The Strong Project

What's your STRONG?

This STRONG project – it just means so much to me. I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t officially written about it until now. I guess before I tell you where it came from, I should tell you a little about what it actually is.

The STRONG project is my personal photography project that I have been working on since 2018 and will probably be working on until I die. The project holds photographs of really amazingly strong women doing their “thing.” You know, their “thing.” THE thing that makes them strong in the first place.

Obviously strength can be defined in so many ways, but just so we’re all talking about the same project here, I mean physical strength kind of STRONG. That’s right. I’m talking MUSCLES, baby! I look for women who are badass, who don’t care to be dainty, who aren’t afraid to sweat, who break the mold of the perfect stick model, and who would rather get to work than be the ‘damsel in distress.’

STRONG ass women

These women are talented, independent, and bad to the bone. The STRONG project is not about makeup, looking pretty, or wearing cute outfits. It’s about showing up…even when you don’t want to because deep down…you know you need to.

fitness photography

Where it began

Did I ever tell you that I used to play competitive junior tennis? I played every day for years going to tournaments all over the South…all because of my crazy Tiger Dad. He meant well. He just truly loved the sport. 

He played in high school, and used to tell me that his coach would often put him at the number 1 spot as the “sacrificial lamb.” Sad, right?? That was before the “every kid gets a trophy mentality…” lol.

All of that to say, he LOVED the idea that I could actually win. Now – I was in no way, shape, or form the best tennis player out there, but I was never the sacrificial lamb.

I started playing tennis when I was 9. My parents wanted to get me into a sport because I was…overweight. Pschhhh. Like that was all my fault – they bought the squirt cheese, thank you very much. But in the end, I’m glad I started – whatever the reason.

My old school tennis days

Playing sports made me into the person I am today.

It taught me how to build muscles, how to work, how to lose, how to win, how to fight, how to be good at something, how to release. But it didn’t start that way.

It started with me, at first, loving the sport that I could swing a racket and hit the crap out of a ball to win. And it ended with resentment towards my parents, a crazy amount of pressure to win, and never feeling good enough…ever. I had no boyfriend or even prospects. Who had time with my crazy training schedule? Not to mention, boys weren’t really interested in a girl who was taller and had bigger arms than he did.

After high school, I felt like sports ruined my life.

HIIT workout

In fact, I didn’t really feel much positivity towards any form of exercise at all until…after my divorce. So while my workout journey started at a young age, this STRONG journey has only just begun. All because my (ex) husband told me: “I’m just not attracted to you anymore.”

That was when I just lost it.

That statement (paired with a VERY uncalled for statement about me needing to lose weight a few months prior) started a fucking wildfire inside of me. Where I took all of his stupid comments, my preconceived notions of what a woman should look like, and my constant feeling of never being good enough…and I just set that shit on fire.

Of course – saying this, it sounds like it was a ten minute process that I did one whiskey-driven night. But in reality, this process is still going on today.

Yoga photos

When the divorce finalized – I got my own apartment, gave myself a makeover, and threw a divorce party.

After the dust settled from all of that, it felt like a good time to start working out again. What else was I going to do at night on a Tuesday when I was tired of working on the business?

So slowly, I would start to go on walks. But it felt so slow. So then I started to add in some runs. Man, I hated running.

And then I would work out on the elliptical. I had good days and bad days with it. Mainly my punk bands that I listened to in high school kept me going.

Occasionally, I would take a yoga class. Sometimes, I would appreciate the mind clearing. Other times, I just wanted to hit something…hard.

Which led me to kickboxing. Ahhhhh, kickboxing. The ability to punch the shit out of something without consequence.

Fitness Commercial Branding photography Madison Yen MM4_3068

And after a while, I even started to play a bit of tennis again…something I never thought I would do.

Each little piece, step by step, started to breathe life back into my soul.

Does that sound crazy to say? It felt crazy to type. But that’s the truth.

Eventually, I could fit back into some of my old clothes again. I was sleeping better. My only hobby was no longer eating and drinking. I felt lighter, not just in weight, but in life. And I became more confident in my ability to succeed and to complete goals I had set for myself.

Slowly, I started to look forward to the moving, the sweating, the being out of breath, the muscle straining, the being sore the next day, that feeling of accomplishment.

I finally found a balance between working out and living life. And it felt…good.

Strong Women!! Strong Project

My old tennis coaches used to tell me ALL THE TIME that tennis was more mental than physical. You can run laps all day long, but if you can’t get your mind straight, you’re never going to win. 

But that’s not just tennis. Life is a mental game. And sports are but a metaphor for the adversity we encounter and how we perform when it’s our turn to step up to the plate.

Since I started sports, my mental game has been shit. My ex-husband made me feel like shit. My dad, as much as I love him, made me feel like shit. All of these external factors made me feel like shit. And over the years, I have paid dearly in my self-confidence because of it.

But becoming STRONG isn’t an immediate gratification kind of thing. It’s slow-going and takes determination and dedication. AKA – it’s a journey.

And my journey of exercising, working out, strength-building, kickboxing, yoga, walking, running, and even tennis have taught me how to stand up for me, show up for me, fight for me, appreciate me, love ME. 

Crow pose

Becoming STRONG is my journey. It’s these women’s journey. It’s messy. It’s emotional. It’s imperfect. It’s private and intimate. There are more reasons behind their workouts than you will never know.

This project is to show that experience. To translate all of that into photos. To show the world that we can push ourselves.

We can push our opponents. 

And we can win.

Till next time.



hey I’m Madison!

I’m a 29 year-old divorced wedding photographer (gotta love the irony there). This is my journey to becoming an independent and badass chick, who refuses to settle. Travel, money, divorce, sex, and all the emotional shit that comes in between.... Maybe, in the past, these are topics I would have tried to sweep under the rug, but I figured it was time to stop apologizing for who I am and what I like. That’s part of being FemStrong.