Heart-to-Heart Hump Day: Laura Jean Gilleland

Happy Wednesday, ladies!

I’ve had the privilege of chatting with and getting to know Laura Jean Gilleland, a Minnesota-based writer, explorer, events planner, but above all – a truly beautiful and inspiring woman. I hope you’ll enjoy our interview today!

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Welcome to Stay Great My Girl, Laura Jean! I’m so happy to get to chat with you today.

Your abundant joy and love for life shared through your blog is contagious – you are a light in a too often dark world, and I wanted to share that gift with my readers today. Let’s start off by telling them a bit about who you are and who (and what) you love.

Hello, friends! My name is Laura and it is a joy to be with you today. A few of the things I love the most are Chipotle chicken burrito bowls (with extra corn, of course), the great outdoors, snail mail, and my sweet husband Jacob. I work as an event planner for a local college and am the creative behind According to Laura Jean.

What is According to Laura Jean, and how did it start?

According to Laura Jean is a positive online space that encourages living a simple and creative life, sharing real, authentic stories that inspire and focusing on people and the growth of a genuine community. I started blogging in 2011 when I was a camp counselor out of state. It was a way to keep my friends and family informed of everything that was happening. After that summer, I kept up with my blog and it has slowly transformed into what it is today.

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I really love how candid you are about your journey with Alopecia Universalis. For those unfamiliar, can you please explain what Alopecia is? When did it come into your life?

Alopecia is an auto-immune disease that attacks hair follicles and prevents hair growth. In simple terms, I say that it is somewhat like I am allergic to my hair. There is no known cause or cure for Alopecia. I have Alopecia Universalis, the most severe type, and have no hair on my entire body. Ladies, you should be jealous as I don’t have to shave my legs or armpits! It’s the small things in life, right? I was diagnosed with Alopecia in the sixth grade and lost all of my hair within two months of being diagnosed.

Many women struggle with insecurity and feel like they just can’t possibly measure up to the world’s standard of beauty (my hand is raised, too). Everywhere we turn, we seem to be constantly be reminded of our flaws and imperfections; always reminded of what we lack and what we need to be “enough”. If this were a coffee date, what would you tell a friend who fears the mirror, struggling to see herself as beautiful?

Oh friend, I am right there with you. My biggest piece of encouragement is to simply be yourself. The longer you try to act or be like someone else, the further you are running from the beauty you behold. If you embrace who you are physically, mentally, socially and emotionally, you will grow in confidence of who you were created to be.

Why do you think so many women struggle with insecurity today?

The world has placed huge demands and expectations on what beauty is and what it is not, especially for women. I am constantly frustrated by messages that are told to girls from a very young age and engrained in our brains. We are always told to be more and do more instead of resting in grace and loving ourselves for who we are. It is a terrible cycle and I truly believe it is up to us, as women, to spread the truth about beauty and confidence.

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What has helped you to gain such confidence and strength, despite what some may see as a challenge?

To be honest, I cannot pinpoint one exact moment or memory where I transitioned to a life of confidence and strength. When I was first diagnosed with Alopecia, I hid behind old-lady looking wigs and lots of makeup. I was so embarrassed and ashamed for my appearance. By the grace of God, I began to realize that I could be beautiful even without hair. Day to day I accept who I am and how I am feeling and live life to the fullest.

2015 was a big year for you – you and your husband made the big move from Iowa to Minnesota! What was the best part about that transition? What was the hardest?

Yes! We love Minnesota and it was such a good transition for us. The best part of our move is that we are back home where we grew up. We have many friends and family here and it is such a joy to see them more often. We are also very partial to the outdoor adventures Minnesota has to offer, no matter what the season. The hardest part was leaving behind so many loved ones we grew close to the last five years. We made amazing friends, coworkers and neighbors. It gives us the perfect excuse to visit!!

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I’ve never been to Minnesota, but I’m told it’s both freezing and wonderful. Tell us a bit what your daily life looks like in the Twin Cities.

You are right — Minnesota is both freezing and wonderful. I love that Minnesota experiences all four seasons in their purest form, but it is currently -10 degrees and so frigid. When I am not working as an event planner, I spend a lot of time at local coffee shops doing blog work and spending time with friends. My husband and I go camping and backpacking a lot and spend quite a bit of time going for walk, snowshoeing or canoeing.

Are you into New Year’s Resolutions? What are some current goals that you’re working on?

I wouldn’t say I am super excited about New Year’s resolutions, but I am also not against them. I am a fairly reflective person and it is important to me to hold onto memories. Each month we record memories in our marriage memory journal and read through them on New Year’s Eve. My main goal right now is to seek balance in everyday life. It is easy for my job to consume me or to get burnt out from blogging. I want to find the sweet spot of putting my best foot forward, but also giving myself grace.

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Just for fun – what are 3 things that you’re loving right now?

For Christmas I received the book Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. It is such a good read and I highly recommend it to everyone! I am also obsessing over the show Hart of Dixie. I started watching it somewhat as a joke, but now I am hooked. It is on Netflix, which is a double win! And Instagram has always been a love of mine from the very beginning. I love, love, love connecting to people through photos and creating a community out of Instagram. Come follow along!

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Thank you, Laura Jean! So fun talking with you and being reminded about true beauty.

Friends, I know you are going to love Laura Jean’s perspective, words, and snapshots of daily life – be sure to check out According to Laura Jean!

Check back each Wednesday for #HearttoHeartHumpDays, featuring interviews with inspiring women of all ages & stages as they chase big, brave, and beautiful adventures. Still to come in January: Nicole Cole & Taylor Tippett.

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