"When you open your heart and soul to the future, beautiful things will happen to you"
It never ceases to amaze me how many beautiful souls you meet along your journey. I found myself on the other side of one chapter in my journey, signing off as Ms. Woman United States and stepping into the next chapter as a legacy queen, which was yet to be defined. During the transition, I must admit I found myself struggling with what was next, and into my life, entered this incredible woman. Not only stunningly beautiful on the outside, but a beautiful and kindred soul as well. I was fortunate enough to be one of her "40 over 40 women" for a photography magazine she was working on, a story that we will delve into further later on.
You see, Suvi is a photographer and an inspiration to many. Right from our first conversation, I could feel her deep passion for her work and our shared drive for women's empowerment. I feel blessed to have experienced her kindness.
Meet Suvi Tori in her own words:
Suvi Tory, who was born in Finland and now lives in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, plays many roles in her life – she's a mother of two sons, a grandma to two, a furry mom, a business owner, and a dreamer. But finding her true calling took Suvi almost 50 years.
"Before I hit my stride, I had hit rock bottom, experienced numerous failures, endured complicated situations, and was stuck in a corporate world I didn't belong in. When I reached rock bottom, I realized I needed to change my life. I left my corporate job with no clue what I'd do next," she said.
When she left her job, she realized it had literally been making her sick because of the stress it was causing her. Leaving the corporate world allowed her to focus on her health and think about what she'd like to do and accomplish in life.
"After recovering and finding new strength, I started following my lifelong passion for photography. I joined photography courses, completed a photography certification, and traveled for photography. My hunger to learn and develop my photography skills grew day by day," she said.
When Suvi met a woman named Sue Bryce, portrait photographer and educator, who would become her mentor, she realized portrait photography was where she was meant to be.
"There was something very magical about her approach – the transformation, finding beauty in every woman regardless of their age or size, the overall experience, creating memories, and creating beautiful images that are more than portraits. I was in," Suvi said.
Suvi's journey of self-exploration taught her many lessons. "I learned that I had strength and passion, and I wanted nothing more than to share it with my clients – and help them tap into their own hidden attributes," she said. "I am passionate about empowering others because I didn't understand or appreciate my own strength and power."
Those lessons have continued to serve her well while she has dealt with new chapters and twists in her life.
"When my husband, the love of my life, was diagnosed with terminal illness in 2017, the news shattered our lives. We were completely on uncharted territory. There was shock, intense sadness, numbness, denial, sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, tears, and desperation. It was impossible to accept that my beautiful, strong, and talented husband had an illness that could not be cured. And that one day, he would not be with me anymore," she said.
Throughout the ensuing years, Suvi had to deal with her heartbreak and play the leading role in handling the day-to-day tasks her husband could no longer perform.
"I quickly realized I needed to take ownership and responsibility of running the house, medical things, and financials. Most importantly, I had to give him a safe, loving, and secure environment where his needs were met and where he could continue living with dignity, love, and happiness, regardless of his illness. I had to set priorities – my husband," she said.
Caregiving was new to her, and she wasn't sure she was strong enough to handle it. Despite her doubts, she rose to the occasion and learned another valuable lesson.
"Somehow, when you are put in a situation that asks you to rise above, you will do the right things, and you will find the strength. Looking back, this was a tremendous personal learning and growing phase for me. It wasn't easy. It was exhausting and emotionally draining. But I was determined to give all my love and support to my husband," she said.
During the last months with her husband, Suvi faced many questions and uncertainties about what her life would look like from that point on.
"Am I the only woman out there who has lost her husband at a fairly young age? Will I ever live a happy life again? Will I find meaning again? Will I find new wisdom, maturity, and strength after losing my husband? Are there other women out there who have experienced something similar? Are there women who have experienced big or small obstacles in their lives and overcome them? I wanted to find out," she said. "This was the trigger to my 40 Over 40 campaign. I wanted to create a message that would resonate with women 40 and older.”
The 40 Over 40 campaign came at a time when Suvi needed its message the most.
"The 40 over 40 campaign encourages all of us to keep looking forward and continue evolving so we can get the most out of our lives. We all have stories and pasts that have made us who we are today, but what matters most is not where we've been – it's where we are going," she said.
Suvi is grateful to the women in her life who have inspired and supported her, including the many incredible women she met through her photography studio.
"Through my photography journey and through the 40 over 40 campaign, I have met so many women who inspire me. I think that the common denominators are resilience, love, forgiveness, and support towards other women. These women have confidence, they appreciate life, and they don't think of what other people think because they trust their own opinions. They think, 'This is the best time of my life.' They appreciate life. This, to me, is so empowering and inspiring," she said.
Spreading the message to others that women over the age of 40 still have a lot to look forward to is something Suvi believes in – and it’s something younger women are receptive to hearing.
"Even my hair and makeup-artist, Nicole, is totally excited about this campaign. Nicole is 38. She said, 'I cannot wait to be 40-plus.' These women who join this campaign are truly an inspiration. They refuse to be defined by their age," Suvi said.
It took Suvi decades to find the confidence to identify and go after her dreams, and she'd like to offer some of her hard-earned advice to other women who don't have the confidence quite yet to go after what they want.
"The only way to begin that journey and step fully into our power is to really love who we are now. It all starts with small steps. Opening your heart and listening to your body. Less thinking and more feeling. Trust yourself. Be open to what the universe is trying to tell you. Grab those signs and transform them into tangible actions," she said.
Women don't have to take radical steps if they're not ready for a big change. They can take baby steps to create the life they want.
"I started with small steps. I have always loved photography since I was 10 years when my godfather bought me my first camera. My passion for photography led to the curiosity of learning more and developing my skills. I was hungry and determined. Every little success on the way pushed me to the next step. I was in the flow of curiosity and discovery," she said. "Along the way, I noticed that I've always loved fashion and styling. Today, I'm combining these skills and passion in my portrait business. We capture moments where women feel like the best, most beautiful version of themselves and share their life journeys to inspire others."
Little does Suvi know how she has lifted so many women. She inspires women with her story and strength. And most of all with her heart and compassion to cheer women in their journeys. Especially, when they are facing a new chapter in their life.
“There is beauty in everyone, at every age. Through a portrait experience, women begin to see who they are beneath the insecurities. They see themselves in a new light, and they begin to discover – or remember – that they are valuable, worthy, beautiful, and powerful. It is incredible fulfilling watching women discover their worth, individuality, and power”, Suvi says.
Thank you Suvi for coming into my life and being a part of my journey. I’m grateful to share your story with other women.
Learn more about Suvi and her SuviStory Photography studio here:
Join the 40 Over 40 moment for a life-affirming experience here: