Inspiring Women: Tonya Parker

By Guest Author, Tonya Parker

The doctor turned my swollen face from side to side. “I think you might have an autoimmune disorder,” he said. The day before I had been told it might be the mumps. I know that I looked like – a caricature of the real me, swollen parotid glands swallowing up the details of my face. My signature cheekbones had disappeared and my almond-shaped eyes drooped slightly downward as the doctor tilted my new face.

I didn’t hear much else that day. I knew two things for sure. One was that if that were true it would mean big changes for the rest of my life. The other was that I knew how incredibly tired I was right then. I was tired of blood tests, CAT scans, the confused looks I had been receiving from specialist after specialist, and the lack of a clear certain diagnosis. But that day was still a tipping point for me. Hearing that what I was facing might be chronic was a pivotal moment in my life where I would not only begin to see the importance of getting myself healthier and ultimately happier, but where I would eventually commit to helping other women do the same.

But it wouldn’t start immediately. I spent several months on a prescribed steroid while finishing graduate school. It was a way to force my body to cooperate. My parotid glands retreated to their normal size and my face returned to the one I was familiar with. I braced for the emergence of the symptoms that the doctors told me would return after I stopped the medication. Having graduated from my program, I was finally ready to deal with whatever this really was but... lo and behold, nothing happened. My face remained in its normal before-the-swelling state, and I felt better than I had while on the meds. I still don’t know what was really physically wrong with me, but I’m pretty certain that whatever it was, my body had been reacting externally to the stress I was holding onto internally. Being a full-time grad student, a full-time mom, and still juggling my full-time job was definitely stressful, but once things slowed back down, my body bounced back. That experience in its entirety made me realize just how important taking care of yourself on the inside really is.

I'm often asked about my biggest challenge or my greatest achievement and I have to tell you that they are one and the same. Many people in my community now know me as the wife to our mid-sized school district's superintendent, or as a small public figure myself – occasionally appearing in magazines or newspaper articles, and even making an appearance on a local TV segment. But what many of the new-to-my-life friends don’t realize is that for many years – 13, to be exact – I was a single mother trying so hard to keep it together on the outside that things went haywire on the inside. And while many might see this as my biggest challenge, it was also my greatest achievement. Not only am I very proud of being a mom to my two amazing daughters, who are wonderful young women now, but I am also thankful for the struggle part of that journey – mystery illness included, because it led me to share my experiences in an attempt to help other moms.

I would eventually go on to write a self-help book titled Single Mom Chic, which really focused on the premise that taking care of you helps you take care of those you love too. My blog and social media presence would continue where my book left off and my niche would grow and change just as my life did, moving on from single moms, specifically, to women in general, and eventually narrowing in on women in my demographic of over forty – but my overall ethos remained the same. I’ve found a way to merge my love of fashion and my passion for helping professionals. As a certified life coach and a school counselor M.S.Ed, I write about topics that help women look, and more importantly feel, their best.

My blogging journey has led me to places and rooms that I never imagined visiting or ever having a seat at the table in, and I am entering my fourth year as a brand ambassador for O, The Oprah Magazine! In 2017 I won their first ever O-verall partner award. I was selected for this honor as 1 out of 50 other dynamic and inspiring people.That same year I was also selected as one of NYDJ’s Inspiring Women during their nationwide search and I took part in their spring campaign with 11 other amazing women, which included a national commercial and a magazine campaign.

Since then I have grown my partnerships with several women-focused, inspiring brands. I feel so fortunate to be able to partner with companies that share my ethos of helping women look and feel their best! I’m really proud of the fact that a decade ago my desire to heal first myself from the inside out, and then help others do the same, has blossomed into a new and wonderful budding career. I can’t wait to see what the new year holds and I hope you’ll join me on this self-love journey to look and feel your best too!

*Tonya Parker is an author, blogger, certified life coach, and content creator.