform — they pick a look and just go with it. It’s possible that boyfriend jeans are my uniform. They are the only thing I come back to season after season.

The clogs, we’ll see about. They happen to be comfortable and wearable. They feel fun and hip (in that 70s mom kind of way) and I decided to get my flares hemmed so I can wear my clogs with them! This is the beauty of the capsule wardrobe in action. Figuring out what works for my lifestyle and diving headfirst into making it work.



Awful Wonderful

May 13, 2016

awful wonderful, stories of motherhood / the refined woman photo by ashley kelemen

I used to journal all the time. I have boxes filled with daily and weekly reports of things I did, saw, felt and thought.

But when I had my daughter, everything changed. And so did my writing. I have filled barely half a diary in the two years since she arrived. It’s not that I don’t have the time anymore. It’s that I just don’t know how to process the magnitude of each day. We do simple things, and yet the feelings I have are so complex.

There have been days that have been truly awful. Days that seemed to stretch on for eternity. Days that I have struggled to drive my car through an anxiety that felt like a thick and terrible fog. There have been times when I thought, “I cannot do this” and “why is this so hard?”

I still am grasping to understand why motherhood has brought me through some of the darkest seasons of the soul.

But those dark days are punctuated by moments of bright shining light. Moments that I thought my heart might explode from the sheer awe of seeing this tiny human grow and become a person with thoughts and feelings of her own. Small, quiet moments where I’ve held her sleeping and smelled her fuzzy head that have filled me with a gratitude that I didn’t know was possible.

Somehow motherhood is the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced.

There’s no way to write one story about it all. All I know is that there are a million smaller stories that make up one big one. I want to tell all the little stories, because maybe one day I’ll be able to look back and see them together and form the right shape around it.

There are so many little stories I want to tell you. About the day I found out I was pregnant. And about the day the ultrasound technician told us, “girl.” About that time I drove my wailing newborn to the store to buy film for a shoot only to get there without my wallet. Stories of epic failure and stories of amazing redemption. Funny stories and probably stories about poop.

Maybe someday I’ll turn these stories into postcards, send them to myself when I’m feeling sad or just need a laugh. I’ll remember what it was like to live these awful and wonderful days and maybe I’ll long for them like we tend to do with the past. I just don’t want to forget any of it. I don’t want it to pass me by without recognizing what was hard, but mostly, what was really really good.

Motherhood is a mysterious thing. I don’t presume to know the half of it, even now. All I have are the stories that are mine to tell, and all I can do is to try to tell them well.



The Black Romper a.k.a My Power Suit

May 10, 2016

You know how when you’re looking for something specific you feel like you can’t find it anywhere? Then when you least expect it, it just appears?

That’s my story with this black romper. I’ve wanted one for years.

I love rompers, but since I’m tall it’s hard to find one that’s flattering. I’ve also noticed that a lot of brands make rompers out of silk, which I do not understand. When I wear silk I feel l like I’m trapped in a heat box. I also tend to spill, so 100% silk does not work for me!

I was at a Bachelorette weekend in Charleston when I found this romper in Madewell on sale for $29! They didn’t have my size so they ordered it and sent it to my house for free.

What I really like is that it’s fitted, but has a little give, which makes it comfortable. The built-in belt makes it flattering, and the cropped pant is great for my long legs. I can wear it with heels, or flats and a blazer, or gladiator sandals and a jean jacket for a warm spring night.

It’s easy. It’s classy. It’s versatile. It’s comfortable. The perfect combination for me.


PS  The exact romper from Madewell, is sold out, but they have some other great options on sale right now!

Empathy | Joy to Joy and Tear to Tear

May 5, 2016

Empathy.1 Chasing down a cab in the rain in lower Manhattan all I wanted to do was to get back to Brooklyn as fast as possible.  It was like I had just found out there had been a death, and in actuality it was a death of sorts.

As we pulled up to her apartment I re-read the text, We broke up.

I walked in and saw her sitting on the couch, knees to her chest, with tear-stained cheeks.  She looked small.

When our eyes met it was as though I could physically feel the pain she was emitting.  She was blindsided, the pain and confusion written all over her body.  I slid onto the couch next to her as she began to recount it: the moment she knew where the conversation was headed, the last lingering hug, the regret.

Tears began to drip down my cheeks in unison with hers.  Her pain was mine, and I ached for her—over the breakup, for the journey of pain she was about to embark on.  It felt intimate and vulnerable to be let into her heartache.  It was an honor.

Only a little over a year ago on a late Saturday night I stumbled into the same apartment, collapsed onto the same couch, and she held me while I recounted, through hiccuped sobs, my own breakup.

Over the years I’ve watched many of my friends go through heartache, but mostly as a bystander.  I wanted to be there, but I didn’t know how.

I would give long hugs, and listen until the early hours of the morning. Slowly my patience would turn to annoyance.  Can’t she just get over him?  What is taking so long?  Why can’t she move on with her life?

I felt as though I watched from the outside as people in my life went in and out of relationships and heart break.  Outwardly supportive, inwardly I sighed with relief when finally we could get through a conversation without it somehow turning back into some story about him.

I was patient to a point, and understanding to an extent, but there was something missing: empathy.

This changed when I went through a breakup last year.  I’ve been through breakups before, and felt hurt when things ended.

But this was different.

Maybe because I’m older, and there’s more at stake in your 30s than when you’re 18 and breaking up because you’re going to different colleges.

Maybe it was because this was the first time I had let my walls down in a very long time.  Or that dating him felt like having healing waters washing over me after the string of bad dating experiences I had throughout my 20s.  Or maybe it was just that I fell hard for him.

Whatever it was, the pain went deep, and lasted well past the amount time we dated.  Coming out of the fog of my own heartache was a process that mystified me.  None of the answers I had given to my friends over the years were helpful.  I lived the pain, the reality of what it is to be constantly thinking of him.  No matter how hard I tried, I found myself turning any conversation back to him.  There were moments in my own grief where I realized this is what they must have felt like, and I felt crushed at my lack of empathy.  I wanted to reach out to all my friends and apologize, and let them know that I simply didn’t know what they were going through.  Now I do.

On a rainy Thursday night as my friend’s heart seemed to be breaking before my eyes, I could finally feel it with her.  It was my turn to hold her physically, and hold the sacred space of letting someone into your pain.  As I listened through her bewildered sobs I wondered if sometimes we need to experience pain ourselves before we can really be with someone in theirs.

As I left, the only words I felt could be any consolation were the ones she gave me last winter: the sun will rise again my love.  As painful as this night was, I knew it to be true.  Because when she said it to me it was true.

I lived through the heartache, and made it to the other side a better, more whole person for having gone through it.  The sun did rise, and over time the heaviness did lift.

As love, compassion, patience, kindness, and understanding have been so deeply extended to me, I want to extend the same to those I love.  I don’t want to be a bystander to joy or to pain.



Spring Whites, Take two

May 3, 2016

capsule wardrobe / spring whites

Since Kat and I shoot all our capsule outfits for the blog before each season, we try to come up with combos of outfits we think we are going to be wearing the most. Sometimes I don’t end up wearing those outfits very much (i.e the flares) and that can feel crummy, but it is teaching me a lot about what I need out of my wardrobe.

Thankfully sometimes these capsule photoshoots cause me to come up with outfits that I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried. For today’s post, I discovered an outfit I wear all the time!
The reason why might be pretty obvious:  this tunic and these linen trousers are one step up from pajamas, which has always been my sweet spot.

capsule wardrobe / spring whites

I’m realizing that when it comes to my closet, comfort trumps most other criteria. Even when I know an outfit isn’t doing me any favors, it just doesn’t matter when I’m standing in front of my closet in the morning. All I want are those baggy pants. They make me comfortable and happy.

I think this is the beginning of the journey I should have seen coming all along: make sure it’s comfortable first, then if it’s interesting, maybe I’ll end up keeping it for more than one season. Perhaps eventually I will decide, like Kat, that all-white-everything isn’t the most practical choice (whether you’re living the city life or dealing with a grubby toddler) but for now I’m holding on to the last vestiges of my pre-motherhood frivolities.

capsule wardrobe / spring whites

capsule wardrobe / spring whites

I love this tunic from my friends at The Podolls  The fabric is comfortable and durable, and I like the mid-length sleeves, which can be rolled up or down. It also looks great with skinny jeans or leggings and ankle boots.

The pants are from Elizabeth Suzann and they’re made of incredibly soft linen.  They look fabulous when worn high-waisted with a top tucked in, or worn low around my hips with a longer tunic top.

These were definitely investment pieces, and I am proud to support brands that produce their garments ethically in the USA. I brought both pieces with me to our recent trip to Charleston and they were the 2 workhorses of my vacation — because if you ever truly need to be comfortable, it’s definitely on vacation… especially one where you’re stuffed full of Southern food!



Beauty Is… Being Grounded | Ellie Hahn

April 28, 2016


Photos C/O Kat Harris

We had a 6:30a.m. call time in downtown Los Angeles, and a full morning of shooting.  The sun was just making its way over the buildings as our model drove up.  Ellie hopped out of the car with a smile that made me believe this was the most exciting thing in her day.  Then she tackled me with a hug as though we were long lost friends.  The chatter between us started and didn’t stop until we said goodbye hours later.

Ellie carries herself with ease and has a groundedness that surpasses her age.  She has a freedom that catches like wildfire until everyone joins her in a silly Justin Bieber dance.  In an industry that says you matter because of what you look like, she walks on set with a positive attitude and a smile that tears down walls.

Ellie, I’m so proud of who you are, and I am so honored to have you on The Refined Woman.  You inspire me.




I never thought I would be a model. I was the kid who sang Andrea Bocelli for the neighbors while wearing my Elmo pajamas and using a comb as a microphone. I always wanted to sing and act, it was naturally a part of who I was, and who I am to this day.

But when I got the opportunity to model I was astonished at how much I loved it. My first shoot was with a family friend who is a successful fashion photographer. He is very artistic, and for the shoot we went for a New York studio vibe. The entire process inspired me — from arriving on set and meeting the crew, to seeing the final pictures a week later.

I have heard many horror stories about the modeling industry — from creepy guys to drugs to girls ending up sketchy situations. But I have been extremely lucky. I met my lovely agent through a mutual friend and have worked with some incredible people.
People make me light up, and that is one of the reasons I love what I get to do. I get so encouraged and inspired by talking to people from all different walks of life, and listening to their adventures. I also love the creative side of modeling. It’s fascinating to see the vision of the shoot come to life through the work of so many different types of artists.

Modeling also has its challenges. It’s easy to get caught up in yourself, and get lost in the followers and the likes and all the attention you get from having the title, “model,” slapped onto your name.

It’s also easy to assume that because someone is beautiful or successful, everything in their life must be going well, when in reality they may be suffering. It makes me want to try to have a heart for others… regardless of how things might appear on the outside. I try to see the good in people, and the good that God has for them or is doing in their lives.

Another challenge is that I feel compelled to live up to a standard of beauty, and maintain a certain body size. There is a lot of competition, so it’s easy to get discouraged. I sometimes compare myself with other models, and think, “if only I had her legs” or “I wish I had her bone structure.” It can become a very lonely game of competition and vanity!

But the thing that consistently relieves me of my insecurities is my faith. I love to sing and act, and I love my family, but most importantly: I love Jesus. And I get to share the love God has put in my own heart with others.