The Art of Liz | The Art of Her Project
Liz Wheeles' story is about shedding masks and rising anew, much like the majestic phoenix that graces her back. This emblem of rebirth and renewal mirrors her journey through life's challenges, symbolizing her coming back with fire in her heart and actively steering her destiny. Liz's experiences, marked by moments of self-realization and empowerment, remind us of the profound impact of embracing one’s authentic self.
The Art of Liz is a story of casting aside the façade of expectations and soaring into a life of genuine self-expression and fulfillment. It's a testament to the beauty of rising from adversity and the power of living a life unmasked and unbound.
This is the Art of Liz.
This is the Art of Her.
Jessica: Tell us about you, The woman.
Liz: My name is Liz Wheeles. I'm a mom, a partner, an IT professional, a friend, a daughter, a sister. I grew up in Sonoma County, CA with two incredible parents that have been together over 50 years and my fantastic brother who has been in the Navy for 25+ years. My partner is the love of my life. Being a mom is the greatest gift that could have been given to me. Being a dog mom and horse mom is a close second.
My day to day sees me as a Staff Technical Program Manager in the Productivity Engineering organization at LinkedIn. I'm responsible for driving tactical and strategic projects and programs that enable our organization to operate more efficiently and effectively as we build a world-class platform for our global community. I support our End Users, Finance, and HR systems. I'm a mentor to other technical program managers, business analysts and managers in our company. I also mentor and coach veterans and their partners transitions from active military duty to civilian life. I volunteer with PowerOverPredators in their youth program at Rancho Milagro to help with the horses. I inspire others through empathetic leadership to make the impossible, possible while being a source of hope, optimism, and support to all.
I'm a wine enthusiast, and a minor foodie - we love to find recipes and see how we can make them gluten free and just as delicious as the original. I love to travel, explore new places. My horse Boomer gives me such joy when riding through the desert. My family and friends mean the word to me and I will do anything for them.
Jessica: Tells us about Your Story.
Liz: It happened the night after I’d received my official full-time offer at Workday on October 22, 2017. The attacker had been my partner for over a year, and with whom I’d been living with for six months. Without warning or provocation, he violently beat me in a closed car while driving home from what had previously been a wonderful evening celebrating my offer with Workday.
While I don’t recall what led up to the attack, I remember coming in and out of consciousness, screaming and pleading to know what I’d done to deserve this. I had a concussion, whiplash, a six centimeter tear in my lip, and I was covered in bruises and scratches on my body and face. He shattered my nose. He flattened both my cheekbones, and shattered my sinus cavities. I was told it was a miracle that I survived.
Later, I called my manager, and told him I’d been in a car accident because I felt ashamed of what had happened to me. He immediately burst into tears, telling me to take whatever time I needed, that I came first.
My road to recovery was long. In the following months, I had 6 surgeries as well as multiple procedures to repair the physical trauma I endured. I’ve had surgery to repair my lip, multiple surgeries to reset my nose and fix my sinus cavities, and eventually, 2 full facial reconstruction surgeries to rebuild structure, with a partial lift on the left side of my face.
I knew right off the bat that I’d suffer physical trauma, and that to some degree, I’d always live with some aspect of physical pain, like the constant pain in my nose or eye socket. But what I came to learn through my recovery was that my mental health and wellbeing had taken a beating, too.
Jessica: Tell me about a specific experience as it surrounds your story of what you had to endure or work through as you pushed to rise?
Liz: One of the hardest experiences during this time of my life was that I lost most of my friends. I was told I picked abusive men and allowed them to control me, that I had played a part in what happened to me, had I understood my role? They wouldn't invite me to events, because they would assume I couldn't handle things. I was told I had relied on looks, both mine and theirs, and because of that I was responsible. It made me look back at all the relationships I had, both with men and women and re-examine who and what I wanted in my life. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life.
Jessica: What surprised you about yourself in the moments surrounding the event?
Liz: I don't know if it surprised me as much as it was a level of determination I'd never felt so strongly before. I never gave up. Not once. I fought against the justice system that continued to fail me. I worked to get better representation from the legal system as well as in the victim advocacy program. I went to work, I maintained my job, I continued to co-parent with my ex-husband in raising our son. I fell in love again. I never let what happened in one evening STOP me from moving forward to have the best life possible. And today, I do.
Jessica: What surprised you about others as it is connected to your event?
Liz: I was surprised by how many times I was asked "What did you do?" as if anything I did deserved what he did to me. And how many times people challenged me and said they didn't believe me when I said it was the first and only time this had ever happened. While statistically men who do this have done it before, he hadn't ever laid a hand on me until that night
Jessica: Do you feel being a woman had any significant bearing on this event?
Liz: Me being an attractive woman was absolutely a part in why this event happened to me. Another female had been hitting on me that night while we were out. One of the things he said to me as he beat me was that he was going to "...make sure no one ever looks at you again". Well - guess what - he was wrong.
Jessica: What would you say you learned about yourself or others during or since this event?
Liz: I have learned so much about being open and listening. I have learned never to assume I know everything about "your" life and situation. I've learned that there's not always a reason why something happens, it just does. I've Learned to love myself, even when it's hard to do so. I learned that HE was a bad man, not all men are bad.
Jessica: How did this change you?
Liz: When I reflect back - there may be some truth in what previous friends had said. I did rely on my looks heavily. I was so accustomed to being told how pretty I was. I did modeling, was in independent films, commercials, was on billboards and busses. For a long time my beauty defined me. Today I lead with my mind and heart, and while I know realistically that's not what people see, I do want it to be the first experience that someone has with me.
Jessica: Have your values changed since the event?
Liz: My values have changed for the better. I no longer wear make up every day - that mask no longer defines who I am. I love carefully, but fiercely. I'm careful to pull people in closely. I value truth to a fault. I value honesty and integrity. I value a slow burn. While my circle is smaller - those are the people that are most important to me in the world. My son is my hero.
Jessica: What is the one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Liz: I would tell my younger self to be strong on the darkest days. I would tell her to say no the minute she thinks she needs to. I would tell her to love herself above all others. I would tell her to always follow her gut. I would tell her that although today feels hard - tomorrow will be a fresh new day.
Jessica: What would you say has helped you along your healing journey?
Liz: My family helped me so much during my hardest days. My parents help my hands, wiped my tears, and stood up for me. I saw sides of my mom and dad I didn't know existed. As a result, we are closer today than we ever have been. As a result, we are closer today than we ever have been. It was also so empowering to make intentional choices on who I kept in my life, and who I dismissed. Yes, there were quiet times and sometimes it was lonely. However I'm exactly where I want to me today as a result of those decisions and I've never looked back.
Jessica: What is your story of now?
Liz: I celebrate being alive, and I celebrate thriving. I don't love the word surviving - but I love thriving. I am living the best life I've ever had. I celebrate being an incredible partner and mom. I have an amazing career that I'm so proud of and have worked so hard for. I celebration my friendships and relationships.
Jessica: How would you like people to describe you?
Liz: I want to be described as smart, funny, compassionate, daring, driven, fierce, intention, truthful to a fault. If I'm called pretty, that's a bonus but not a requirement!
Jessica: When in your life, so far, have you felt the most confident?
Liz: I feel most confident when I I can look at the world I have created since I was reborn. I truly see this as a rebirth. I was given the chance to live again, and become who I truly wanted to be. I love the woman I am today. While I would never wish this type of event on anyone - I an proud of myself for taking the opportunity to be better than I was.
Jessica: Describe when you have felt most attractive.
Liz: Attractive is such a hard word to understand. I feel my best when I'm happiest, with my partner, my family, my pets. I feel most attractive when there is the least effort needed. When I am naturally myself.
Jessica: Have your perceptions of what being 'attractive' means changed over time?
Liz: My perceptions of what being ‘attractive’ means changed over time has changed. There is physical beauty that is so superficial. I try not to lead with physical attractiveness, but get to know someones heart, to really understand if they are what I consider attractive.
Jessica: What is an ongoing challenge you face?
Liz: I'm always challenging with my internal voice when someone tells me I'm attractive/pretty etc. I always want to know wyt? And I get defensive - I don't need anyone to validate if I'm attractive, that's defined by me, not the rest of the world.
Jessica: It would be really interesting to hear about any ambitions you have for the future?
Liz: I still want to help support other survivors and thrivers of Domestic Violence. It's important to me to make sure resources are available for all peoples, not just those that have education, or wealth, which is so much of what we see. I want all lawyers, detectives, advocates to better understand what is needed through the trials, the systems put in place for support. I want to see all victims treated equally regardless of gender or race.
Jessica: Do you believe growing up female affected these ambitions?
Liz: I do think being female taints how I see the world, and my ambitions. I'm not the norm for a woman in engineering, as an example. I'm visually not what you think of or imagine when you hear domestic violence survivor. I don't fit the societal stands for most of what I do in the world - I like breaking the bias wherever I can.
Jessica: How do you think you being a woman is perceived by men?
Liz: Different men perceive women based on their background, their personal experiences and their upbringing - I don't think there is a blanket statement that can be made. I look at my father, my partner, my son, my ex-husband and how they view women versus how my perpetrator did. It couldn't be more different. Life experience is a huge contributor to how men view women, in my experience.
Jessica: Are there any myths you would like to bust about growing up female?
Liz: Growing up it was expected of girls we would go to a four year college, earn a degree, get married, have babies, take care of our families. My parents encouraged that I be happy, in whatever life I picked. Looking at the world today, I'd encourage anyone identifying as female to live the life that makes you happiest. Go to school if that's what you want, or travel and have experience. You don't have to get married to be in a happy, stable relationship. You aren't required to have children, that choice is yours. Live your life to it's truest representation of YOU.
Jessica: What do you wish other women or young girls knew about themselves?
Liz: It's okay to say no. It's okay to ask questions, to fight "the norm" and to want to have understanding and belief. It's okay to walk away. You don't have to have a reason, you simply can walk away from anything that doesn't feel right to you..
Jessica: If you could talk to advertisers right now about advertising to women, what advice would you give them?
Liz: Represent all women. Color, size, "beauty". Represent their economic wellbeing or lack there of. Represent the challenges they experience based on their stories, not the story you believe they have. Let's them be the author of their story. Don't write it for them.
Photography by Jessica Korff Studios
Makeup by: Renee Lanz | Radiate with ReneeJ
Dress Draping: Dresses draped and created by: Jessica Korff